There were mistakes on both sides. Costly turnovers and/or penalties on both sides. But in between the few errors was a well-played, hard-fought football game in which both teams played with heart, determination and a desire to win.
But only one team wins in high school football and on Thursday night it was Pioneer who scored an impressive 27-14 victory over visiting Skyline. The win, along with a victory earlier in the year over Huron, makes Pioneer the “city champion” for 2017.
The Pioneers improve to 3-3 overall and 3-1 in the SEC Red with wins over Huron, Skyline and Monroe. Skyline falls to 1-5 overall and 0-4 in the SEC Red.
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“Not surprised at all,” said Pioneer Coach Bill Bellers when asked about Skyline battling back after falling behind 14-0 in the first quarter. “We knew that they were going to fight and they were going to give us everything they had. They gave us a great game and made some big plays and we expected that.”
Bellers didn’t expect some of the mistakes his team made but those things can happen in emotional games.
“The last two weeks we’ve been really good at shooting ourselves in the foot,” he said. “We had too many penalties and turnovers. But we made some big plays. It was a good win for us.”
The Eagles went for it on their opening drive near midfield and were turned away by the Pioneer defense, handing the offense the ball on the Skyline 38-yard line.
Pioneer senior QB Nate Yuhas, who had another solid game, threw a 12-yard TD pass to senior Lael Onifade to give the hosts a 7-0 lead with 6:48 left in the opening quarter.
Pioneer’s special teams came up with a partially blocked punt after a poor snap on a punt by the Eagles midway through the first quarter. And the Pioneers had excellent field position again at the 37-yard line of Skyline.
Yuhas threw a 22-yard pass to Logan Jacobs to make it 14-0 with 3:45 left in the first quarter.
But the Eagles weren’t about to fly away and hide. No way. Not in this game.
Big catches and runs by Kenyatta Ewing and Davion Pipkins helped move the ball for the visitors. A 37-yard TD pass from senior Darryn Davis to Kejon Hunter put the Eagles on the board and cut the deficit to 14-7 with 11:40 left in the second quarter.
Pioneer turned the ball over near midfield and the Eagles recovered. But two huge defensive plays by Langston Laramore-Josey helped stop Skyline in their tracks and force a punt.
But the Eagles defense held and got the ball back.
Davis, who like his counterpart had a strong game at QB, hit Ewing on a 44-yard TD pass with just 1:17 left in the second quarter as the Eagles erased the 14-0 deficit to tie the game at 14-14.
The biggest play of that drive may have been on the extra point. An unsportsmanlike penalty on Skyline after the TD resulted in a 32-yard extra point that Andrew Lafferty nailed for the visitors to tie the game.
But the Pioneers were not done. No way. Not in this game.
Yuhas hit Jacobs for a 35-yard pass play and then the senior QB ran another 15 yards to take it to the 20-yard line with 10 seconds left in the half. With just 4 seconds left, the Pioneers snapped the ball and Yuhas zigged and zagged his way into the end zone – taking a vicious hit at the end – to score with no time left on the clock.
Pioneer was slapped with an unsportsmanlike penalty and instead of trying a long extra point, went for two points and didn’t make it. But the Pioneers took a 20-14 lead into halftime.
The second half also started well for the Pioneers who started moving the ball right down the field after a kick return by Nathan Chadwick set the home team up at the Skyline 40-yard line. A long pass from Yuhas to Jordan Hall gave Pioneer a first down at the 16-yard line.
But on the next play, a completed pass, the Pioneers fumbled and Skyline’s Ty Rose recovered the ball at the 5-yard line. Bang – that’s Pioneer “shooting ourselves in the foot.”
Skyline’s Myles Miller than went 61 yards for the Eagles on the first play after the turnover and it looked like the Pioneers were going to pay a costly price for the fumble. But the defense stood up and shut the Eagles down right there and eventually got the ball back on downs.
“That was a big stop for us,” Bellers said. “We had our corner Anthony Kersey make a big play with a great hustle and no quit attitude.”
With 3:48 left in the third quarter, Yuhas hit Eric Steinhauer for 10 yards and a touchdown to push the lead to 27-14.
Neither team scored in the final quarter.