Team 12 was the most successful football team in Pioneer History, going 9-1 in the regular season. That tied its previous best regular season record of 9-1 set by Team 10 in 2017. In 2017 the Pioneers had a home playoff game where they lost in double overtime on a missed extra point. In 2018, the Pioneers made the playoffs and had to travel to Toledo Whitmer where they lost in a close game at the end.
But during this 9-1 regular season, the Pioneers went undefeated in the OCC and won the OCC Buckeye division outright. They beat division rivals Olentangy and Powell for the first time ever in the same season. They swept the Westerville schools as well.
The team’s only loss was to Pickerington North in week three of the regular season. The Pioneers scored a total of 296 points this season, while allowing only 180.
Week One: the Pioneers traveled to Worthington Kilbourne to play the Wolves. Senior Quarterback Spencer Hawkins threw for 179 yards and two passing touchdowns to Senior Sam Wyne. One going for 85 yards on a catch and run and the other a 50/50 ball where Wyne ripped the ball away from the defender in the air and brought it to his chest in the back corner of the endzone.
The defense allowed only one touchdown, and junior Joey Guagenti had a blocked field goal. The Pioneers won 16-6.
Week Two: the Pioneers had their home opener against Hilliard Bradley. Senior running back Jake Vanchieri led the charge with a touchdown, and the team ran for 280 yards total. Hawkins tossed one touchdown as well.
Sophomore kicker Jack Behre secured the win by kicking the winning field goal to give the Pioneers a 17-14 lead. That would end up being the final score.
Week Three: The Pioneers hosted the Panthers of Pickerington North along with military night. The Pioneers lost 38-17. All 17 of their points came in the second quarter.
Hawkins scrambled to a 50-yard touchdown run during the game. Jack Sawyer, an Ohio State commit for football as a junior, played quarterback for North that night. It was an unexpected change that burned the Pioneer defense in the end.
Week Four: the Pioneers travelled to Big Walnut, it was the longest game of the season with over two and a half hours of weather delays. Hawkins had three total touchdowns: one rushing and two through the air. Junior Luke Applegate ran in a score as well. Wyne caught both touchdown passes. Behre was 4/4 on PATs, and 2/2 on field goals. The Pioneers won 34-3.
Week 5: The community was celebrating homecoming, and the team hosted Westland. The theme was beach night, and the Pioneers had some fun in the sun. Winning 52-0. The defense captured a safety and a shutout. Hawkins found new targets in the endzone. Grade Kaden Conzack and senior Zane Lattig caught their first touchdowns of the year.
Week 6: This week marked the beginning of OCC play. Westerville North came to the LC with a sophomore quarterback. The Pioneers took advantage against the young quarterback and only allowed seven points. Hawkins had two touchdown tosses, one to grade Nate Miller, and the other to grade Jack Fenton. Vanchieri ran for 107 yards for two touchdowns himself. Behre was 3/4 on PATs and 2/3 on FGs. The Pioneers won 30-7.
Week 7: Orange went to rival Olentangy to try and win two straight at Olentangy. The team did just that, shutting down the Braves’ offense and overpowering the Braves’ defense. Guagenti and grade Reece Dunham both had interceptions for the Pioneer defense. Hawkins threw a touchdown pass to Wyne and ran the ball into the endzone once. Vanchieri and Applegate both had touchdowns as well. Behre was 4/4 on PATs. The Pioneers won the game 28-14.
Week 8: The Westerville Central game had a playoff-like feel. Undefeated Central came to 7-1 Olentangy Orange. Central had come off a win in Powell and Orange was coming off a win at Tangy.
It was a defensive contest where the Pioneers came out on top in the closing seconds of the game. On a fourth down inside the 20, the Warhawk offense had a chance to score, but grade Colin McNay came and batted the ball down in just enough time to give the Pioneers the win. Hawkins threw for 154 yards and a touchdown. Vanchieri ran the ball 22 times for 94 yards. He had a receiving and rushing touchdown. Senior linebacker Zach Hill had 12 tackles. The final score was 14-6.
Week 9: The Olentangy River Rivalry; Olentangy Liberty at Olentangy Orange. Reword The Pioneers could do that with a win over Powell.
