Pioneers Can’t Slow Down Tornados, Finish 11-2

The Indianapolis Tornados defeated the St Paul Pioneers 42-16 on Saturday at North St Paul High School. The loss came in the 4th round of North America Football League play-offs and ends the Pioneers season after a successful 11-2 campaign.

The Tornados (11-2) used a potent passing attack led by QB Casey Gillin, who threw for 5 TDs on the day, and a staunch defense that kept the Pioneers off balance all game long.

“By far the best team we have seen, hands down” said Head Coach Mark Heiser. “Everybody on that team, from their best player to the last guy on the roster knew how to play the game and was solid in every area.”

The Tornados, and QB Gillin, struck early and often in the first quarter behind two TDs passes, putting the Tornados up 14-0 after the first quarter. RB Brian Holmes ran it in from 3 yards to keep the Pioneers close, but once again Gillin hit one of his receivers just 4 minutes later to put them back on top by two touchdowns. A John Dirkhising field goal from 23 yards out would end the first half scoring and bring both teams into the locker at 21-10 for the Tornados.

“I thought if we could hold on the first Tornados drive coming out of halftime we might have been able to keep it close” said Offensive Coordinator Jason Fleming. “We had put a few wrinkles in at half time that I thought would get us back in the game but it just didn’t work out that way.”

On the first Tornados drive of the second half, Gillin hit Mo Virgil, a former University of Illinois standout, on a 41 yard middle screen and Virgil would weave his way into the end zone to give the Tornados an 18 point lead. The Pioneers would put together several nice drives in the third, but were unable to punch it in against the Tornados defense. Late in the third, Gillin would hit on his final TD pass of the day, this time to WR Andre Totten to extend the score to 35-10.

That would lead to one of the most bizarre plays of the season. With just over 5 minutes left in the game, and the Pioneers driving, QB Nate Harrington was hit from behind and fumbled the ball. Tornados LB Tommy Stevens would corral the ball but fail to keep it under control. That began a mad scramble for the ball by both teams that led to the ball being pushed back 46 yards into the Pioneer end zone, where it was recovered by the Tornados for the late score. A late Pioneer touchdown pass from Harrington to WR Ed Reed would finish off the scoring for the game.

Even with the loss, VP Brian Schulz couldn’t have been happier with the team and their season. “I am just really proud of this team. We battled back in countless games and never gave up. This team has a lot of heart and unfortunately, we just ran into a really good football team firing on all cylinders tonight. There is no shame in playing your heart out and losing to a great team. We wish the Tornados all the best the rest of the way."


Pioneers Strike Lightning At The Finish

After playing their worst half of football against a very good Iowa Lightning team, Head Coach Mark Heiser had one message for his players during the second round NAFL play-off matchup.


“Guys, we’ve got to stick together and let’s have some fun out there. We’ve got two quarters left in this season. That’s how we have to play right now, like we only have two quarters left.”


After two quick field goals by Iowa Lightning K Tisl, who had 5 field goals on the day, things looked even gloomier for the Pioneers trailing 19-3 midway through the third quarter. With a raucous home crowd behind them, the Lightning seemed to have everything in control.


That is, however, until the Pioneers went to RB Will Winters, who sparked the team with two back-to-back TD runs. Winters, a first year Pioneer who played college ball at Long Beach State, gashed the Iowa defense for 103 yards and 2 TDs, mainly in the second half.


“Will did an amazing job for us tonight” said Offensive Coordinator Jason Fleming. “He had an early fumble that resulted in some Iowa points, but we recognized that in order for us to get back in the game we needed Will’s speed and ability to hit the holes.”


With just over 3:00 left in the third, the Winters ran for the first of his two scores on a one yard TD to pull the Pioneers to 19-10. Then, just four minutes later Winters broke to the outside and ran 30 yards for his second score to bring the Pioneers within a field goal.


However, with 14:45 left on the game clock the Lightning would shift into possession mode and grind out an incredible 17 play, nearly 12:00 minute drive that resulted in another Tisl field goal.


On the drive, the Lightning was helped out with four penalties, three of which resulted in first downs. However, it was a holding call on the Lightning that was maybe the biggest penalty of the day. On 1st & 10 from the Pioneer 15 yard line, the Lightning hit a quick slant route that seemed to be the go ahead touchdown. However, the holding penalty backed them up and they settled on a field goal, returning the ball to the Pioneers with just over two minutes left in the game.


