By Cassie Kickert
It was a pivotal moment in a day of big plays.
Fans, players and coaches watched as the undefeated Menomonie Thunderhawks marched down the field to the Pioneers 30 to start the second quarter. It was there that their offense stalled, courtesy of the tough Pioneers defense. Then, Menomonie elected to go for it on fourth down.
Pioneers safety Nate Beulah made them pay for that decision.
On fourth and ten, he read quarterback Justin Bader’s eyes perfectly, jumped the pass and, as he caught it, rolled onto the ground.
This is how Beulah describes it:
“I lost my footing and tried to regain my balance but I couldn’t so I tried to somersault to make sure I didn’t hurt myself. I was sure they were coming but I heard everyone yelling to get up as I was just about to hit the ground. I had enough momentum to shoot myself back up. Then, my first thought was to stay in bounds so I checked my feet and looked down field and saw that I had big Ed [Smith] and a few others down there so I followed them and cut off of where they were blocking.”
Realizing no one had touched him, he got back up, ball in hand and ran down the left sideline, cheers going with him all the way to the end zone. Kicker Jay Harding added the extra point and the Pioneers led 14-0.
What was going through Beulah’s head as he was running toward the end zone?
“Once I got in the open field I just ran!!! I got in front of the pack and slowed up but saw they had a guy screaming down field so I sped back up, secured the ball and thought to myself ‘there is no way I’m gonna let this guy take my 6 away’."
Beulah’s play gave the Pioneers a ton on momentum. It was not, however, the lone highlight in a day full of them.
Earlier, in the first quarter, running back Riza Mahmoud ran 35 yards for a touchdown on what would be an excellent day for the Pioneers running game. The team rushed for 342 yards to only 141 for the Thunderhawks.
Kicker John Ostertag added a field goal after the Pioneers were unable to get in the end zone, making the score 17-0 at halftime
The, on the first play of the second half, it was Jake Lindsey’s turn.
On third down, deep in Piioneers territory, Lindsey spotted the ball, read the pass, grabbed it and ran the length of the field for another Pioneers score. Harding’s extra point was blocked; however, which made the score then 23-0.
A few minutes later, running back Vernon Johnson became the second Pioneers running back to run for a touchdown when he ran in from eight yards out to give the Pioneers a 30 point lead after Ostertag’s extra point.
Indeed, Saturday was the running game’s day to shine. According to quarterback Cleveland McCoy, the play of the Pioneers physical offensive line was the key to the running game’s success Saturday against the Thunderhawks. Mahmoud led all runners with 159 yards. Johnson added 103 yards as well. In total, five Pioneers were in double figures running the ball including McCoy, running back Jamal McNutt and running back Will Winters.
The Thunderhawks would sneak in a touchdown when Josh Murray caught a Troy Young pass and ran 15 yards for the score. That didn’t hinder the Pioneers running game, though. It just kept going, like a well-oiled machine. Johnson would get the call again, running 32 yards for his second touchdown of the day, extending the Pioneers lead to 37-6 after Harding’s extra point.
With about four minutes to go, quarterback Bryan Trulen and receiver Justin Miles put the exclamation mark on the victory when Miles caught Trulen’s pass in the corner of the end zone.
The final score: 43-6.
This Saturday, the Pioneers travel to Wisconsin to face the Wauwatosa Spartans. Offensive Coordinator Rob Neumann and Lindsey both said that, in order to beat the Spartans, the Pioneers need to maintain the momentum from the past two weeks and take what the defense gives them.
“We will simply take what the defense gives us, and make them pay as best we can,” Neumann said.
After a bye week for the 4th of July, the team will travel to Duluth to take on the Lake Superior Rage. The Pioneers’ next home game is the final regular season game, July 20, against the North Bank Bulls