By Cassie Kickert
Despite playing more inspired football during stretches of the game, the St. Paul Pioneers on Saturday could not do enough to stop their losing skid. The Pioneers, 12-0 and national champions last season, are now 0-3 on the year, 0-1 in the NEFL, after a 21-13 loss to the Fox Valley Force in Kimberly, Wis.
As in previous losses, the Pioneers offense continued to struggle to find its rhythm.
It started well. Defensive back Terry Jones showed the Force the Pioneers weren’t going down easily when he intercepted Force quarterback Dan Parker late in the first quarter and took it 95-yards for a touchdown.
But the offense’s ongoing struggles became evident when Force Safety Travis Fischer picked up a Pioneers fumble and returned it for a touchdown. The extra point attempt failed and the Pioneers clung to a 7-6 lead early in the second quarter.
The next Pioneers drive looked promising when Spriggs completed two long passes—to Delane Woods and Justin Miles—to take the Pioneers to the Force 30 yard line. The strong wind, unfortunately, wasn’t blowing the Pioneers way. As a result, Jay Harding’s field goal fell short.
The Force overcame two of their own penalties on their next drive, scoring when Brett Vergin ran in from four yards out. Fox Valley ran in a two-point conversion for a 14-7 lead and, a few minutes later, threatened to score again, just before halftime. They were stuffed by a spirited Pioneers goal line stand spearheaded by defensive tackle Mark Simmonds, to keep the score 14-7 Force at intermission.
Fox Valley picked up where they left off and went right back to work in the third quarter and scored again on a Josh Kasuboski touchdown, making the score 21-7.
As has been the theme thus far this season, the Pioneers came so close on their next possession. A long pass to Woods and another pass to Miles brought the team within 17 yards of the end zone. Then, the Force sacked Spriggs. How did that affect him? Not at all. On the very next play, he threw an 11-yard pass to Miles. The Pioneers once again misfired in the red zone, however, and two incomplete passes gave the ball back to the Force on downs.
Jones went back to work on the next Force drive. He saw the ball and went for it, breaking up a Parker pass and almost intercepting it. Defensive lineman Ed Smith helped Jones out when he tackled Parker in the backfield, making the Force punt.
Later, the Pioneers defense stepped up yet again, not allowing the Force even one first down on their next possession. It wasn’t long, though, before they were back on the field again. Two plays into the Pioneers drive, Spriggs was intercepted.
It looked like the Force might score again but the Pioneers defense had other ideas. The Force would gain just eight yards, derailed by their own penalties and a pass broken up by corner Brock Keaton. When Parker’s pass was caught out of bounds on fourth down, the Pioneers got the ball back.
Then, the Pioneers offense found some life. First, Brian Holmes ran six yards followed by a Spriggs seven-yard run. Then, after a Force penalty, Spriggs threw to Woods, who ran to the Force 28. On second down, Spriggs threw to the end zone where the ball was tipped by the Force and then caught by receiver Marcus Foster for a Pioneers touchdown.
A bad snap on the extra point attempt made the score 21-13 Force early in the fourth quarter. That would be the final score, as the Pioneers could not mount another scoring threat.
The Pioneers next chance for a win is this Saturday, May 18, when they play the Eau Claire Crush at Concordia University in St. Paul. Game time is 5pm. Come cheer on your Pioneers to victory!
Note: The Pioneers will be honoring Damien Rochon Washington and Guillaume Paek at halftime by retiring their numbers. Paek and Washington joined the Pioneers in their first season in 2002 and played every year with the cardinal and black through 2012. The original Pioneers won two national championships and seven league titles in their years with St. Paul. Please join us as we honor their loyalty and their excellence Saturday night.