The Pioneers are District Champs in Division 3 after beating Middleville Thornapple Kellogg 41-17. Photos courtesy of Lou Murray Photography. To see photos of the game click here:
The East Grand Rapids Pioneers are riding a 4 game win streak including a win to start the streak over conference champs Byron Center in the regular season finale. They have enjoyed big wins in the Post Season over Northview, Holland, and most recently the Trojans of Middleville Thornapple Kellogg (T/K). The formula for their success has been a solid defense, great special teams, awesome control of the line of scrimmage, and an impressive running attack.
The defense has allowed 58 points in the last 4 games although 26 of those came in a blow out win over Holland. Even in their 3 losses they only allowed 20, 17, and 22 points. They are allowing and average of less than 15 points per game, while scoring more than twice that total (31.4 ppg). Seniors Jackson Mitchell, Jelani King Leverett, and Oatis Ackerman are just a few of the leaders on the East defense.
Special teams is often overlooked, but a key ingredient in successful programs. Friday night would prove that point yet again. After yielding a flee flicker 70 yard T/K touchdown (SR Alex Bonnema to SR Cole Shoobridge) on their opening drive of the night, the Pioneer special teams answered the score with a Sr RB/KR Nate Milanowski 95 yard kick return for East’s first score. As exciting as a big kick return is, it played second fiddle to the display of ball control shown by SR P Jack Haueisen. In the third quarter, with the score 14-10 East, the senior punter delivered a momentum changing punt that set the Pioneers up to flex their defensive muscles once again. A boot of 55 yards that rolled to a stop at the T/K 1 yard line. This put the Trojans in a bit of a pickle of which they eventually turned the ball over on the 2 yard line. This set up the offense to extend the lead to 21-10 after another Milanowski TD.
The line of scrimmage in the first quarter was controlled by the offense regardless of which team had the ball. The Pioneers made changes to their front line of defense and from the beginning of the second quarter through the final whistle, they controlled the line on both sides of the ball. Notable linemen SR’s Alex Kolk, Reeve Doctor, and Levi Neuhaus were up to the challenge of maintaining line of scrimmage dominance.
The rushing attack for the Pioneers was again led by SR RB Nate Milanowski. Nate had a career night against the Trojans. Although held to minimal yardage on the first drive, the big kick return (95 yards) was a precursor to his involvement in ALL 6 East scores. He would finish the night with 15 carries for 202 yards and 4 TDs. The 202 total was helped by Touchdowns of 73, 2, 53, and 31 yards. Four would be plenty for most young men, add the kick return for number five, but Nate was not done. In the third quarter, following the big Haueisen punt, Milanowski would throw a touchdown as well. The play looked like a typical student body right sweep, however SR WR Quinn Van Zee slipped into the secondary unnoticed and that’s when Nate hit the breaks and delivered a TD pass to his classmate. Van Zee would nearly walk into the end zone untouched.
The final tally would read East 41 T/K 17 and the Pioneers will advance to the Regionals next week. Who they will play will be decided on Saturday at 1:00pm. The Muskegon Big Reds (7-1) will host the Redmen of Marquette (7-1). No matter the outcome East will be on the road next week as both squads have more playoff points than the Pioneers. The game will be the first road game for East since mid October. Michigan Sports Radio will be in Muskegon or Marquette next week with all the action LIVE.