2009 Team News

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Van and Hollie Earn More All-America Honors

Two members of the NAFL National Champion St. Paul Pioneers were named to the National Football Events All-America team.

Lonal Van, a bruising and technically superior offensive lineman who played college ball at Concordia University-St. Paul, was named to the first team. Van, 6-5, 320, was one of the anchors of a Pioneers offensive line that was equally adept at protecting the passer and moving bodies out of the way for the run.

"We have always known that Lonal is one of the best linemen in semi-pro football," said Pioneers Head Coach Mark Heiser. "This just gives more proof of that. We have been really fortunate to have Lonal play for us these past few seasons."

Named to the NFE All-America Third Team was Pioneers middle linebacker Josh Hollie. Hollie, in his first year roaming the middle of the Pioneers defense, was the team's leading tackler in 2009 and was the co-defensive MVP with Jeff McGaster.

Hollie, a 6-0, 230-pound instinctive ball-hawk, played college football at Western Illionois University.

"Josh was a game-changer, as he proved with defensive touchdowns in the playoffs against Racine and Bellingham," said Pioneers defensive coordinator Jim Walsh. "He is, without a doubt, one of the best middle linebackers I have coached at this level."

Both Van and Hollie were earlier named First Team All Americans by Minor League Football News and both were named NAFL All-Stars for 2009.

Pioneers owner George "Juice" Hall congratulated Van and Hollie for their accomplishments, adding that "they are All-America people as well as All-America players."

Pioneers LB Josh Hollie

Pioneers Rank #2 In The Nation

The St. Paul Pioneers are ranked second in the latest -- and final -- poll for the fall amateur football season. Or is this the first poll for 2010? Either way, it's good.




1. Oklahoma Thunder (WFL) 13-0*

2. St. Paul Pioneers (NAFL) 15-1*

3. Central Penn Piranha (NAFL) 13-1*

4. Nashville Storm (NAFL) 15-1*

5. Greenville Seminoles (CCFL) 13-0*

6. Colorado Springs Flames (CFC) 11-0*

7. Foothill Firehawks (LaBelle) 11-1*

8. Lackawana Dynasty (USFA) 13-0*

9. Madison Mustangs (IFL) 12-0*

10. New York Rebels (EFA) 13-0

11. KINGS COMETS (mcfl) 10-1

12. Columbus Fire (MCFL) 10-1*

13. Monroe County Sting (EFA) 12-1*

14. Northeast Missouri Cyclones (GMW) 15-0*
15. Columbia Flying Raiders (SEAFL) 13-0
16. Pensacola Wolfpack (Premier) 11-1*
17. Glens Falls Greenjackets (NAFL) 14-1*
18. New York Lions (RAFL) 14-1
19. Bellingham Bulldogs (NAFL) 13-1*
20. Southern Oregon Renegades (NAFL) 11-1*
21. Lowell NorEaster (NEFL) 14-1
22. New York Bandits (EFA) 12-1
23. North County (San Diego) Cobras (LaBelle) 12-2*
24. Conshockon Steelers (Colonial) 10-1*
25. Nassau Punishers (BEFA) 12-1
26. Satsuma Sharks (Premier) 12-1*
27. Carolina Express(NSFL) 12-1
28. Lima Warriors (USFA) 11-2*
29. St.Louis Bulldogs (NAFL) 10-2*
30. Lyndonville Tigers (EFA) 11-2*
31. Las Vegas Demolition (WWL) 9-1*
32. New York Buccaneers (RAFL) 13-2
33. Asheville Grizzlies (NAFL) 8-2*
34. Virginia Vipers (RAFL) 11-2
35. San Bernardino Raiders (UFAL) 11-2*


Heiser Named 2009 NAFL Coach Of The Year!

Mark Heiser, head coach of the NAFL National Champion St. Paul Pioneers, can add another award to his trophy shelf: NAFL Head Coach of the Year.

Heiser has been head coach of the Pioneers for only two years. But the Pioneers, who are joining the Northern Elite Football League in 2010, have a record of 26-3 during that time, including a 2008 NAFL Elite Eight finish and the 2009 NAFL National Championship.

Prior to taking over as head coach in 2008, Mark spent the previous two seasons as the Pioneers’ defensive coordinator, orchestrating a defense that led the league in just about every defensive category.

Mark has been involved in Minnesota semi-pro football since 2000, when he began playing nine-man football for the Richfield Chammps of the Southern Plains Football League. A former four-year starter and team captain at Concordia University-St. Paul, Mark played four years of semi-pro football.

In 2005, he hung up the pads to become the defensive coordinator of the former Twin Cities Titans. In his first year as coach, Mark led one of the league’s top defenses and helped the Titans win the Mid-America Football League championship.

During his high school coaching career, Mark has coached football and basketball at Holy Family Catholic High School in Victoria and is currently the Head Coach of the girls’ basketball team and offensive coordinator of the football team at St. Paul Academy & Summit School in St. Paul.



St. Paul Pioneers Capture National Championship on Last-Second Field Goal


By Jim Walsh

Miami Beach, Fla. – In the biggest game in the history of the St. Paul Pioneers, on the biggest stage, against the biggest competition, the team from St. Paul came through in the biggest possible way.

Using much the same formula the Pioneers tapped during a season of firsts, St. Paul captured the North American Football League National Championship with offense, defense and special teams all contributing to the victory. A John Dierkhising field goal as time expired officially gave St. Paul a 23-21 victory over the previously unbeaten Nashville Storm.

But there were many moments during the game, when longtime Pioneers and newcomers made plays that were critical to this emotional and elation-inducing win.

There was wideout Joseph Mapson’s 47-yard touchdown catch, that tied the game 7-7 after the Storm had scored on their second offensive possession. Mapson, who finished with 130 yards on six receptions and was named offensive player of the game, proved that the Pioneers were just as athletic as the heavily favored squad from Nashville.

There was original Pioneer’s Guillaume Paek’s tip of a Nashville pass, that longtime Pioneer Deventri Jordan intercepted and then, alertly, lateralled to new Pioneer Donte Pettis for an 89-yard interception return for a touchdown that gave the Pioneers a 14-7 lead. The play featured the best example of St. Paul’s big-play defense, which scored touchdowns in the team’s last three playoff games. And it featured the Pioneers resiliency, as it snuffed a Storm drive.

There was Jon Robinson, pounding in a go-ahead touchdown, putting the Pioneers back in front in the third quarter after the Storm had tied the game before halftime. Robinson’s touchdown, which gave St. Paul a 20-14 lead, came on second-effort run at the goal line, a score that recaptured momentum from the Storm. While St. Paul ran for only 17 yards on the day – and negative net rushing yardage – Robinson’s push into the end zone after he was initially stopped gave St. Paul a much-needed lift against a team that many said would prove too imposing for the Pioneers.

There was Jeff McGaster, blocking a Storm field goal later in the second half, that kept Nashville from closing the gap. McGaster, who finished with 10 tackles, including three tackles for loss and two sacks, was named defensive player of the game and spent much of his time helping neutralize a Storm attack that finished with less than 250 yards of total offense. Jordan and Val Ndikum also recorded sacks, and the Pioneers secondary of Montae Bailey, Pettis, Adrian Mitchell, Terry Jones and DeShay Hudson harassed and limited prolific Nashville quarterback Phellepe Hall to 14 of 33 passing for just 131 yards, with an interception and a touchdown.

And there was Nate Harrington, Ed Reed, Mapson, Rasheem Sharpe, Brian Holmes, Joseph Ubani, Nick Grahm and Damien Rochon-Washington, who continually chipped away at the Storm defense, making big play after big play until St. Paul wound up at the 1-yard line with 3.5 seconds to play. Harrington spiked the ball, the field goal unit lined up and Dierkhising, who had missed two earlier field goal attempts, made the first game-winning field goal of his eight-year Pioneers career as time ran out.