In another low scoring defensive battle, the Pioneer defense played really well. allowing points on only the first drive of the game, then pitching a shutout through the end of the night. Hawkins had 152 passing yards and a touchdown pass. It was the only Pioneer touchdown on the night. Behre kicked the winning field goal in the second quarter.
The Pioneers and Patriots both scored nothing in the second half of the game. The final score was 10-7. The Pioneers clinched at least a share of the OCC title with the win.
Week 10: Orange went to Westerville South for the final game of the regular season. The Pioneers routed the Wildcats.
Hawkins had arguably his best game ever: he had 218 passing yards and two touchdown passes. He also ran the ball into the endzone twice.
Vanchieri had 151 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. Behre was 4/4 on PATs. On the defensive side of the ball, Dunham, senior Eli Payne, and junior Dylan Dempsey all had interceptions.
The Pioneers won the OCC Buckeye out rIght with a 42-24 victory.
Week 11: The Pioneers secured the No. 3 seed and home field advantage for the first game in the OHSAA Division I football playoffs. They drew Pickerington North as their opponent: the only team that had beaten them in the regular season.
This time the script was completely flipped. The Pioneer offense was rolling from the start. Hawkins went 11/19, 181 yards and two touchdown passes. Vanchieri ran the ball 24 times for 187 yards and two fourth-quarter touchdowns. Behre was 3/4 on field goals, and 3/3 on PATs, Orange had a failed two-point conversions. Dunham had another interception. The Pioneers won their first ever Division I playoff game and first playoff game in 10 years. The final score was 36-17.
Week 12: The Pioneers went to a neutral site game at Upper Arlington against Pickerington Central. Pickerington Central was the No. 2seed in the region.
The Pioneers got off to a bad start, and it only got worse. On the first play from scrimmage, Hawkins was picked off, and the Tiger defense returned it to the endzone for a pick-six. The Pioneers finished the night with their worst offensive game of the season. Hawkins finished the game 1/18 for 13 yards and two interceptions. Applegate ran the ball 16 times for 23 yards. Junior Henry Groce ran the ball nine times for 34 yards. The Pioneers were without Vanchieri due to a concussion. Hill finished the night with 14 tackles. The Pioneers lost 44-0.
“It felt really good to feel all the work pay off this year. I couldn’t think of a better group of guys to make history with,” Senior linebacker Jack Almond said. Almond played all four years of high school.
Zane Lattig, a star wide out, made his commitment to the University of Charleston West Virginia [to play baseball] leading up to the final game. He had a successful season as well.
“It was a great experience. Growing up in this program with beating one and not the other [either Oleantangy or Liberty] was frustrating so finally being able to pull it off was amazing. Plus, with all the preseason talk about how we wouldn’t be good, we as a whole team wanted to prove them wrong and show them that we are good and we played very well in the games against our rivals,” Lattig said.
The Special teams was also very special this year. Led by Senior Punter Jack Fenton who scored his first touchdown ever this year. “The best part was definitely beating both our sister schools and winning occ outright champs and winning a playoff game”, on his first score “I saw the lane down the right side and I took it. It was really fun.”
Senior linebacker Zach Hill who has Division 1 offers was arguably the best Pioneer on the field when he was out there. “For me it was just really awesome to be part of a record breaking season for our program. The winning was nice, but the relationships I made with the people here are so special. This team truly loved each other and I think that’s what helped us win football games.”
The Pioneers football team won many individual and team awards throughout the season. Head Coach Zebb Schroeder was the OCC Buckeye Coach of the Year. Senior Quarterback Spencer Hawkins was the Ernie Godfrey award winner for the OCC Buckeye division. Senior Linebacker Zach Hill wan OCC Buckeye Player of the Year.
Sophomore Place Kicker Jack Behre was the OCC Buckeye Kicker of the year. Senior Punter Jack Fenton was OCC Buckeye Player of the year. The team’s success was all over the field and evident week in and week out.
Team 12 will forever be remembered as “The First”: the first team in Orange history to win the OCC Buckeye, the first team to beat Olentangy and Olentangy Liberty in the same year, the first team to win a Division I playoff game and the first team to make it to Week 13.