Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Pioneer Gridblog Report Week 6

by Tom Condardo

Ipswich Leftovers, Around the CAL Baker, D5 Update, Hamilton-Wenham Preview

Ipswich Leftovers
So before I get started, I have a favor to ask. I'm going to ask you all to be very quiet while I type since I've had a splitting headache for the past five days....

Oh, no, Here he comes again...


E. J. Umlah Leaps over 
Tiger defender

I can't seem to get that out of my head and it's driving me crazy.

For those of you not fortunate to attend Friday's exciting 54-29 Pioneer win, every time Ipswich picked up a first down, the PA announcer would scream that at the top of his lungs. You lucky fans were way over on the other side of the field. But for those of us on the sideline right under the press box, the sound was excruciating. And thanks to the Pioneers' inability to slow down the Ipswich Veer running game, we were serenaded like this SEVENTEEN TIMES!
Captain Anthony Murphy streaks into
the end zone for his second TD of the

He's no Tom Waisnor, that's for sure.

Luckily, as the Pioneers took control of the game, he was heard from less and less as the game wore on and not once in the fourth quarter.

If you read my game story - and if not, why not? - you know that the explosive, back and forth game resulted in a number of mosts, and firsts in a long time. The combined 83 points were the most ever scored in a Lynnfield game, topping the 77 points in a 42-35 loss to North Reading in 2013. The 54 points the Pioneers put up were the most since 1985 when Lynnfield blasted Masco 55-0. It was only the second time since 1960 that the Pioneers scored 50 or more points.

Incredibly, in 1960, the Pioneers scored 50 or more points in four straight and five out of six games. In succession, they defeated Dracut 54-12, Weston 22-16, Wayland 60-0, Lynn Tech 60-6, Bedford 50-6, and Westford Academy 50-0.  That team averaged 45.6 points a game while allowing a total of 64 points on the season. Needless to say they were 9-0 and were Dual County League champs.

Tyler Murphy picks up a big
gain against Ipswich
The first half Friday night resembled more of a tennis match than a football game as each team took turns ripping through the opposing defense for touchdowns. The Pioneers scored all four times they touched the ball and Ipswich found the end zone on four of their six possessions. The only time they didn't put up points was when the Pioneers broke serve on a Peter Look fumble recovery and when time ran out in the first half.

The Pioneers continued the onslaught in the second half again scoring all four times they had the ball. The Lynnfield defense finally slowed the Ipswich veer offense down first on Jason Ndansi's fourth interception of the season and again on a crucial fourth down stop at their own 20. Despite the efficiency of the Tiger running game, the Pioneers were able to shut them out in the second half, turning a 29-27 deficit into a 54-29 win with 27 unanswered second half points.

Veer Problems
Why did the Pioneers struggle to stop Pat Gillis (220 yards on 27 carries) and the Ipswich running game? Head coach Neal Weidman explained it to me after the game.

"We knew the veer was tough to stop," he said. "We watched it on film and they're good at it. You don't see it much. It's assignment football but not only is it assignments, but it's different assignments depending on the formation. While you're thinking about that, you still have to get off blocks and make tackles. It's tough to stop."

So was it confusion or lack of execution?

"I think it was less confusion and more they're really good at running it and us being tentative because we knew the assignments changed based on what Ipswich did," he said. "We didn't want to screw up but you can't play that way. You have to be able to play full speed and we were catching a lot of blocks and catching a lot of ball carriers and not being aggressive because we were trying to do the right thing."

Pep Talk
Right before the half, the Pioneers appeared a bit frazzled as Ipswich recovered a pop-up kickoff and went down and scored to make it 29-20 with 2:42 to play, Lynnfield's biggest deficit of the season. They came back to cut the lead to 29-27 a minute and a half later, but they definitely needed to regroup at half time.

And they did, coming out for the second half a different team. I asked the coach what he had said to them at the break.

"I told them they weren't always going to be ahead," he said. "I told them 'you're down by two points and you guys are acting like we're getting beat by 50.' I told them to just compete. That's what we're here for. We're here to compete. That's okay. You're going to have to compete for four quarters tonight and that should be fun. You get to go and compete against a team that's been playing well. They sometimes lose sight of some of that because we've had some games where they were so far ahead at halftime, they weren't in a dogfight. It's actually good for them in some ways.

"You don't want to be banged up, but it's about overcoming adversity," he went on. "They have a whole lifetime ahead of them of adversity, so it's good practice."

Mortellite Hat Trick Passing Record
Quarterback Matt Mortellite completed the passing TD records hat trick Friday night. With his two touchdown passes, he now has 32 for his career, breaking the mark set by Gino Cohee (2007-2010).