And, just like that, a season that spanned 16 games, thousands of miles and more drama than a daytime soap opera, ended in complete euphoria. Players and coaches embraced. Some wept. Owner George “Juice” Hall was doused in ice cold water. Head Coach Mark Heiser acted like a giddy kid, walking around with the championship trophy. People jumped, collapsed and, finally, returned to their hotels for an evening – and for some a whole weekend – of celebrating.

The St. Paul Pioneers are NAFL National Champions. To borrow a Pioneers phrase from the past: The weak never made the journey, the strong survived and prospered. They were the Pioneers.

And, on a beautiful cloudless night in South Florida, St. Paul did everything it could to finally live up to another phrase – its motto. Leave No Doubt. This win, this team, this family should now, after all this, have left no doubt indeed.


St. Paul ended the season with a overall regular season and playoff record of 15-1. The victory total is the most in team history.

Harrington finished an eye-popping 20-35 passing, for 316 yards and a touchdown and an interception. He was a pillar of calm all game, thanks in large part to the excellent protection of the offensive line. Harrington was sacked just once in the title tilt.

Mapson has been a scoring machine in several big playoff victories, scoring the game’s only touchdown against the Lawdawgs, scoring twice in the victory over Racine and once against the Storm.

Mapson was the leading receiver, but other good hands people got into the act: Ed Reed had 81 yards receiving on five catches; Sharpe had two receptions for 42 yards but drew a huge interference penalty on St. Paul’s game-winning drive; Washington had two catches for 12 yards, one resulting in a critical first down; Ubani snared a pass for a 35-yard completion in the middle of the Nashville zone and Holmes tallied 16 tough yards on four receptions against the Storm. 

St. Paul’s defense continued its scoring ways into the playoffs, scoring two touchdowns against Racine, two touchdowns against the Bellingham Bulldogs and a touchdown against the Nashville Storm. Cornerback Donte Pettis scored on a 103-yard interception return against Racine and an 85-yard return against the Storm, after Jordan flipped him the ball on a lateral before he was tackled.

Leading tackler for St. Paul was McGaster with 10 total tackles. But close behind was middle linebacker Josh Hollie, with nine; strong safety Nate Beulah, with  eight; Jordan with seven; Ndikum with six and Montae Bailey with six.

Nashville rushed for 101 yards on 30 carries, the first team to rush for more than 100 yards on the Pioneers all season.

Switching jerseys: Holmes, running back Jason Bailey and cornerback Mitchell had to wear other jerseys for the game, as their usual jerseys somehow forgot to make the trip to Miami from the Twin Cities.


Pioneers Go West to Win Spot in NAFL Championship




By Jim Walsh

Like Lewis and Clark before them, the St. Paul Pioneers journeyed nearly 2,000 miles west into uncharted territory this past weekend. And, like those earlier pioneers, the St. Paul squad accomplished something few outside their circled wagons though possible: St. Paul won a place in the 2009 NAFL National Championship game.


Missing several key starters, the Pioneers defeated the Bellingham (Wash.) Bulldogs 20-15 on Halloween night in northwest Washington State. Using two Montae Bailey interceptions, two defensive touchdowns and two key goal line stands, the Pioneers overcame the usual road woes of missing starters and missing execution to gut out an historic victory.


St. Paul started fast, jumping to a 13-0 first quarter lead on scores by fullback Jon Robinson and middle linebacker Josh Hollie.


Robinson’s touchdown run came after Bailey, the Pioneers all-star, all-America safety, intercepted a Bulldogs pass and returned it to the Bellingham 5 yard line. Minutes later, Hollie scored for the second playoff game in a row after an athletic interception at about midfield. Like Bailey, Hollie also is an NAFL all-star and a Minor League Football News all-American.


But Bellingham would come back to make a game of it. Using a precision passing game and a deceptively effective running game, the Bulldogs would score a touchdown on a diving catch in the end zone and add a field goal to close the gap to 13-9 at halftime.


In the second half, the Pioneers extended their lead to 20-9 after cornerback Terry Jones scooped up a fumble near the Pioneers sideline and ran it in for a 40-plus yard touchdown. On the play, the Bulldogs completed a short pass to the flat, but cornerback Donte Pettis stripped the ball from the Bellingham receiver, setting up the Jones score.


But Bellingham would come back again, scoring on a short slant pass. The Bulldogs two-point conversion attempt was no good, and the Pioneers led 20-15.


The game’s final minutes included much drama as the Bulldogs twice threatened to take the lead at the end. But Bailey was the first to rise to the occasion, grabbing another interception in the Pioneers end zone to kill one drive and, then Jones would swat away a pass in the end zone on 4th and two to keep the Bulldogs from winning the game just before the two minute warning.


On the last goal line stand, linebacker Deventri Jordan made a terrific stop, plugging what appeared to be a hole in the line to stuff the Bulldogs running back for no gain on third down. Then Jones jumped in front of a slant pattern at the last second to knock the ball to the turf at Bellingham’s Civic Field to end the last real threat.


The Pioneers tried to run out the clock, but a mistake by the officials awarded the Bulldogs an extra timeout and forced the Pioneers to punt after they had earlier begun kneeling down the ball. Punter Chris Husby came through in the clutch, belting a kick out past mid field from the shadow of his own goal post.


A Val Ndikum sack on the final play ended the game. And this latest version of Pioneers won their spot in football history.




Head Coach Mark Heiser and owner George Hall have the Pioneers playing in the national championship in only their second year at the top of the team. The Pioneers played for an AFA National Title in 2003 at the Metrodome, losing 28-21 to the Brooklyn Mariners.


St. Paul has defeated three higher seeded teams in the 2009 playoffs to get to the championship game. The Pioneers defeated the Iowa Lightning, the Dakota Lawdawgs and the Bellingham Bulldogs, all on the road. St. Paul beat the Cedar Valley Vikings and the Racine Raiders in home playoff games. The Pioneers are the only team in the NAFL playoffs to have played, and won, five playoff games. The title game will be their sixth.


With the win, the Pioneers improve to 14-1 on the season. No Pioneers team has ever won that many games in a single year.




Pioneers Punish Raiders in Second Half to Capture North Conference Crown


by Jim Walsh



ST. PAUL, MINN. – From their inception in 2002 through 2006, the St. Paul Pioneers couldn’t find a way to win against the storied Racine Raiders. In many cases, the games weren’t even close as St. Paul lost four times in a row.


That was then, as they say, this is now.


On Saturday night at St. Paul Central’s Griffin Stadium, the Pioneers defeated one of the most heralded teams in semi-pro football history 39-17 to capture the North American Football League’s North Conference Championship. It is the first time the 13-1 Pioneers have reached the Final Four of the NAFL playoffs. But it is the fourth straight time the Pioneers have beaten Racine.


In case anyone thought Saturday’s victory was a fluke, the Pioneers defeated Racine in Mounds View in 2007, beat them twice in 2008 – once at Humboldt High School and once, in overtime, at Historic Horlick Field in Racine. And, now, St. Paul won for perhaps the biggest prize of all – a chance to advance to the NAFL title game in Miami in November.


St. Paul defeated the Raiders with a dominant second half performance on offense, defense and special teams that saw a 9-7 halftime deficit erased on the very first series of the second half.


The Pioneers had fallen behind 2-0 late in the first quarter, as St. Paul was flagged for a holding penalty in the end zone. Racine would score again, this time on offense, as Racine’s J.R. Taylor ran in from three yards out at the end of a drive that the Pioneers kept alive with numerous defensive penalties. A Brian Holmes 1-yard touchdown rumble in the second quarter closed the halftime margin to 9-7.


The Pioneers’ deficit would vanish as the very start of the second half, as middle linebacker Josh Hollie, a first-team all-America, grabbed Racine quarterback Brent Ferdinand’s toss and returned it 47 yards for a touchdown and a Pioneers lead. Hollie had earlier knocked out Racine starting quarterback Ron Ricciardi after delivering a crushing, but clean hit. St. Paul led 14-9 and would never trail again in this game.


The St. Paul offense seemed to find life from Hollie’s heroics, with quarterback Nate Harrington hitting wide receiver Joseph Mapson twice for touchdowns in the third quarter – one from 13 yards out and the second on a 57-yard scoring toss in which Mapson blazed down the Racine sideline. That second score put the Pioneers up 28-9.


