Football: Pioneer falls to Anchor Bay on last play of the game in season opener  


After another huge stop by the defense – and we will get to them in a second – the Pioneer football team got the ball back at their own 21-yard line with 15 seconds left to play in a tied game with visiting Anchor Bay on Friday in the season opener for both schools.

The Pioneers decided to go for it and see if they could make some magic happen to get their season off to a blazing start. Quarterback Conor Easthope threw a pass about 25 yards down the middle of the field and Anchor Bay’s Michael Harper took a chance, stepping in front of Pioneer receiver Michael McMullen and picking off the pass. The senior defensive back brought the ball all the way to the 3-yard line with 3 seconds left in the game.

The visiting Tars kicked the field goal and celebrated a dramatic 16-13 win.

If Harper had not grabbed the ball, McMullen could have jogged down the field for the winning score. It was a close and dramatic play, in a game full of dramatic plays that included a huge blocked extra point, a blocked punt, a few fake punts, a safety and consecutive plays in which the offense turned the ball over.

One of the positives the Pioneers can take with them into next week is the play of the defense. While the offense seemed to be stuck in stop and go all night, the defense stepped up time after time to keep the home team in the game. Big plays were turned in throughout the game by the likes of McMullen, Komarus Hatch, Dennis Simmons, Mamadou Diop, Cameron Miller, Nathan Chadwick and others.

The offense, on the other hand, had multiple chances to put the game away but couldn’t get the ball in the end zone.

Anchor Bay took a 7-3 lead into what would turn out to be a wild second half. On Pioneer’s opening drive of the third quarter, Logan Jacobs made a great catch along the sidelines to keep the drive going. A penalty on the play moved the ball to the Anchor Bay 4-yard line.


But the Pioneers took four shots and couldn’t score, turning the ball over on downs. The Tars tried to get the ball out of danger as they had the ball on their own 3-yard line but the Pioneer defense would not relent. On a third-down play, the Anchor Bay QB dropped the ball and then Pioneer’s Hatch dropped him in the end zone for a safety to cut the deficit to 7-5.

The Pioneers couldn’t take advantage of the kickoff after the safety but got the ball back thanks to another defensive stand, led by Hatch who made another huge stop on fourth down.

The Pioneers set up to punt to give the ball back to Anchor Bay but decided to hold on to it when they short snapped the ball to Simmons who rumbled to a first down at the 47. A penalty gave the Pioneers a first-and-goal at the 9-yard line. This time they finally cashed it in when Easthope threw a six-yard TD pass to Jacobs.

Easthope hooked up with McMullen for the two-point conversion as the Pioneers took a 13-7 lead with 6:31 left in the game.

The Tars didn’t take long to answer. Bryce Heaney went right up the middle and right down the field 45 yards and into the end zone to tie the game at 13-13. But Dave Brines made a huge play when he blocked the extra point to keep the game deadlocked with 4:23 left in the game.

Both teams had the ball with chances to win it before the dramatic conclusion but defense ruled the final minutes.

 The Pioneers had a good chance to score on their first opportunity of the game, setting up with a first down at the Anchor Bay 20-yard line. But a fourth and four at the 15 was incomplete and the Tars took over.

Simmons recovered a fumble to get the ball back. A fake punt by senior Daneko Harris set up the Pioneers deep inside Anchor Bay territory. But they couldn’t take advantage of first and 10 at the 15-yard line and actually ended up having to punt.

Brines blocked a punt – yeah, the same guy who blocked the extra point – to give the offense the ball at the Anchor Bay 3-yard line. But on the very first play, the Tars stripped the ball and got it right back. On Anchor’s Bay first play, Pioneer created a fumble that Hatch recovered at the 1-yard line. If you are keeping score at home, it was a blocked kick, a fumble and another fumble – on three consecutive plays.

But the Pioneers couldn’t find the end zone and settled for a 19-yard field goal to take a 3-0 lead with 8:08 left in the second quarter.

Anchor Bay’s Harper (yeah, that Harper) ran 67 yards to the Pioneer 4-yard line. QB Nikko Parrelly ran it in on the next play to give the Tars a 7-3 lead.

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