Story and photos by Terry Jacoby/weloveannarbor.com
Skyline had given up 147 points in its first three games while Pioneer had scored just 14 in two games heading into Friday night’s city rivalry clash at Pioneer High School. More importantly, both teams were looking to score their first win in a highly competitive SEC Red Division.
In a low-scoring game that featured both strong defense and offensive mistakes, it was Skyline’s defense that proved to be the difference in an impressive 17-8 victory in a game neither team scored in until the final seconds of the first half.
The Eagles (1-3) have won two straight over the Pioneers (0-4) following five consecutive seasons of alternating wins and losses. It’s been a pretty competitive rivalry over the last few years and it was a pretty competitive game on Friday night although the Eagles led the entire way after scoring first last in the second quarter.
After dropping its first three games, Skyline faces a tough challenge next week against Saline. The Eagles then play Lincoln before another city rivalry game against a very good Huron (3-1) team.
Speaking of very good, Pioneer plays at Dexter (3-1) on Friday.
Pioneer had six penalties for 48 yards while Skyline had only three for 15 yards in a fairly even and hard-fought first half. Both teams had some nice plays but the defenses were the story in the first half.
With the clock ticking down until halftime, Pioneer was called for pass interference that gave the Eagles the ball at the Pioneer 16-yard line. After two failed running attempts, Ismail Abdul-Aziz, who lined up at quarterback, kept the ball himself and ran it in around the right side from five yards out to break the scoreless tie with just 21 seconds left on the clock.
Colin Brueger added the extra point and Skyline took a 7-0 lead into halftime.
The Eagles looked to add to the score early in the third quarter. On their first possession of the second half, QB Evan Rothenberg threw a 51-yard pass to Evan Dunham on third down to take the ball to the Pioneer 14-yard line – the Evan connection!
On another third-down play, Rothenberg ran for seven yards to pick up a first down and set up first and goal at the Pioneer 4-yard line. But the Eagles fumbled at the goal line and the ball went out of bounds in the end zone and was given to Pioneer at the 20-yard line. It was a big change of events, but the Pioneers couldn’t take advantage of the turnover.
Skyline kept the momentum and added to the lead when Brueger nailed a 49-yard field goal attempt with 2:09 left in the third quarter for a 10-0 lead.
A Pioneer fumble was recovered by Skyline’s Will Gardner at the Pioneer 37-yard line. But the Pioneer defense held.
Skyline recovered another Pioneer fumble with 11:48 in the fourth quarter at their own 40-yard line. This time, they turned the turnover into points. Aaron Marks ran eight yards right up the middle to make it 17-0 with 9:22 to play in the fourth quarter.
Pioneer finally responded – and responded in a big way.
Jamel Thomas ran 80 yards to put the home team on the scoreboard. The senior broke several tackles in the first 20 yards and then sprinted the last 60 yards untouched down the field to cut the lead to 17-6.
Pioneer converted the two-point conversion (a pass from Grant Nelson to Samuel Bonasso) and trailed 17-8 with 9:05 left in the game.
The Pioneers would make a few more plays but couldn’t cut any more into the lead as the Eagles celebrated their first win of the season.