That’s when QB Nate Harrington took control and led the offense down the field, consistently hitting his WRs for huge chunks of yardage. Despite three penalties on the last drive alone, Harrington threw for 99 yards and finally hit WR Wesley Hill for a 33 yard TD with 0:34 seconds left to go in the game. “That was crazy” Harrington said afterwards. “It seemed like the officials kept moving us back and we kept moving forward. Wesley (Hill) made a great play on the ball and took it in for us.”


After a successful two point conversion, and with the Pioneers now leading by three, the defense held the Lightning out of FG range and Safety Terry Jones collected his 12th pick of the season to end the game.

With the win, the Pioneers advance to face  the Dakota Lawdawgs  next Saturday.  The Pioneers have defeated the Lawdawgs twicw this season, but expect a good battle between the two. Kickoff is slated for 7pm in South Dakota.

Quick hits: MLB Devintre Jordan played his best game of the year, collecting 9 tackles for the Pioneer defense. Coach Walsh singled Jordan out as a big factor in controlling the Lightning running game and making adjustments throughout the game…WR Wesley Hill and Joseph Mapson played both ways, Hill at safety and Mapson at CB…game was played at Bondurant, Iowa and over 600 Lightning fans were in the stands.


Pioneers Defeat Lumberjacks Advance in NAFL Playoffs

The St Paul Pioneers had one goal on Sunday; beat the Twin Cities Lumberjacks and not only avenge their only loss of the season, but move on to the second round of the NAFL Play-offs. They did both by beating the Jacks 33-14 at Humboldt High School.


The two teams had split the season series 1-1, and Sunday’s game started off similarly with the two teams trading scores throughout the first half. The Pioneers, using a bruising and time consuming running game, got on the board first following a Jacks turnover as RB Brian Holmes scored the first of his two touchdowns on the day with a 1 yard TD run late in the first quarter. However, the Jacks fired back just three minutes later as QB Michael Spriggs hit TE Jordan Salis on a 14 yard TD pass early in the 2nd quarter.


Both teams would trade possessions several times before the Pioneers blocked a punt by the Jacks and turned that into 7 points on another 1 yard TD run by Brian Holmes. Once again, however, the Jacks used their passing game to move down a short field to score. This time, Spriggs hit WR Rashem Sharpe on a 6 yard TD pass with 1:39 left in the half. With a half in the books, they went into the locker room tied at 14.


As the two teams exited the locker room, Defensive Coordinator Jim Walsh said, “Our defensive played ok, but we really need to step it up in the second half. We need to get pressure on the QB and shut them down.” And shut them down they did. After two John Dierkhiesing field goals of 42 and 53 yards, the Pioneers used a dominating pass rush featuring DTs Jeff McGaster nd Kym Trublood, as well as DEs Val Ndikum and Chris Sinclair, to force QBs Spriggs and Hollenback out of the pocket and not allow them to sit back and get comfortable.


That meant forced throws into coverage and the Pioneer secondary started taking advantage. Safety Terry Jones collected two more interceptions again Sunday, bringing his season total to 11 in 10 games. His first pick of the day resulted in a 23 yard interception return for a touchdown, giving the Pioneers a 26-14 lead.


The Pioneers would finish out the scoring with QB Nate Harrington hitting WR Joseph Mapson on a 23 yard pass to push the lead to 33-14. As they had been all throughout the second half, the Pioneer defense clamped down and forced the Jacks into long yardage situations and bad field position.


“I thought our guys rose to the challenge today.” Coach Mark Heiser said. “We came out flat against these guys a month ago and lost in their house. We weren’t going to allow that to happen again.”


With the win, the Pioneers (9-1) advanced to the second round of the NAFL play-offs and will face the Iowa Lightning (9-1) on Saturday, October 11, 2008 in Des Moines.


Quick hits: Despite being ranked higher in the NAFL rankings with the same number of games played, the Pioneers are in the position of having to travel to Iowa for the game. “We don’t understand it, to be honest” said VP Brian Schulz. “We’ll contact the league and see if there is anything that can be done.”…DTs Kym Trublood and Scott Ubongan were injured on the same play, as both collided on a tackle late in the third quarter. Ubongan suffered a neck stinger and Trublood suffered a nasty gash on his forehead. Both are fine and expected to play Saturday.


