Pioneers and River Rats battle in cross-town showdown

The postgame handshakes between Ann Arbor cross-town rivals the Pioneer Pioneers and the Huron River Rats were a lot friendlier compared to a year ago, but Pioneer came out on top with a 9-6 victory Friday night.

This was the first time these two schools met on the gridiron since a postgame brawl a year ago after Pioneer won 35-6 which led to multiple players getting suspended and coaches getting fired.

The victory halted a four-game losing streak for the Pioneers (3-5, 1-4 Southeastern Conference- Red) while the River Rats (1-7, 0-5 SEC-Red) had their skid extend to seven. Huron has not cracked the win column since the season opener versus Windsor Massey on Aug. 30.

“When you’re losing four weeks in a row, things are tough,” first-year Pioneer coach Jari Brown said. “I thought it was very important for our kids to come out and get the win.”

Pioneer senior quarterback Brandon Bertoia went 9-for-17 in the air and 103 yards. Junior running back Malik Fuller had 12 carries for 69 yards and a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.

Huron junior quarterback David Wren completed nine passes in 21 tries for 84 yards in the air and was intercepted once. Senior running back Jaavaid Love was the top rusher for the River Rats with 14 carries and 84 yards. Junior receiver Duane Boyd caught the ball eight times for 54 yards.

Huron received the ball to start the game on the River Rats’ 31-yard line. Wren was sacked for a 17-yard loss as Huron had to punt the ball away on its opening drive. Pioneer could not get any offense going on its opening plays as the Pioneers went three and out.

With 5:02 left in the first quarter, Pioneer running back Antjuan Simmons fumbled the ball with Huron recovering it on the Pioneer 18. About 90 seconds later, River Rats halfback Quavon Smith ran through some arm tackles to get into the end zone for a touchdown. The Huron extra point was blocked and the score remained 6-0 with 3:34 left in the first quarter.

Pioneer responded immediately with Malik Fuller taking the ensuing kickoff from his own three-yard line, slipping through every tackle and returning it for a touchdown. With the extra point good at the 3:21 mark, Pioneer took a 7-6 lead.

“Malik has been a good player for us,” Brown said. “He did a phenomenal job and was a kid we could count on when we needed a big play.”

Neither team was able to put up a score in the second stanza, but both squads had chances to take it to the house. But it was Pioneer that pressured Wren and the River Rats defensively.

Fuller, playing as a defensive back, intercepted a pass from Wren and returned the ball to the Huron 38. Pioneer quarterback Brandon Bertoia threw a backward pass to Devaughn Brown who heaved a halfback pass to a wide-open senior receiver Jett Jones, but Jones could not come up with the catch.

Pioneer had the ball back with 1:44 left until halftime when Huron defensive lineman Chris Damschroder recovered a fumble and took it back to the Pioneer 47. Huron was penalized for holding on the drive and was unable to find the end zone.

The second half started with a squib kick straight to Marshall Hamilton who fell on the ball at Pioneer’s own 46.

Pioneer quickly moved up the field and got within a half a yard of a touchdown. The Huron defensive line stood Simmons up at the goal line on fourth down with 8:21 left in the third quarter.

The River Rats could not get out of the shadow of their own goal post as defensive end Brad Koenig sacked Wren in the end zone for a safety to give Pioneer a 9-6 lead with 7:33 left in the third stanza.

“Brad has been a great player for us all year,” Brown said. “He was able to make a play and stuff [Wren] in the end zone and he did a great job.”

Both teams failed to score in the fourth, but Huron had a chance to tie the game with a field goal. Junior kicker Kyle Hester and the River Rats went for a 35-yard field goal at the 3:31 mark but missed as the ball was tipped away. The Pioneers were able to hang on for the victory.

“In the first half, [Huron] was able to control the tempo of the game and keeping our offense off the field,” Brown said.

Looking Ahead:

Both squads return to action Friday Oct. 25 with Pioneer playing host to Canton while Huron plays Westland John Glenn at home.

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