Kelly leads Pioneers past Spartans

Topher Scheeler, Assistant Sports Editor

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The Battle of the Bridge was won in the air by the UW-Platteville Pioneers who proved to be too much for the Dubuque Spartans, winning 52-35.

The No. 17 Pioneers (2-0) continued their domination of their across-the-river rivals by moving the record to 14-0-2 and keeping the traveling bridge trophy in Pioneer halls for another year.

“We knew this was going to be a hard-fought game. It hurt us to see Nick (Anderson) go down, but I was very happy with John Kelly’s play and very happy to get the win,” head coach Mike Emendorfer said.

Emendorfer cited Dubuque’s strong season a year ago and their high number of returning players as factors that made the Spartans a tough test.

Anderson, the Pioneers’ starting quarterback, broke his collarbone towards the end of the first quarter and is likely to be out for the next six to seven weeks. Anderson left the game in a hard-fought 7-7 tie.

The Pioneers found their stride in the second quarter rallying behind backup quarterback John Kelly.

Kelly had a career day, completing 23 of 30 passes for 262 yards and tied his career high with four touchdowns. He added eight rushes for 37 yards and a touchdown.

Kelly engineered the Pioneers’ offense effectively as the squad finished with 508 combined rushing and passing yards.

UW-Platteville jumped out to a 24-7 lead at halftime, which rose to 45-14 by the end of the third quarter. The Spartans rallied in the fourth, scoring 21 unanswered points, but the effort proved to be too little and too late. Senior running back Lee Vlasak’s 34-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter sealed the deal on a Pioneer victory.

“My job is simple,” Kelly said. “I just try to get the ball into our playmakers’ hands.”

Kelly was named the WIAC Offensive Player of the Week for his performance.

Vlasak and fellow senior running back Hank McIvor made a large contribution to the win with 147 combined rushing yards.

Emendorfer quickly pointed out that all offensive production would not have been possible without excellent play from the offensive line, a unit that has not allowed a sack in 2012.

Sophomore linebacker Jacob Zilbar, senior defensive back Ryan McWethy and senior defensive lineman Corey Marks headed up the Pioneer defense, contributing nine tackles apiece.

The Pioneers sported some new gear in Saturday’s game.

The new white helmets, which were purchased with money from fundraising efforts by the players, put the Pioneers on the map as the only NCAA Division III football team with alternate helmets.

A new video scoreboard with replays was also debuted in Saturday’s game.

“The new white helmets and uniforms are awesome and we are lucky to have them,” said senior linebacker Dave Daino.

“But they aren’t going to help us get the national championship. We need to come out every day and bust our backs to get to that number one spot. We have a lot to work on; we need to finish games strong. We can’t be satisfied yet,” Daino said.

The Pioneers will look to get healthy heading into their bye-week before their next game, a non-conference tilt against University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire on Sept. 20 at Ralph E. Davis Pioneers Stadium.

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