Pioneers Trample Lawdawgs 58-30

St. Paul Pioneers offensive coordinator Jason Fleming had an enviable problem Sunday afternoon at Humboldt High School in St. Paul: Who did he want to score next?  On almost every play, on nearly every possession, the 8-1 St. Paul Pioneers turned in explosive plays by a variety of offensive players, en route to a 58-30 thumping of the Dakota Lawdawgs.

With the win, St. Paul captures the Northern Lights Division title and assures itself of at least hosting one playoff game. And the Pioneers won the game in Pioneer fashion – with an overwhelming offense and an opportunistic, ball-stealing defense.

It was St. Paul’s second win over the Lawdawgs, the North American Football League’s second-ranked team. The Pioneers had earlier topped the dogs in a give-and-take battle in Alexandria, S.D.

This one wasn’t nearly as competitive.

Dakota actually took the first lead in the game, returning an early interception of a Ryan Gilson pass to the Pioneers’ 1-yard line. The Lawdawgs pounded the ball into the end zone, but missed the extra point for a 6-0 first quarter lead.

St. Paul would take over from there.

Quarterback Nate Harrington, splitting snaps with Gilson, sparked the Pioneers on a pretty 51-yard touchdown pass to wideout Ed Reed. The John Dierkhising kick put the Pioneers up 7-6. But they wouldn’t stop there. Brian Warden grabbed a 33-yard pass from Harrington to put the Pioneers up 14-6 before the end of the first quarter.

Early in the second quarter, Pioneers punishing running back Brian Holmes capped an impressive drive with a 5-yard touchdown run. The extra point, again, was good and St. Paul led 21-6 with less than three minutes gone in the second quarter. Another solid Pioneers drive ended with another score, this time a Dierkhising field goal, and the Pioneers led 24-6 with more than seven minutes remaining in the half.

Throughout the contest, the Pioneers defense held up its end of the bargain and returned the ball to Fleming’s touchdown-hungry unit. If defensive tackle Jeff McGaster wasn’t terrorizing Lawdawgs backs, safety Terry Jones was stealing passes and snaring more interceptions.

With just over two minutes left in the half, Harrington again found Reed, who literally snatched the ball away from the Lawdawgs defensive back who had solid coverage on the play. Reed’s 55-yard touchdown reception put St. Paul ahead 31-6. It was the wideout’s fifth touchdown in the two games against Dakota.

The Lawdawgs showed some bite after returning the Pioneers kick, however, making several difficult passes before a brilliant one-handed snare cut the Pioneers lead at halftime to 31-14.

St. Paul opened the second-half scoring on a 5-yard touchdown pass from Harrington to fullback John Robinson and the Pioneers extended their lead to 38-14.

Jones, who has played brilliantly at strong safety this season and has more than a half dozen interceptions on the season, grabbed another errant Lawdawgs throw, this time swiping a swing pass near the Dakota goal line after a Deventri Jordan sack left Dakota backed up against its own end zone. A Gilson-to-Damien Rochon Washington 5-yard touchdown pass put the Pioneers up by an impressive 45-14 score with more than six minutes remaining in the third quarter.

Dakota would strike again, however, to narrow the margin a bit. A 16-yard touchdown pass on a blown Pioneers coverage, combined with a successful two-point conversion, left the Lawdawgs trailing 45-22.

But Gilson would again answer, hitting Joseph Ubani on a 59-yard touchdown pass. Most of the yards belonged to Ubani, the Pioneers promising tight end, who caught a pass over the middle and then broke several tackles on his way to score. The Dierkhising point after made the score 52-22. The Pioneers would score again in the fourth quarter on a 1-yard run by running back Tommy Green to take a 58-22 lead.

And the scoring orgy would finally end with the Lawdawgs barking one last time, scoring on a long touchdown pass and converting a two-point conversion against mostly Pioneers reserves for the final margin, 58-30.

The game marks the last regular season contest for the Pioneers, who captured the division crown over the Twin Cities Lumberjacks. The Pioneers and Jacks split their two contests, but the Pioneers had a greater margin of victory in the two games.

Up next for St. Paul is the NAFL playoffs. St. Paul will be idle next weekend, while the playoff format is finalized. But the Pioneers, which won road games against tough opponents in Rochester, South Dakota and Racine, Wis. Is looking forward to another contest in the friendly confines of Humboldt’s athletic complex. Come back to www. to updates on the date, time and opponent as the Pioneers begin their trek to a NAFL championship.


