Sunday, March 18, 2018

End of an Era


by Tom Condardo

By now you all know that Neal Weidman is stepping down as head coach of the Pioneers after an amazing ten year run - one of the most successful stretch in school history.

Former Pioneer Head Coach Neal Weidman
Lynnfield football has been fortunate to have some illustrious periods in its 60 seasons.

Steve Sobieck started the program in 1958 and went 2-5-1 his first year with a team without any seniors. But beginning in 1959, he reeled off six successful seasons going 41-9-3 (.775 winning percentage including three Dual County League titles and a 1960 team that went 9-0 and still stands as the only undefeated team in LHS history.

Bill Rodan, the winningest coach in LHS history with 101 victories, had a particularly stellar six year run from 1978-83 going 43-16-1 (.716) and a CAL championship.

Bill Adams' teams went 25-6 (.806) from 1985-87 including a CAL title and the school's first trip to a Super Bowl.

The run of Weidman's teams deservers to be elevated to that pantheon. He finished 78-34 (.696). Excluding his first year in 2008 when the Pioneers went 3-8, Weidman's final nine year record was 75-26 (.742) with seven league championships, two division titles, 15 playoff games, three division title games, and a trip to the Super Bowl.

After speaking to him the day he made his announcement, it was obvious to me that his decision to step down was not an easy one.

"It's tough. I don't feel great that's for sure," the coach told me of his feelings the day he told his coaches and players and sent out his email notice to the Pioneer football community. "There's a few different reasons for my decision. I'm at a crossroads with a few different things and because I was unsure I figured if I was unsure than I probably shouldn't be doing it.

"It was ridiculously hard decision," he continued. "I've been tormented over it. I've given it a ton of thought. I'm not a hundred percent sure if I'm making the right decision but I don't know how you can ask a group of people to be all in if you're not sure that you can be all in."

It was also clear that this was a decision a long time in the making.

"I've given this thought for years," Weidman said. "Deciding when would be the right time? It was something that I never really wanted to think about but every year I had to think about it a little bit more. I've come to the realization that there's never going to be a good time. There's always going to be a group of seniors. There's always going to an underclass group that you're gonna like that's coming up through. There's always good kids and always good players so there was never going to be a perfect time. I'm sure I'm going to regret it come the fall when the first day rolls around. Not sure how I'm going to get through school that day."

Weidman has no plans to do anything in coaching this fall.

"The plan is to not do anything," he said. "I haven't looked for anything and no one has reached out to me. I don't know if that will change once people find out but I will not be actively seeking anything else.

"Head coaching is a big commitment and I've always prioritized it," he continued. "Maybe even at times when it shouldn't have been the top priority. But that's the only way you can do it because its pretty demanding."

"I'm not sure where things are going to go but I'm just trying to reprioritize," he summed up. "Hopefully I'll get another opportunity if I want one some day. There's no guarantees because that's  just the way it is."

I'm guessing that with his track record, getting that next opportunity won't be a problem.

For the time being however, I'm sure Jen, Hudson, Cal, and Tripp will enjoy having husband and dad around this fall.

Coaches Kudos
Weidman's departure also means the breakup of one of the best and most dedicated coaching staffs on the North Shore. The core group of John O'Brien, Gino Fodera, Chris Sakelakos, Fern Lavoie, Pat Lamusta and Jeff Gannon have been together for years and the results on the field show it. The Pioneers have had great talent over the years, but the staff always made sure the players were in the best position to take advantage of their skill sets. From what I understand, those marathon Sunday night coaching sessions were epic, but the results speak for themselves.

A look back
So as the Weidman Decade prepares to pass into the LHS football history books, I thought it would be a good time to take a look back do a recap of the past ten seasons.

2008
2008 Pioneers




















Weidman took over a Pioneer team that had gone 5-38 from 2004-2007, three of those wins coming in 2007. They would go into battle with only six seniors including captains Ryan Perkins, Chris Klove, and Ben Salisbury.

"Our main goal is to improve every single week," Weidman told me before the season. "We're happy with the kids. They want to get better and they want to win so we're working for that common goal for all of us."

The Weidman Era began with a bang, as the Pioneers blasted Matignon 28-6 on opening night in Somerville. Salisbury, Gino Cohee, and Chris Grassi led a rushing attack that exploded for 264 yards and four TD's. The Pioneers led 21-6 at the half and cruised in from there.

The Pioneers would then lose seven straight, being outscored 176-82. They nipped Ipswich 13-7 in week nine. The turning point for the program began in week ten in a 35-21 loss to Super Bowl bound Manchester Essex. The Hornet head coach told Weidman that the Pioneers had given them their toughest battle of the year.