When I told him he broke the record after the game he was surprised since he really had no idea. I asked him how he was able to pick up the complex Pioneer system so quickly after coming over from Malden Catholic last year as a junior.

"The coaches here are so good," the senior replied. "They know what they are doing all the time. It's all coaching."

When I relayed his answer to Weidman, he joked, "He's well trained."

"His best attribute is he cares," the coach went on more seriously. "He's a competitor and he wants to win. He doesn't care how. If it means we have to throw the ball then he'll throw the ball. If it mean we have to run the ball, we'll run it. He does not care one bit. He just wants to win and compete. And he loves playing. Obviously when he came back and got an opportunity to play, he appreciated it."

On the season, Mortellite is now 57 for 79 (72% completion) for 1118 yards, 11 touchdowns, 3 two-point conversions and only 2 interceptions. His NFL passer rating is 143.3. Alex Smith leads all NFL quarterbacks in passer rating at 119.2.

Chain Gang Praise
The men who worked the chains during the game were all parents of Ipswich players and spent the entire game on the Pioneer sideline. They were pumped when the Tigers looked ready to spring the upset but were gracious in defeat when the outcome was decided.

"This is the best coaching staff we've had here this year," one of them told me. "Always under control. They do a great job."

Data Points
- The Pioneers have now won 11 straight games against Ipswich. Overall, they trail in the series 23-26. They lead in points scored 781-771,
- Captain Nick Kinnon caught a two point conversion pass giving him 114 points for his career and lifting him into ninth place all time. He passed Dan Bronshvayg who has 143.
- The Mortelitte to Kinnon two point conversion in the third period was the 100th passing two-pointer all time for the Pioneers. They've rushed for two 229 times.

Around the CAL Baker
The only other league game last week was somewhat of a surprise. Hamilton Wenham defeated Manchester-Essex to stay unbeaten both in the league and overall, but they had to come back from a 14-0 hole to do it. Seems like the Hornets gave the Generals a similar hard time as they gave the Pioneers with their double headed running attack of Jake Athanas and Robbie Sarmanian. M/E took an early 14-0 lead on two Sarmanian touchdowns but H/W cut it to 14-8 on a touchdown and safety before the half.

The Generals took a 15-14 lead but M/E took it back when Sarmanian connected with Lake Flemming on a halfback option pass to make it 22-15. But as was the case against the Pioneers, the Hornets ran out of gas as the game wore on.

The  Generals tied it and went ahead in the fourth on a pair of TDs. H-W is now 2-0 in league play right behind the Pioneers who are 3-0.

The Standings
Lynnfield 3-0 (6-0 overall)
Ham-Wen 2-0 (6-0 overall)
Ipswich 2-1 (3-3 overall)
Man-Essex 0-3 (2-4 overall)
Amesbury 0-3 (0-6 overall)

D5 Update
The Pioneers win over Ipswich gave them 19 points and wins by Wayland and Newburyport earned them 6 more giving them a total of 95. Swampscott only picked up 19.2 points. That vaulted the Pioneers into the top spot in the division with a slim 5.8 point lead over the Big Blue.

Somerville cemented its hold on third place with a huge win over previously unbeaten Lynn Classical. Weston picked up its fourth win to move into the final first round home playoff slot. Newburyport, Watertown, Triton and Bedford round out the current top eight.

The Pioneers can clarify things quickly Friday night with a win over Hamilton-Wenham. That would give them the top seed in the playoffs and guarantee them home field through a potential D5 North title game.

Lynnfield can still take the top spot if they lose, but then some serious scoreboard watching would be in order. I'll try to sort it out, but a warning: there will be math. And keep in mind this mess is HIGHLY UNOFFICIAL.

The Pioneers would earn 7 points in a loss to the Generals (for their 7 wins) and are guaranteed 3 points from the Man-Essex/Amesbury game because they beat both team. If Wayland beats Bedford and Ipswich defeats Georgetown - and both teams would be favored - that would get Lynnfield to 111 points. Winless Winthrop is unlikely to beat undefeated Lynn English, and Newburyport is an underdog to North Reading.

Swampscott can put the most pressure on the Pioneers with a victory over one-win Saugus that will earn them 13 points. The are guaranteed at least 1.2 points from Winthrop/Lynn English game which would give them 103.4 points. A win by favored Greater Lawrence over Mystic Valley would boost that to 106.4.