Pioneers suffer 1st loss of season.


A last-second Scott Schneweiss field goal gave the Twin Cities Lumberjacks a 25-22 win over the St. Paul Pioneers, dropping the Pioneers from the ranks of the unbeatens. The Pioneers, now 7-1, still hold first place in the Northern Lights Division of the North American Football League. But an afternoon of too many turnovers, too many missed opportunities and a tough opponent that made more plays spelled doom for the Pioneers Sunday.
All day long, it seemed, the Pioneers were scrambling to catch up. The Lumberjacks struck first, going up 7-0 after an impressive opening drive. The Pioneers would come back and hit a John Dierkhising field goal to pull within 7-3. The the Jacks would go down the field and score another touchdown, taking a 14-3 lead, before St. Paul's defense would respond.
The Pioneers finally turned stingy, stopping the Jacks with interceptions and fumble recoveries. A Pioneers touchdown would leave the score 14-10 at halftime.
St. Paul received the opening kick of the second half and an impressive drive ended short of the end zone. Another Dierkhising field goal left the score 14-13, Lumberjacks. Again, the Pioneers defense would give the team opportunities. But St. Paul could not capitalize on a Kym Trueblood interception and another pick by Deon Wilson. Finally, defensive end Chris Sinclair would return a tipped screen pass for a touchdown, giving St. Paul a 19-13 lead. The Pioneers attempt for a two-point conversion was stuffed, when Jason Bailey was tackled at the 1-yard-line, and St. Paul clung to its first lead of the game.
It wouldn't last long.
Lumberjack Montae Bailey returned a Pioneers punt for a touchdown, retaking the lead for the Jacks. A successful two-point conversion left the Jacks ahead, 22-19.
When the Lumberjacks regained possession with less than two minutes remaining, it appeared the game was over. But St. Paul forced the Jacks into a third-and-long situation and safety Terry Jones intercepted a long pass down the middle. The Pioneers offense marched down the field but a pass into the end zone fell incomplete, leaving the Pioneers to attempt a field goal to tie the game. St. Paul, which had two touchdowns called back on holding penalties, tied the score at 22 on Dierkhising's third score of the game. But the Jacks got into position to hit the winning field goal after the Pioneers were flagged for a roughing penalty and the Jacks completed a long pass. Schneweiss' kick barely cleared the cross-bars, but the kick was ruled good.
And the Lumberjacks had avenged an earlier loss 28-14 loss to St. Paul. The Pioneers now stand at 7-1, the Jacks at 6-2.


Pioneers Handle Maulers in Rematch


It took Minnesota Maulers quarterback Will Staple a single pass to put the Pioneers on their heels Saturday at Park of Cottage Grove High School. But St. Paul spent the rest of the day keeping the Maulers off balance.


After a long catch and run and a short touchdown run put the Maulers ahead of the Pioneers 8-0, the Pioneers offense and defense turned the tables and dominated the rest of the game, winning 38-14 and keeping the 7-0 Pioneers atop the Northern Lights Division of the NAFL.


St. Paul now has a two-game lead in the division over the Twin Cities Lumberjacks, with three regular season games left to play. The Jacks lost Saturday to the Wisconsin Wolfpack in Milwaukee.


Scoring for the Pioneers was Jason Bailey, on a 33-yard touchdown run. Then quarterback Ryan Gilson hit receiver Ed Reed with a 5-yard scoring toss, putting St. Paul up 14-8. Next was Pioneers kicker John Dierkhising, who had missed the team’s last three games, hitting a 34-yard field goal to put the Pioneers up 17-8. And running back Will Winters, who defeated the Racine Raiders the week before with a 45-yard touchdown run, got in on the act with a scamper from 31 yards out to give St. Paul a 24-8 lead in the second quarter.


The Maulers would score again, but not their offense. A 35-yard interception return for a touchdown closed the gap to 24-14. The game would get no closer.


On the ensuing kickoff, Reed dashed through the Maulers coverage team for an 80-yard score. The Dierkhising extra point padded St. Paul’s lead to 31-14 at the half.


In the second half, St. Paul would score one more time – with quarterback Nate Harrington hitting Joseph Mapson from 10 yards out. Mapson made a brilliant one-handed catch on the play.


