PERU- After a back and forth first half, Fort Calhoun's pass game was the deciding factor Saturday night in the inaugural Pioneer Bowl against Nebraska City.

Aside from mascots, Nebraska City and Fort Calhoun had similarities on both sides of the ball on Saturday night in Peru. Nebraska City lost its leading passer in then-senior MJ Nelson, and leading receiver and tackler in Braden Thompson.

For Fort Calhoun, the Pioneers also graduated its leading passer in then-senior Ty Hallberg, leading rusher and tackler in Clint Dierks, and leading receiver in Zane Schwarz.

Schwarz and Thompson for their respective teams also hauled in nearly 50 percent of the completions from Nelson and Hallberg last season.

The gaps both Pioneer teams needed to fill for the 2022 season showed in the first quarter of the game on Saturday, as both teams jogged back to the sideline knotted up at zero.

However, the first play of the second quarter broke the tie. Fort Calhoun senior quarterback Austin Welchert dialed up a pass to junior Grayson Bouwman on the right sideline. Bouwman broke the first tackle and took it to the house on an 89-yard touchdown catch. 

Nebraska City responded a few minutes later with junior Bayler Poston on a 5-yard run. Nebraska City's extra point was blocked by Fort Calhoun senior Avery Quinlan and keep the score 7-6 Fort Calhoun.

Austin Welchert added to his touchdown total right before the half and connected with freshman Blake Welchert for a 28-yard strike to extend the Fort Calhoun lead, 14-6.

Nebraska City opened the second half with a run-first mentality, and Poston doubled-up on touchdowns as he scored from 9-yards out to put the score at 14-12. 

In the waining seconds of the third quarter, Fort Calhoun responded with another touchdown. This time Austin Welchert called his own number and ran it in from 4-yards out.

With under two minutes left in the game, Austin Welchert added one more passing touchdown to his total with a 16-yard pass to Bouwman to make it 27-12. 

Fort Calhoun won the inaugural Pioneer Bowl and returned home with the wagon wheel trophy 27-12. 

Welchert finished 13-21 passing for 281 yards and three touchdowns. Bouwman tallied seven catches for 228 yards and two scores.