So to jump over the Pioneers, Swampscott would need upset wins in four games: Revere (1-5) over Somerville (4-2), Triton (2-4) over Masco (4-2), Salem (4-2) over Lynn Classical (5-1), Winthrop (0-6) over Lynn English (6-0).

Somerville is guaranteed 91 points and can pick up 15 more with a win over Revere. The Highlanders would get an additional 4.2 points if Lynn English beats Winthrop and Lynn Classical beats Salem. That would give them 110.2. They could get 2 more points if Medford (1-5) upsets Gloucester (4-2). That would give them 112.2.

Weston has an outside shot with 75.6 points but they would need to beat New Mission (4-2) and get wins from five of their opponents and an upset win by winless Boston Latin over Concord-Carlisle to get to 111.8.

In a nutshell, it would be a lot simpler if the Pioneers would just win Friday night.

Week 6 Playoff Rankings
1. Lynnfield (6-0); 15.83 (95 points)
2. Swampscott (5-1); 14.87 (89.2)
3. Somerville (4-2); 14.50 (87)
4. Weston (4-2); 12.60 (75.6)
5. Newburyport (3-2); 11.76 (58.8)
6. Watertown (3-3); 11.20 (77.2)
7. Triton (2-4); 8.17 (49)
8. Bedford (2-4); 6.73 (40.4)
9. Saugus (1-5); 5.93 (35.6)
10. Pentucket (1-5); 4.43 (26.6)
11. Amesbury (0-6); 4.00 (24)

Hamilton-Wenham Preview
Death, taxes, and Hamilton-Wenham. Some things are inevitable. At least when it comes to the CAL title.

The Pioneers and Generals are the only two teams to wear the CAL Small crown (in whatever configuration) for the past eight years. The Pioneers took it in 2009, and the Generals won it in 2010 and 2011. Lynnfield has now captured it five years in a row and it looks like it will come down to these two teams again.

For a review of the rivalry from 2009 to 2013, check out my post from 2014. The Pioneers have dominated the past three years beating the Generals 35-0 in 2014, 49-8 in 2015, and 32-7 last year. They have now beaten H-W five straight times.

If the Pioneers can make it six in a row Friday night, they will capture their sixth straight CAL title. The Generals will take a giant step toward the title if they win, but they would still have to beat Ipswich on Thanksgiving Day.

Both rivals come into the game riding high. The Pioneers are 6-0 and hold the top spot in the Division 5 playoff rankings. The Generals are 6-0 and sit atop the D6 playoff rankings.

The Generals opened the season with a 21-0 whitewash of Bishop Fenwick, and followed that with an impressive 28-14 win over North Reading, who has already clinched a share of the CAL Kinney (Large) division. H-W then rolled to three straight lopsided wins over Greater Lawrence (28-7), Amesbury (42-12), and Georgetown (37-8).

They struggled with Manchester-Essex last week falling behind 14-0 in the first quarter before coming back to swat the Hornets 29-22.

For the first time this season the Pioneers will be facing a team that has the same type of potent passing attack as they do. Southpaw quarterback Billy Whelan has no problem slinging it all over the field trusting his outstanding receivers Cam Peach, Jake Lanciani, and Michael Crowley to go up and get it. Whelan has tossed 10 TD passes, four each to Peach and Lanciani.

The strength of the Pioneer defense has been its pass defense, holding opposing quarterbacks to a 28% completion percentage, 125 total yards, and two touchdowns. That's an average half for Whelan and company. Safe to say, the Pioneers haven't faced anywhere near the passing attack they will see Friday night.

As good as Whelan has been, keep your eyes on Peach, #44 in your program. Make no mistake, the General offense runs thought this 6'2", 180 pound all league performer. He lines up everywhere on the field - wide receiver, slot receiver, tight end, and tailback. Given the Pioneers' recent struggles containing the run (569 yards allowed the past two weeks), don't be surprised to see H-W coach Jim Pugh plug Peach into the backfield to see if he can get similar results.

Pioneer head coach Neal Weidman knows his team will have their hands full with the Generals.

"They're very, very good," he said. "They have tons of good players and they're well coached. We're going to have to play well.

"They run a multiple I and can run the ball," Weidman continued. "They'll do some single back and some shot gun and they'll break out in four wide. Sometimes they'll be under center with a fullback. The do a lot of different things from a lot of different formations, different plays, play action passes and straight drop back passes. It's different from us but the way they mix things up is similar to us."

"It's been a lot of years in a row," Weidman said of the battle between the two teams for league supremacy. "We'll see how it goes."

Friday night is also Senior Night, where the 20 graduating seniors will be honored before the game. The ceremonies start at 5:45 so get there early.