After a long march culminated in a Ferdinand to Justin Miles 15-yard touchdown pass and a two-point conversion, Racine narrowed the St. Paul lead to 28-17. But the St. Paul offense drove again, this time closing out its fourth quarter scoring with a John Dierkhising 31-yard field goal and a 31-17 lead.


Racine was not finished however, driving the length of the field as the clock wound down.


From the Pioneers 10-yard line, Ferdinand tried to hit Dorian Palmer. But Pioneers corner Donte Pettis stepped in front of the pass and streaked upfield for a Pioneers-record, 103-yard interception return for a touchdown. It was Pettis’ second pick of the night. In all, St. Paul intercepted four Racine passes, with Hollie and strong safety Nate Beulah snaring the other two. On the extra point try, holder Ben Campbell had trouble handling the snap but scrambled into the corner of the end zone for the final 39-17 margin.


Pioneers Head Coach Mark Heiser was his usual understated self after the game, praising his team for their resilience and their efforts. But a Gatorade bath administered by his players proved this was not just another game. Never before has a Pioneers team won 13 games in a season. And never before has a Pioneers team won four playoff games in a season.

If the Pioneers are to continue this run, it will take a win over the Bellingham Bulldogs next Saturday in Bellingham, Wash., in the NAFL Final Four on Oct. 31.


Pioneers officials and players will be meeting this week to determine travel plans.


But, for one cool and clear night at least, the Pioneers got to celebrate turning a page in their history and extending a special season.


Stats and Notes:


Harrington finished 15-34 passing for 211 yards and two touchdowns.

Joseph Mapson, a former Concordia-St. Paul standout, had nine catches for 156 yards and two scores.

Nick Grahm was the Pioneers leading rusher with 43 yards on five carries.

Defensively, the Pioneers dominated, intercepting four Raiders passes and sacking Racine quarterbacks seven times. Defensive end Val Ndikum had three sacks, linebacker Deventri Jordan two, defensive end Guillaume Paek one and one sack by Joe Mobley..

In all, the Pioneers defense allowed Racine to amass 261 yards on 15 for 45 passing.

On the ground, the Raiders totaled just 17 yards on 24 attempts.


Four Pioneers are Named All-America

By Jim Walsh

The St. Paul Pioneers not only have travelled deep into the 2009 NAFL playoffs as a team, but several Pioneers players continue to win recognition as individuals. Four Pioneers have been named to the 2009 Minor League Football New All-America team.

Named to the first team are Lonal Van, a 6-5, 320-pound guard from Concordia University-St. Paul and Josh Hollie, a 6-0, 210-pound middle linebacker from Western Illinois University. Both Van and Hollie have been key cogs to the Pioneers offense and defense this season. Van is a dominating lineman who is equally adept at run-blocking and pass-blocking and Hollie, in just his first season in cardinal and black, is the Pioneers leading tackler.

Pioneers defensive tackle Jeff McGaster, a game-changing player from the University of Northern Iowa, was named Second Team All-America. McGaster forces teams to account for him in every game and has dominated for one of the league’s top defenses.

Free Safety and return man Montae Bailey, a 5-11, 195-pound playmaker from Ridgewater Community College, was named Honorable Mention All-America at safety and as a kick returner. Bailey, who was a key member of the 2003 Pioneers National Championship runners-up squad, rejoined the Pioneers this year and has had a profound impact on the team with his speed and athleticism.

Pioneers Head Coach Mark Heiser praised his entire team for its hard work and excellent play this season. The four All-Americas, he said, have proved time and again this season “how good they are.”

“These are excellent football players and very deserving of this recognition,” Heiser said. “The entire Pioneers family is proud of them, and of all our players’ efforts this season.”

The 12-1 Pioneers take on the 10-2 Racine Raiders Saturday night at St. Paul Central High School in the Elite Eight of the NAFL. The winner earns a place in the NAFL Final Four and a chance to go to the championship game next month in Miami.

Pioneers top Lawdawgs in Defensive Slugfest


By Jim Walsh



Selby, S.D. – In their second meeting of the 2009 season – and the fifth time the teams have played in the past two seasons – the St. Paul Pioneers and the Dakota Lawdawgs have battled though offensive explosions and defensive wrestling matches, although St. Paul has now won all five matchups. On Saturday night at tiny Selby High School, the Pioneers topped the Dawgs again in a game dominated by defense. St. Paul won 7-0.


In fact, the defenses for both teams were so prominent that the results of this one hinged on the completion of only two passes – one to Pioneers wideout Joseph Mapson on a 21-yard touchdown pass at the end of the first half. The other was a fourth-quarter interception by Pioneers nickleback Deshay Hudson that sealed the game.


In between, well, there was just a lot of good, old-fashioned smash-mouth football going on.


In all, Pioneers quarterback Ryan Gilson finished 12 of 28 passing for 191 yards, with the touchdown to Mapson and an interception. In all, the Pioneers committed three turnovers – negating several positive plays and keeping the score close. Of course, the Lawdawgs defense had something to do with that, sacking Gilson seven times for 39 yards in losses. In all, the Pioneers gained 248 yards through the air and on the ground.


But if the Lawdawgs’ defense was good, the Pioneers’ defense was lights out.


Defensive tackle Jeff McGaster totaled 8 tackles, including two for loss and two sacks. Defensive end Val Ndikum registered 6 tackles, including two for loss, and middle linebacker Josh Hollie had 4 tackles and an interception. In all, the Pioneers defense held the Lawdawgs to 12-25 passing for 28 yards and crippled the Dakota ground game. The Lawdawgs totaled minus-five yards rushing on 20 attempts.


But perhaps the biggest play of the game was Hudson’s interception. The former St. Cloud State player stepped in front of the Lawdawgs receiver on a fourth-down pass attempt with only minutes left on the clock and outmuscled the Dakota player for the ball before being shoved out of bounds. Hudson’s pick was especially huge because it followed a Pioneers fumble late that gave Dakota new life with just minutes left on the clock.


St. Paul then kneeled down to end the game.


With the win, the Pioneers return home Saturday to face the 10-2 Racine Raiders, one of the strongest teams in the North American Football League, for a trip to the league semi-finals. Game location and time are still to be determined.


St. Paul’s victory also means the team repeats at Mid-American Region champions.


The Pioneers also defeated Dakota last year to win the Mid-America title.


Pioneers Bolt Past Lightning In Second Round

By Jim Walsh

It is a popular saying in football that speed kills. It was especially true Saturday night in Adel, Iowa, as the St. Paul Pioneers used superior team speed to, for the second year in a row, bounce the Iowa Lightning from the NAFL Playoffs.

Two Montae Bailey special teams touchdowns, in which he seemingly outraced the entire Lightning roster, sandwiched an 85-yard Nate Harrington to Rasheem Sharpe touchdown pass to top Iowa 20-7.

Last year, St. Paul had to travel to Iowa to defeat the Lightning in the playoffs second round despite the Pioneers being a higher seed. This year, the Pioneers had to travel to Iowa for the playoffs second round, despite the Lightning refusing to show up in St. Paul for a regular season game earlier this and the teams having identical 9-1 regular season records.

No matter.

St. Paul’s offense pounded the ball for 139 yards on the ground and the Pioneers defense held the NAFL’s highest-scoring team to seven points on the night. The Pioneers now move on for another rematch, this time for the Mid-America Region Championship against the Dakota Lawdawgs. The Pioneers topped the Lawdawgs 14-13 in Sioux Falls last season to advance to the Elite Eight. If St. Paul wants to return to the Elite Eight this year, it will once again have to happen in Sioux Falls.

Back to that speed thing. It didn’t take long for Bailey, the Poneers’ do-everything free safety, to make his impact felt. He returned the game’s opening kickoff 70 yards for a touchdown. Scott Schneweiss’ extra point made the score 7-0, with the game less than a minute old.

