Week 7: Stats | Recap
Win 17-10 Vs Fox Valley Force

Pioneers and Mapson Force the Issue, Take Over At End

It was a game befitting two defensive powers, a knock-down, drag-out battle where the team that made one more play would claim victory. Thanks to Joseph Mapson going into a phone booth as Clark Kent and coming out in the final three minutes as Superman, the St. Paul Pioneers were that team.

St. Paul defeated the Fox Valley Force 17-10 in a rematch of last season’s Elite Bowl Championship and, in the process, kept its playoff and division title hopes alive.

The Pioneers, coming off their first home loss in four seasons last week against the Minnesota Dragons, struck first – converting a Jay Harding field goal for a 3-0 lead. But the Fox Valley defense would repeatedly frustrate the Pioneers offense for much of the day, giving up yards between the 20-yard lines but stiffening in the red zone.

The game entered the fourth quarter in a 3-3 deadlock.

Then, it appeared, Pioneers cornerback Everett Wilburn would be the hero of the day. He picked off a Fox Valley pass and returned it 41 yards for a touchdown.  Just like that, the Pioneers had a 10-3 lead and, seemingly, control of the game.

Wilburn’s score was just one of many big plays on the day for the Men In Black defense. Cornerback Terry Jones and safety Andre Spencer also had interceptions and the Pioneers recorded six sacks – including three more by league-leader Cliff Gordy. Gordy now has nine sacks on the season.

But the Force offense was not dead yet. Taking advantage of a mistake in the Pioneers’ secondary, Fox Valley scored on a 56-yard pass and catch to tie the game 10-10. Suddenly, overtime did not seem out of the question with the way each defense continually stymied the other team’s offense.

Pioneers quarterbacks Paul Ciochetto and Bryan Trulen had a good day statistically, avoiding throwing an interception just one week after they threw a total of six picks. But they also could not ignite the Pioneers passing game for touchdowns.

It was then, as the game clock was heading under four minutes, that Head Coach Mark Heiser and Offensive Coordinator Rob Neumann made the decision to put Mapson, one of the NEFL’s top receivers, in at quarterback in the Wildcat formation.

“We’ve been practicing it quite a bit, just to give other teams something to think about,” Heiser said. “We decided that, with Joseph’s mobility, he could give us a spark.”

Spark was an understatement. Taking the reins of the offense deep in Pioneers territory, Mapson proceeded to pick up big chunks of yards running left and right. And when he didn’t run, the threat of him running preoccupied the Force defense, enabling Pioneers running backs to record gains.

A huge 47-yard run by Brian Warden gave the Pioneers a first-and-goal at the Force one-yard line as the clock ticked to under a minute to play.

Two Mapson attempts later, and the Pioneers took a 17-10 lead. The defense wrapped up the game as the Force could not convert on fourth down and turned the ball over on downs.

Gordy was not the only defender to have a good day. Patrick Mitambo, Rob Wills and Michael Bellamy also recorded sacks. The Pioneers defense held the Force to 139 total net yards and won the turnover battle with three picks to none.

The Pioneers offense showed a balanced attack, with 124 yards rushing and 155 yards passing. Cichetto finished 12 for 18 passing, for 104 yards. Trulen, who took over in the second half, completed 7 of 16 passes for 51 yards.

Warden was the team’s leading rusher, with 61 yards on eight carries.

Linebacker Josh Hollie was the leading tackler with nine stops. Wills, linebacker John Robinson and Spencer each had six total tackles.

The Pioneers have a bye week over the Fourth of July weekend. They resume their hunt for the NEFL playoffs on July 9th in Superior, Wis., against the Lake Superior Rage. The Pioneers beat the Rage 16-3 earlier this season in St. Paul.  If the Pioneers win, they will clinch a playoff spot. Last year, however, the Pioneers lost in Superior on their way to a 10-2 overall record and a NEFL championship.