Game time is 7 pm.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Pioneer Gridblog Report Week 5

by Tom Condardo

Manchester-Essex Leftovers, Around the CAL Baker, D5 Playoff Race Update, Ipswich Preview

Manchester-Essex Leftovers
After his defense had given up 202 total yards rushing in its previous two games, Pioneer head coach Neal Weidman could be forgiven for being angry as he watched Manchester-Essex rip through the Pioneers for 160 yards in the first half. Only he wasn't.

"I wasn't necessarily upset about the way the game was going because it's probably what we deserved a little bit," the coach told me after the game. "After four games maybe they thought that they could start doing things in a different way and not doing what got them to this week."

Was the sleepy first half and semi-scare the Hornets threw at them a wake up call for the Pioneers?

"I would hope so," Weidman replied. "We'll find out next week. We definitely played better in the second half."

Not that the Hornets, now 2-3 on the season, didn't have something to do with the shocking first two quarters.

"They definitely have some talent," Weidman said. "They're thin obviously. They don't have a lot of numbers and that hurts them in the end but the kids that start are good looking players."

Running backs Jake Athanas and Robbie Sarmanian certainly shined in those first two quarters. Athanas rolled for 81 yards and Sarmanian scampered for 65 yards and a touchdown.

"You have to give them credit," Weidman went on. "They played harder than we did and played better than we did and they took it to us.

The Hornets could have made this one a lot more interesting if not for a key sequence late in the second quarter. Leading 7-6, M/E appeared to be heading for another score as they marched from their own 20 deep into Lynnfield territory. But the Pioneer defense came alive once the Hornets got into the red zone.

They held Sarmanian to a two yard gain, broke up a pass on second down, threw Athanas for a yard loss on third down, and broke up a pass on fourth down to force a turnover on downs with 1:16 left.

The Pioneers made the Hornets pay and took control of the game on the next play when quarterback Matt Mortellite faded back and threw a perfect pass that travelled 43 yards in the air into the waiting arms of captain Nick Kinnon who was streaking down the left sideline. He never broke stride and cruised into the end zone to give the visiting Pioneers a 12-7 lead. That play doused the flames of the fired up Hornets ending any thoughts of an upset.

"They shouldn't have been down 12-7 at the half," Weidman said of the home team. "We got the big play. Obviously the fourth down stop was huge. They outplayed us in the first half and we were still winning. That's a good thing for us but we certainly didn't deserve it."

The Pioneers came out with a much different attitude in the second half, scoring on three straight possessions and limiting the Hornets to six plays on their two third quarter possessions. When I mentioned that the first team defense didn't allow a first down in the second half, Weidman wasn't impressed.

"They allowed a lot of them in the first half," he said. "They kicked our butt in the first half."

Something tells me film review this week featured more of the first half than the second half.

Three's a Charm (Part 1)
Mortellite tossed four TD's in the game, tying a record he set and then matched last year. He torched Manchester Essex to set the record last year in a 47-14 win and then repeated the four bagger in a 34-14 victory against Greater Lawrence. The four this week gives him nine on the year. His NFL passer rating is now 148.8.

Three's a Charm (Part 2)
Opposing quarterbacks may want to start trying someone other than Jason Ndansi when looking for an opening in the Pioneer secondary. The senior picked off his third interception of the year early in the second quarter against M/E. Ndansi got some help from junior Hunter Allain who roared in untouched from his right linebacker spot to T-bone Hornet quarterback Cosmo Pallazola just as he threw. Ndansi's three picks is half the total for the Pioneers on the year.

The Pioneer secondary continues to be air tight. They held Pallazola to a 1 for 7 night for nine yards and the interception. For the season, opposing quarterbacks are 16 for 57 (28%) for 97 yards, 1 touchdown, and six interceptions. That works out to a Passer Rating of 5.84.

Long Distance Calling
The Pioneers have scored 25 touchdowns so far this season and 13 been for 20+ yards, 6 passing and 7 rushing.

Well Coached
Interesting tidbit on the next to last play of the game. With time running down and the game essentially over, junior quarterback Brett Cohee took the snap, faked a handoff to the running back and when the outside linebacker bit on the fake, Cohee tossed a perfect bubble screen to Aidan McCormack who scampered for a 26 yard gain. Perfect read and perfect execution.

Except it wasn't what Weidman wanted. As soon as Cohee made the read, the coach knew what his quarterback was going to do and he started yelling "No, no!" But is was too late.

"Obviously I did not want him to throw the bubble in that situation but he did as he was coached so I couldn't yell at him," Weidman said. "His run game reads are really good. He's smart, he pays attention, he does all those things. He did it correctly like he typically does."