Hope for the future began to emerge on Thanksgiving Morning when the Pioneers shut out North Reading 21-0 at the Middle School Field setting the stage for an optimistic offseason.

"It's something to build on going into next year," Weidman told me after the game. "Going into next year we're going to have to pick it up a notch and take that next step."

Final Record: 3-8

2009
2009 Pioneers


















And take the next step they did.

Led by captains George and Joe Hennessey, Eric Inglese, and John Leydon, nearly 50 players including 18 seniors turned out for preseason practices. One prescient prognosticating sportswriter (okay, me) knowingly began his preview article in the Villager this way: "There's really no other way to say it: The 2009 Lynnfield football team is loaded."

Spoilers: It was.

"None of that matters," Weidman told me. "The only thing that matters is that each week you prepare and continue to improve."

The Pioneers roared out of gate with two lopsided wins over Matignon and Georgetown by a combined 66-13 score. They then were forced to swallow a heaping helping of humble pie in a 28-7 loss to CAL Large Wilmington.

The Wildcats ripped off a TD return on the opening kick and then turned a Lynnfield fumble into another TD.

"We got outplayed," Weidman said after the game.

The Pioneers bounced back with wins over Cathedral and Danvers - the latter another turning point game against a tough non-league opponent. Gino Cohee rolled for 183 yards in the first half in the rain in Danvers to help build a 14-0 lead. Nick Roberts picked off a fourth down pass to seal the win with less than a minute to play.

"I think it's a great win for the program," Weidman said. "For us to not only win, but to be able to win a close game is big.

The win gave the Pioneers a 4-1 record, and their first four win season since 2003. They ripped off four more victories over Triton - 21-19 thriller on 22 yard Steve Ullian field goal with nine seconds left- Amesbury, Newburyport, and Ipswich to set up a potential championship clinching game against Hamilton Wenham.

Rushing touchdowns by George Hennesy and Cohee, and a Chris Grassi to Tyler Surette TD pass, gave the Pioneers a 21-3 win and clinched the first league title and post season berth for the Pioneers in 23 years.

The Pioneers disposed of North Reading 35-14 on Thanksgiving day in a play-for-pride game and took on Austin Prep on the following Tuesday at Reading High School for the right to go to the Division 3A Super Bowl.

They came up a yard and a half short. The two teams battled to a 20-20 tie in regulation and the Cougars scored on their set of downs to start the overtime. The Pioneers faced a fourth and goal from the one and half but Cohee was stopped short ending the Cinderella season with a 26-20 loss.

 "I'm proud of them," Weidman said of his team. "We won our league. We went a long way."

Final record: 10-2, CAL Small Champs

2010
2010 Pioneers

















Led by captains Gino Cohee, A. J. Roberto, Steven Ullian, and Jeff Gannon, the Pioneers bolted out of the gate and rolled over their first seven opponents by a combined score of 252-58.

Then Newburyport happened.

Playing in their personal House of Horrors at World War Memorial Stadium, the Pioneers wilted under the bright lights of Fox25 who had selected the matchup as their game of the week. The Clippers came in with a 3-4 record, but a Lynnfield team hadn't won in Newburyport since 1986 - 11 straight losses. That should have been an omen.

The Pioneers were totally dominated as the Clippers had three times as many offensive yards and built leads of 7-0 and 14-0 before closing it out at 24-7.

"We got outplayed right from the start," Weidman said after the disappointing loss. "It obviously wasn't our best game."

The Pioneers bounced back with a 41-0 Senior Day thrashing of Ipswich to improve to 8-1 and set up must win showdown at Hamilton-Wenham to keep their title hopes alive.

But it was not to be. The Generals' co-captain James Brao kicked his first ever field goal from 25 yards out with 18 seconds to play to upend the Pioneers and snuff out their hopes of repeating as league champs.

The Pioneers returned home to beat North Reading 21-6 on Thanksgiving day to end a strong season.

"Ending the season on a win is huge," summed up Weidman. "It gives you a good feeling going into the offseason."

Final record: 9-2

2011
2011 Pioneer Seniors






















Captains Jon Roberto, John Gaff, and Mike Thomas led a group of 63 players who showed up for preseason practice, and Weidman and staff were going to need to cull through all of them to replace 15 seniors lost to graduation.

The Pioneers got off to an inauspicious start with a 27-14 loss to Newburyport, but bounced back with wins over Amesbury and Bishop Fenwick before getting hammered by St. Mary's of Lynn 40-16 and losing to Danvers in a 42-35 shootout. After beating Pentucket 21-14, the Pioneers sat at 3-3 heading into the CAL/NEC 4 league schedule.