The Lightning, though, would come right back. Using a strong rushing attack and ball control passing, Iowa marched down the field – which was in an Adel city park using portable light towers – to score on a 11-yard run. K. Tisl’s kick was good and the game was tied.

The half would end with a 7-7 tie, as the teams traded blows but could not mount an effective scoring drive.

St. Paul’s players were not discouraged. “Have we been in this spot before?” defensive coordinator Jim Walsh asked his squad. They nodded. “And what happened?” he asked.

“We won,” the players shouted in unison. So it would be again on this night.

St. Paul’s speed showed itself again on the Pioneers’ first drive of the third quarter. Sharpe, a dynamic receiver from Concordia University-St. Paul, sprinted past the Iowa defensive back on the fifth play of the drive. Harrington, who finished five of 21 passing for 156 yards, hit Sharpe perfectly in stride to give St. Paul its second lead of the game, 14-7.

Speed again came into play for the Pioneers defense. Iowa, known for its high-powered attack, moved the ball at times, hitting passes in the middle of the field, but St. Paul’s linebackers and defensive backs were fast enough to chase down the Lightning receivers before they could hit pay dirt. The Pioneers defensive line, also, showed off its speed – collecting five sacks of the Iowa quarterback, Tackles Jeff McGaster and Kym Trueblood each had a sack and harassed the Lightning passing game all night. And defensive end Val Ndikum used his strength and speed to collect three sacks around the edge of the Iowa line.

Three Pioneers interceptions – by defensive backs Terry Jones, Adrian Mitchell and Bailey – cancelled Lighting drives and kept St. Paul in the lead.

The final example of St. Paul’s superior speed came soon after the start of the fourth quarter. Seeking to trim St. Paul’s 14-7 lead, Iowa lined up for a field goal try. But the snap was bobbled and Tisl picked up the ball in an attempt to make a play. He did – he fumbled the ball and Bailey scooped it up and scored 80 yards later. Bailey finished the night with two touchdowns, an interception and nine total tackles on defense.

After all that speed on display, it was time for St. Paul’s offense to start throwing body blows. The Pioneers running game, led by bruising back Brian Holmes running behind the punishing St. Paul offensive line, took over. Holmes gained 131 yards on 24 carries. After pushing the ball out from the shadows – literally – of their end zone, St. Paul ran out the clock and had its victory.

St. Paul, now 11-1, must return to the road this week to beat a Lawdawgs team the Pioneers topped earlier this season in Sioux Falls 19-3. But Head Coach Mark Heiser was quick to encourage his team to take the road as a challenge.

“Each game is a chance to prove yourselves all over again,” he told a jubilant Pioneers squad after the end of the Lightning game. “Rise to the challenge.”

Pioneers Success Shows In All-Star Selections

By Jim Walsh
Pioneers DT's Jeff McGaster & Kym Trueblood

Winners of their second straight Northern Lights Division title, owners of a 10-1 record and winners of their opening round playoff game 46-0, the St. Paul Pioneers appear to have garners another measure of respect. The North American Football League has named a dozen Pioneers to the league all-star game, to be played in Miami on Championship Weekend Nov. 14-15.


Three Pioneers were named First Team All-Stars: Offensive lineman Lonal Van, a bruising 6-5, 320-pounder from Concordia University-St. Paul; Defensive tackle Jeff McGaster, the Pioneers’ disruptive force from the University of Northern Iowa, and defensive end Val Ndikum, a pass-rushing phenomenon from Concordia and the great nation of Cameroon.


Pioneers OL Lonal Van & CJ Sanderson
Pioneers DE Val Ndikum

Three more Pioneers were named Second Team All-Stars: Offensive lineman C.J. Sanderson, a dominant 6-7, 310-pound blocker from Concordia; offensive lineman Jermaine Riley, a veteran 6-1, 309-pound guard from Southern Arkansas University and defensive tackle Kym Trueblood, a grizzled semi-pro who attended Grambling University who still gives offenses fits.


While team owner George “Juice” Hall said he believes more Pioneers deserved first- or second-team honors, the longtime semi-pro football veteran said he was pleased to hear that another six Pioneers were recently named Honorable Mention selections. They are:


Pioneers G Jermaine Riley
Pioneers WR Ed Reed
Pioneers LB Deventri Jordan
Pioneers LB Josh Hollie

Wide Receiver Ed Reed, a perpetual deep threat and league veteran who repeatedly makes defensive backs pay;

Linebacker Deventri Jordan, a stalwart stopper from St. Cloud State University who has shown amazing versatility along the defensive front seven;

Linebacker Josh Hollie, from Western Illinois University, who has become the team’s leading tackler in just his first season as a Pioneer;

Free Safety Montae Bailey, from Ridgewater Community College, who patrols the secondary with ferocity, speed and skill and has five returns for touchdowns this season;

Cornerback Adrian Mitchell, a shutdown cover man from Concordia who has quietly turned in a dominating season;

Cornerback Donte Pettis, a veteran cover man from Winona State University, who is equally powerful against the pass and the run.


Pioneers Head Coach Mark Heiser praised the team’s all-stars, not only for their skill, but for all the sacrifices they have made to push the Pioneers toward the top of the league.


Pioneers DB Montae Bailey
Pioneers DB Adrian Mitchell

These players are all deserving of the NAFL All-Star selections. Each player has shown that they one of the best at their position,” Heiser said. “There is no doubt that any of these players would start on other NAFL teams. Each player is deserving of these selections and has put forth the time and dedication it takes to be honored by the league.”


Hall, who has been involved with the Pioneers since their inception in 2002 and has been around semi-pro football since he began playing in the old Mid-America Football League in 1995, said the all-star selection process can sometimes leave some teams scratching their heads about why some players are left off the list. But, he said, he is happy to see so many Pioneers recognized.


“These guys put their souls on the field,” Hall said.

Pioneers DB Donte Pettis

Pioneers Pillage Vikings 46-0

by Jim Walsh


It might have taken the St. Paul Pioneers offense a half to get rolling, but once it did, the Cedar Valley Vikings didn’t stand a chance.

 Following a dominating defense early and an open-the-flood-gates offense late, the Pioneers pounded the Vikings 46-0 last Saturday at Mounds View High School in the first round of the NAFL playoffs. The win puts the Pioneers at 10-1 on the season and sets them up for a second round contest this coming Saturday against the Iowa Lightning.

 Those watching the first half might have been surprised by the scoring orgy after halftime. After all, St. Paul led only 10-0 after the first 30 minutes of play.

 The Pioneers, however, weren’t surprised.  Offensive Coordinator Jason Fleming knew it was only a matter of time.

 “The plays are there,” he said at halftime. “We just have to execute like we know how and stop shooting ourselves in the foot.”

 St. Paul’s first three series of the game ended in a punt, a blocked field goal and an interception. The Pioneers finally opened the scoring in the second quarter, with a 25-yard field goal by John Dierkhising. And they finished the first half scoring on a 10-yard screen pass from Nate Harrington to Nick Grahm. On the play, Grahm faked the Vikings defensive back with a sick inside more before breaking down the sideline. Team owner George “Juice” Hall joked that the defender might still be lying on the field.

 It was in the second half, however, that Harrington and the rest of the offense found their stride.

 The roll began with a Harrington to Ed Reed, 41-yard touchdown toss, ending a five-play, 79-yard drive. That made the score 17-0 and, although close, the Pioneers complete dominance began to show. Just minutes later, the Pioneers special teams got into the act as cornerback Donte Pettis returned a Vikings muffed snap on a punt to score a 13-yard touchdown. The two-point conversion was good, as Ben Campbell ran in what had been a bad snap, and the rout was on – 25-0.

 St. Paul would score three more times in the fourth quarter – on a 29-yard Harrington to Brian Warden pass, a 34-yard Harrington to Reggie Houston pass and a 35-yard run by speedy running back Will Winters. Quarterback Harrington finished the night completing 9 of 19 passes for 193 yards and four touchdowns. Powerhouse running back Brian Holmes was the leading rusher, with 97 yards on 14 carries. Winters had 68 yards and a touchdown on just four carries.

