The Oregon City Pioneers rally around desire and 'heart' to prove themselves the best team around in eighth grade tackle football

OREGON CITY - What they lacked in size, Oregon City's eighth grade 'Red' football team made up for with heart and talent, as they proved themselves the best youth football team around in 2007.

After dropping their season-opener 19-14 to Tigard Black, the Pioneers closed out the season with nine straight victories.

'The team did not have a lot of size,' said Oregon City coach Lionel Martinez. 'But what they lacked in size they made up for with desire, commitment, heart, teamwork and lots of quickness. The team's theme was 'Refuse to lose.''

After dropping Sunset 36-6 in the semifinals of the end-of-the season tournament, the Pioneers squared off with a talented team from Lake Oswego in the championship final.

And the title game was a dogfight, with the Pioneers scoring the game-winner in the final minutes.

With the Lakers on top 14-12 and just two minutes to play, Pioneer safety/quarterback Landon Martinez intercepted a pass on the 30-yard line and returned it to the midfield stripe. Oregon City coaches then called a quarterback draw, and Martinez sprinted 50 yards to paydirt for his third touchdown of the night, earning the Pioneers the nail-biting victory.

The title game was close all the way. The Pioneers turned the ball over on the opening kickoff, and the Lakers went in for a quick score and a 8-0 lead.

The Pioneers answered on their next possession, but the touchdown didn't come easily. After Joey Jensen's 30-yard touchdown was called back by a penalty, Martinez busted another big run for a touchdown, making it 8-6 Lake Oswego.

Late in the second period Martinez broke a 53-yard run to the end zone, making it 12-8 Oregon City at the intermission.

Penalties killed Oregon City drives in the third quarter, and Lake Oswego went on top 14-12.

The win over the Lakers was huge, not only because it gained the Pioneers the title, but because it was the second time the Pioneers had beaten the Lakers this season.

The Pioneers turned to their aerial assault in the semifinal with Sunset.

Joey Jenson staked the Pioneers to an early lead, with a 2-yard dash to paydirt in the first quarter.

The Pioneers wasted little time putting a second touchdown on the scoreboard. Martinez hooked up with Andy Rondema on a 40-yard pass play to the Tigard 10. Rondema went wide on the next play, upping the Pioneer advantage to 14-0.

With time still remaining on the first-quarter clock, Martinez threw a 55-yard scoring strike to Jeromy Griffiths, and the Pioneers were in the driver's seat, leading 22-0.

A 55-yard pass to Louis Wolf made it 30-6 Oregon City at halftime.

The Pioneers played super tough defense in the second half, and the Apollos were unable to penetrate to Oregon City's half of the field through the entire half.

Martinez hooked up with Griffiths for a 53-yard touchdown pass to round out the scoring.

The Pioneers out-scored their 10 opponents by an average tally of 26-9 for the season.

After losing to Tigard Black 19-14, they followed with back-to-back victories over West Linn (34-0), Tigard Green (36-0), Tualatin (18-6), Beaverton (37-12), Lake Oswego (30-8), Sunset (28-22), Sherwood (30-0), Sunset (36-6) and Lake Oswego (20-14).

The first game with Sunset was another barnburner. Trailing 22-20 with under three minutes to play, the Pioneers turned to their passing game to rally to the 28-22 victory.

'This team was very special because there were many leaders on both sides of the ball,' coach Martinez said.

'On the offensive side, we had Landon Martinez, who did a superb job at quarterback. Louis Wolf was unstoppable at running back; Jeromy Griffiths and Andy Rondema were outstanding wide receivers; and Grant Torgersen did an awesome job as the long snapper.

'The defense was stellar. It was anchored by Austin Smith, who played middle linebacker; and Adam Genskay, playing strong safety. Tony Milano, Brady Stroh and Cameron Hoodenpyle all did a phenomenal job on the defensive line.'

Other team members included: Joey Jensen (RB/LB), Omar Barbera (TE/OL/FB), Dustin Bell (WR/C), Tyler Bell (WR/S/C), Michael Easter (OL/DL), Michael Gray (OL/DL), Taylor Holcombe (WR/C), Justin Juggert (OL/DL), Williams Mazzi (OL/DL), Evan Met (WR/C), Kyle Sinclair (TE/DE) and Robert Sparks (OL/DL).

Coaching the team with Lionel Martinez were Jacob Dorfler, Thomas Bates, Bill Smith, Ed Milano and Jesse Griffiths.

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