They beat Ipswich 13-6 setting up another huge league game against H-W who would come to town with a perfect 6-0 record. But in a game that epitomized the star-crossed 2011 Pioneers, the Generals escaped the Middle School Field with a 22-14 overtime victory in a contest they had no business winning.

Lynnfield led 14-6 with a minute to play. The lead should have been even larger but two Pioneer touchdowns in the second half were negated - one on a bad call on a simultaneous catch in the end zone by Nico Varano and a General defender that was ruled an interception and the second when a 22 yard TD run by Mike Karavetsos was called back on a questionable holding penalty.

The Generals, who would go on to play in the Super Bowl, took advantage, scoring a touchdown and two point conversion with 37 seconds left to force the overtime. H-W scored on fourth down of the overtime and the Pioneers couldn't answer and left with a disheartening loss.

"We had them and then we lost then," Weidman said of the lost opportunity. "It's too bad. The kids deserved better. They deserved to win the game."

After beating Georgetown 35-7, the Pioneers came out flat on Senior Day and fell to Manchester Essex 7-6.

Already hurt by the loss of running back Thomas and outside linebacker/backup QB Alex Roper, the Pioneers suffered a fatal blow when Karavetsos was knocked out of the Thanksgiving Game with an apparent concussion. Lynnfield was forced to go with sophomore Matt Kramich and freshman Danny Sullivan at quarterback and fell to the Hornets 37-18 to end the year.

"We had to fight through a lot of adversity and hung in there as long as we could," Weidman said of the effort against North Reading, although in truth, he could have been talking about the 2011 season as a whole.

Final record: 5-6

2012
2012 Pioneers













Captains Mike Karavetsos, Andrew Kibarian, D.J. DeGeorge, Alex Pascucci, and Tyler Palumbo led an experienced group of 65 players including 17 seniors and 13 regulars who were determined to rebound from a down 2011.

"It's a good group," Weidman said in what would prove to be the understatement of the year.

The Pioneers opened with the obligatory loss to Newburyport, this one a 7-6 heartbreaker, and finished the non-league portion of the schedule with a 3-2 mark.

They then reeled off four straight league wins including a payback 25-14 win over Hamilton Wenham to set up a winner-take all defacto CAL/NEC 4 championship game on Thanksgiving morning against North Reading, who was still in the same league as the Pioneers that year. The stakes were high since under the playoff format at the time, only the league champs went to the postseason.

Both teams came into the game with 4-0 league records in a matchup that featured the Pioneers wide open spread offense against the Hornets ground and pound single wing attack. Over 3000 people jammed the Middle School field for what would turn out to be the final Thanksgiving Day game played at old Pioneer Field.

The game lived up to the billing. The Pioneers dominating defense held the potent Hornet offense to 145 yards, 40 in the second half.

Lynnfield opened the scoring on a 13 yard run by Kyle McGah and PAT by Alex Roper. North Reading tied it up when Carl Lipani barely edged into the end zone on a one yard run. The Pioneers notched the winning score midway in the third when Karavetsos broke loose for a 65 yard run to the Hornet eight yard line and three plays later bootlegged in from the five for the score.

The win set up a playoff matchup with CAL/NEC Champ Amesbury five nights later for the right to go to Gillette Stadium for the Division 3A Super Bowl. The Pioneers had beaten the Indians 31-27 earlier in the year but had to dig out of a 21-0 hole to do it.

Not to worry. Playing on a neutral field at Cawley Stadium in Lowell, the Pioneers dominated from start to finish in a 35-14 win. McGah led the offensive onslaught with four rushing TDs, equalling the four he scored in the earlier matchup with the Indians.

The other half of the story was the Pioneer's bruising defense led by a front wall of Kibarian, D. J. DeGeorge, and Mike Soden, and an active linebacking corps of Palumbo, McGah, Roper, Anthony Costa, and A. J. Gallo.

It was off to Gillette for Lynnfield's first appearance in the Super Bowl since 1986.

Unfortunately the Pioneers had to take on powerhouse Bishop Feehan, winners of eight state championships and participants in seven of the last 12 Super Bowls.

The Shamrocks jumped out to a 14-0 lead on their first two possessions and things looked bleak. The Pioneers would cut the lead to 14-7 on a two yard burst by McGah before the half. But the Feehan defense would never bend again and added a third quarter TD to build a cushion they would not relinquish in a 21-7 win.

Asked after the game what he would have said if had been told during the summer that his season would end on the field at Gillette, Weidman told me, "I would have taken it in August. But now when you get here, you want to win it.

"I'm proud as heck of the kids," the coach summed up. "They played hard. They gave great effort all year. It's too bad it had to end this way for them. I just want to say thank you to the entire team this year for a great season."