 Throughout the game, before the offense started scoring and after, the Pioneers defense completely dominated a quality Vikings team. St. Paul held Cedar Valley to a total of 15 yards total offense. That is not a misprint. Cedar Valley gained only 15 net yards for the entire game – and was a minus-1 yard rushing on 27 attempts. A peek at the stats shows that Cedar Valley had 10 rushes for positive yardage and 17 rushes for negative yards or no gain.

 Leading the Pioneers defense in tackles, as he has for most of the season, was middle linebacker Josh Hollie, with 11 total stops. But it was certainly a group effort.

 “Everybody did a great job,” said Jim Walsh, the Pioneers defensive coordinator. “After our last game against these guys (during which the Vikings ran for nearly 100 yards), our players were really determined to play their responsibilities and not give up any cutbacks.”

 The end result was impressive, as defensive end Val Ndikum recorded six tackles – including five tackles for loss – and a sack. Defensive tackle Jeff McGaster also had six tackles and a sack and linebacker Deventri Jordan recorded five tackles, including one for loss.

 Next up for St. Paul is a trip to Adel, Iowa, outside Des Moines, for a playoff showdown with the highest scoring team in the North American Football League – the Iowa Lightning. The game is a rematch of last year’s second-round playoff contest, which St. Paul won on a late fourth-quarter touchdown drive. Iowa certainly is seeking revenge and Pioneers Head Coach Mark Heiser warned his team that they need to play their best game of the season so far if they hope to move on to the next round. Game time is 7 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 10.


“These guys [Iowa Lightning] might be the best team you have played so far,” Heiser said. “We need to bring our best to beat them.”


Pioneers Close Out Regular Season with Dominating Performance

by Jim Walsh

Juice Hall

The St. Paul Pioneers on Saturday wrapped up their regular season – what team owner George “Juice” Hall calls the “dress rehearsal” – in convincing but workmanlike fashion Saturday, beating the River Cities Rough Riders 35-6 at Humboldt High School.


Pioneers quarterback Nate Harrington returned to action for the cardinal and black for the first time in 2009, tossing three touchdown passes to three different receivers. As importantly, Harrington did not turn the ball over and was not sacked in the game. The last time Harrington played was in the Pioneers Elite Eight loss to the eventual NAFL champion Indianapolis Tornados last year. The Pioneers finish the 2009 regular season with a 9-1 record.


St. Paul opened the scoring Saturday on a Harrington to Joseph Ubani touchdown pass at the end of their first drive of the game. The Pioneers would not score again until midway through the second quarter, when fullback Jon Robinson, a Concordia-St. Paul graduate known for his hard-nosed style, rumbled in from 12 yards out. The Pioneers scored again before halftime on a 41-yard Harrington-to-Ed Reed touchdown pass. Reed continues finding ways to get behind opposing secondaries.


The Rough Riders, battling gamely through the heat with just 18 players in uniform, gave the Pioneers’ defense fits all day, rushing for 88 yards. And they used the run well to set up their passing attack, tossing a long touchdown pass of their own in the first half. St. Paul led 21-6 at halftime and neither coaches nor players were pleased with the lethargic play.


The tempo picked up a bit in the second half, as St. Paul scored two more times – one on a short run by fullback Jay Barrow and another on a Harrington-to-Joseph Mapson strike, good for 38 yards. In all, Harrington finished 10-for-25 for 147 yards and three touchdowns. The Pioneers, who rushed for 128 yards on 19 attempts, did not turn over the ball. Will Winters, a top Pioneers running back a year ago who is back from active military duty in Iraq, was the leading rusher Saturday, with 80 yards on just eight carries.


Free safety Montae Bailey led the Pioneers defense with six tackles and a fumble recovery, once again making a strong case to be named to the NAFL All-Star team. The Pioneers pass defense limited the Rough Riders to just three completions for 63 yards passing


St. Paul now has a couple of weeks to practice and prepare for what is expected to be a home playoff game on the first weekend of October. The team’s final playoff seeding and playoff opponent are still to be determined. In what has been a somewhat challenging season – with two home games cancelled because opponents no-showed – the Pioneers still managed to win the Northern Lights Division and put themselves in the hunt for a top-two seed in the north for the NAFL playoffs.


All in all, the season turned out to be pretty close to the kind of “dress rehearsal” Hall envisioned all along. Now, the owner reminded the team in a post-game speech, the real work begins.

by Jim Walsh

LB Deventri Jordan

Deventri Jordan, St. Paul Pioneers' linebacker and team captain, was aching.  His neck, he said, is giving him fits.  That’s what happens when you take on a fullback, over, and over, and over to help contain a team’s rushing attack.  “Man, I blew that fullback up,” Jordan said.  “It hurts, you know?  But the win feels great.”

The St. Paul Pioneers (8-1) turned in a workman-like effort to beat the Cedar Valley Vikings (5-3) 20-0 in Waterloo, Iowa on Saturday September 12th.  It wasn't a pretty game, and the Pioneers' defense, again and again, had to repel a physical and elusive Vikings' running game until the offense found its footing.  The end result put St. Paul in good position to secure the #2 playoff seed in the Northern Conference.

Cedar Valley had come into the game with a 5-2 record and undefeated at home.  So Pioneers Head Coach Mark Heiser told his team leading up to the game that this was sure to be no repeat of St. Paul’s easy 46-7 victory at home in July.  In fact, the Vikings had recently defeated the Iowa Lightning, the NAFL’s highest-scoring team (49.1) 14-7 at Cedar Valley.  “They are not going to give you anything,” Heiser told his players before the game.

In reality, Cedar Valley succeeded in taking away some of what the Pioneers are used to doing.  The score was a 0-0 tie at halftime, as the Pioneers defense played stoutly, but the offense sputtered.  The closest the Pioneers came to scoring was having two field goal attempts blocked.

The second half saw the Pioneers have a touchdown pass called back to start the third quarter, and players on the sidelines were beginning to get restless.  However, that’s when Pioneer safety and punt returner Montae Bailey turned the tide.  After letting a Vikings punt roll for several yards, Bailey picked up the ball just as two Cedar Valley players were converging on him.  He made the first one, then the other, miss tackling him before breaking to the outside and dashing down the Pioneers' sideline on his way to a 62-yard punt return and the game’s first points.  The extra point attempt was blocked, and St. Paul led 6-0.  It was Bailey’s fifth return (kick or interception) for a touchdown this season.

At the beginning of the fourth quarter, the Pioneers’ defense got into the scoring column.  As Cedar Valley passed the ball backward on what appeared to be an attempted double pass, the ball hit the turf.  Pioneers' cornerback Terry Jones scooped up the football.  There was no whistle and the refs signaled it was a live ball.  Jones returned the fumble 56 yards for the Pioneers' second touchdown.  It was Jones’ second touchdown this season.  A two-point conversion attempt was stopped by penalty, but the Pioneers made the ensuing extra point kick and led 13-0.

The Pioneers' last score would come on its last offensive play of the game.  It was a 35-yard bobbing, weaving, and then punishing run by Nick Graham.  The play capped perhaps St. Paul’s best drive of the night.  The kick was good and St. Paul had its final score of 20-0.

Defensively, the Pioneers were again led by their tackling machine, Josh Hollie.  The middle linebacker recorded an eye-popping 14 tackles, including two for a loss, and a sack.  Defensive linemen Jeff McGaster and Val Ndikum each had 10 tackles.  McGaster also blocked a Vikings' field goal attempt.  Nose tackle Kym Trueblood had eight tackles, and Jordan, the sore-necked linebacker, had six.

In all, the Pioneer defense turned in one of its most physically demanding performances of the season.  Cedar Valley running back Dominic Lemmons was especially hard to corral.  The Vikings rushed for 98 yards, but it took them 35 carries to get there (2.8 average).  Vikings' quarterbacks completed just 2 of 12 passes for 21 yards.