Defensively, the Pioneers adjusted quickly to the Maulers hurry up offense and strong safety Terry Jones snared three interceptions on the day.


St. Paul enjoys a bye week over Labor Day weekend, with a rematch looming with the always-dangerous Lumberjacks on Sunday, Sept. 7 at 3 p.m. at Minnetonka High School. The game will be the last of five straight road contests for the Pioneers, before returning to Humboldt High School on Sept. 14.


A victory over the Lumberjacks would clinch the Northern Lights crown for St. Paul.  But the Jacks are certain to do all they can to stand in the way.



Lonal Van stood on the visitor’s sideline at Horlick Field in Racine as the final seconds ticked off the game clock. The St. Paul Pioneers guard had just watched a Racine field goal tie the game 18-18 after 60 minutes of back and forth effort.


And now he had to dig down to find the strength for overtime. In front of nearly 1,000 screaming Racine fans. “We’re gong to score,” he said, matter-of-factly. “And we’re going home.”


Less than four minutes later, Van would prove prescient as Will Winters burst through a hole in the line to score on a 45-yard run, giving St. Paul a 24-18 overtime win – its first-ever victory at Horlick Field. In fact, it was the first-ever win for a Minnesota team at Horlick, sending the Pioneers dashing after Winters in the end zone in pure euphoria.


St. Paul, now 6-0 and in first place in the North American Football League Northern Lights Division, started the scoring on a Nate Harrington to Ed Reed touchdown pass.  But the Pioneers, missing their kicker for the second straight road game, missed the extra point and led 6-0.


Racine would return the favor, scoring on a touchdown pass. Racine kicked the extra point and the teams went into halftime with the Raiders leading 7-6.


The third quarter was scoreless as the teams offenses would gain yards, only to be stymied as the defenses toughened. The Pioneers eventually took the lead again, on a Harrington to Wesley Hill touchdown pass. But another extra point left St. Paul ahead only 12-7.


The Raiders again would answer, with a drive that combined powerful running by Bryan Jennings Jr. and timely passing by Romero Wilson. A Jennings touchdown run and two point conversion put Racine ahead 15-12.


Harrington, Van and the rest of the Pioneers offense clawed their way back into the lead with a gut-check drive. A Harrington to Reed touchdown pass – and another missed extra point – put the Pioneers up 18-15 with just over three minutes left on the clock.


Racine, again, went to work. The Pioneers defense gave up yards grudgingly, but each time St. Paul appeared to have Racine stopped, a penalty or miscue would keep the Raiders drive alive. A Scott Ramsdell interception was negated by a roughing-the-passer penalty. Another third down stop was cancelled by a 15-yard facemask penalty. With less than a minute to play, Racine had the ball near the Pioneers goal line with a victory within reach.


But the Pioneers defense dug in, forcing Racine to convert a 26-yard field goal to tie the game 18-18.


Before the game and at halftime, Pioneers owner George Hall told his team that they were poised to make history, poised to do something no other Minnesota team has done – win at Racine. Head Coach Mark Heiser reminded the Pioneers, which had beaten Racine twice in a row in St. Paul, that they had the ability to win this game. But it wasn’t until overtime, when St. Paul’s offense again battled and scrapped for first down after first down, despite continued penalties and setbacks, to push across the 50-yard line.


And then Van, and Winters, would prove prophetic. And St. Paul would win, again.





The undefeated St. Paul Pioneers travel to play the Minnesota Maulers on Aug. 23 at 7 p.m. St. Paul beat the Maulers in their first game of the season, 27-20.




