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Thursday, August 14, 2014

Pioneers Come Back in 4th Quarter to Win Fifth Straight League Championship

By Cassie Kickert

DE-FENSE! DE-FENSE!  Pioneers fans raised that cheer many, many times late in the Elite Bowl, straining, yelling, hoping their team could find victory over the Fox Valley Force. It didn’t start pretty for the Pioneers. Nobody expected an easy win. Nobody anticipated what happened either.

After giving up 14 points in the first quarter, the Pioneers defense was tough all night.
The Force, on their opening drive, scored. Force quarterback T.J. Arndt threw the ball just high enough so that only his receiver, T.J. Hulbert, could catch it. One drive, and the Force led 7-0.

But the Pioneers offense would respond, with a punishing drive. After Lionel Lamarre gave the offense great field position at the 39, Riza Mahmoud and the offensive line did the rest. After jumping over the pile of Force defenders for a first down at the 17, Mahmoud took it the rest of the way for the score on the next play.
Lamarre with a great return.

A bad snap meant the Force still had the lead, 7-6.

The fact that both teams were battling was no surprise. Coming into the game Saturday, the Force were also undefeated in league play, losing only to the Racine Raiders in Racine, Wisconsin. They were about to show the Pioneers why. Quarterback T.J. Arndt came right back with another long touchdown pass, hitting Andy DeBruin, who then ran 77 yards for another Force touchdown.

DeBruin’s touchdown scamper made it 14-6 Force. Then, Fox Valley’s trademark defense showed they’re championship caliber too.

Time and again, the Pioneers tried to get Mahmoud going. But, save for the early touchdown run, he was met time and again by a slew of Force defenders at or near the line of scrimmage. McCoy, under pressure for most of the game, wasn’t able to do much either. Pressure can often lead to mistakes, such as an interception. On two consecutive second quarter drives, that’s exactly what happened.

“I came in and said we’re not going to lose but we just had to get going. I think that first drive was a confident drive but then we, and I, kinda got out of [our] shell a little bit and weren’t firing around and just being too laid back,” McCoy said.
Mahmoud had two touchdowns.

Good thing, then, that the Force defense wasn’t the only stellar defense on the field Saturday. Although 
McCoy got intercepted twice, the St. Paul Pioneers defense had his back.

McCoy’s two interceptions did something else, too. They woke up the crowd, Pioneers and Force fans alike. Everybody began cheering on every play – with all they had.

As everyone watched, the stout Pioneers defense held the Force out of the end zone and, ultimately, to zero points after McCoy’s interceptions.

“We lean on each other when we need each other,” Lamarre said.

However, as one possession after another ended without a score, frustration began to mount.
Mahmoud gave credit to the Force defense for the Pioneers’ offensive struggles.

“You can’t take any credit away from the Force. They’re a solid team. They worked our [offensive] line. Folks were getting tired out there. We started strong. They beat on us for a little bit. We weren’t getting anything accomplished and it’s exhausting to a team. The thing [to do] for us was just to stay positive, keep our heads on straight and just fight through it,” he said.

Head Coach Mark Heiser agreed, saying the Force defense gave the Pioneers offense some issues but “we were able to adjust and make some big plays."

Halftime allowed the Pioneers an opportunity to regroup and make adjustments, which, according to Lamarre, the coaches did a great job of. It also gave everyone a chance to rehydrate. The Pioneers were going to need every fan’s voice if they were going to beat the formidable Fox Valley Force and be named Champions once again.

Safety Jake Lindsey said that halftime adjustments and believing in each other were the keys to staying in the game.

“We made an adjustment to what they were doing and we believed in each other and stuck together and nobody got down or on anybody. We just kept battling,” he said.

It took a while, though, in the second half, for the aforementioned adjustments to show up offensively.
So, as it has done all season, the defense picked up the slack. Defensive lineman Jeff McGaster and Brandon Murdock and the rest of the defensive line made it their personal mission to cause havoc for Force quarterback T.J. Arndt.

Heiser had great things to say about his defense’s performance, especially in the second half.

“In the second half we did a great job of getting pressure on the QB which led to a few interceptions. Our defense stepped up huge. Coach Powell put together a great game plan with some excellent half time adjustments. Defense wins championships and we have always been known for playing strong defense,” he said.

As time continued to go by in the third quarter, everybody began to wonder if the Pioneers were ever going to score and what it would take to make that happen.

Lindsey's interception was the spark.
The Force defense wasn’t letting up. The third quarter ended, with the Force still leading 14-6.

Then, it happened. The play all Pioneers fans, players, coaches and staff had been waiting all game for. This play lifted all Pioneers’ spirits and gave new meaning to the phrase “great field position.”

Lolar had a big touchdown late.
After the Pioneers defense pinned Arndt and the Force deep in their own territory – at their own 5 yard line – Lindsey intercepted the Fox Valley quarterback’s pass. The ball was placed at the Force 11 yard line. McCoy threw to receiver Damien Lolar, whose outstretched arms were waiting for the ball in the end zone.

