By Michael Otero
One point separated the Pioneers and the Greyhounds from Assumption College in their October matchup. The Pioneers were determined this time around to assure there would be no necessary fourth quarter heroics. Indeed, they defeated the Greyhounds 43-23 in the NE-10 Conference Championship on Saturday, Nov. 13, at Bethpage Federal Credit Union Stadium in Brookville, N.Y.
It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows for the football team as it faced adversity right out of the gate. The guests drove down the field and into the red-zone on its opening possession, but were held up at the four-yard line and had to settle for a 21-yard field goal. After a Pioneer interception, the Greyhounds started their drive in LIU territory and, again, entered the red-zone and stalled at the four-yard line to repeat another field goal.
On the ensuing Pioneer drive, senior quarterback Jeff Kidd tossed another interception and the Greyhounds set up shop 13 yards from a touchdown. Another red-zone trip with the same result; the Greyhounds settled for three points instead of punching it in for a touchdown.
The guests led 9-0 with just over two minutes left in the first quarter.
Although it was early in the game, a key turning point was the defense standing tall and holding the Greyhounds to three field goals and no touchdowns in the first 15 minutes. “I think it was just us settling in,” said Head Coach Bryan Collins. “It’s a totally different game being down 21-0 and 9-0. It’s funny—we did spend one extra day on goal-line defense this week and so it paid off, obviously.”
Seeking a jump start, the Pioneers’ special teams made a play and redshirt sophomore running back, Malik Pierre, almost broke a kickoff back to the house, but was tackled at the LIU 45-yard line.
After a 20-yard rush by senior tailback, David White, Kidd dropped a pass into the bucket for redshirt junior receiver Kyle Ward, who scored the game’s opening touchdown. The drive took four plays and 54 seconds. Even though the team still trailed on the score-board, the score was a confidence boost for the Pioneers who seized control from that point forward.
On its first drive of the second quarter, the host got a second chance with a 15-yard personal foul penalty that kept its drive alive. The possession culminated with a touchdown to redshirt senior receiver, Shane Hubbard, who found the soft spot in the zone for six. The score not only gave the Pioneers a 13-9 lead, but also put Hubbard ahead of former Pioneer, Jim Byrne, for first on the all-time touchdown reception list in program history with 31.
A 41-yard field goal in the waning seconds of the half put the Pioneers up 16-9 at the break.
After a first half that saw the Pioneers come alive late, the home side owned the second half, outscoring the Greyhounds 27-14. The tone was set on the half’s first play. Pierre, who already had a big kickoff return to his credit, ran back the kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown, making it 23-9 in favor of the Pioneers.
Pierre wasn’t finished there; he added two more touchdowns to widen the team’s advantage and put it one step closer to becoming NE-10 champions.
And just for good measure, the Green Machine concluded its scoring onslaught with a 37-yard strike to Hubbard, who added to his historic day with another touchdown. The 43- 23 victory for the Green and Gold earned them the NE-10 Conference Champion title.
Kidd went 14-0f-27 through the air for 203 yards and three touchdowns. On the ground, the Pioneers got 100-yard games from both Pierre and White. In addition to his two touchdown receptions, Hubbard was also a security blanket for Kidd as he hauled in seven passes for 100 yards.
Defensively, sophomore linebacker, Connor Farrell, led the squad with nine tackles, one of which was for a loss. Senior defensive back Jhaleel Oswald accumulated seven tackles and was all over the field making plays. Defensive backs, Jared Chester and Joshua Flowers, each turned in great performances with Chester intercepting a pass and totaling seven tackles while Flowers made six tackles and had two pass break-ups.
Kidd, Pierre, Hubbard and Farrell were all named to the NE-10 All-Championship Team. The win solidified that the Pioneers will play in the NCAA Division II Tournament and host a game. Winston-Salem State University will be the ones visiting Brookville, N.Y., on Saturday, Nov. 19, to play the no. 2-seeded Pioneers.