Week 6: Stats | Recap 
Lost 14-6 Vs Minnesota Dragons

Dragons Steal Passes, Hand Pioneers First Loss

For their two previous games, the St. Paul Pioneers lived dangerously. They turned the ball over repeatedly, killed their own scoring chances and were slow to capitalize on field position and the other team’s turnovers.

For two games, it didn’t matter as the Pioneers defense held down the fort until the Pioneers offense could find its mojo.

Not Saturday. Not this time. Tossing six interceptions – including one returned for a touchdown on the Pioneers first offensive series of the game – and fumbling a kickoff return, the St. Paul Pioneers dug too deep a hole in losing to the Minnesota Dragons 14-6 at Humboldt High School. It was the Pioneers first home loss ever in four years at Humboldt and it dropped St. Paul into a three-way tie for the North Division lead in the NEFL National Conference at 4-1.

The Dragons, who had lost the week before at the Lake Superior Rage, had no turnovers and quarterback Jason Johnson tossed a touchdown pass – the only score given up by the Pioneers’ defense – to pull out the rivalry win.

On the day, St. Paul actually outgained the Dragons 302 yards to 267 yards. And Pioneers quarterbacks Bryan Trulen and Paul Ciochetto were not sacked. But the turnovers killed St. Paul – starting with the Pioneers’ opening drive as a Trulen pass was intercepted to give the Dragons a quick 7-0 lead in the first quarter. Truien would be intercepted three times. The quarter would end with Minnesota leading 14-3, with St. Paul’s only scoring coming on a Jay Harding field goal.

The Pioneers held on, mainly through the efforts of their defense.

"Our defense has been outstanding these past few weeks,” Pioneers offensive coordinator Rob Neumann said. “We have got to find a way on offense to stop being so careless with the football and help our defense out. It's my job to fix that problem, and I will find a way to do so."

But the Pioneers defense was hardly perfect, dropping several would-be interceptions during the game that would have given the team a spark. The normally ball-hawkish Pioneers secondary did not have a pick and the defense did not have a turnover.

Neither team would score again until Harding hit another field goal in the fourth quarter. On the day, Harding hit two field goals – but missed two as well. The Pioneers would have another chance late in the game and drove down into the Dragons’ red zone. But Ciochetto’s pass was picked off – also his third interception of the day.

"If we ever figure out a way to put a complete game together on offense, the results are going to be staggering. I firmly believe that,” Neumann said. “We have too much talent on this offense not to be successful. Our time will come."

The loss stopped the Pioneers’ NEFL win streak, dating back to last season and including last year’s playoffs, at 10. St. Paul is now 5-1 overall in 2011, 4-1 and still in a tie for first place in the NEFL North Division.

Cliff Gordy entered the day leading the NEFL in sacks with five… and he notched another Saturday. Rob Wills also recorded a sack.

Deshay Hudson led the Pioneers in rushing with 82 yards on 16 carries. Pioneers quarterbacks finished the game 15 of 28 for 220 yards – but had six intereptions and no touchdowns.

The Dragons’ Jason Johnson tallied 136 yards on 8 of 20 passing. Minnesota had 149 yards rushing – the highest total given up by St. Paul this season.

The Pioneers take on the undefeated Fox Valley Force this Saturday at St. Paul Humboldt High School.  The game is a rematch of the 2010 NEFL championship, which the Pioneers won in Appleton, Wis. The contest has enormous playoff implications for St. Paul, as a loss could drop the Pioneers out of playoff contention. Kickoff is set for 4 p.m.

Tickets are $10 for adults, children 12 and under are admitted free. Fans bringing a non-perishable food item for Second Harvest Heartland will receive $1 off admission.