Week 3: Stats | Recap

Pioneers control ball and clock in 16-3 win

Nick Graham made his wishes known before the game.

“I want 20 carries, I want 20 carries,” he said, looking at the threatening skies.

Graham, who spent last season recuperating from a major injury, wasn’t being selfish.  A powerful running game does much to offset nasty weather – such as was on the horizon.

Graham didn’t quite get 20 carries, and the skies ended up sunny and mild for the St. Paul Pioneers’ game against the Lake Superior Rage on Saturday.  But he got 16 carries, good for 85 yards and a touchdown, to help the Pioneers control the clock and the tempo in a 16-3 win.

In all, St. Paul rushed for 158 yards and two touchdowns – part of a balanced attach that totaled 326 yards through the air and on the ground. That balanced offense was complimented by a Pioneers defense that never allowed the Rage into the end zone and held their often-explosive offense to just over 200 net yards.

The defense especially rose to the occasion in the second half, using two Jeff McGaster sacks, interceptions by Guillaume Paek and Andre Spencer and two goal line stands to keep the Rage from hitting paydirt.

Altogether, a very satisfying game, Pioneers offensive coordinator Rob Neumann said.

“We had excellent balance,” he said. “It was one of my goals to get Nick at least 15 carries, and we did that.”

When Graham and the rest of the running backs are on, St. Paul can be an especially dangerous team.  With receivers Reggie Houston and Joseph Mapson again making an impact all over the field, a potent St. Paul ground game could make the Pioneers an even stronger foe in the playoffs.

“We know we can get yards through the air,” Neumann said of quarterback Paul Ciochetto’s 189 yards on 14 of 22 passing. “But our offensive line and backs are really beginning to feel it on the ground.”

Graham scored on a powerful first quarter run to put the Pioneers on the scoreboard first. Bruising back Brian Holmes scored St. Paul’s second touchdown.

It was shortly after that score that the Rage mounted their first big threat, returning a punt deep into Pioneers territory. But that threat would stall at the St. Paul 1-yard line with a great goal line stand, forcing Lake Superior to kick the field goal and go into halftime trailing 14-3.

Both teams traded shots in the second half, with the Pioneers moving the ball but being unable to punch it in. Again, the Pioneers defense had to stiffen near its own goal line after the Rage worked down the field. But Paek, a defensive end, sniffed out a short pass at the 10-yard line and picked off Ragequarterback David White to end the threat. Later, Spencer also picked off White to snuff out a Rage drive.

St. Paul was the only team to score in the second half, with a safety.

McGaster, the Pioneers’ all-world defensive tackle, ended the game with a sack as the Rage were hoping for a final tally.

Note: Will Winters, a Pioneers running back for the past several seasons, was named defensive player of the game for stepping in a doing a terrific job at cornerback. Winters was tested several times during the game, including during the first goal line stand, and came through with flying colors.

The Pioneers allowed just 33 rushing yards, a stark contrast from the last time these teams played.  Last season, the then-Superior Stampede rushed for more than 200 yards in a 3-point win in Superior.

The Pioneers go into the Memorial Day bye week at 3-0 overall and 2-0 in the NEFL. They take on the Menomonie Thunderhawks in Wisconsin on June 4.