The Des Moines Blaze has not lost a football game in three seasons and are defending champions of the Midwest Football Alliance. The St. Paul Pioneers, four-time champions of the Northern Elite Football League, have been pretty tough themselves. Both teams have won national championships. Something had to give.
Turns out, it was the Pioneers who faltered on the road in Des Moines, falling to the Blaze 21-7 at Johnston High School.
It was a closer game than the score indicates. Both defenses dominated the first half, with the Blaze taking a 7-0 lead into halftime. The Pioneers would strike first in the second half, knotting the score at 7-7 after quarterback Cleveland McCoy took the ball through the heart of the Des Moines defense for his second rushing touchdown in two games. The score remained tied at the end of the third quarter.
That would be it for the Pioneers offense, however, as the unit struggled all day to find a rhythm. Turnovers and penalties would repeated put the Pioneers into bad field position. Des Moines eventually capitalized, going ahead 14-7 in the fourth quarter. The Blaze scored their final points with about two minutes to play on a DeMareo Darrah quarterback bootleg, one of two Darrah touchdowns on the day.
"We just didn't execute, we didn't take advantage of the chances we had," Head Coach Mark Heiser said. "But Des Moines' defense had a lot to do with that."
Defensive coordinator Kahn Powell said his Wrath of Kahn defense turned in a good game, just not quite good enough.
"You guys played hard, you did everything we asked," he told the squad after the game. "We had a good game plan, we just needed to put some more points on the board."
The Pioneers, 1-1, 0-0 in the NEFL, return home Saturday to open the NEFL regular season against the Lake Superior Rage. The rematch from last season's Elite Bowl, won 21-0 by the Pioneers, will start at 5 p.m. at Sea Foam Stadium at Concordia University-St. Paul.
The game will be the Pioneers' Military Appreciation Day game, with all U.S. active-duty military and veterans admitted to the game free of charge with an appropriate ID. Admission is $10 for all other adults. Children 12 and under are free.