Week 5: Stats | Recap 
Win 20-7 Vs Eau Claire Crush

Pioneers Pull out Win, Avoid Getting Crushed

After all the yards, after all the hard hits, the sacks, the big plays, it all came down to this.

The Eau Claire Crush were driving for a possible tying touchdown and go-ahead extra point.  Crush quarterback Justin Marion had the St. Paul Pioneers defense on its heels, his combination of scrambles and timely throws had driven the Crush down to the Pioneers 9-yard line.

Then linebacker Tierre Thompson stepped into the spotlight.

Marion, under pressure from St. Paul defensive end/tight end Rob Wills, tried to throw away the football before he was sacked. Instead, Thompson snared the low throw and returned it 31 yards to kill the scoring threat and give the Pioneers great field position late in the fourth quarter. Pioneers running back Deshay Hudson would take over from there, dashing away for 51 yards to set up his own scoring plunge to seal the game and give the Pioneers a 20-7 victory over a tough Crush squad at Carson Park in Eau Claire.

With the hard-fought and dramatic win, the Pioneers improve to 4-0 in NEFL play, one of only two undefeated teams in the league, and 5-0 overall. Hudson finished the night with 122 yards rushing on 13 carries, with one touchdown. Thompson, a backup linebacker, won defensive player of the game honors.

“We didn’t make it easy on ourselves,” Pioneers Head Coach Mark Heiser said. “Of course, Eau Claire had a lot to do with that.”

The Pioneers took a quick 7-0 lead in the first quarter, on a Bryan Trulen to Reggie Houston touchdown pass. Trulen passed for 257 yards, on 17 for 35 passing. When the Pioneers took a 10-0 first quarter lead on the first of two Jay Harding field goals, it looked as if the defending league champions would have a big night.

But the Eau Claire defense – and their young and mobile quarterback – had something to say about that.

Eau Claire would score a touchdown on a long sideline route from Marion in the second quarter to make the score 10-7. And the Eau Claire defense, with three interceptions and a fumble – all by Trulen – hounded the Pioneers and kept them from extending their lead. The half ended 10- 7 Pioneers.

In the second half, the Pioneers played better and moved the ball. But each time St. Paul tried to close the door on the Crush, the Crush defense battled back. The Pioneers added another Harding field goal in the fourth quarter to take a 13-7 lead, but it was far from secure.

Despite being continually hounded by Pioneers defenders Jeff McGaster, Cliff Gordy and Guillaume Paek, Marion moved Eau Claire down the field late in the game – only to hit the wall against Thompson and watch the game slip away.

McGaster sacked Marion once, Gordy had 1.5 sacks and Wills had a half sack. St. Paul’s defense picked off the Eau Claire quarterback twice – with McGaster snaring a screen pass and Thompson’s late pick. In all, the Pioneers outgained the Crush 401 net yards to 251. Eau Claire mustered only 47 yards rushing.

St. Paul, with solid running by Brian Holmes, Hudson and Brian Warden, gained 175 yards on the ground. Houston had a good game receiving, with four receptions for 83 yards and a touchdown. Houston’s all-world receiving corps partner, Joseph Mapson, had a terrific day – gaining 136 yards on eight receptions.

But all those numbers came down to a single, pivotal moment – when Thompson stepped up and made the biggest play of his Pioneers career.

“Tierre saved us there,” said Jim Walsh, the Pioneers defensive coordinator. “Coach Heiser is always talking to the guys about not waiting for someone else to make a play, but to grab the opportunity. Tierre did that when we needed it most.”

Notes: The win sets up a major showdown next week at St. Paul Humboldt High School, as the Pioneers take on the Minnesota Dragons (3-1). A win will leave the Pioneers in sole possession of first place in the North Division of the National Conference. A loss would leave the Pioneers and Dragons, and perhaps the Lake Superior Rage, tied for the division lead.

The game is also the Pioneers Ladies Night Out, featuring nearly a dozen vendors and multiple prize giveaways. Game time is 4 p.m.