Pioneers Hold Off Lawdawgs

After battling heat, humidity and a tough at determined Dakota Lawdawgs squad, the St. Paul Pioneers on Saturday were more than happy to escape Alexandria, S.D. with a 33-27 victory. The road win puts the Pioneers record at 5-0 and keeps them in first place in the Northern Lights Division of the NAFL.
The game pitted two teams that feature solid running attacks and tough defenses. But, whereas the Pioneers are known for their passing attack, the Lawdawgs on Saturday featured a sophisticated and excellent passing offense to provide balance to what had been primarily a run-oriented team. The Lawdawgs' ability to throw the football on Saturday nearly upended St. Paul, which held on to stop a potential game-tying touchdown attempt as the clock ran out.
St. Paul took the first lead in the game, scoring on its opening drive with a Ryan Gilson to Ed Reed touchdown pass.
The lawdawgs, however, answered right back, marching down the field and tying the game 7-7. In fact, the South Dakota team took a 14-7 lead after a blown Pioneers coverage left a Lawdawgs receiver racing wide open down the sideline for the score with less than two minutes left in the first half.
Getting the ball with 50 seconds remaining in the half, the Pioneers engineered a brilliant drive, ending with a Gilson to Jospeph Mapson touchdown and a 14-14 tie.
That late score seemed to reinvigorate the Pioneers, who had been visibly struggling in the heat. After the Pioneers defense forced a three and out, St. Paul marched right down the field, using punishing runs by Brian Holmes and some key conversion catches by Damien Rochon-Washington to keep the drive alive. Holmes hammered it in from the 2-yard line to give the Pioneers a 21-14 lead.
St. Paul appeared to take control of the game when, after another defensive stop, the Pioneers again scored -- this time of a Gilson to Reed bomb down the sideline. The Pioneers missed the point after, giving them a 27-14 lead, but momentum appeared to be entirely with St. Paul.
Someone failed to tell that to the Lawdawgs, however, whose talented quarterback, running back and, especiallly, their tight end helped them march down the field and score once more, to narrow the Pioneers' lead to 27-21.
St. Paul's offense again took over, with an offensive line short a couple of starters, providing excellent protection for Gilson and Holmes and fullback John Robinson. Another Gilson to Reed pass, their third TD connection on the day, restored a cushion. Again, however, the Pioneers missed the extra point and the score was 33-21. St. Paul was able to overcome several penalties on the drive to score.
Again, the Lawdawgs offense answered the call. Another drive, another touchdown. And the Pioneers clung to just a 33-27 lead.
The Pioneers attempted to run out the clock but could not pick up the first down. After fielding the punt, the Lawdawgs took over at about their own 35 with just over two minutes to play in the game. After shutting out two of its previous three opponents, the Pioneers defense struggled all day to keep Dakota out of the end zone. Their ability to do just that on this last drive would mean the difference between remaining undefeated and going home tired and sore with a loss on their record.
Again, the team from Sioux Falls began moving the ball. But, this time, the Pioneers limited the Lawdawgs receivers to completed passes in the middle of the field. The Lawdawgs moved to the St. Paul 25 yard line with just seconds left on the clock. An incomplete pass appeared to end the game, but the officials put one second on the clock and gave the Lawdawgs one more play.
When the ball fell incomplete in the corner of the end zone, the Pioneers escaped with a hard-fought road win over the 8th ranked team in the NAFL. Both teams shook hands and shared a prayer at the end of a hard-fought and clean football game. Dakota will travel to play the Pioneers in St. Paul on Sept. 21.
The Pioneers this week play their third tough road game in a row, travelling to historic Horlick Field in Racine, Wis. to take on the Racine Raiders. St. Paul beat the Raiders 35-0 in their first matchup this season in St. Paul, But the Pioneers have never won in Racine. The game is scheduled for 7 p.m.


Pioneers find success in first road game of season.

New Pioneers quarterback Ryan Gilson could be excused for starting the game against the Rochester Giants with a few jitters and a bit of rust. After all, up until a couple weeks ago, Gilson's only experience with the St. Paul Pioneers was watching them practice while he played softball at Eastview Recreation Center.
And his last game action as starting quarterback came several years ago at Mesabi Range Community College.
But Gilson and the Pioneers offense overcame a sluggish start and, taking its cue -- as well as momentum and field position from an overpowering Pioneers defense -- powered St. Paul to a 37-0 pounding of the Giants Saturday night in Rochester.
Despite throwing a first series interception, Gilson recovered to finish the game  for 25, with 147 yards and four touchdown passes. Wesley Hill and Damien Rochon-Washington each snared two touchdown passes and Jason Bailey, who has become a bruising complement to the Pioneers already punishing ground game, scored a TD as well.
But the star of the game was the Pioneers defense. Pitching its second shutout in three weeks, the Pioneers defensive line was dominating, notching 17 tackles, seven sacks, two fumble recoveries and a safety. Defensive ends Chris Sinclair, with three sacks, and Val Ndikum, with two and a half sacks, made the night miserable for just about anyone Rochester tried at quarterback. And new Pioneers defensive tackle Jeff McGaster, teaming with Kym Trueblood, played against the run like a 10-foot tall steel wall. McGaster, a former University of Northern Iowa player, recorded 1.5 sacks and numerous tackles for loss or no gain.
Ndikum now has eight and a half sacks in four games for the Pioneers. Sinclair, the Pioneers single season sack record holder with 17 in 2003, has four. The Pioneers linebackers and defensive backs, led by Deventri Jordan, Scott Ramsdell, Ben Kidd, Trey Evans, Deangelo Anderson, Terry Jones, Karl Collins, Guru Powers and Trey Evans blanketed most of the Giants' efforts to find yardage downfield.
But, despite the defensive dominance and offensive opportunism, Pioneers players and coaches recognized the one man who is truly helping make this a memorable season -- team owner George Hall. Juice, as he is known across the league, was hospitalized late last week with a foot ailment. Players, coaches and volunteers missed him on the sidelines Saturday and the teammates repeatedly called on each other to "win this one for Juice."
The Pioneers, now 4-0 and preparing for a showdown against the National Top Ten ranked Dakota Lawdawgs in Sioux Falls this coming Saturday, did just that.