Touchdown Pioneers.

But after St. Paul was unsuccessful on a two point conversion, the Force still led -- 14-12. More fans’ yelling – and more big plays – would be needed.

That’s when the Pioneers defense stepped up again. First-year player Ronald Zollicoffer intercepted Arndt again. However, McCoy also got intercepted shortly thereafter.

Zollicoffer made an acrobatic interception.
The Force would later look back and regret the next choice they made. They chose to go for it on fourth down and didn’t make it. After the turnover on downs, Mahmoud literally took over the game. On first down, he got three yards. On second and third, he gained five and 18, respectively.

Then, everybody watched as he ran down the far sideline, no defender able to catch him, to the end zone for a touchdown. He also ran in the two point conversion, giving the Pioneers their first lead of the game with about six and a half minutes to go.

The scoreboard read 20-14 Pioneers.

All Pioneers players, coaches, staff and fans knew as soon as Mahmoud ran into the end zone, the Pioneers wouldn’t relinquish that lead.

Lindsey's second pick sealed the game.
There was still work to be done, though. Jake Lindsey wasted no time getting back to work. He caught the Pioneers’ third interception of the day a few minutes later to more cheers.

It was then that the Pioneers began to celebrate.

After McCoy took a knee, the Pioneers were officially NEFL  champs again—for the fifth consecutive season. This game wasn’t easy. It took contributions from everybody—including the crowd—for the team to win.

When asked what the key was to winning this season and this game, receiver Donte Pettis said:

“Us staying together as a family. Practicing, guys hanging out outside of football, just being together, trusting each other, communicating. Those are the things that build a dynasty.”

Truly, it was a team win. The Pioneers offense scored just enough to beat the Force. As usual, the defense did the rest.

Lamarre pointed out that the defense might have enabled the Pioneers to win games but it was the offense that had to come through in the end.

“Our defense did get us to the fourth quarter but it’s about finishing and our offense finished for us. We were down 14-6. Even if we kept up a shutout, we still would have lost if our offense didn’t come through for us and they definitely did,” he said.

Pioneers with multiple championships with the Pioneers – players like Lamarre, McCoy, Mahmoud and Pettis – were asked which one has meant the most. All of them said this one did because of how hard they had to work to achieve it.

“This year, it’s the sweetest, it’s the best. We just picked each other up. The first half, defense carried the offense. Second half, offense carried us. This was the most complete victory we’ve had and the closest game we’ve played in years. This one’s way sweeter than any of the ones we’ve had in the past,” Lamarre said.

McCoy said he was confident, even when things looked tough.

“I didn’t have a doubt that we were going to win this game. I came in and said we’re not going to lose but we just had to get going…. Halftime really helped. We came in and did some things and we made plays. Defense figured it out and we put up just enough to win the game. That’s what matters,” he said.

When comparing this championship to the 2009 Championship team, Pettis said this one means more because of the effort it took to win the game.

“We hadn’t faced adversity [this season] like being behind [until tonight]. [Tonight] we showed we have real character,” he said.

He is right about that. Although they were behind for most of the game, the Pioneers never quit, never faltered. They kept their heads up high and persevered and are now NEFL Champions for the fifth consecutive year. Congratulations Pioneers!

Players of the Game:
Defense -- Jake Lindsey
Offense -- Riza Mahmoud
Special Teams -- Rob Wills and John Ostertag.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Several Pioneers Earn All-Star, League Honors

The 2014 NEFL Champion St. Paul Pioneers are proud to announce that several of our players earned All-Star and League honors. Congratulations to all those honored. They are:

League MVP: Running back Isaac Odim.
Assistant Coach of the Year: James Walsh.

QB Cleveland McCoy.
RB Isaac Odim
RB Riza Mahmoud
OL CJ Sanderson
DB Lionel Lamarre
DB Jake Lindsey
LB Bill Quistorff
DL Jeff McGaster
DL Ed Smith

All-Star Honorable Mention:
OL Zac Thompson
OL Scott Schmidt
K/P Jay Harding

CJ Sanderson

Cleve McCoy

Jeff McGaster and Ed Smith

Isaac Odim

Jay Harding

Lionel Lamarre, Jake Lindsey and Bill Quistorff

Riza Mahmoud

Scott Schmidt

Zac Thomspon

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Pioneers win 5th Straight NEFL Title!

Champs again!
For the fifth year in a row, the St. Paul Pioneers are NEFL champions, after beating the Fox Valley Force 20-14 in a hard-hitting, emotionally draining game.
In a game where both teams were undefeated in league play and nationally ranked, this one lived up to the hype. The Force finish the season 12-2.
The Pioneers are 11-1 and won their fifth straight NEFL crown, and their sixth straight league championship overall - dating back to the 2009 NAFL championship.
Players of the game:
Offense: Riza Mahmoud.
Defense: Jake Lindsey (two interceptions).
Special Teams: Rob Wills and John Ostertag.

