By Ryan Kraut
The football team is ranked 24th overall in the NCAA Division II conference. Led by Head Coach Bryan Collins, the team is currently 3-1. “Coach Collins is a very passionate coach and cares about his players very much,” Pioneers quarterback Yianni Gavalas said. “He is a great teacher and has been a successful coach in this league for many years. Learning from him and his coaching staff has been a privilege.”
In their second game of the season on Sept. 9, the Pioneers traveled to West Haven, Connecticut to take on the University of New Haven Chargers. It was a back and forth game the entire day between the Pioneers and the Chargers. With the Pioneers trailing 27-14 with 12:26 left to play in the third quarter, Gavalas took matters into his own hands by throwing consecutive touchdown passes to Amir Crenshaw and Deon Mash to give the Pioneers a 28-27 lead. Just minutes later, the Chargers regained the lead, 34-28, with just over eight minutes to play. Once again, the Pioneers turned to their quarterback to come up clutch. With 4:07 remaining, Gavalas threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to give the Pioneers a 35-34 lead. Still trailing with three seconds left in the game, the Chargers lined up for a game-winning 27-yard field goal. The Pioneers’ luck continued in that game as New Haven kicker Danny Stock, missed the game winning field goal and the Pioneers hung on to win 35-34. “Out of the games I have called thus far, the game against New Haven was the one that stands out,” WCWP football broadcaster Greg Vavrinec said. “The game was so back and forth that no team had momentum for the whole game and the ending of the game was an ending you dream of for a broadcaster. Pioneers winning 35-34 with 3 seconds left, and the other misses the game-winning field goal as time expires to lose. That atmosphere was so intense and all the attention is on you to deliver the best call of that moment. It was a crazy game that I won’t ever forget.”
The next week, the Pioneers returned home as the ninth ranked team to battle Stonehill College. “It’s a great feeling to be on a team that is recognized to be of that caliber,” Gavalas said. “However, rankings do not mean much to us. We just want to do the best we can each week during practice to help us win more games.” The Pioneers offense continued to click in this game as they quickly jumped out to a 13-2 lead at the end of the first quarter. The second quarter, however, got off to a rocky start for the Pioneers as they surrendered the lead and trailed 16-13. Things quickly turned around for the Pioneers and took a 34-16 lead into halftime. The second half was more of the same as the Pioneers tacked on another 17 points while holding the Stonehill offense scoreless the entire half. The final score was 51-16 for the Pioneers. Following the game, Gavalas was named the Northeast 10 Conference Offensive Player of the Week for the second week in a row. “I am thankful for the player of the week awards I have received, but those awards are a product of my teammates’ hard work and stellar play,” Gavalas said. “The offensive line, coaching staff and wide receivers have done nothing but set me up for success. The defense has also been playing very well, allowing our offense more opportunities to put points on the board.”
On Sept. 23, the team traveled up to Woltham, Massachusetts to take on Bentley University. Going into this game, both Bentley and LIU were undefeated. This game was an ugly one from the start for the Pioneers. The offense struggled to get anything going and the defense was nowhere to be seen. Luckily for the Pioneers, they scored a late first half touchdown to bring the deficit down to 19-7 with eight minutes remaining in the first half. Bentley answered with a touchdown of their own and took a 26-7 lead into the locker room at halftime. In the second half, a pair of Pioneer touchdowns brought LIU to within five points, but that was the closest the team came to tying this game up. A huge fourth quarter for Bentley propelled them to a 40-21 win over the Pioneers.
Despite the loss to Bentley, the Pioneers have had a successful season so far. “I think the key to the team’s success this year is our ability to be a solid football team in all three phases of the game (offense, defense and special teams),” Gavalas said. “The offensive line has played tremendous and so has the defense, which are keys to any successful football team.” The Pioneers play Assumption College, Southern Connecticut State University, American International College, Pace University, Merrimack College, and Saint Anselm College to finish the regular season before, hopefully, heading to the NCAA playoffs.