Week 4: Stats | Recap

After a Tough First Half, Pioneers Find Their Wings

In Reggie Houston and Joseph Mapson, the St. Paul Pioneers have perhaps two of the best receivers in semi-pro football – game-breakers who can take over a contest. But, for the first half Saturday, Pioneers’ quarterbacks couldn’t get them the football.

Starter Paul Ciochetto and Bryan Trulen, who has been alternating at the position, struggled to hold onto the football and struggled to pass it to the right team against the Menomonie Thunderhawks at the University of Wisconsin-Stout.  Three Ciochetto interceptions, one Trulen interception and three fumbles by the quarterbacks – for seven turnovers total in the first half – left the Pioneers trailing 10-0 at halftime and gasping for air.

Good thing the Pioneers have a tough defense, or the margin could have been much worse.

Whatever offensive coordinator Rob Neumann and Trulen worked out at halftime seemed to do the trick, however. The Pioneers found Houston for two touchdown passes and Mapson for one en route to scoring 28 unanswered points in the second half to win the game 28-10.

Despite the miscues, the Pioneers amassed 461 yards of offense – including Houston’s eye-popping 201 yards on 10 receptions. Mapson finished with 128 yards on eight catches.

“We just had to clear our heads and recognize where the plays were,” Neumann said of Trulen’s impressive second half performance. “Bryan is a good quarterback. He just had to make the right reads.”

Ciochetto, who played exceptionally against the Rage in the Pioneers’ last game, had a tough half and may have suffered an arm injury. He will be evaluated this week. He finished 4 for 8 passing, for 71 yards and the three interceptions.

Head Coach Mark Heiser was firm in what he told the Pioneers at halftime.  “We have to calm down,” he said. “And we have to decide that each of us are going to make plays. We can’t wait for somebody else to do it. Each of you has to decide that you are going to make a difference today.”

The Thunderhawks started the scoring, hitting a first quarter field goal after a Pioneers turnover on their first offense series. It would set the tone for the half.  The Pioneers would move the ball, eat up yards, then lose the ball. The Pioneers defense, led by tackle Jeff McGaster who had nine tackles, three tackles for loss and was in on two sacks, succeeded in keeping those fumbles and interceptions from becoming more points.

But the Pioneers also had trouble holding onto their composure in the first half.  They were flagged for 13 penalties worth 130 yards for the game, most in the first half. In fact, a penalty led to the Thunderhawks’ touchdown after a personal foul gave them first-and-goal in the second quarter. They scored on a short touchdown pass to take a 10-0 lead. The Pioneers blocked a field goal later in the half to preserve the 10-point deficit.

“Our defense struggled some with the heat and all that time on the field. And the T-Hawks have some really good players,” said Jim Walsh, the team’s defensive coordinator. “But our guys really battled to keep us in the game. We knew that if we could keep them out of the end zone in the second half, our offense would come around.”

Come around they did. Trulen started making crisp, accurate passes and the Pioneers closed the gap to 10-7 on a 20-yard Houston touchdown in the third quarter. St. Paul followed with another Houston touchdown – a 75-yard catch and run – to end the third quarter with a 14-10 lead. Houston is beginning to pick up steam, showing again the ability to make tough catches in traffic as well as stretching the field.

Trulen kept up his strong play in the fourth quarter, hitting Mapson on a 48-yard touchdown pass to make the Pioneers’ lead 21-10.

“Mapson and Reggie are a coach’s dream,” Neumann said. “I would take those two – and all my receivers – over anyone in the league. They are not only talented, but smart.”

Neumann also credited the Pioneers offensive line for giving his quarterbacks time to throw. Despite the miscues, the Pioneers allowed only a single sack.

After the heroics by Houston and Mapson, the Pioneers defense, led by Darryl Young’s interception for a touchdown, closed the door. Just like that, it was 28-10.  A Terry Jones interception in the end zone after another turnover – a fumble by Trulen after the two-minute warning – locked the door and threw away the key.

With the win, the Pioneers improve to 4-0 overall and 3-0 in the tough Northern Elite Football League. They also were able to keep pace with their division rival, the Minnesota Dragons, who are also 3-0.

Deshay Hudson was the Pioneers’ leading rusher, gaining 81 yards on 10 carries.  Brian Warden had 32 yards on 13 carries. Overall, St. Paul rushed for 113 yards and passed for 348.

The Pioneers defense was led by McGaster, but Cliff Gordy and Rob Wills also recorded sacks on the day. Safety Andre Spencer notched six tackles and had one pass defended. Tackle Kym Trublood and linebacker John Robinson had five tackles each. Overall, St. Paul held Menomonie to 112 net yards of offense for the night – including just 52 on the ground.

St. Paul is back on the road next week, traveling to Eau Claire, Wis., to take on the Eau Claire Crush. Game time is scheduled for 6 p.m. at Carson Park.