By Cassie Kickert
Team: A group of people coming together for a common goal.
A team effort is what it took to beat the Lake Superior Rage Saturday night in St. Paul.
Team defense: The Pioneers’ always-dependable defense was dominant throughout the game. It started when defensive back Jake Lindsey intercepted Rage quarterback Keldric Stokes on the second play of the game.
Then, when the Rage reached the Pioneers’ 28 on their next possession, defensive lineman Jeff McGaster decided it was time for the Pioneers’ offense to have the ball. He caused a fumble that teammate defensive back Terry Jones recovered.
Team offense: League-leading rusher, running back Riza Mahmoud showed his speed and athleticism as he ran 35 yards to the Rage 37. Then, quarterback Cleveland McCoy turned to speedy, elusive Delane Woods to get the Pioneers on the scoreboard. Woods obliged, going 20 yards for the score, which was then 7-0 Pioneers.
With the offense struggling in the second quarter, defensive lineman Ronald Buck made sure the Rage didn’t reduce the Pioneers’ lead as he sacked Stokes twice in the quarter, the second time for a loss of 12. Then, McCoy’s magical arm came through when he arched a pass high in the air that came down right to Joe Ubani’s outstretched arms. Ubani then ran in for another touchdown, making the Pioneers lead 14-0.
Both teams’ defenses dominated the second half. McGaster and Buck once again ended a Rage threat when they sacked Stokes in the backfield in the third quarter. McCoy was intercepted once by the Rage’s Addison Griffin. He had nothing to worry about. His defense had his back, forcing the Rage to turn it over on downs.
Later, after the Rage recovered a Pioneers fumble, it took just two plays for cornerback Brock Keaton to snatch it right back. Nickel back Bobby Wright also picked off quarterback David White twice after Stokes went out with an injury.
Wright’s second interception led to the final score of Elite Bowl VI—a Pioneers touchdown pass from McCoy to all-star receiver Justin Miles.
Twenty-one points was all that was needed to secure their fourth consecutive championship. It was evident the Pioneers defense took it upon themselves to ensure their team was hoisting the trophy at the end.
Mahmoud said persistence was the key to victory Saturday.
“Persistence. Will. It wasn’t an easy win by any means,” he said.
However, the Pioneers would not have reached this point—or this game, probably—without Cleveland McCoy. After a 1-3 start, he helped bring the team together with his positive attitude and strong work ethic. His football skills, which include a magnificent arm and quick legs, didn’t hurt either.
Both Lionel Lamarre and Mahmoud acknowledged switching to McCoy at quarterback was a big reason for the Pioneers success this season.
“His first practice everybody knew his talent level. I think when we made that switch it brought the team back closer, a lot closer. Cleve brought the chemistry and brought the team together as a whole,” Lamarre said.
The Pioneers also overcame many injuries—especially on defense. At least five starters – Garrett Johnson, Cliff Gordy, John Robinson, Everett Wilburn and Nate Beulah – were lost to season-ending injuries this year. This season truly was a team effort from start to finish.
Lamarre and Bobby Wright said winning the championship this season feels a lot better than last season because of how hard the team had to work to get it.
“Last year came really easy; everything just fell in place so perfectly…This year is way sweeter than last year. We went through more of a struggle as a team. The struggle brought us together. This year we really, really worked and fought for it,” Lamarre said.
Wright echoed Lamarre’s sentiments.
“It feels a lot better because we had to work hard this season. It wasn’t a blowout every single game. We had to play this year,” he said.