On offense, the Pioneers continually shot themselves in the foot with penalties or turnovers.  Quarterback Ryan Gilson struggled (12-29, 161 yards, 0 TD / 2 INT).  Offensive Coordinator/Assistant Head Coach Jason Fleming was visibly peeved afterwards.  “We are too talented to not be able to score points and move the ball,” he said.  “We are going to have to play a lot more consistently in the playoffs.”

Wide receiver Ed Reed led in receiving yardage with 71 yards on three receptions.  Rasheem Sharpe had five catches for 61 yards.  Nick Graham finished with 69 yards rushing and a touchdown on just five carries.  Overall, the Pioneers rushed for 87 yards on 19 carries.  Running back Brian Holmes had 26 yards on 12 carries.

St. Paul finishes its regular season schedule next Saturday at home at Humboldt High School, playing the River City Rough Riders at 3 PM.  Fans are encouraged to come out and support the Pioneers as they get ready to make what Heiser and company hope will be a long and successful playoff run.


By Jim Walsh

Pioneers DT Micheal Bellamy

Defensive tackle Micheal Bellamy doesn’t get a lot of reps. When you are backing up all-America tackles like Kym Trueblood and Jeff McGaster, that is to be expected. But when Bellamy got his chance Saturday against the Minnesota Maulers, he made the most of it.

The Pioneers had just fumbled at their own 5 yard line. The game was tied at 9 in the third quarter and the Maulers, playing tough all day, threatened to score and possibly upset the Pioneers’ bid to win the division title.

Then Bellamy made the most of his time on the field.

Inserted along the defensive line as part of the Pioneers goal line package, Bellamy, a former Central Lakes Community College player, stripped the ball from a Maulers running back. The Pioneers recovered the fumble – one of four fumble recoveries on the day – and snuffed out the Maulers threat. The Pioneers would go on to score 10 more points in the contest and win 19-9, clinching the North American Football League’s Northern Lights Division title in the process.

It is the second straight division title for the Pioneers. Bellamy said he just feels good to have made a contribution. “Yeah, it feels really good,” he said. “I just have to be ready when they need me. It was a lot of fun today.”

The Pioneers (7-1, 6-1 in the NAFL) played much of the first half as if they didn’t want to be on the field. But much of that could have been because the Maulers, who the Pioneers beat easily several weeks ago, were playing inspired football. Whatever the reason, the Maulers scored first, hitting a field goal after completing a long pass deep into Pioneers territory and, later, took a 9-6 going into halftime.

“We’re playing tight, like we have to make the game-winning play on ever down,” Pioneers Head Coach Mark Heiser told his squad at halftime. “You just need to come together, support each other and do your own job. Just do your own job and the rest will take care of itself.”

The Pioneers answered the call, forcing the Maulers on three-and-outs on their first two series of the second half. At the same time, the Pioneers Scott Schneweis hit a 30-yard field goal on St. Paul’s second series, tying the game at 9. A series later, Bellamy made his big play.

The Pioneers would own the scoring sheet in the fourth quarter, with Schneweis hitting another field goal – this one from 35 yards out – and quarterback Ryan Gilson tossing a 12-yard touchdown pass to Rasheem Sharpe.

Gilson finished the day 13-30, for 251 yards and two touchdowns – the other was to Joseph Mapson in the second quarter. But Gilson, who played a very strong game the previous week against the Dakota Lawdawgs, also struggled -- throwing two interceptions and fumbling once. Gilson’s fumble was one of four fumbles by the Pioneers Saturday, including three by running back Nick Grahm, who rushed for 49 yards. The turnovers marred an otherwise strong offensive showing, with the Pioneers tallying 133 yards on the ground and 251 yards through the air.

Pioneers Defense Head Off The Field After A Maulers Turnover
Pioneers DB Andre Spencer Intercepts A Maulers Pass

At the end of the game, team captain Jermaine Riley awarded the game ball to the entire Pioneers defense, which held the Maulers to just 32 yards rushing on 19 carries (a 1.7 yard per carry average) and 111 yards passing. The Pioneers also intercepted Maulers quarterback Will Staples three times.

Leading the Pioneers defense was tackling machine Josh Hollie, with 11 total tackles. Trueblood, the big defensive tackle from Clemson, had five tackles and forced one of the Maulers four fumbles.

But, perhaps the biggest forced fumble belonged to Bellamy, who has stayed patient all season.

“I would rather be on the sidelines, watching, and win, than be on the field playing and lose,” Bellamy said after the game. “But to be on the field and help us win, that’s the best feeling of all.”

Pioneers Defeat Lawdawgs 19-3


By Jim Walsh

Three Ryan Gilson touchdown passes and a defense that held the Dakota Lawdawgs potent rushing offense in check led to a 19-3 St. Paul Pioneers road win on Saturday, Aug. 22 in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.


“This was a complete game, a complete victory. This one feels good,” said Pioneers head coach Mark Heiser. “You guys should be proud of the effort you brought today.”


The Pioneers are now 6-1, 5-1 in the NAFL, and are alone atop the Northern Lights Division with three regular season games left to play. In the process, the pinned the first loss on the previously undefeated and 5th-ranked Lawdawgs. It is the fourth time in two seasons that the Pioneers have topped the Dawgs, with the last victory coming in the 2008 Mid-America Conference championship game in Sioux Falls.


Wideout Ed Reed was the beneficiary of much of Gilson’s passing prowess Saturday. Reed started the scoring in the first quarter, snaring a 90-yard touchdown toss from the former Mesabi Range Community College and St. Paul Central quarterback. Reed’s catch picked up where he left off last season, when he and Gilson repeatedly beat the Lawdawgs on long touchdown strikes. The score served as the Pioneers’ answer to an opening field goal by the Sioux Falls team that briefly gave the Lawdawgs a 3-0 lead. The half would end with the Pioneers leading 7-3.


The Pioneers offense started the second half having to punt. But St. Paul’s second series led to paydirt again, this time with Gilson hitting receiver Reggie Houston on a 15-yard touchdown pass. The Pioneers would end the scoring for the night in the fourth quarter, on a Gilson to Brian Holmes screen pass.


Offensively, Gilson passed for 302 yards going 12-15 for the three scores. Just as important, he did not turn the ball over. Reed was the leading receiver with 118 yards. On the ground, the Pioneers tallied 45 yards against a stout Lawdawgs defense, with Nick Grahm dashing for 40 yards on six carries.


As critical as the impressive showing by the Pioneers offense was, the St. Paul defense also rose to the challenge. Last week, the Lawdawgs featured two running backs who each gained more than 200 yards on the ground against their previous opponent. On Saturday, the Pioneers defense limited the run-heavy Lawdawgs to 121 yards on 33 carries. More importantly, the Pioneers continued playing tough pass defense, holding Dakota to just 105 yards through the air.


Pacing the defense was free safety Montae Bailey, who should be considered for NAFL defensive player of the week. Bailey, who played college ball at Ridgewater Community College, racked up 11 total tackles, including nine solo, and grabbed a Lawdawgs pass for a 31-yard interception return.


Also playing stellar games on defense were linebackers Kyle Hannah, who had nine tackles, including two for loss, and Josh Hollie, who had eight stops. Defensive End Val Ndikum had a strong game, with seven tackles including one for loss. The Pioneers also forced and recovered two fumbles, winning the turnover battle 3-0.


Next up for St. Paul is a rematch with the Minnesota Maulers, this time at St. Paul Humboldt High School, on Saturday, Aug. 29. Kickoff is scheduled for 3 p.m.


St. Paul won the first game between the teams handily. But the Maulers are sure to be more formidable this week, after picking up several of their usual players who had been playing for the South Metro Dragons in a spring league.


On Tuesday, Heiser warned his team that it had better be ready for a tough challenge Saturday if the Pioneers want to keep their momentum going.


“Make no doubt the Maulers team we face on Saturday will be a much better team than the team we played a few weeks ago. They have revamped their roster and added a number of key players,” Heiser said. “We need to be prepared and focused! That starts at practice on Wed. night.”




St. Paul Batters Bruisers, Dubuque Heads Home After The First Half


By Jim Walsh

Pioneers Players Celebrate Another TD

They say that revenge is sweet. But this was taking it way too far.