Final Record: 9-3, CAL/NEC 4 Champs, Division 3 North Champs, Super Bowl Finalist

2013
2013 Pioneers
(Tracy Karavetsos photo)
















Under the leadership of captains Kyle McGah, Matt Kramich, Anthony Costa, and Dom Costa, the Pioneers picked up right where they left off in 2012, rolling to a perfect 7-0 record and outscoring their opposition 248-48. Sixty-eight players turned out including 19 seniors, ad the Pioneers dominated in the pre-playoff portion of the season.

Under the first ever MIAA playoff format, the first seven weeks of the season were used to establish playoff seedings. The CAL/NEC merger was dissolved so the Pioneers were back in the CAL Small, now named the Baker Division. To earn an automatic playoff spot, you had to win your league or finish second or get an at large bid using a strength of schedule formula.

The Pioneers' fast start took the making-the-playoff suspense out quickly and they captured the league crown with a 34-0 smashing of Hamilton Wenham. The Pioneers earned the second seed in Division Four North and handled seventh seed Stoneham 34-12 at the Middle School field.

The next matchup for the undefeated Pioneers was third seed Bedford. In a hard hitting defensive battle, the Pioneers led 7-0 after three quarters but ran out of gas and allowed two fourth quarter Bedford TDs, the last coming with nine seconds to play handing the Pioneers their first loss of the year.

Lynnfield finished the year with an exciting 21-20 comeback win over Watertown (spoilers: that name will come up again.)

Defense took Thanksgiving Day off as the teams combined for 675 yards and 77 points as the Pioneers fell to the Hornets 42-35. Missing starting linebackers David Adams, C. J. Finn, and Kevin Lee all out with injuries, the Pioneers had no answer for North Reading's C. J. McCarthy who rolled for 271 yards and four TDs in the Hornet single wing offense. Just to add insult to injury, McCarthy had a pick-six with under six minutes to play to seal the deal.

 "Losing the last one always hurts but it was a great season," Weidman told me after the game. "We'll miss all the seniors. For the younger guys, they need to be positive and move forward and try to make their mark next year."

Final Record: 9-2, CAL Baker Champs, Division Four North Playoff Semi-finalist

2014
2014 Pioneers
(Tracy Karavetsos photo)












Close to 70 candidates, including 21 seniors led by captains Cam Rondeau, Jon Knee, and Danny Sullivan turned out for the first day of practice.

Despite having to play their first four games on the road due to the construction of the new Pioneer Stadium at the high school, the Pioneers rolled through their pre-playoff schedule, going 7-0 and sweeping to their third straight league championship. Lynnfield celebrated the opening of their new stadium with a 42-0 whitewashing of Georgetown on October 10.

They also took care of one of the few remaining pieces of unfinished business in the Weidman Era in week two when they rolled into Newburyport and snapped the long standing curse. The Pioneers routed the Clippers 32-0 for Lynnfield's first win in Newburyport since 1986, ending a 13 game losing streak at War Memorial Stadium.

"The kids wanted to take some pride in being the team that stopped the streak," Weidman said. "I wanted it to be over as well. 1986 was a long time ago."

Paced by an explosive offense, let by Sullivan, Knee, and Rondeau, and the running of Jake Rourke, the Pioneers averaged 37 points a game in their first seven games. The defense was just as impressive holding opponents to only 20 points and posting four shutouts. The D was strong on all three levels with a massive front wall of Cam DeGeorge, Stephen White, and Al Maclachlan, an attacking linebacking corps of David Adams, CJ Finn, Jake Rouke, Kevin Lee, Rob Debonis, and Chad Martin, and a ball hawking secondary of interception-machine Rondeau, Knee, and Dan Bronshvayg.

The Pioneers continued their dominance in the playoffs rolling over Saugus in the rain 42-6 and handling Swampscott 35-7 to punch their ticket to the Division Four North final against Winthrop. Both teams came into the game at frigid Miller Field in Winthrop undefeated at 10-0 but the Pioneers took home the title in a contest that was much closer than the 35-14 score would indicate.

With Lynnfield leading 28-14, the game turned on probably the most exciting play of the Weidman Era. The Vikings faced a fourth and half yard and looked ready to punch in a TD that would make it a one score game, but DeGeorge drove the Winthrop center into quarterback Dylan Driscoll, blowing up an attempted quarterback sneak. The ball fell to the ground amidst a pile of 21 players but an alert Rondeau stepped into the pile, picked up the ball and raced 99 yards the other way for a Lynnfield score.

"I didn't even know what was going on," Weidman told me after the game. "I saw (Rondeau) running down the field with no whistles and the refs chasing him and I said 'thank God.'"

