high school football: Shorthanded Pioneer earns playoff berth with 31-17 win over Livonia Franklin
Courtney Sacco | Annarbor.com
“I thought there was some pressure put on our kids," said Tom Barbeiri, who replaced Paul Test as coach during his suspension. “You’re talking about kids 16, 17, 18 years old and they responded so well. We put them in a situation where it’s a must-win. We want to get into the playoffs with a win, we didn’t want to back in there."
Marquise Thomas ran for 121 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries to lead the Pioneers (6-3). Thomas’ biggest play of the day came with 25 seconds left in the first half. Out of a shotgun formation, Thomas took a handoff on a misdirection and turned it to the outside. After breaking two tackles Thomas sprinted down the left sideline, cut back as a Franklin defender tried to force him out of bounds and broke away from the pack for a 78-yard touchdown run.
“Our offensive coordinators called a great play. We were able to see what they were in the play before and they were dropped way back,” Barbeiri said. “We were able to run the ball and get a crease and Marquise is just a great open-field runner. And I knew once he got out here, it’s hard to catch him.
“That gave us the momentum in the locker room at the half and the kids knew at that point the game was in the defense's hands.”
After giving up a field goal on the Patriots first possession of the game, the Pioneers responded with a nine-play drive that took nearly five-and-a-half minutes off the clock, caped off by a Thomas one yard touchdown run.
The Pioneers found themselves in a one-score game entering the fourth quarter, leading 17-10.
“That’s a tough team over there,” Barbeiri said. “They’re tough to bring down. One of our concerns tonight was they had us outsized.”
Starting in just his second game as quarterback, junior Brandon Bertoia hit KeSean Hugan for a 75-yard touchdown with 9:29 left in the game to break the game open for the Pioneers.
“Brandon played a great game, he led us, he was calm. It was his second start and did a great job.”
Bertoia finished the game 7-of-9 passing for 155 yards and the one touchdown. The Patriots responded with a touchdown drive of their own which ended with a Jimmy Marazis run from three yards out, making the score 24-17 with seven minutes left.
After the Pioneers stalled on a fourth down late, Franklin took over with just over a minute left to play. But on the Patriots second play, Brad Koenig intercepted an Austin Tarhanich pass and returned it for a touchdown, icing the game for Pioneer.
“Once we were in a mode where they had to pass the ball, we were able to use our speed and get on them,” Barbeiri said. “Brad Koenig has been making plays all year. He knows where to be to be around the football.”
In addition to Test, defensive standouts Dewan Olive-Abinojar and Darius Sanderford were missing from the sidelines for the Pioneers among others. It is suspected that both players were suspended from the game, but it was not confirmed by Pioneer officials.
Some Pioneer players donned pieces of tape on their helmets that read “Test,” as a sign of solidarity for their head coach, who was suspended from Friday's game for his role in the on-field brawl that followed last week's game against Huron. Test will also miss next weekend's playoff game.
Pioneer players were not available to speak after the game.
Pioneer will find out its playoff fate on Sunday when the MHSAA announces playoff matchups. As far as Barbeiri is concerned, this Pioneer team will be ready no matter who the opponent is.
“We could be Division I we could be Division II, but the kids all year long have responded to pressure and that’s great to go into the playoffs with that group of kids,” he said.