While Pioneer took a 3-1 conference record into its game Friday night at Saline they have struggled at times with mental mistakes, costly turnovers and slow starts. Their impressive record is because they have been able to minimize the first two and overcome the third.
But against the Hornets, who were celebrating their homecoming and have become an elite football program in the state, the Pioneers came out slow, turned the ball over and made a few mental mistakes.
“You can’t do that against a team like Saline,” said Pioneer Coach Bill Bellers. “If you do, you are in for a long night.”
It turned out to be a long, rainy and chilly night for the Pioneers who lost 49-7 to the first-place Hornets to drop to 3-2 in the SEC Red and 3-4 overall.
The Hornets, who improved to 6-1 overall and 5-0 in the SEC Red, came into the game with Pioneer having outscored their opponents 220-48 and allowing just 34 points in four league games. The Pioneers needed to play their best game of the year to compete with Saline but that didn’t happen.
“Our first quarter was the worst quarter we have played this season,” Bellers said. “Everything that could go wrong went wrong.”
And Saline is the wrong team to do that against.
The Pioneers had the ball first and went three-and-out. The Hornets went right down the field and scored on their first possession to make it 7-0.
“That wasn’t a big deal,” Bellers said. “We’ve been in that situation before. Down 7-0 is nothing to get too concerned about at that point.”
The Pioneers went three-and-out again and lined up to punt the ball back to the Hornets. But the snap to the punter sailed over his head.
“Our punter, who was right at the goal line, tried to make what is the right decision by knocking the ball out of the back of the end zone,” Bellers said. “But the ball made it to the back of the end zone but not out of the end zone and Saline jumped on it for a touchdown.
“So we gave them a touchdown. You can’t give Saline a touchdown. They are more than capable of getting touchdowns on their own.”
The Hornets then caught the Pioneers with their heads down and pulled off an on-side kick to get the ball right back. And they found themselves right back in the end zone to make it 21-0.
“In the blink of an eye we are down three touchdowns to one of the best teams in the state,” Bellers said.
After the Pioneers got the ball back, on their first play from scrimmage, they fumbled and the Hornets recovered. Saline scored again to make it 28-0 – all in the first quarter.
Pioneer came back though and played “a much better second quarter.” The visitors scored on a long TD pass from Nate Yuhas to Eric Steinhauer to get on the board and trailed 35-7 at halftime.
Saline scored on its first possession of the third quarter to push the lead to 42-7 and a running clock.
“We had some mental mistakes, dropped some balls and just didn’t put ourselves in a good situation,” Bellers said.
There is still plenty to play for with two games left on the schedule. The Pioneers play at Adrian on Friday in an SEC crossover.
“We need to figure out why we keep starting slow and shooting ourselves in the foot,” Bellers said. “We would like to win our last two and finish the season on a positive note. I told the players that winning more games than losing is something to be proud of. It’s not easy winning football games.”