The win gave the Pioneers the Division Four North Division Championship and lifted them into the division state semi-finals.

However, the Pioneers saw their hopes for another trip to the Super Bowl dashed at Cawley Stadium the following Saturday when a fast, aggressive Holliston team dominated in a 26-0 win. It was only would mark the third and final time the Pioneers would be shut out in the 112 games of the Weidman Era, the other two coming in 2008.

"We were chasing it the whole game," Weidman said. "We were never in a favorable position to get any of our matchups because they were so fast. Their overall team speed was the deciding factor.

"There's a lot of positives for the year," the coach summed up. "We won the North and won our first 10 games and no Lynnfield team has ever done that. But the kids wanted more than that. It just was not our day today. Not at all. Sometimes that's the way it is."

The Pioneers exacted a measure of revenge for the 2013 Thanksgiving Day loss by stifling the Hornets 35-0 in a couple of inches of snow at Pioneer Stadium on the holiday to finish the only 11 win season in the history of Lynnfield High football.

Final Record: 11-1, CAL Baker Champs, Division Four North Champs, Division Four State Semi-finalist.

2015
2015 Pioneers
(Tracy Karavetsos photo)













An amazing 82 players turned out for the first practices including captains Cam DeGeorge, CJ Finn, Drew McCarthy, Spencer Balian, and Drew Balestrieri.

The Pioneers split their two non-league games to start the season then rolled through their CAL Baker schedule with five straight wins to clinch their fourth consecutive league title. They nailed down the third seed in the Division Four North playoff and hosted Watertown in the first round.

Plagued by turnovers and penalties, the Pioneers fell to the Raiders 25-17 at Pioneer Stadium. The Pioneers led 17-12 in the third but after an impressive goal line stand, fumbled at the goal line and the Raiders recovered at the two. They would score one play later and then add a another TD to nail it down.

"We're disappointed obviously," said Weidman who saw his team lose for the first time in ten games at Pioneer Stadium. "Sometimes in games like that you need a couple of things to go your way and they didn't."

The Pioneers lost a 28-27 heartbreaker to Pentucket the following week in a game they led 21-0 at halftime. They bounced back to beat Triton 36-7 and North Reading 32-12  in a game Weidman called "our best game of the year" to finish the season on a high note. Senior quarterback Jake McHugh led the way against the Hornets with a pair of touchdown runs.

"It was a great year," Weidman said of the season. "We had a bunch of great kids. I'm very proud of the senior class. I'm glad they finished as strong as they did. You never want to send them off with a bad feeling so I'm just happy for them."

Final Record: 8-3, CAL Baker Champs

2016
2016 Pioneers














Captains Louis Ellis, Mike Stellato, Kyle Hawes, and Alex Boustris led a group of 70 players who turned out for preseason practice. However, as opposed to recent years when the Pioneers featured around 20 seniors, this year's edition only had a dozen. With only those the four captains being regulars in 2015, Weidman knew there would be a lot more teaching with his inexperienced group.

"We just have to go slower than in the past," he said after the first practice. "We have to do some things differently. The seniors have worked hard and they're ready for their senior year, but there just aren't a lot of them."

To no great surprise, the Pioneers lost their first two non-league games to Newburyport and Danvers but they righted the ship and rolled through an undefeated 4-0 CAL Baker schedule to capture their fifth straight league title.

"We just wanted to come in and prove everyone wrong," said Stellato of winning another championship. "They said we were undersized and we weren't good enough because everyone left. But as captains, we decided to take control of the team and lead everyone and make everyone better day in and day out and this is the product of it."

Lynnfield had no trouble in the opening round of the D3A playoffs pasting Northeast Metro 34-14. Unfortunately, in round two they ran into one of the best teams in the state in undefeated St. Mary's of Lynn. The big, fast, physical, athletic, and smart Spartans rushed for 366 yards enroute to a 44-24 win.

The Pioneers closed to 16-8 early in the third period, and forced St. Mary's to play their starters the entire game, something they hadn't had to do the entire year.

"It doesn't feel any better when you give them a great game and lose," Weidman said after the game at Manning Field. "But the kids played hard. The effort was there and we were pretty physical which is all we could ask for."

The following week, the Pioneers survived a sleepy first half to pull away from Greater Lawrence 34-14 behind four TD passes from Matt Mortellite.

Lynnfield then finished the season with a heartbreaking 21-20 squeaker loss to North Reading at Pioneer Stadium. The Pioneers led 14-3 early in the second half, but the Hornets roared back with 18 unanswered points to take an 21-14 lead. The Pioneers came back to score to make it 21-20 but the point after try was wide and the Hornets held on for the win.