Fox Valley, St. Paul Battle Today for League Supremacy!

Great Day for a Championship Game!
Please join us at SeaFoam Stadium at Hamline and Marshall Avenue for the NEFL Championship, Elite Bowl VII.
The St. Paul Pioneers vs. the Fox Valley Force in a battle of unbeatens.
Kickoff is 7 p.m.
Admission: $10 for adults. Children 12 and under always admitted free.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Pioneers top tough Bulls squad 6-0, return to Elite Bowl.

Dominant Defense Pushes Pioneers Over Bulls

By Cassie Kickert

Saturday at Concordia’s Seafoam Stadium, the St. Paul Pioneers took on a familiar opponent—a team they thought they knew—the North Bank Bulls. When the Pioneers took the field, everyone thought the Pioneers would score more than six points.

The Bulls, however, had other ideas.

Despite finishing just 3-5 in the regular season with two blowout losses to St. Paul – they were on a mission. A mission to defeat the Pioneers.

The week before, they pulled off an upset against the Minnesota Sting. Could they do it again at Seafoam against the Pioneers?

Well, no. But it it wasn’t because of lack of effort. Those in attendance clearly saw that the Bulls defense played their hearts out. However, the Pioneers defense was even better.

This game would be an emotional one filled with many significant plays, any one of which could have 
changed the outcome. The Bulls’ first possession took almost nine minutes off the clock. The result? Zero points. Why? Because defensive lineman Ed Smith blocked Jimmie Mattson’s field goal attempt.

Then, after the Bulls defense forced quarterback Cleveland McCoy to fumble, it was defensive back Terry Jones’ turn.  Jones took the ball right back, intercepting Bulls quarterback Brett Schreiner. McCoy took advantage, running around the right side for a touchdown. John Ostertag’s extra point was no good, though, making the score 6-0 Pioneers.

That’s what the scoreboard would say at the end of the game.

The running game, a Pioneers staple all season, wasn’t much help. Chunks of yards were hard to come by Saturday for Riza Mahmoud and Isaac Odim, the Pioneers usually-dominant running backs. Just when the Pioneers thought they were going to put more points on the board, the Bulls dashed their hopes by blocking kicker Jay Harding’s field goal attempt.

The third quarter was more of the same. Frustrations rose as the Pioneers could not score. Emotions were especially high after the Bulls recovered another Pioneers fumble.

Lemarre after a pick.
Then, just when it seemed that the Bulls were about to score and take the lead, Lionel Lamarre made an amazing interception, leaping to snatch the ball out of the air.
The Pioneers sideline erupted, everyone coming down to congratulate him. The play lifted the entire sideline. 

Still, the offense couldn’t score.

So, a few minutes later, at the start of the fourth quarter, he did it again.
Time and again, the Pioneers defense had to stop the Bulls. Smith recorded a key sack. Running back Ronald Zollicoffer, who stepped in at corner, intercepted Schreiner yet again. It was the fourth takeaway of the day for the Pioneers.

Lamarre had this to say about the Pioneers’ performance:

“Defensively, I think we showed up and did what we had to do. We put a goose egg up. We come out every week trying to hold the other team scoreless. When our offense isn’t clicking, we pick them up and vice versa. We’ve had some bad games where our offense picked up the momentum. I think this game was important to let us know that we’re still the best defense in the nation in my opinion.”

Odim found yards tough to get.
On the next Bulls drive, defensive back Jake Lindsey delivered the fatal blow to the Bulls’ hopes of winning when he recovered Bulls receiver James Fields’ fumble.

Yes, the Pioneers only scored six points. They pulled out the win too, though, because all champions win and lose as a team.

Quarterback Cleveland McCoy said lack of creativity on offense contributed to the Pioneers’ struggles Saturday against the Bulls.

“We have to be more creative and consistent on offense. We left a lot of plays in the playbook on Saturday, we have to open things up, and when we do have a chance to capitalize on offense we can't squander those opportunities,” he said.

This Saturday, the Pioneers battle the Fox Valley Force for the NEFL Championship.

According to Lamarre, the Pioneers have not forgotten their two losses to the Force last year.

McCoy wants to be more creative.
“They beat us twice last year. That resonates. Our team hasn’t forgotten that. We’re definitely excited to face them. We expected to play them and we’re glad our season culminated into us playing them. They feel they’re the best team in their division and we feel we’re the best team in our division and the nation. It will be nice to have a great offense go against a great defense and see who comes out on top,” he said.

Game time is 7 pm at Concordia’s SeaFoam Stadium. It is sure to be another exciting, emotional game as two of the best teams in the country take the field. Please come join us!The St. Paul Pioneers will be playing for a fifth straight Northern Elite Football League title on Aug. 9th, after escaping with a hard-fought 6-0 victory over a determined North Bank Bulls.

This will be the second time the Pioneers and Force have faced off for the title. In 2010, St. Paul defeated Fox Valley to win its first of four straight NEFL crowns.

Please come join us!