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Week 8: Stats | Recap
Win 9-6 Vs Lake Superior Rage

Pioneers Stop Rage

Jeff McGaster is back – and just in time.

McGaster, the St. Paul Pioneers’ all-star defensive tackle and one of the most dominant defensive players in the league, led a spirited St. Paul defense that harassed, corralled and curtailed the Lake Superior Rage all day Saturday in a 9-6 Pioneers win. With the victory, St. Paul clinched a spot in the 2011 playoffs that gives them a chance to defend their league championship.

It might not have happened without McGaster’s two sacks, numerous tackles and quarterback hurries – or the holding call he forced against the Rage late in the game that forced Lake Superior to unsuccessfully attempt a 54-yard game-tying field goal.

“I’m baaaack,” McGaster said, noting the previous game he’d missed with a leg injury.

Many others of the Pioneers defense stepped up to play big, said defensive coordinator Jim Walsh. A fact made especially necessary when several Pioneers defensive starters, including McGaster and three of the four starting defensive backs, arrived too late to play in the game’s first series. Players such as Dion Wilson, Cliff Gordy, Michael Bellamy, John Liebfried, Jake Schoenecker, Ben Campbell and Andre Spencer filled in well and bolstered a defense that gave up less than 100 yards rushing on the day and limited the Rage passing attack.

“Darrell Young and Terry Jones had big days, blocking field goals to help us turn back a very potent Rage team,” Walsh said.

On the offensive side of the ball, quarterback Paul Ciochetto was efficient, passing for nearly 140 yards. But he also tossed a couple of interceptions – one killing a Pioneers scoring chance in the red zone and another setting up a Rage field goal. He was not sacked, thanks to a Pioneers offensive line that has played extremely well all season.

Wideout Reggie Houston, the NEFL’s leading receiver, continued his assault on the record books with eight receptions for 94 yards. Deshay Hudson gained 75 yards and ran with authority. But neither Houston nor Hudson could find the end zone Saturday.

Good thing, then, that another player was back – to playing at a top level. Kicker Jay Harding, who had struggled some in the previous couple games, was 3-3 on field goals, accounting for the Pioneers’ points and putting the team in position to clinch home field throughout the playoffs if they win this weekend against the Minnesota Dragons.

“Jay was back to his usual all-star self,” Head Coach Mark Heiser said of the kicker from Cornell. “We needed that.”

Offensive coordinator Rob Neumann said: "I was happy with how we controlled the ball for much of the game. But we have got to find a way to stop kicking field goals, and start scoring touchdowns, and take some pressure off of our defense."

"Once we start putting up 6 points, instead of 3, I think I'll sleep a little easier at night."

McGaster was named defensive player of the game. But Jones made what was perhaps a game-saving tackle when he chased down a Rage running back after a long gain on a reverse. Jones’ stop forced the Rage to eventually kick a field goal that tied the game 6-6 at the time.

Houston now has 41 catches for 668 yards and five touchdowns to lead the NEFL. Joseph Mapson, the Pioneers other star receiver, is second in the league with 31 receptions for 474 yards and a touchdown. Hudson has 410 yards rushing and a touchdown on 74 carries, good for a fifth place ranking among NEFL running backs.

Gordy continues to lead the league with nine sacks. McGaster is second, with six sacks.

St. Paul is scheduled to play the Minnesota Dragons – who are tied with the Pioneers at 6-1 but hold the tiebreaker for the division title because they beat St. Paul 14-6 earlier this year – at 7p.m. Saturday at Irondale High School in New Brighton. If St. Paul wins, they would finish as the league’s top seed and would host throughout the NEFL playoffs. If St. Paul loses, they would likely have to travel throughout the playoffs.