Team Effort Clinches Western Conference for Pioneers
By Cassie Kickert

2012 Week 8: Stats | Recap

Saturday’s game in the extreme heat and humidity of LaCrosse, Wisconsin, didn’t start as the Pioneers had hoped, at least defensively, as they watched the River City Rough Riders drive down the field for over eight minutes to start the game.

Defensive back Lionel Lamarre temporarily righted the ship when he recovered a fumble that stopped the long drive and gave the Pioneers possession.

Then, the offense went to work.

Isaac Odim, who has become the Pioneers’ trustworthy and consistent ball carrier, got the Pioneers to the Rough Riders 38 yard line. After a pass from Spriggs to tight end Joe Ubani moved the chains again, Spriggs threw 33 yards to receiver Damien Rochon-Washington, who slid across the goal line for a touchdown, the game’s first score, in the second quarter. Jay Harding banged the extra point off the upright, however, making the lead 6-0.

The Rough Riders would answer with another long drive, which resulted in a touchdown as well. After linebacker John Robinson blocked the extra point, the score was tied at 6.

When asked what made it hard to defend the Rough Riders in the beginning, defensive back Nate Beulah said: “They were just executing… We took for granted that we have a good team and underestimated them in the beginning.”

On the next play, the versatile Odim showed he can do it all, returning the Rough Riders’ kickoff 88 yards for a touchdown. This time, the extra point went straight through the uprights, making the score 13-6 Pioneers.

Lamarre ended the Rough Riders’ next drive as well when he anticipated a pass by quarterback Karl Hoffmann and jumped up and took it away.

The Pioneers gave it right back, though, when Spriggs was intercepted.

No big deal.

Robinson decided blocking the extra point wasn’t enough. He was hungry for the ball. It showed when he tipped Hoffmann’s pass with one hand and caught the ball with the other hand, marking the second interception of the day for the Pioneers.

After a 25-yard pass to Ubani, Spriggs threw to Marcus Foster, who made an unbelievable, one-handed catch in the end zone for a touchdown just before halftime. Harding’s kick made the score 20-6 Pioneers at the half.

The Pioneers mixed it up on special teams to start the third quarter when Ubani ran back a punt to the Rough Riders 46 yard line before it took almost the entire team to tackle him.

Spriggs and Odim carried the ball on consecutive plays before Spriggs threw to Delane Woods in stride for a touchdown. However, Harding’s extra point was blocked. The score was then 26-6 Pioneers.

After the Pioneers stopped the Rough Riders again, St. Paul marched down the field on Odim and Spriggs runs. Then Spriggs hit Woods again, jetting down the far sideline, for another touchdown.  Woods finished the day with 4 receptions for 140 yards and 2 touchdowns.

When asked what made this game different from others this season, Woods said he was just being patient, waiting his turn.

“Spriggs believed in me and I had to make a play,” he said.

Spriggs had a strong day passing, completing 9 of 15 passes for 241 yards and 4 touchdowns.

A Spriggs fumble could have given the Rough Riders some momentum. But coverage by the Pioneers defense and, in particular, Beulah, Jake Lindsey and Lamarre, kept LaCrosse from completing a pass.

What changed on defense from the beginning of the game?

“We realized who we were and we realized that we weren’t just going to walk on the field and beat them. We had to actually impose our will,” Beulah said.

The Pioneers took over on downs at the Rough Riders 47. After Woods caught another long pass that took the Pioneers to the 8, Odim walked in for a touchdown.

Harding ran in for two more points, making the score 40-6.

Two interceptions by linebacker Corey Brenner would lead to two Pioneers field goals in the fourth quarter. The final score: 46-6.

When asked what he thinks about being challenged and having competition before the playoffs, Beulah said:
“In the playoffs, we’re going to play teams that are expecting to win. They’re not going to lay
down for us. They’re going to have weapons on the offensive end that we’re going to have
to defend. If we don’t play Pioneer football, we’ll come up on the losing end but we’re not
going to have that. We play smart, we play together, we play smash-mouth football. We need
competition so we can play our game.”

With the victory, the Pioneers have now clinched the Western Conference.

The Pioneers are off this week for the Fourth of July. The final Pioneers regular season home game is July 14th against the Rough Riders at 5pm. It will be Military Appreciation Day at Seafoam Stadium on the campus of Concordia University-St. Paul. Any veteran of any branch of the military and all active duty members of the military will be admitted to the game for half price, with a valid ID.

The National Guard will be at the game with a climbing wall and an Honor Guard is expected to present the colors before kickoff. Game time is 5 p.m.