By Cassie Kickert
Every team has one opponent they detest most – a team that gets their blood boiling and, usually, brings out their best.
For the St. Paul Pioneers, that team is the Chippewa Valley Predators.
The last two Elite Bowls have featured the Pioneers and the Predators. The Pioneers won both games. In 2011, they shut out the Predators in Eau Claire 15-0. Last season, they won 35-12 in St. Paul, capping the first undefeated season in Pioneers history.
Games between the two teams always seem to be hard-hitting, dramatic and memorable. In Elite Bowl V last August, Predators receiver Reggie Houston, a former Pioneer, was ejected from the game. The year before, former Pioneer receiver Joseph Mapson – now also a Predator – made a circus catch to put St. Paul ahead to stay.
Saturday’s memories weren’t so good for the Pioneers, unfortunately.
The Pioneers did score first, when running back Brian Holmes ran it in about four minutes into the game to cap an impressive opening drive. Jay Harding’s extra point was blocked by the Predators, however, making the score 6-0 Pioneers at the end of the first quarter.
The Pioneers had a chance to make it 9-0 when defensive back Everett Wilburn intercepted Predators quarterback Chance Garner. When Pioneers kicker John Ostertag missed the field goal attempt, that opportunity was lost.
It looked like momentum might swing the Pioneers’ way again when Wilburn was in position to pick off another Garner pass along the sideline. But Wilburn, who was injured on the play, tipped the ball and Houston snared it out of the air, eluded a couple of tackles and ran down the sideline to give the Predators the lead. One they would not relinquish.
At halftime, the Predators led by a point, 7-6.
The third quarter again held opportunities for the Pioneers to score and retake the lead, provided by their own defense. Uncharacteristically, the offense wasn’t able to capitalize.
When asked what happened after the first drive, Pioneers quarterback Cleveland McCoy had this to say:
“The [Predators] defense adjusted to what we were doing and got penetration. Offensively, everything has to come together. [That] just comes with time,” he said.
Near the beginning of the quarter, Pioneers defensive end Ed Smith recovered a fumble, giving the Pioneers another opportunity. Nothing came of it.
Then, another opportunity, a long return by running back Riza Mahmoud, was negated due to multiple Pioneers penalties. Instead of beginning in Predators territory, the ball was moved back to the Pioneers’ 34 yard line.
On both occasions, the Pioneers would punt the ball away.
Then, just a few minutes after Mahmoud’s return, shortly after the start of the fourth quarter, the Predators scored again. This time, Montae Bailey ran it in.
Although the Pioneers would have two more possessions, one courtesy of a fumble recovery by Terry Jones after Smith stripped the Predators’ ball carrier, with about two minutes to go, they would be unable to score.
The final score of this game: 14-6 Predators.
The Pioneers play the North Bank Bulls at Park High School in Cottage Grove this weekend. Next Saturday, June 22, the team returns to Concordia to play the Menomonie Thunderhawks at 5pm.