By Thomas Scavetta
A game that was supposed to be affected heavily by hurricane-like conditions, ended up as a gem for the Pioneers (2-0) as they held off the Virginia Union Panthers in a 14-12 victory to kick off the 2016 campaign on Saturday, Sept. 3, at Hovey Field in Richmond, VA.
The poor field conditions came into play immediately as Panthers senior quarterback Shawheem Dowdy lost a snap near his own end-zone where he was sacked by red-shirt senior defensive end Kenny Scotland for a safety.
After jumping in front 6-5, the Panthers yet again were pinned deep in their own end-zone where sophomore punter Russell Balance had his punt blocked by senior linebacker Nate Feliz, resulting in another safety, giving the Green and Gold a 7-6 advantage.
With time winding down in the first half, the Pioneers scored their lone touchdown of the game as senior quarterback Jeff Kidd connected with red-shirt junior wide receiver James Higgins from 14 yards out with just 29 ticks remaining until halftime.
Defensively, the Pioneers continued to limit the Panthers offense as the Pioneers 14-6 lead stood strong late into the fourth quarter. Dowdy finally led his offense down to the Pioneers 12-yard line until he was picked off by senior defensive back Jared Chester, keeping Virginia Union off the scoreboard. After missing all but two games last year, Chester led the Pioneers veteran secondary with two interceptions, seven tackles and three pass break-ups. True freshman cornerback Joshua Flowers also came up clutch late, picking off Dowdy.
However, the Panthers redeemed themselves as they rallied down the field for a late touchdown in the final two minutes as Dowdy delivered a 2-yard strike to receiver Jusse Yorke, making it a 14-12 game. On the next play, the Pioneers defense stopped the two- point conversion followed by the onside kick which was recovered by red-shirt senior linebacker Justin Ortiz to secure the upset.
Weather definitely limited the Pioneers offense as Kidd finished just 13-of-33 for 106 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Senior running back David White racked up 73 yards on 16 carries. Red-shirt senior wide-out Shane Hubbard, who was held without a catch in the first half, caught four balls for 28 yards.
Feliz led the defense with 11 tackles as red-shirt junior defensive lineman Jess Agbotse has 10 stops. Sophomore linebacker Connor Farrell chipped in with eight tackles.
Following a very solid performance against the Panthers, the Pioneers looked even better when they took care of business against the University of New Haven by a score of 43-20, to flip open their NE-10 schedule on Saturday, Sept. 10, at Bethpage Federal Credit Union Stadium in Brookville, N.Y.
The Pioneers accomplished their goal of getting revenge after New Haven ended their NE-10 championship hopes last season with a decisive 63-16 victory over the Green and Gold.
Kidd had a bounce-back game, racking up yards through the air and completing 31-of-36 passes with four touchdowns. He unplugged his tool box this game, spreading the ball around nicely to all of his receivers as Hubbard led the Pioneers with 10 catches for 87 yards and one touchdown. In addition to his gaining 46 yards on the ground, Pierre did damage on the receiving end as he caught six passes for 65 yards and a score. Ward continued to display his explosiveness, catching six balls for 61 yards and racking up some nice return yards. Higgins also played well on a bum ankle, making four receptions for 49 yards and two scores.
On the ground, the Pioneers continued to confuse the defense with their three-headed attack, highlighted by White who totaled 11 carries for 59 yards and one touchdown. After some ball security issues last week, Pierre rushed 12 times for 46 yards. Kidd also chipped in on the ground with 11 carries for 33 yards and one touch- down.
Defensively, the Pioneers were without their signal-caller Feliz due to an injury, but had other players step up in his place. Agbotse led the Pioneers with eight tackles. Petit-Frere provided good energy recording three tackles and a sack as red-shirt senior defensive end Kenny Scotland and junior linebacker Kmani Odrick chipped in with four tackles and half a sack each.
Looking ahead, Head Coach Bryan Collins and his Pioneer squad return to the field Saturday, Sept.17, as they take on NE-10 rival, Stonehill College up in Easton, MA. Kickoff is slated for 6 p.m. The game can be listened to on 88.1 FM and WCWP.ORG.