Pioneers defeat Lumberjacks 28-14

By Jim Walsh

The St. Paul Pioneers pulled out a hard-fought win Sunday against the Twin Cities Lumberjacks.

St. Paul led 7-0, but the Lumberjacks came storming back with two touchdowns to take a 14-7 lead with only a few minutes left in the first half. The Jacks continually kept the Pioneers off balance for much of the half, using a solid passing attack and a stubborn defense to keep St. Paul on its heels.

But, just a few minutes before halftime, with the Jacks looking to pass from deep in their own end, the Pioneers recovered a high snap at the 4 yard line. Three plays later, Brian Holmes rumbled in and the extra point tied the game at 14.

An inspired Pioneers team took the field in the second half, proving much tougher on both sides of the ball. Two more Pioneers touchdowns finished the scoring on this steamy afternoon. And the Pioneers ended the day with a 3-0 record.

Scoring for St. Paul was Brian Holmes, with two touchdown runs, Jason Bailey and wideout Ed Reed.

The second half featured the inspired play of new Pioneers quarterback Ryan Gilson who gave the team a definite spark and moved the offense behind the excellent second-half play of the Pioneers offensive line.

And the Pioneers defense found its footing, keeping a potent Jacks attack off the scoreboard with timely interceptions in the second half. Next up for the team in cardinal and black: The Rochester Giants in Rochester. The game is scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 2, at 7 p.m. at Rochester Community and Technical College in Rochester.

  July 21st, 2008

  Pioneers Shutout Raiders 35-0

  By Jim Walsh

   First, it was the heat.


Then, it was the wind.


Then came the torrential rains.


But the thing that really buffeted the Racine Raiders on Saturday in St. Paul? The St. Paul Pioneers.


Using a bone-jarring and ball-hawking defense, led by Val Ndikum's three sacks and Dion Wilson's three interceptions, the Pioneers shut out Racine 35-0 in a one-sided contest few could have predicted. The Pioneers used long drives and short fields, interceptions and fumble recoveries, smothering coverage and physical offensive line play to go up 21-0 in the first half and 35-0 by the end of the day.


Along the way, Racine's best scoring drive ended, appropriately, with an interception by safety Darrell Marshall deep in Pioneers territory in the first half. By the end of the game, Racine was playing its third quarterback -- without much success. The shutout loss was Racine's first time being blanked since 2001.


The Pioneers spread the scoring wealth. Running back Jason Bailey, a bruising 250-pounder from Bethel University, scored twice. But wideouts Wesley Hill and Joseph Mapson and quarterback Nate Harrington also scored. The scoring could have been even more one-sided, but two Pioneers drives deep into Racine territory ended with fumbles. Racine recovered both.


The win is St. Paul's second consecutive victory over Racine, both in Minnesota. The teams will play again in a few weeks at Horlick Field in Racine, a place that has not been kind to the Pioneers in the past. St. Paul is winless in Racine.


St. Paul is now 2-0 on the season, the first with George Hall as owner and Mark Heiser as head coach. The Pioneers play Sunday at 3 p.m. at St. Paul Humboldt High School against the powerful Twin Cities Lumberjacks. Tickets are $7; children 10 and under get in free.