The St. Paul Pioneers avenged their only NAFL loss of the season, pounding, punishing and pummeling the Dubuque Bruisers 44-0 on Saturday, Aug. 15 at St. Paul Humboldt High School. In fact, the domination of an undermanned Bruisers squad was so great, the Dubuque team decided not to play the second half.


With the victory, the Pioneers improved their record to 5-1 overall and 4-1 in the North American Football League. They also found that revenge thing against at Bruisers team that topped the Pioneers down in Iowa by a 14-12 score. This game looked nothing like that one.


First of all, St. Paul receiver Rasheem Sharpe decided to take over, scoring four touchdowns -- three on passes from quarterback Michael Spriggs and one on a kick return. Easily the player of the game, Sharpe, a product of Concordia University-St. Paul and St. Paul Central High School, made it all look so easy. Running back Brian Holmes scored the Pioneers other two touchdowns.



Pioneers WR Rasheem Sharpe
Andre Spencer and Defensive Coordinator Jim Walsh

Sharpe wasn't the only one to make it look easy. So did the Pioneers defense, which harassed Dubuque quarterback Jamar Jackson all day and penned in the Bruisers for negative-41 yards of total offense in the half. It would have been interesting to see if the defense could have kept Dubuque penned up in the second half. But we'll never know. The Bruisers decided to go home.


Pioneers Shrink Giants Down To Size 58-19


By Jim Walsh

Maybe it was the heat. Perhaps it was the brilliant sunshine. Or, perhaps, it was just that all that talent on the Pioneers offense started clicking at the same time. Whatever it was, the St. Paul Pioneers found their scoring groove on Saturday against the Rochester Giants – racking up points on offense, defense and special teams.


St. Paul won at Rochester, 58-19.


Quarterback Ryan Gilson enjoyed perhaps his best day leading the Pioneers offense, passing for 259 yards and three touchdowns against a lone interception. If Pioneers receivers hadn’t dropped seven passes, Gilson would have been a gaudy 19 for 27.


But the Mesabi Range Community College graduate wasn’t the whole story. The Pioneers rushing attack, led again by Nick Grahm and Brian Holmes, logged 172 yards on the ground and accounted for two touchdowns – one by Holmes and one by Jason Bailey.


Receivers were led by Reggie Houston, who had three catches for 102 yards and a score. Ed Reed and James Jackson also caught touchdown passes.


And free safety Montae Bailey had another kick return for a touchdown, his fourth return for a score this season.


The defense, too, got into the act. Linebacker Deventri Jordan returned a pick for a score, as did cornerback Terry Jones.


It was a game dominated almost from the start by the Pioneers. After the Pioneers defense stopped the Giants on their first series, the offense took only one play to put its first points on the board on a long Gilson to Houston touchdown pass.


Later in the first half, with the Pioneers leading 21-7, Rochester was driving when Montae Bailey wrested the ball away from the Giants’ running back and returned the forced fumble into Rochester territory. Again, the Pioneers scored on the next play and went into halftime leading 28-7.


The second half showed more Pioneers dominance, as St. Paul answered every Giants threat with more points.


In all, the Pioneers offense totaled 439 yards, while the defense gave up 235, with most coming against Pioneers reserves. The Giants rushed 31 times for 82 yards, an average of 2.6 yards per carry.


“This was a good win, by everyone involved,” Head Coach Mark Heiser told the team after the game.


It was also a good tune-up for St. Paul, as it faces the Dubuque Bruisers next Saturday at 3 p.m. at St. Paul Humboldt High School. The Pioneers lost to the Bruisers 14-12 last month in Dubuque and must win this game to keep its hopes for repeating as NAFL Northern Lights Division Champions alive.

Pioneers Shutout Maulers 36-0


By Jim Walsh

The way Josh Hollie racks up tackles, the St. Paul Pioneers linebacker might want to carry a calculator in his equipment bag.

The former Western Illinois player netted 10 total tackles, a sack and a forced fumble to lead a smothering defensive effort Saturday against the Minnesota Maulers. The Pioneers used an increasingly impressive defense and an opportunistic offense to notch their third NAFL win, beating the Maulers 36-0 at Minnetonka High School. In five games this season, Hollie – a first-year Pioneer – has 38 total tackles. That works out to an average of nearly eight per game.

Hollie was impressive, but he was not alone. Montae Bailey, the fleet Pioneers safety, recorded a 108-yard interception return for a score – his third return for a touchdown this season. And cornerback Donte Pettis also stole a Maulers pass. In fact, it was the Pioneers’ defense that got the scoring started, on a safety by defensive end Val Ndikum.

The offensive would take over from there, with quarterbacks Ryan Gilson and Michael Spriggs splitting the snaps. Spriggs recorded a touchdown pass to James Jackson, as well as running for a score. Gilson struggled a bit on the stat sheet, but would have performed better if Pioneers receivers held on to at least three well-thrown balls that would have been big gains.

In all, the Pioneers defense held the Maulers, a longtime rival, to 41 yards of total offense – including an eye-popping 3 yards rushing on 26 carries. Want to know the math? The Maulers rushed for a miniscule 0.2 yards per carry on the day.

St. Paul, by contrast, rushed for 111 yards and three touchdowns – on runs by John Robinson, Spriggs and Brian Holmes. Gilson and Spriggs passed for 155 yards and a touchdown.

Patrick Mitambo converted 4 of 5 extra points for the team in black and cardinal.

St. Paul has no time to relax or rest on another impressive win, however, as the high-scoring and undefeated Iowa Lightning come to town for a game on Saturday, Aug. 1. Kickoff at St. Paul Humboldt High School is 3 p.m.

The Lightning are leading the North American Football League in scoring and just shut out the Dubuque Bruisers 24-0 in Dubuque. The Bruisers beat the Pioneers a week ago 14-12.

The Lightning certainly are not only looking to keep their unbeaten streak alive, but are also hoping to exact a bit of revenge on the Pioneers. Last season, the Pioneers beat Iowa at Iowa in the second round of the NAFL playoffs on a last minute touchdown drive.

This year’s version of the Lightning features quarterback Randy Blackford, who leads the league in quarterback rating.

Pioneers LB Josh Hollie
Pioneers QB Michael Spriggs
Pioneers DB Montae Bailey
Pioneers Fall To Bruisers In Final Seconds


By Jim Walsh

After watching the St. Paul Pioneers and Dubuque Bruisers first NAFL games this season, a fan could be forgiven for not expecting a defensive battle July 18, when the two Northern Lights Division foes met in Cascade, Iowa.

But that’s exactly what happened.

St. Paul was bumped from the ranks of the NAFL unbeatens, losing 14-12 to the Bruisers in a game that featured big plays, big hits and, for St. Paul, a disappointing ending.

In its first three games, Dubuque (3-1) scored 118 points. Elusive quarterback Jaymar Jackson passed for 977 yards and ran for another 121. In wins over the LaCrosse Rough Riders and the Cedar Valley Vikings, the Pioneers have rolled to 84 points.

At the opening Saturday, it appeared the game would be another scoring frenzy. But the defenses would clamp down.

The Pioneers opened the scoring on a Ryan Gilson to Ben Campbell touchdown pass. The point after was blocked and St. Paul led 6-0. Dubuque, which drove the Pioneers’ defense crazy with Jackson’s scrambles and escapes, would later take the lead 8-6 on a Jaymar Jackson touchdown pass and two-point conversion. On the play, Pioneers defenders insisted that the Bruisers receiver, who was alone on the sideline, stepped onto the playing field after the play started. But the four-man officiating crew saw nothing wrong and awarded the points.

The half ended 8-6, as the Pioneers’ defense rose to the challenge and found a way to both contain the Bruisers’ talented quarterback and stifle their speedy receivers.

St. Paul retook the lead in the second half on a fourth-down, Gilson to Ed Reed touchdown pass. The Pioneers, who were missing all three of their kickers for the game, were forced to go for two points, but Brian Holmes, who racked up big yardage with punishing runs on the day, was tripped up just short of the goal line. The Pioneers led 12-8.

