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Saturday, August 4, 2018

Warriors roll in 4th, send Pioneers home again

For the second year in a row, the Minneapolis Warriors ended the St. Paul Pioneers' season in the NEFL semi-finals, scoring 29 unanswered points to defeat St. Paul 36-9.

Minneapolis scored on their opening drive of the game to take a 7-0 lead. But the Pioneers led the game going into the 4th quarter, 9-7, on the strength of a Ken Jenkins 100-plus-yard interception return for a touchdown and an Eric Ellestad field goal. It wouldn't take long, though, for a game that was looking like a defensive battle through three quarters to break wide open in favor of the Warriors soon after the start of the final stanza.

The flood gates opened after a Warriors touchdown put the defending NEFL champions up 15-9 with nearly 12 minutes left in the game. The Pioneers ensuing possession could generate nothing, prompting a punt, and the Warriors' Riza Mahmoud returned the kick from deep in St. Paul territory for a touchdown and a 22-9 lead. A Minneapolis interception return for a touchdown and a 2-point conversion soon after made the score 30-9 and a final dash to the end zone when the Pioneers were stacking the line of scrimmage gave the Warriors their final points on the night.

St. Paul struggled throughout the game to generate any consistent drives on offense and, on the handful of drives where the Pioneers went deeper into Warriors territory, they couldn't hit pay dirt. Minneapolis' offense didn't fare much better -- until the fateful fourth quarter.

The Warriors will next travel to Sioux City, Iowa to face the top-seeded Stampede in the NEFL championship game, the Elite Bowl. They will be attempting to win their second straight league title after ending the Pioneers' run of seven straight league championships in 2017.

Pioneers face Warriors in playoff rematch

The St. Paul Pioneers travel to Burnsville Saturday to take on the defending NEFL-champion Minneapolis Warriors in a rematch of last season's NEFL semifinals.

Minneapolis was the first team to dethrone the Pioneers as champions since St. Paul entered the league for the 2010 season. Now, the Pioneers will be hoping for their own taste of vengeance and keep the Warriors from repeating. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m.

St. Paul defeated the River City Rough Riders last week in the playoff opener 55-14. Minneapolis enjoyed a first-round bye.

While the Pioneers have two league regular season losses this year -- to the Warriors and the Northland Bulls -- the Pioneers also earlier defeated the NEFL's top seed Sioux City Stampede on a last-second 54-yard field goal that proved St. Paul still can conjure up the offense, defense and special teams play to defeat top squads. Other notable Pioneers victories this season include nail-biters against Fargo in league play and Des Moines in a non-conference tussle.