By Thomas Scavetta
In pursuit of their first title since 2006, the football team (8-3) captured the Northeast-10 Conference Championship on Saturday, Nov. 15, with a 58-25 rout of American International (8-3) at Ronald J. Abdow Field in Springfield, Massachusetts.
After a scoreless opening quarter, the Pioneers capitalized on an interception from sophomore defensive back Ryan Renfroe in AIC territory. Five snaps later, red-shirt senior quarterback Steven Laurino completed a screen pass to sophomore running back David White, which resulted in a 20-yard dash into the end zone for the opening score of the contest.
The Yellow Jackets responded, though, answering the touchdown with 16 unanswered points to grab a nine-point cushion late in the second quarter. However, the Pioneers drove down the field for a field goal before halftime. Senior kicker Karsten Viste nailed a 22-yard field goal to reduce the gap to 16-10 at the break.
LIU Post owned the second half, outscoring the hosts by an overwhelming 48-9 margin. Following an AIC three-and-out, the visitors put together a quick drive resulting in a touchdown. It was Laurino who scampered into the end zone for a two-yard score. Although the Yellow Jackets responded with a touchdown of their own to go back in front 23-17, the Pioneers would not be denied of hoisting the championship trophy.
The Green and Gold went on to score three consecutive touchdowns to grab a commanding 37-25 advantage. The run was bookended by 25 and five yard passes to red-shirt senior wideout Kamron Palmer. A 28-yard strike from Laurino to red-shirt sophomore receiver Shane Hubbard in the end zone sandwiched those scoring drives. Leading by two possessions, the visitors kept their foot on the gas, as they took a 44-25 lead after Laurino found Palmer for a third time in the end zone, on a 72-yard deep ball.
A surprise onside kick followed, as the Pioneers jumped on top of the loose ball at the AIC 21-yard line. Three plays into that possession, red-shirt sophomore running back Mike Williams ran the ball in from 10 yards out to seal the victory.
Laurino continued his outstanding finish to his collegiate career, completing 30-of-57 passes for a season-high 413 yards and five touchdowns. He scrambled for 61 yards and a score as well. White and Williams also pitched in with touchdowns on the ground. Hubbard made 10 catches for a career-high 172 yards and a touchdown, while Palmer had five receptions for 118 yards and three scores.
The Pioneer defense saw red-shirt senior linebacker Anthony Brunetti lead the charge with 10 tackles while sophomore defensive back Jared Chester and freshman defensive back Richard Wright had nine tackles apiece. Junior defensive back Jahleel Oswald recorded eight stops, a forced fumble, and a pass break-up.
Head Coach Bryan Collins and the Pioneers earned a bid to the NCAA Division II championship. They will be traveling to Petersburg, Virginia, to take on Virginia State University. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 22.