  July 18th, 2008

Pioneers Family Sticks Together


By Jim Walsh


You know that old saying about soldiers… the one where the old ones don’t die, they just fade away?  Well, it might just as well fit for old Pioneers, or old Pioneers becoming new Pioneers. Or, something like that.


Unlike many teams in men’s amateur football, where the rosters, uniforms and team names often change with each new season, the Pioneers have been around since 2002 and have held on to several of their original players.


This year’s Pioneers team might be unique, however, on the local football scene. Every former Pioneers owner since the team’s inception is still involved with the club – either as an executive or player.


Adam Gold, the team’s first owner and head coach, the guy who first put the ‘P” on the helmets and first put the Pioneers atop the championship podium, remains involved as a vice president. He had left the squad after the 2003 season, when the Pioneers played the Brooklyn Mariners at the Metrodome for the United States Football Association National Championship. But Gold returned this season in an advisory role.


Brian Schulz, the team’s general manager and General Manager of the Year after the 2003 season, took over ownership in 2004 as the Pioneers captured another league championship and another berth in the Midwest Tournament. Schulz, like Gold, rejoined the Pioneers this season – both as vice president and general manager and as the team’s game day announcer.


Scott Ramsdell was part of an ownership group to purchase the Pioneers from Schulz in 2005. Ramsdell, a linebacker, had been the Mid-America Football League’s Player of the Year in 2003, but wanted to wear a different hat. His group helped return the Pioneers to league championship honors and a USA Bowl victory in 2006. Ramsdell, also, has returned to the Pioneers in 2008 – this time back at his former linebacker position.


Pioneers ownership changed again in 2007. The end result was longtime Minnesota semi-pro player and general manager Jason Blomer buying the team. The season proved a tough one, financially, for the Pioneers as they made the playoffs but had to forfeit because they could not secure a home field. Blomer sold the squad before the start of the 2008 season to George Hall, former player and sideline operations manager. But Blomer, too, has returned as a player this season, helping hold down the offensive line.


Finally, there is Hall. Once a Minneapolis Lumberjack, Hall has been with Minnesota amateur football since 1995. In 2002, he left the Lumberjacks with a group of players close to Gold to help form the Pioneers. And, except for a one year hiatus in 2005, Hall has been part of the Pioneers tradition ever since. Now, as owner, Hall has returned the Pioneers to St. Paul after a three-season stretch in the suburbs. And he has helped bring back all the former owners in one way or another. As Hall put it, “Pioneers tradition and history are important to me. Just as it was important to get us back in St. Paul and put the “P” back on the helmet, it’s important, too, to have the P-Unit together again.”



July 13th 2008

Pioneers Defeat Maulers In First Game Back In St. Paul

By Jim Walsh

The St. Paul Pioneers defeated the Minnesota Maulers 27-20 Sunday in St. Paul in a game that pitted two longtime rival franchises.

Wesley Hill caught two touchdown passes, one from Nate Harrington and one from Joseph Mapson, and running back Brian Holmes and wideout Damien Rochon-Washington also scored. The Pioneers actually took a 20-0 lead midway through the second quarter before the Maulers turned a couple of Pioneers fumbles -- one that appeared to occur after Holmes crossed the goal line -- into touchdowns of their own.

A late touchdown catch by Rochon-Washington seemed to put the game out of reach, 27-14. But the Maulers roared back with a deep scoring toss from quarterback Will Staples.

The Pioneers defense held in the end and the offense drove to the five yard line before taking a knee on successive plays to end the game.

Head Coach Mark Heiser said the Pioneers looked rusty at times. But the offense and the defense had some bright spots. Except for turnovers, the offense played well and drove the ball for large chunks of yardage. But the Pioneers made it inside the Maulers 20 three times and came away without points.

The Pioneers defense nabbed three interceptions -- by linebackers Deventri Jordan and Ben Kidd and one by safety Karl Collins.

The win marked the Pioneers first game at their new home field, St. Paul Humboldt High School on St. Paul's historic West Side. And a crowd of 530 enthusiastic fans cheered on both teams. It was one of the Pioneers' largest crowds in a couple seasons and was a fine curtain-raising for new Pioneers owner George Hall.

The Pioneers will take their 1-0 record up against the visiting Racine Raiders on Saturday, July 19, at Humboldt. Kickoff is 3 p.m.