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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Pioneers Peaking at the Right Time

Team Effort Gives Pioneers Home Field Advantage

By Cassie Kickert

Despite having the number one seed in the NEFL’s Minnesota Division secured, home field advantage throughout the playoffs was still up for grabs in Saturday’s game against the Twin Cities Titans. Entering Saturday, the St. Paul Pioneers and the Fox Valley Force each were undefeated in league play. Therefore, who got home field advantage came down to how many points each team has given up this season.

Joseph Mapson scores the first of his two touchdowns.
It was, then, mainly up to the Pioneers’ defense to secure home field advantage for the team  a challenge they have proven capable of meeting all season. In the last few games, however, quarterback Cleveland McCoy and the offense have also begun to gel.

On Saturday, after the defense forced a 3-and-out, the first big play of the game came from special teams star Bobby Wright. He blocked the Titans punt and gave the Pioneers possession at the Titans’ 34. It didn’t take long for McCoy to work his magic. He threw to receiver Joseph Mapson, who was waiting in the end zone for the first score of the game.

Then, the defense chimed in with a big play of their own when linebacker Shaye Thomas intercepted Titans quarterback Shanon Capers and returned it to the Titans 13.

Shaye Thomas returned an interception.
Thomas said he was just in the right place at the right time:

“The ball got tipped right to me. My eyes opened up pretty big and [I] saw it and took off with it,” he said.
Then it was time for Riza Mahmoud. On the next play, he ran in the first of his four touchdowns of the day. He would later add a two point conversion.

For most of the game, the Titans were made mostly ineffective by the Pioneers dominating defense. As the Pioneers recovered punt after punt, the offense picked up chunks of yards and points. After Nate Beulah grabbed the Pioneers’ second interception of the day – his fourth this season – the Pioneers quickly took advantage again.

Mahmoud ran in another touchdown.

By halftime, the Pioneers had scored 35 points. The Titans? Zero.

Mahmoud, who ran seemingly at will Saturday and totaled 111 yards, said it was a team effort. The Pioneers other main running back, Isaac Odim, sat out the game. The team did not miss a beat.
Riza Mahmoud scored four rushing touchdowns.

“We have an awesome line, who when they feel like playing together, are an unstoppable unit. Combine that with two guys who have a hunger for seeing their team succeed. That's what makes us dominate, we play for our unit,” Mahmoud said.

McCoy and the offense proved they lost no momentum going into the third quarter when McCoy threw an amazing pass to Mapson again, who was waiting just over the goal line and caught it perfectly while staying inbounds.

The Titans would manage one touchdown when they intercepted a screen pass by Bryan Trulen and ran it back for the score. The Pioneers were unfazed.  The game would end just as it began, with two big plays by the Pioneers.

Mapson's second touchdown catch.
Defensive lineman Devin Waters grabbed an interception deep in Titans territory – ripping the ball away from the would-be receiver. It led to the Pioneers’ last score of the game, a touchdown pass from Trulen to tight end Robert Wills. Then, Mahmoud ran it in for two more points to put the exclamation mark on the victory.

The final score: 49-6 Pioneers.

All of which now sets the table for the 2014 NEFL playoffs. The Fox Valley Force, winners of the league’s Wisconsin Division, beat the Menominee Thunderhawks 27-13. Since Fox Valley has given up more points than the Pioneers, St. Paul will host the league championship game – should they make it that far.

Tight ends Eric Baumgartner and Rob Wills celebrate Wills' late TD.
The Pioneers must first play the winner of Saturday’s playoff game between the North Bank Bulls and the Minnesota Sting.

To make it to the championship, Mahmoud said the Pioneers need only to stick together and give it their best.

“To keep this going we have to stay hungry, believe in each other, and play with one hundred percent skill every play,” he said.

Defensive player of the game Ed Smith.
Players of the game:
Offense - Riza Mahmoud.
Defense - Ed Smith.
Special Teams - Bobby Wright.

Photos by Marla Collins.

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