Football’s first half nightmare, main culprit in loss to St. Xavier (IL)

“I have never, in my coaching career, had a first half like we had and I have been a part of some really bad football teams,” said Pioneers head coach Eric Hehman. “This isn’t a bad football team, just a team trying to put things together, so for us to have a game that went that far awry was shocking. Right now, I am shocked.”

Markus McFolling running back #32 is charging down the field. The Pioneers lost this game 55-16 against St. Xavier. (Photo by Beka Castillo)

In a first half clinic on how-not-to-win, the Pioneers made mistake after mistake which lead to the eventual 55-16 loss at the hands of the NAIA #3 ranked St. Xavier (IL) University in the homecoming game Saturday Oct. 16.

From the outset, the game was never in the Pioneers favor. On the opening kickoff the Pioneers threw all caution to the wind as they tried a bold onside kick. The Pioneers would have recovered, but the kick came up inches short of traveling the required 10 yards from the spot of the kickoff.

From there the Cougars started their first possession on Malone’s 35 yard line and, on the first play from scrimmage, scored a touchdown.

The 35 yard touchdown run came from senior running back Donnie Selby as he went into motion in the backfield and ran up the left sideline off the spread offensive set.

“We just didn’t execute (on the onside kick) and that is my fault as a coach,” Hehman said. “I don’t think the team ever recovered from that call.”

It all went downhill from there as the Pioneers struggled throughout the first half, particularly on defense. After the first half was over the Pioneers were down an insurmountable 55-6 deficit.

In the first half, the Pioneer defense had no answer against the high-powered, no huddle offense of St. Xavier. The Cougars senior quarterback Anthony Kropp lit up the stat sheet and the Pioneers coverage with 275 yards on 24-30 passing with 3 touchdowns in the first half alone. He continually led the NAIA’s top scoring offense to touchdown after touchdown.

To put it in perspective, the Pioneers defense allowed the Cougars to score eight touchdowns on their first eight possessions of the game.

“I would say that on every play there was a major mistake,” Hehman said about why his defense played so poorly. “There was either assignment, alignment or technique mistakes on probably every play in the first half.”

Hehman said it was completely out of this team’s character to play as poorly as they did. For the season the Pioneers came in with a defense that has only been yielding an average of 317.8 yards of offense to their opponents. They surrendered 398 yards to St. Xavier’s offense in the first half alone.

Though, to the same token, the offense didn’t play well in the first half either. It took until the second half, after some halftime adjustments, for the Pioneers offense to show some life and consistency.

“St. Xavier did a real good job defending our dive (the option offense),” said senior running back Markus McFolling.

Coming out of the locker room, however, the Pioneers were able to move up and down the field better on offense as they ran for 104 yards on 20 carries. McFolling led the ground attack with 99 total rushing yards (60 in the second half) on 21 carries and a touchdown.

Overall the Pioneers played a much better brand of football in the second half as they outscored St. Xavier 10-0. Hehman said he credits the team for never quitting and continuing to play hard to the end.

“We came in a little too hyper, but when we calmed in the second half, you could tell we played a lot better as team,” said sophomore linebacker Nick Towns.

Towns said the team needs to learn to come out and play smarter football. He said they need to play tense-free football because when a team is too tense they just simply can’t win.

No doubt it was disappointing to get blown out in the fashion the Pioneers did. But it was especially disappointing to play so terrible in front of the estimated 2,200 in attendance, many of whom were returning alumnus.

“The team is more hurt that we lost in front of all the fans,” Towns said. “We came into the season with a big goal of winning and right now we’re just not executing.”

This game will be a tough pill to swallow for the Pioneers, but the team cannot dwell on the loss too long with the rivalry game against NAIA #13 Walsh University next week.

“As a team, and for the school, we have to win (next week against Walsh),” Towns said. “This is a must-win for us because we deserve it, the fans deserve it and the coaches deserve it too.”

The loss dropped the Pioneers record to 1-5 overall and 0-3 in the Mid-States Football Association Mideast League, while the win improved the Cougars to a perfect 8-0 overall and 5-0 in league play. Next Saturday the Walsh Cavaliers will play host to the Pioneers at Fawcett Stadium with a noon start time.

Chris Sherwood is sports editor and contributing writer for The Aviso.

Categories: Sports

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