"We had a good year," Weidman said. "After those first two games we kind of put it together. I just think we improved a lot throughout the year."

Final Record: 6-4, CAL Baker Champs, Division 3A North Semi-finalists.

2017
2017 Pioneers













A very different scenario from 2016 faced the 2017 Pioneers when captains Nick Kinnon, Nathan Drislane, Harry Collins, Cooper Marengi, and Anthony Murphy led 70 players onto the practice field for the team's first workout. Gone was the inexperienced squad that needed to take things slow in the early going. With 13 returning starters and 18 seniors and 21 juniors, the Pioneers were ready to hit the ground running.

"It's obvious that the junior and seniors who were here last year know what's going on," Weidman said following the squad's first practice. "We did twice as much on this day this year than we were able to do last yer. Our expectations are definitely higher this year. I told them I'm not going to be patient this year."

The experience showed as the Pioneers rocketed out to six straight wins to start the season. The most exciting pre-playoff game was a 28-26 overtime win over Wayland in week two. Lynnfield led 20-6 at halftime but the Warriors took control of the second half scoring twice to knot the score at 20-20 late in the fourth quarter.

Wayland scored on their first possession in overtime but the Warrior receiver who was wide open on the two point conversion inexplicably dropped the pass to keep the Wayland lead at 26-20. The Pioneers couldn't score on their four downs but a Warrior defensive back mauled Kinnon on fourth down and was called for pass interference giving Lynnfield new life.

Anthony Murphy bulldozed in from the one yard line on second down to tie the score at 26-26 then took a perfect pitch from Matt Mortellite on a read option and plowed into the end zone for the two point conversion and a 28-26 win.

"I had it in my mind that I was getting in and there was no one that was going to stop me," Murphy told me after the game.

The Pioneers faced Hamilton-Wenham in week seven with a chance to clinch their sixth straight league title. But the wheels came off early and often and the General stunned Lynnfield at Pioneer Stadium 35-7 handing them their first loss of the season. The Pioneers committed five penalties and turned the ball over twice, most in crucial situations.

"Right off the bat we started shooting ourselves in the foot and when you play a good team, you can't recover from that stuff," Weidman said.

The loss apparently dashed the hopes of another league title as the Pioneers fell to 3-1 in league play while the Generals stood at 3-0. They only needed to beat Ipswich who was 2-1 in league play, to take the crown. Fortunately for Lynnfield, the Tigers had other ideas and upset the Generals 22-20 so all three teams finished 3-1 and shared the CAL Baker crown.

Despite the loss to H-W, the Pioneers held on to the top seed in the Division Five North rankings and hosted the number eight seed Bedford in the opening round of the playoffs. They cruised past the Buccaneers 34-6 to move to the semi-finals against Newburyport.

The Clippers battled the Pioneers to a 7-7 stalemate late in the first half, but Lynnfield scored with no time left on the clock when Mortellite threw a dart to Kinnon to make it 13-7 at the half. Kinnon stretched the lead to 19-7 when he returned the second half kickoff 94 yards for a score. The Pioneers were never threatened again and the 26-7 win gave Lynnfield the satisfaction of beating their nemesis twice in the same season.

The win set up a showdown matchup in the D5N finals against pain-in-the-tailpad Watertown. The Warriors, who play in the tough Middlesex League against higher division teams, always get into the playoffs as a lower seed then dominate in the post season. Such was the case this year as sixth-seeded Watertown upended second seed Somerville and third seed Swampscott and were now coming after the top seed to make it a 1-2-3 sweep.

On a bitterly cold night more suited to ice fishing than football, the Pioneers and Warriors staged an epic contest for the ages. How cold was it? Game time temperature was 27 but a persistent wind made it feel like single numbers. It was so cold, I had to retreat to the press box for the second half because the ink in my pen was freezing and I couldn't take notes in my familiar spot along the sidelines.

The two teams combined for over 700 yards of offense despite the conditions and things looked good for the Pioneers when Tyler Murphy scooted 29 yards into the end zone to give Lynnfield what looked like a comfortable 34-24 lead with 2:55 left to play.

But Watertown, who had staged two miracle comebacks for last minute wins in their first two playoff games did it again at Pioneer Stadium. They exploded for two touchdowns, the last with 11 seconds left in the game to steal a 38-34 win from the shocked Pioneers.

The Warriors would go on to get crushed by Dennis Yarmouth 41-3 in the state semifinals, but the bitter loss was hard to take for Lynnfield.

"We could have won that one," said Weidman after the game. "We played fairly well the whole game but unfortunately we couldn't get the ball back to run the clock out at the end."

