By Cassie Kickert
The anger St. Paul Pioneers players felt toward the Predators last week came out Saturday as aggression against the North Bank Bulls, another team made up partly of former Spartans, a former Pioneers rival.
After rain and lightning delayed game time about 45 minutes, the Pioneers running game took a little more time to get going. So, the team opted for field goals instead of touchdowns, making the first one this season when kicker Jay Harding’s boot went just inside the left upright.
After an interception by linebacker Billy Quistorff, former Spartan John Ostertag added three more points to give the Pioneers a 6-0 lead about halfway through the first quarter.
Quite a change from last week when the Pioneers scored just six points the entire game.
Then, when linebacker John Robinson intercepted Bulls quarterback Matt Kloss and returned the ball to the Bulls 9, the Pioneers running game got the juice it needed. In two plays, running back Vernon Johnson took it in for a touchdown. After Harding’s extra point, the scoreboard read 13-0 Pioneers and the game still had not reached the second quarter.
To this point, the Bulls had yet to score and the Pioneers defense started thinking shutout. Defensive lineman Ronald Buck kept the potential shutout intact near the end of the first quarter when he sacked Kloss in the backfield. It would be one of several Pioneers sacks and hurries on the day.
To start the second quarter, quarterback Cleveland McCoy and the offense went back to work. Once again, running back Riza Mahmoud came through in the clutch when his team needed him most. Rushing for 52 yards, he led the Pioneers to the Bulls 12 yard line, where McCoy threw a laser to tight end/receiver Joe Ubani, who ran into the end zone for a touchdown.
The Pioneers would add another field goal before halftime after Jake Lindsey caught the third Pioneers interception of the day.
Such was the story and, unlike last week against the Predators, it was a good one.
The Pioneers did make one mistake in the third quarter, though, when Lionel Lamarre fumbled a punt and the Bulls recovered. However, before Lamarre could get too down about it, the Pioneers snatched the ball right back – courtesy of Lindsey, who intercepted Kloss for the second time. Lindsey was named defensive player of the game.
How many interceptions did the Pioneers have? 4. Yes, that’s right. The Pioneers seem to have their swagger back.
Lindsey said the key to productivity in the game was a good practice Thursday. He also said,
“Everybody stepped up from the d line to the linebackers all the way back. Everyone came to play, not just a couple guys but the whole team.”
More evidence of that came just a few plays later when Mahmoud took a pitch from McCoy and ran 70 yards all the way to the Bulls 10. Then, McCoy threw to Ubani again. This time, Ubani wrestled the ball out of the Bulls defender’s hands.
When asked about the catch, Ubani had this to say:
“It was him or me. I heard some people yelling touchdown, other people yelling interception. One of us had to get the ball; [it] might as well be me.”
Would the Pioneers score again? No. With a defense led by Jeff McGaster, Ed Smith, Robinson and Lindsey that totaled four interceptions, they didn’t need to.
So, the chapter on the first Pioneers shutout this season, 30-0, closed with a Bulls pass falling incomplete.
Defensive Line Coach and Assistant Head Coach Jim Walsh said pressure, in particular on Kloss, was the key to victory Saturday against the Bulls. More of the same is the key to beating the Thunderhawks, who are currently undefeated, this coming weekend at Concordia.
“To beat the Thunderhawks, we need to continue bringing pressure. And we need to tackle well if we want to keep their offense in check,” he said.