Late in the fourth quarter, the Pioneers defense finally cracked. After stopping Jackson and the Bruisers on four straight possessions, Dubuque completed a long pass to the Pioneers 2-yard line. Dubuque punched in the touchdown with 25 seconds remaining on the clock. A two-point try failed and the Bruisers led 14-12. A desperation pass by Gilson was intercepted and the game ended with the Pioneers on the losing end.

After the game, Head Coach Mark Heiser told his players to keep working and keep their heads high. Last year’s Elite Eight team also suffered a last minute regular season loss, he said, and they came back to post an 11-2 mark. This year’s team, he told them, has all the tools to do the same.

“And,” Heiser said, “We will see Dubuque again at our place in St. Paul.”

St. Paul plays their second road game in a row Saturday, although a lot closer to home, when the Pioneers take on their longtime rival, the Minnesota Maulers, at Minnetonka High School on July 25. Kickoff is scheduled for 6 p.m.

Pioneers Crush Vikings 46-7

By Brian Schulz

Pioneers QB Ryan Gilson

The St Paul Pioneers opened up the 2009 home schedule in dazzling fashion Saturday, defeating the Cedar Valley Vikings (1-1) 46-7 at Bob Ryan Athletic Complex in St Paul.

The Pioneers scored in all three areas of the game Saturday, using two special team touchdowns, a defensive score and offensive production to pound the Vikings.

“Anytime you can get all three areas of the game clicking at the same time you’re bound to get good results,” said Head Coach Mark Heiser. “I was very pleased to get our guys in front of the home fans and play a solid game.”

The Pioneers were led by two special teams TDs by Montae Bailey, one on a 75 yard punt return and the other on a 75 yard kick-off return. The Pioneers never trailed the Vikings and improved to 2-0 (2-1 overall) on the year in NAFL play.

The offense got on the board early and often behind two TDs passes from Ryan Gilson and two TD runs by FB John Robinson. Robinson opened up the scoring with a 6 yard TD run, followed by Gilson hitting TE Joseph Ubani on a 60 yard TD reception.

Early in the second quarter Gilson hit WR James Jackson on a 21 yard TD reception, followed by another 2 yard TD run by Robinson.  Robinson has 5 carries on the year, 3 of which have been short yardage touchdowns.

“Our defense played great and combined that with outstanding special teams, it gave us a short field most of the day,” said Offensive Coordinator Jason Fleming. “I thought our offense really did a great job taking advantage of their mistakes and executing.”

Montae Bailey
Josh Hollie

The defense once again held its opponent under 100 total yards on the day, and also contributed on the score board with a 16 yard fumble return for a touchdown by LB Josh Hollie late in the 4th quarter. The Vikings lone score came on a reverse pass for a TD. The defense was stout against the run and constantly harassed the Vikings quarterbacks.

Defensive Coordinator Jim Walsh was very pleased with the efforts. “Our pass rush, especially coming from Val Ndikum and Jeff McGaster, really made them uncomfortable all game long, and outside of one long rushing play I don’t think they did anything on the ground either.”

Next up for the Pioneers is a game against the Dubuque Bruisers in Dubuque, Iowa. The Bruisers, coming off a defeat at the hands of the Racine Raiders, are 2-1 on the year.  Game time is set for 5:00 PM at Cascade High School in Cascade Iowa.

Pioneers Win NAFL Opener 37-0
June 27, 2009

By Brian Schulz

To say the St. Paul Pioneers were frustrated entering Saturday’s game against the La Crosse Rough Riders might have been the biggest understatement of the season. After losing the pre-season opener 14-10 to the South Metro Dragons, the Pioneers had their first home game canceled, giving them two full weeks to stew over the loss and missed opportunity.

“No doubt our guys were ready to get back on the field”, Head Coach Mark Heiser said. “I think the first half showed how ready we were.” And ready they were, as the Pioneers collected their first win of the season by manhandling the Rough Riders 37-0 Saturday in West Salem, WI.

The Pioneer offense rolled early and often, grinding out over 200 yards rushing on the day to go along with two TD passes by QB Ryan Gilson. The Pioneer defense dominated, collecting 6 turnovers, 6 sacks and held the Rough Riders to just 87 total yards on the day.

Behind a bruising rushing attack led by Brian Holmes, Nick Grahm , Jason Bailey and John Robinson, the Pioneers offensive line dominated the line of scrimmage and added three quick TDs, two for Holmes and one for FB John Robinson who refused to be denied the end zone on a punishing 12 yard carry. Overall, the Pioneers rushed for 177 yards on just 12 carries in the first half.

QB Ryan Gilson finished out the first half scoring by hitting WR Ed Reed for a 32 yard TD reception highlighted by Reed dodging two defenders before sprinting down the sidelines for the score.

The early lead was all the Pioneer defense needed as it pinned back its ears and hounded the Rough Riders all day long. Led by DT Jeff McGaster, who collected 7 total tackles, 3 for losses including one sack, the defense also collected sacks by LB Deventri Jordan, DT Kevin Miller, as well as DT Guillaume Paek, and DEs Val Ndikum and Chris Sinclair.

The defense held the Rough Riders to 39 yards on 24 carries and, and more impressively, held the Rough Riders to just 48 yards on 6 completions (26% completion percentage) including 3 interceptions. Collecting interceptions for the Pioneers were LB Deventri Jordan, LB/S Darrell young, who also collected a fumble on the day, and CB Quincy Jones.

“Overall I’m very pleased with the defense,” Defensive Coordinator Jim Walsh said. “Anytime you can hold an offense to under 100 yards on the day, well, that’s a good day. I think their passing attack rated out to 0.00, and they gained just over a yard per rush. The really scary thing is we clearly had room for improvement. I’m excited to see us continue to improve week after week.”

The Pioneers will return to action on July 11, 2008 as they take on the Cedar Valley Vikings in their home opener at Bob Ryan Athletic Complex located on the grounds of Humboldt high School in St Paul. Game time is scheduled for 3:05 PM.

Pioneers Fall To Dragons In Pre-Season Game 14-10

June 13, 2009

By Jim Walsh

Game Photos By Becky Allen
Pioneers CB Deshay Hudson and DT Jeff McGaster Combine On A Tackle
Ah, the joys of preseason.

Putting on the pads for the first time in 2009 against another team, the St. Paul Pioneers lost a pre-season game June 13 to the South Metro Dragons 14-10 at Minnetonka High School. The Dragons were playing their sixth game of their spring/summer season.

Again, the joys of preseason.

How else to explain the Pioneers outgaining the Dragons in total yards by nearly 2-1, and yet losing?

How else to explain the Pioneers defense limiting the Dragons to just 29 yards on the ground -- or just six completions for 110 yards through the air -- and yet losing?

The joys of preseason, of course.

St. Paul found plenty of reasons to be encouraged by the game. Its secondary played well, although P-Unit defenders let three interceptions slip through their hands and garnered no turnovers. The front seven played well, although the Pioneers had only one sack, despite the Dragons throwing the ball 24 times.

And the offense played well between the 20 yard lines, scoring the first touchdown of the game on a Ryan Gilson to Ed Reed bomb. Reed had five receptions for 107 yards and the score. Running backs Brian Holmes and Nick Grahm each rushed for more than 50 yards, showing a nice combination of power and speed.

But the Dragons came up with the big plays, picking off Gilson three times and returning one of those picks for a game-changing touchdown.

Pioneers WR Ed Reed
Pioneers RB Nick Grahm
Ah, the joys of preseason.

Preseason is over, however, on Saturday, June 20. The Pioneers are set to take on the Chicago Chippewas in their NAFL and home opener. Kickoff is 4:05 p.m. at St. Paul Humboldt High School. Head Coach Mark Heiser said there were many good things to build on from the Dragons game... and some things to learn from. He hoped the Pioneers learned enough to leave the joys of the preseason in the preseason and start the 2009 regular season on a better note.

"This week, it counts," he said.

Leave No Doubt