The Beginning of a Rivalry?
By Cassie Kickert
Emotions and energy were abundant in the hours and minutes prior to kick off Saturday against the Minnesota Sting at Seafoam Stadium. Why? Because this game would decide first place in the NEFL’s Minnesota Division.
In addition, Michael Spriggs was the opposing quarterback. Spriggs was a quarterback on the 2009 Pioneers National Championship team. Then, he and his family moved away for a few years. Upon relocating to Minnesota again in 2012, he rejoined the Pioneers. Again, the team went on to win the National Championship, this time against the North Texas Longhorns in Daytona Beach, Florida.
Last year, after arm injuries forced Spriggs to quit, the Pioneers found they had a talented quarterback in Cleveland McCoy. The team didn’t miss a beat, winning every game after McCoy became the starter except one against the rival Predators in Eau Claire. The Pioneers went on to win their fourth NEFL championship in a row.
When Spriggs is at his best, though, he’s hard to bring down and intercept, as the Pioneers were about to find out. Did that stop the Pioneers from winning? Hardly.
|Mahmoud fights for yards|
Running back Isaac Odim, who was on the 2012 team with Spriggs, reminded Spriggs and the Sting what he can do when he ran 34 yards for the game’s first score. After Phil Breidall recovered a Sting fumble, fellow running back Riza Mahmoud, and the Pioneers sideline with him, ran 81 yards for another touchdown.
When asked how the play happened, Mahmoud said it was a designed play and it worked out great.
“It was a halfback counter and it worked out beautifully. The line did a beautiful job, the fake was wonderful and it just played out well. We got the touchdown. You couldn’t ask for anything more,” he said.
Meanwhile, to further baffle Spriggs and the Sting, defensive lineman Ed Smith sacked Spriggs for a loss of seven.
Then, one of Spriggs’ favorite receivers when he was a Pioneer, Delane Woods, waited in the end zone as McCoy’s pass floated right into his arms. The Pioneers sideline erupted with cheers as the score was now 21-0 Pioneers.
McCoy’s next weapon of choice was tight end Robert Wills. McCoy tossed him a short pass, which he then ran into the end zone for yet another touchdown.
To leave no doubt who was in charge, as the clock ran down toward halftime, cornerback Brock Keaton caught the only Spriggs interception of the game. The score at halftime: 28-0 Pioneers.
The blowout continued in the third quarter when McCoy ran in a touchdown himself. 35 points wasn’t enough for McCoy, though. He threw to receiver Reggie Houston in stride for another Pioneers touchdown. At this point, the score was 42-0 Pioneers.
Defensive lineman Kirk Eggleston put an exclamation point on the apparent rout when he pounded Spriggs to the ground.
|Lamarre returns punt for TD|
But the Pioneers couldn’t count the Sting out just yet. Just when the game appeared out of reach, they scored. The aforementioned sack didn’t phase Spriggs. He got right back up and threw a touchdown pass to receiver Jauhem Byrd. Byrd also caught Spriggs’ next pass – off a deflection by linebacker Corey Brenner – to complete a two point conversion and give the Sting their first eight points of the game.
What changed defensively that the Pioneers allowed the Sting to score? According to Ed Smith, the Sting caught the Pioneers in a bad position and Byrd had the talent to take advantage of it.
|Wills scores on a seam route|
“They got a nice long, deep ball and [Byrd] made an athletic play and scored a touchdown,” he said.
Indeed, it was Byrd’s turn to demonstrate just how talented he is.
Just a few minutes later, Spriggs threw to Byrd again for another touchdown. This time, though, the two point conversion didn’t work. With about two and a half minutes left in the game, defensive back Lionel Lamarre returned a Sting punt for a touchdown to diffuse some of the Sting’s late momentum. However, this one was followed by a Sting kickoff return for a touchdown by, you guessed it, Jauhem Byrd.
The final score: 49-20 Pioneers. Spriggs and the Sting came back but, in the end, it wasn’t enough. This Saturday, the Pioneers travel to Duluth to face the Lake Superior Rage. Next week, they come home to Concordia to take on the North Bank Bulls. Game time is 5pm. Hope you can join us!
|Players of the game: Wright, McCoy and Thomas.|
Players of the Game were:
Offense: Cleveland McCoy
Defense: Shaye Thomas
Special Teams: Bobby Wright.