Pioneers Advance to 2012 NEFL Championship Game
By Cassie Kickert

2012 Week 10: Stats | Recap

In two games earlier this season, the St. Paul Pioneers outscored the Minnesota Spartans 55-22. Saturday’s playoff game, though, had more at stake. The winner would go on to Elite Bowl V, the Northern Elite Football League title game.

The loser would go home.

Less than two minutes into the game, the Pioneers sent a message: They would not be going home.

On the Pioneers’ first offensive play, Isaac Odim took the ball right and ran 54 yards to the end zone for the game’s first score.

Then, after defensive back Jake Lindsey intercepted Spartans quarterback David Connors’ double-reverse, Hail Mary pass, Pioneers quarterback Michael Spriggs and wideout Marcus Foster connected on a 40-yard touchdown pass. Just like that, the Pioneers set the tone for the rest of the game.

For the game, Foster had four catches for 114 yards.

The Spartans, however, were not quite ready to fold their tents, using a powerful running game to advance deep into Pioneers’ territory and knock on the door of their end zone. This time, it was the Wrath of Kahn Defense that would make a statement – keeping the Spartans out of the end zone on a spirited goal line stand.

The Spartans’ next possession would start at the Pioneers 13. But they were once again denied the end zone, however, by Jeff McGaster and Lionel Lamarre. They did score three points when John Ostertag kicked a field goal, making the score 14-3 Pioneers about halfway through the second quarter.

After two incomplete passes and a fake punt failed, the Pioneers turned it over on downs. Defensive end Garrett Johnson ensured the Spartans didn’t get anywhere either when he stopped Connors short of a first down.

Two long passes, one to Foster and one to Delane Woods, moved the Pioneers downfield quickly on their next drive. Then, after a touchdown pass was called back on a penalty, Spriggs decided to take it in himself just before halftime.

The score at halftime: 21-3 Pioneers.

The third quarter didn’t start as the Pioneers hoped when Lamarre fumbled the ball on the opening kickoff return.

No worries.

The Pioneers took it right back when defensive end Cliff Gordy recovered a Spartans fumble caused by Johnson. Johnson, the Pioneers rookie defensive end from North Dakota State University, finished the day with 11 tackles, a sack and a forced fumble.

The Pioneers would stop another Spartans drive a few plays later, when safety Nate Beulah, a team captain from Northern State University, snatched an errant Connors pass. Beulah, who also had four tackles and a sack, was named defensive player of the game.

This time, the Pioneers turned the turnover into more points. After Spriggs ran for a first down on fourth and one, he found Woods running down the seam for a touchdown.

Saturday, Spriggs did it all. He had 73 yards rushing as well as 168 yards passing.

Woods had two catches for 40 yards and a touchdown. When asked if fans can expect another touchdown in the championship game, Woods said:
“[I’m] always looking to block for Isaac. If I get an opportunity to, I’m going to try to score,” he said.

After long drives by each team resulted in turnovers on downs, the Spartans’ next possession started at their own 3 yard line. However, it wouldn’t last long. The Pioneers were still hungry for the ball, recovering a Spartans fumble on the drive’s first play.

On the very next play, the game ended just as it had started, with Odim running for a touchdown. Odim’s run, with about two minutes to go in the game, made the final score 34-3. The running back from the University of Minnesota-Duluth had 113 yards and two touchdowns on just 11 carries.

The Pioneers now advance to the fifth annual NEFL Elite Bowl where they will face the Chippewa Valley Predators this Saturday, August 4. Kickoff at Concordia University-St. Paul’s Seafoam Stadium is scheduled for 6 p.m.

When asked about playing the Predators and former Pioneers receiver Reggie Houston – one of several former Pioneers who have gone to play for the Predators over the past two seasons – defensive back Russhon Armstrong had this to say:

“I love a good challenge but I’m not hyped about playing Reggie. I’m hyped about our team playing the Predators. I’m a team player. I’m going to do what I need to within the team to make sure we win,” he said.