The Pioneers finished the season on a sour note with a 27-13 loss at North Reading on Thanksgiving morning. Despite missing five players who covered eight starting positions and then losing quarterback Mortellite to an apparent concussion in the closing minute of the first half, the Pioneers fought hard. They trailed 20-13 with 5:35 left in the game and were inside the NR 20 driving for the tying score when Hornet lineman Michael Luciana scooped up a fumbled bad snap and raced 77 yards for a crushing touchdown to seal the win for the home team.

Lynnfield was forced to play without Anthony Murphy who suffered a broken leg against Watertown and three other starters who were suspended due to disciplinary reasons.

"We talk about adversity all the time," Weidman said after the game. "We played tough against a pretty good team. The score looked like a 14 point difference but it was probably a bit closer than that."

"We were right there all year," the coach said in what would be his final post game session as Pioneer head coach. "Unfortunately we had some adverse circumstances. The Hamilton-Wenham game they outplayed us. That's the only game I can really say was a little bit disappointing. Other than that, Watertown we played tough in some tough circumstances with the weather and then again today we played tough through some rough circumstances. I really can't complain."

That's it. Ten years of mostly dominance. 78 wins in 112 games. Over that ten year stretch, the Pioneers outscored their opponents 2,968-1,529 and except for a seven game losing streak in Weidman's first year, never lost more than two games in a row in a single season.

A outstanding decade of excellence by a class individual and superior football coach. He will be missed.

A Heartfelt Thanks

The Coach and the Scribe
On a personal note, I want to extend my thanks to Coach Weidman for his cooperation through out the ten years I have had the pleasure of covering him. Regardless of the outcome of the games, he was always there following the action to politely answer every question I had. Although most of the time it was to discuss big victories, there were many bitter defeats, but he maintained the same cordial demeanor regardless.

I also want to thank Jen for putting up with the instances I know I interrupted their family time with phone calls - one family road trip comes immediately to mind. Her patience was also greatly appreciated. I wish Coach Weidman and his family the best in the future.




















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Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Pioneer Gridblog Report - Final Edition


by Tom Condardo

North Reading Leftovers

The short-staffed Pioneers had no business being in this game. Yet there they were with 5:35 to go in the game, playing with a backup quarterback and backup running backs driving for what could have been the go-ahead touchdown.

"If we had gotten that in, we were definitely going for two," Pioneer head coach Neal Weidman told me after the game.

But then came the back-breaking, game-ending bad snap/fumble and North Reading turned what might have been a 21-20 Lynnfield lead into a 27-13 heart-breaking loss. But in defeat, this game told you more about this year's team than all the blowout wins over Newburyport, Amesbury, Winthrop, Manchester-Essex, and Bedford ever could: The 2017 Pioneers had heart and guts.

This 60th game between the rivals could have gotten ugly in a hurry and it looked like we were headed that way early. The explosive Hornets gashed the Pioneers on their first two drives gobbling up 134 of their 311 rushing yards and jumping out to a 14-0 lead.

But the Pioneer defense stiffened and held the Hornets offense to only one more TD. The Lynnfield defense, on the arms and legs of Matt Mortellite, then got in gear to cut the lead to 14-6 just before the quarterback's day ended on a spinning tackle right before the half.

But the resilient Pioneers kept at it. Junior Brett Cohee showed his mastery of the spread run game making the right reads and picking up 87 rushing yards including a 35 yard scamper that made it 20-13 after captain Nick Kinnon's PAT. With a quarter and a half to go, the Pioneers were in business.

However, it was not to be on this holiday morning, but it wasn't for lack of effort or determination.

Much of grit was the result of the stellar leadership of captains Kinnon, Cooper Marengi, Nathan Drislane, Harry Collins, and Anthony Murphy (whose absence in the game due to a broken leg suffered against Watertown was huge). Coupled with the loss of Mortellite for the second half and the loss of several other key players due to disciplinary reasons, and the Pioneers faced a mountain just too steep to climb.

"We have definitely had to deal with adversity all year," Drislane told me after the game. "It's been kind of a common theme. It was again today, especially when our quarterback went down. I'm proud of what we did today with so many things fighting against us."

"For all these young guys to step up in what we consider one of the biggest games of our career is huge," added Marengi. "We just told the guys to be confident in what they were doing. We told them they are in that position for a reason and we trust them to make the plays and they ended up doing pretty well."

"We did alright," Weidman summed up. "The kids we asked to hop in did a nice job and the kids that have been there all year really played hard. We were really close to pulling this one out."

