Pioneers Win Third Straight Elite Bowl
By Cassie Kickert

2012 Week 11: Stats | Recap

Saturday, the Pioneers played in their third consecutive Northern Elite Football League Elite Bowl.  Would they win their third championship, and fourth overall, in a row?

It was looking good early, when linebacker John Robinson stopped Predators quarterback LA Anderson short of a first down.

The Pioneers offense started quickly as well when, just a few minutes later, quarterback Michael Spriggs threw to Delane Woods, who then ran 23 yards for the game’s first touchdown.

Woods had never played in a championship game before Saturday’s Elite Bowl.

A short time later, however, the Predators became only the third team to score on the Pioneers this season as Vince Furby ran 72 yards for a touchdown. After a failed extra point attempt, the score was 7-6 Pioneers. Suddenly, the future of the Pioneers’ title hopes weren’t quite so clear.

Another penalty on the next Pioneers possession forced the team to punt again.

But, each time the Predators appeared to mount a threat, the Pioneers’ defense was there to douse it.  When the Predators got close to midfield on a Furby run, defensive end Jeff McGaster eliminated any chance of getting further when he sacked Anderson back at the Predators 34.

Then it was time for the Pioneers’ running backs put on a show. First, Spriggs passed to Odim, who ran all the way to the Predators 41. Then, DeMario Walton went to work, running for 34 yards, including the last 16 for another touchdown five and a half minutes before halftime. The score at half: A nail-biting 14-6 Pioneers.

The third quarter began with more penalties on the Pioneers when an Odim touchdown run was called back on a chop block. Then, another roadblock in the Pioneers’ quest for a championship: a Spriggs pass intercepted in the Predators in the end zone.

Was Spriggs rattled? Nope. “The best are able to forget about the last play and focus on the next,” he said.

Indeed, Michael Spriggs has proven all season that he is one of the best. He led the NEFL in passing with 1,464 yards passing and 25 touchdowns in the regular season.

The Pioneers defense received a gift, when former Pioneers and current Predators receiver Reggie Houston was ejected from the game after being charged with his second personal foul penalty.

What enabled the Pioneers defense to be so dominant this season? Ac cording to Defensive Coordinator Kahn Powell, it was a combination of steady veterans and enthusiastic newcomers.

“[Before this season], it was the same guys every year. Bringing in guys like Phil [Breidall] and Jake [Lindsey] added depth [this year]. This year, I was the defensive coordinator. I’m more of a motivator, an energizing coach. We’ve always had a good defense. We just needed that motivation to go the extra step,” Powell said.

Powell said that one of the defense’s most valuable players this season has been defensive end Garrett Johnson. He picked Johnson because “ he had two guys on him every game and never complained. [He was also] an energetic leader.”

In Saturday’s championship game, Johnson was one of six Pioneers defensive players with five or more tackles. The others were Robinson, McGaster, Guillaume Paek and linebackers Patrick Mitambo and Billy Quistorff.

Spriggs got in on the running game on the next Pioneers drive before Odim ran in from four yards out for another Pioneers score. The Predators significantly hurt their chances of winning when they were unable to convert a long fourth down and the Pioneers took over.

The Pioneers’ running game again took over, with St. Paul holding the ball for 8 minutes until Odim scored his second touchdown of the day. The score was 28-6 after Harding’s extra point.

Offensive Coordinator Rob Neumann said the running game and consistent quarterback play by Spriggs were the biggest difference in the offense this season compared to past years. In this game alone, the Pioneers had 326 rushing yards, 221 of them by Odim.

Pioneers players, coaches and fans could taste victory with about five and a half minutes to go in the game.

Brian Holmes’ 13 yard touchdown run all but sealed the win and the championship for the Pioneers with three minutes to go.

The Predators would sneak in another touchdown pass to Montae Bailey with about two minutes to go but it would not be enough.

When the Predators failed to execute a two point conversion, the score was 35-12 Pioneers. That would be the final score, as a Predators onside kick attempt was recovered by the Pioneers, which highlights another strong suit of the 2012 Pioneers – special teams. All season long, the Pioneers kicking teams and return teams have played stellar ball. Kicker Jay Harding, longsnapper Kyle Stelter, return men Lamarre and Odim and whirling dervishes Bobby Wright, Patrick Mitambo. Tierre Thompson and Jake Lindsey made the Pioneers special teams truly special.

The Pioneers are now NEFL Champions for the third year in a row. For some Pioneers, though, this was their first championship. Spriggs, Woods and Lionel Lamarre all won their first championship ever as Pioneers. When asked to describe how they felt, it was hard for them to come up with words.

“I can’t even describe the feeling,” Spriggs said, with a big smile on his face after the game.

Lamarre, who has been playing football since the age of 11, echoed Spriggs’ sentiments.

“Just a great feeling, being able to work with a great group of guys like this, setting a goal and not only reaching but surpassing it. It’s an inexplicable feeling,” he said.

Woods was thankful for his teammates and coaches.

“It feels great. I’m overwhelmed. Great group of guys, great coaching staff. They put us in a great position, teaching us fundamentals, putting us in the right situation,” he said.

Some Pioneers, like Nate Beulah, Jeff McGaster and Damien Rochon-Washington, have been here before.

“This one’s a little more personal because we had a couple of key players go [to the Predators]. We wanted to show them the Pioneers aren’t done yet,” McGaster said.

“This team separates itself from even the great Pioneers teams in the past. We weren’t beaten. We took care of business every game this year,” Rochon-Washington said.

Beulah said winning this championship is different because the Pioneers have the number one offense and defense.

What made this team special?

McGaster and Beulah both credited the offense, saying it was better this year than any year before.

Both Powell and Neumann said the camaraderie was what made this team special. Powell also credited the volunteers and interns, saying their efforts also contributed to the Pioneers success.

Rochon-Washington summed it up best when he said, “[We] played hard for one another. We were always focused on a championship from the start. That was unique. I recognized that early. I’m very proud of us.”

Indeed, he has a lot to be proud of.