Week 12: Stats | Recap 
Win 15-0 vs CV Predators

Pioneers Are Champions Again

It was not looking promising.

On the opening drive of the game, after just squeaking out of an apparent safety, the Chippewa Valley Predators were chewing up yards and the first-quarter clock. Using the legs of C.J. Okogeri, Vince Furby and the running and passing of quarterback L.A. Anderson, the Predators moved deep into Pioneers territory.

Turns out, St. Paul was simply catching its breath. The Pioneers defense stiffened, the Predators attempted a field goal and St. Paul tackle Martell Lightfoot burst through the line to block the field goal attempt – leaving Chippewa Valley empty-handed. It was Lightfoot’s third field goal block in two games.

And it would prove the theme of the day.

Although outgained in total yardage and outpaced in time of possession, the St. Paul Pioneers on Saturday won their second straight NEFL Championship by bending, but not breaking – and making the big play. Pioneers all-star receiver Joseph Mapson made a thrilling, “how-did-he-do-that” 40-yard touchdown reception and Ben Campbell recovered a muffed punt in the end zone to give the Pioneers a 15-0 victory in Elite Bowl IV.

“This was our game plan,” offensive coordinator Rob Neumann said. “We wanted to go for the big play when it was there, otherwise, we wanted to chew clock and let our defense do its thing.”

Do their thing they did. The Pioneers defense shut out the Predators on the Predators home field in the biggest game of the season, using timely turnovers – linebacker John Robinson recovered an Anderson fumble inside the Pioneers 10 yard line – and stingy pass coverage to keep the dangerous Predators from scoring.

The field goal blocks – all-everything tackle Jeff McGaster blocked a second Predators field goal in the second quarter – helped as well.

“Offense, defense and – especially – special teams all gave us a huge spark today,” defensive coordinator Jim Walsh said. “We are really blessed to have such a great group of guys, dedicated to each other and doing what it takes to win.”

In some ways, St. Paul escaped the first half, lucky to have it end in a 0-0 tie.  The Predators ran the ball well. Anderson, the first-year quarterback, was more effective running than passing, finishing 7 of 24 passing for 112 yards – but gaining nearly 90 yards on the ground.

But the Pioneers would be the first to hit pay dirt. Following a solid drive into Predators territory, St. Paul faces a second-and-10 at the Predators’ 40-yard line. Quarterback Paul Ciochetto dropped back and was given excellent time to throw, as guard Zac Thompson pancaked his man on the play. Ciochetto let fly towards Mapson, who was double-covered. It didn’t matter, as the superstar from Concordia University-St. Paul came down with the ball for the touchdown.

Kicker Jay Harding, turning a bad snap into a great play, threw a left-handed pass to tight end Rob Wills to complete the two point conversion for an 8-0 Pioneers lead.

Chippewa Valley again chipped away at the Pioneers defense, using Furby and Okogeri to gain chunks of yards. Again, the Pioneers turned stout. After Predators tight end Ben Yetter gave them a first-and-goal at the Pioneers 3-yard-line, the Pioneers defense put up a wall. Two plays later, Anderson couldn’t handle a bad snap and Robinson, who finished the game with 11 tackles and two tackles for loss, pounced on the ball.

The teams traded body blows until the 9-minute mark of the 4th quarter. That’s when Harding boomed a punt into Predators territory. The ball took an awkward bounce as return man Aaron Solie tried to make a play. But the ball skipped off of Solie’s shoulder pads and bounded over his head. Campbell, playing the gunner on the punt team, raced past Solie to recover the ball in the Predators end zone for the touchdown.

After Harding’s kick, the opportunistic Pioneers were up 15-0.

Then it was up to the Pioneers defense. While Anderson proved difficult to contain all game long, the Pioneers defensive line – led by defensive player of the game Guillaume Paek, McGaster, defensive end Cliff Gordy and tackle Kym Trueblood, harassed and chased the quarterback constantly. Paek had six tackles made a critical sack on third down to snuff out one Predators drive. Gordy finished with a huge tackle for loss and three sacks, giving him a whopping 15 sacks on the season. That total is just three sacks off the Pioneers team record.

But it was the Pioneers’ secondary, led by strong safety Nate Beulah with an eye-popping 11 tackles, that shut down what had been a lethal Predators passing game. They got yards late in the game, when the Pioneers were playing prevent.  But they never drew blood.

Safety Terry Jones, corners Everett Willborn and Ra Ra Armstrong, nickel back Darrell Young and dime back Andre Spencer “were simply amazing. They never gave up on a play,” Walsh said.

The defense closed out the game with Jones defending on a final pass towards the end zone.

And the Pioneers were, once again, champions.

“These guys never quit. We did a lot of things well, going against a very tough team,” Head Coach Mark Heiser said. “I am very, very proud of our team.”

St. Paul has won three straight league championships – the NAFL National Championship in 2009, the NEFL crown in 2010 and another NEFL championship in 2011. They are the first team in the NEFL to win back-to-back titles.

The Predators outgained the Pioneers 273 yards to 219 yards, picking up most of their yards on the ground.

St. Paul gained 91 yards on the ground. Mapson picked up 31 of those, playing quarterback in the Wildcat formation. Brian Warden had 22 yards rushing and Brian Holmes had 17.

Ciochetto, who did not throw an interception and was not sacked for the third straight playoff game, completed 7 of 13 passes for 128 yards and the touchdown to Mapson. Mapson went 0-2 passing on the day.

The Pioneers did not turn the ball over on the night.