Champs Again
Lost in the disappointment was the fact that 20 miles to the north, the Ipswich Tigers were in the process of helping to secure the Pioneers' sixth straight CAL championship. Ipswich upset Hamilton-Wenham 22-20 in overtime leaving the three teams in a tie with 3-1 league records.

"It wasn't really an up and down year," said Weidman. "Hamilton-Wenham outplayed us. That's the only game I can say was a real disappointment. But give credit to them. They outplayed us that day in every way and I would have like to see a little better performance that night but other than that we were right there. Watertown we played tough in some tough circumstances with the weather and then today we played through some tough circumstances as well but I can't complain. I really can't."

Deja Vu 
Thursday morning's game brought back some bad memories of the 2011 Thanksgiving game on the same field when another short-handed Pioneer squad fell to the Hornets 37-18. Like this year, the Pioneers went into the game without their starting running back. That year is was Mike Thomas who was out with a collarbone and outside linebacker/placekicker/backup quarterback Alex Roper.

And again like last week, they lost their quarterback to concussion symptoms in the second quarter when starter Mike Karavetsos took a hit to the head on a nine yard run. With Roper unavailable, Weidman was forced to jump start the career of Danny Sullivan.

The freshman, alternating with sophomore Matt Kramich, hung in there - all 5'6" 135 lbs of him - and picked up the first of his eventual 29 career TD passes. On the Pioneers' first play of the second half from their own 20, Sullivan reared back and drilled a perfect pass to a streaking Alex Pascucci who got behind the Hornet defense and raced all the way in for the score. It gave Lynnfield a short-lived 18-16 lead, but the depleted Pioneers couldn't hold off the Hornets' devastating running game.

Still Ahead
Despite the loss, the Pioneers still lead the series with the Hornets 35-25. They hold a 1013-824 scoring edge. It was the second loss in a row to North Reading, the only time the Pioneers have suffered consecutive losses to their rivals in the past 10 years.

Unlucky 13
It was only the second time this season the Pioneers have scored 13 points or less, the other being the seven they tallied against H-W and both resulted in losses. In the past ten years of the Weidman Era, the Pioneers are 2-15 in such games and five of those came in the coach's first season in 2008. The two wins both came against Ipswich, 13-7 in 2008 and 13-6 in in 2011.

Top Gun
The unceremonious end of Mortellite's day at Arthur Kenney Field brought to a conclusion a stellar career that puts him in the company of all time great Pioneer passers. Mortellite's two year career numbers puts him in the conversation with Danny Sullivan and Gino Cohee, two other elite passers of the past three decades.

Mortellite's 38 career touchdown passes shattered the previous mark of 30 set by Cohee from 2007 to 2010. His 21 TD passes last season tied him with Sullivan (2014) for the most in a single season. He also tied the record for most career two-point conversion passes with 10, a 45-year old record set by Steve Mucica from 1960-62.

Mortellite's 1,878 yards passing this year is the best ever for a single season since at least 1989 (and probably all time considering how offenses were run before the advent of the spread offense), topping Sullivan's 1,741 in 2014. Mortellite's 68.1% completion percentage this year is second only to Sullivan's 69.1% in 2013. Mortellite's two-year total of 3,609 yards is almost 700 yards more than Sullivan's second most 2,954 career total.

Mortellite's NFL passer rating this season was 128.8 a tenth of a point behind Sullivan's 128.98 in 2014. His two year passer rating was 118.1.

Not bad for someone who stepped into a brand new offense when he transferred in from Malden Catholic as a junior last year. He struggled in his first game against Newburyport throwing three interceptions and no TD's in the 32-12 loss. It would be the last game in which he ever played that he DIDN't throw a touchdown pass. He would go on to throw TD passes in 20 straight game culminating in the 24 yard beauty he tossed to Jason Ndansi in the second quarter Thursday morning. Even more impressive, after three picks in game one, he was intercepted only eight more times in the next 20 games.

Truly an outstanding career.

Catching a Record
Captain Nick Kinnon caught 7 TD passes this year and 8 last year to set a career touchdown reception mark of 15, edging Jon Knee who caught 14 in 2013-14. Kinnon also scored 68 points giving him 178 for his career placing him 6th on the all time scoring list. Captain Anthony Murphy finished with 108 career points good enough for 16th on the all time list.

Data Points
- The 60 year Lynnfield record now stands at 317-275-11, an all time winning percentage of .526,
- The 337 points the Pioneers scored this season placed them fifth on the all time single season points scored list. Seven of the top ten teams on the list are from the Weidman Era.
- The 188 points against - a 17.1 ppg average - places them 40th on the all time points allowed list.
- It was the 16th Pioneer team to reach at least eight wins in a season. Six of those have come in the last 10 years.

That's it from here. Congrats to the Pioneers for another great season.