The coach made a point of pulling Cohee aside after the game to tell him he absolutely did the right thing. The play was called back on a holding call so no harm, no foul.

Cohee took a knew to end the game.

Around the CAL Baker
It'll be a battle for first place this Friday night in Ipswich as the Tigers moved to 2-0 in Baker League play with a 42-21 win over Amesbury. The Tigers were clinging to a 21-14 halftime lead but made it 28-14 early in the third and pulled away with a pair of Pick Six interceptions.

That was the only other Baker League action last week. In addition to the Lynnfield/Ipswich clash, Manchester-Essex will take on undefeated Hamilton-Wenham.

The Standings
Lynnfield 2-0 (5-0 overall)
Ipswich 2-0 (3-2)
Hamilton-Wenham 1-0 (5-0)
Man-Essex 0-2 (2-3)
Amesbury 0-3 (0-5)

D5 Update
The Pioneers win combined with the Swampscott loss to Lynn English puts the two teams in a dead heat for the top seed in the division. The Big Blue has an easier final two week schedule facing one win Revere and winless Saugus but that also limits their opponent point potential.

The Pioneers have a tougher schedule with Ipswich (3-2) and undefeated Hamilton-Wenham upcoming but it also gives them the opportunity to pile up some serious opponent points should they manage to get past their two CAL Baker foes.

There are a couple of important swing games for Lynnfield this week. Triton plays Amesbury and a win for the Vikes gives Swampscott three points while an Amesbury win would give three to Lynnfield. Winthrop plays Saugus in a battle of winless team. A win by Winthrop gives both leaders three points, but a Saugus win gives Swampscott an opportunity for three points next week when they face the Sachems. Wins by Newburyport over Pentucket and Wayland over Concord-Carlisle would give the Pioneers six more opponent points.

Somerville beat Beverly to get to 3-2 and move into third place in the division, 14.2 points behind the leaders. Watertown lost to Wilmington but still held on to the fourth and final home playoff spot, 16.2 points behind. Weston, Newburyport, Triton, and Bedford round out the eight playoff slots.

If the playoffs started this weekend, the Pioneers would be playing either Triton or Bedford.

Week 5 Playoff Rankings
1. Lynnfield 5-0; 14.00 (70 points)
2. Swampscott 4-1; 14.00 (70 points)
3. Somerville 3-2; 11.16 (55.8 points)
4. Watertown 3-2; 10.76 (53.8 points)
5. Weston 3-1; 10.72 (43.6 points)
6. Newburyport 2-2; 10.45 (41.8 points)
7. Triton 1-4; 6.92 (34.6 points)
8. Bedford 1-4; 5.60 (18 points)
9. Saugus 0-5; 4.68 (23.4 points)
10. Pentucket 1-4; 4.08 (20.4 points)
11. Amesbury 0-5; 3.80 (19 points)

Ipswich Preview
Talk to any high school football coach and they will tell you that high school football is a senior game. Pioneer head coach Neal Weidman has made that point several times and the team's success this year can in a large part be attributed to a nearly all senior lineup Lynnfield puts on the field on both sides of the ball.

If it's true that your twelfth graders are key to winning, the Pioneers better be alert on Friday night when they travel to Ipswich. The Tigers have 17 seniors and will leverage that experience to try and spring the upset over the Pioneers.

The Tigers blanked winless Essex Tech 14-0 to open the season then fell to Newburyport 10-7. Ipswich fell to Triton 35-21 but has bounced back with wins over Manchester-Essex 22-13 on a big fourth quarter comeback and last week rode a big second half to rout winless Amesbury 42-21.

At 2-0 in the Baker, the Tigers are tied with the Pioneers for first place and at 3-2 overall are clinging to the final playoff spot in Division 6. There is a lot at stake for the Tigers and you can expect them to come out roaring Friday night.

"We'll have our hands full," Weidman said. "The are going to be tough.

Offensively, the Tigers have jumped into the Wayback Machine and installed an old school veer offense with two backs behind the quarterback and two tight ends. It is a run oriented attack that looks to take advantage of a solid, aggressive offensive line. Four of five starters return from last season.

The Tigers have been opportunists on defense. In the past two weeks they have scored three defensive touchdowns. Their defensive line is experienced but they have three first year starters at linebacker so look for the Pioneers to exploit the middle of the field.

The Pioneers have dominated the series in the last decade, winning ten straight by an aggregate score of 268-42. That includes four shutouts and five games in which the Tigers managed only one touchdown.

Game time in Ipswich is 7 pm.