Wednesday, December 9, 2009

O Pi'09ers!

If you weren't sure that high school football season was over, Mother Nature reminded us with a couple of snow/slush storms to drive home the fact. While it was painful to watch Austin Prep roll over Holliston in the Division 3A Super Bowl and knowing that the Pioneers would probably have done the same thing, at least we have the satisfaction of knowing that Lynnfield was probably the second best team in the division this year.

Pretty heady stuff.

The mind boggling announcement at the banquet last Sunday that 10 Pioneers were named All League illustrates how far the program has come. Chris Grassi (CAL Small Player of the Year) and captain Jon Leydon (Lineman of the Year and oh yeah, High Honors for the first quarter by the way) led All League seniors Ty Surette, Nick Roberts, Tim Lamusta, Doug Ullian and captain George Hennessey. All League Juniors who will be returning to defend Lynnfield's crown next year are 2010 captains A. J. Roberto and Gino Cohee along with Evan Panzero. Quite an impressive accomplishment.

And anyone who did not get a little chill watching Sophia Hennessey's outstanding video recap of the historic season needs to get checked for a pulse.

A full three page spread with pictures, all the award winners and a my recap article of the records set by the 2009 Pioneers is in this week's Villager. Definitely a keepsake edition.

It's been fun writng this blog all season, since space is always limited in the Villager and there is so much additional information to share. The fact that the team did so well made it even more exciting.

I have had a lot of positive feedback and kind words regarding the blog (and I thank you all for that) and even a request to keep it going during the offseason.  Now without games it will be difficult to come up with material on a regular basis, although I could bore you to tears with a year by year review of each team. Don't worry, I won't. But I have spoken to head coach Neal Weidman and he has agreed to keep me in the loop on the off season goings on, so I plan on putting something together at least once a month.

So you don't have to keep checking back and wondering when I will be posting, I have decided that I wlll post on the 9th of each month, just like today, in honor of the '09 team. So if you ever forget when to check back, just remember this year's team and that should serve as a reminder to tune in on the 9th of the month.

So to wrap up the season proper, I though I would do a quick review of the season, so we can all look back and enjoy one more time. And just as an aside, as I continue to post in the future, something tells me I am going to be referring to this 2009 club a good deal regarding "best since" and "most since" references. So I thought I'd hang a nickname on this year's championship season and I'm going to use Pi'09ers. I'm not sure if its pretty clever or just lame so I'll work with it a while to see how it feels before I make a final determination.

Now on to a quick look back.

Many people have heard the phrase "potential means you haven't done anything yet," particularly when it comes to sports. Coming into the season, the Pi'09ers had plenty of potential and actually had huge expectations heaped on them. The coaching staff tried to put a lid on it to keep the pressure off the players, but it was obvious that if it was ever going to happen for Lynnfield Football, this would be the year.

The first sign for me that something special was happening was the scrimmage against Northeast Regional. This was my 21st visit to the stadium by the rocks in Wakefield. It's always a good test for Lynnfield because the Knights usually have tough kids that play hard. I have seen scrimmages in which the Pioneers have held their own, some when they got pushed around and a few when they have done very well.

But this year, the domination was striking. Lynnfield piled up 34 points in a game like scrimmage. NE finally scored when the Lynnfield subvarsity checked in. Now I felt all along that this Lynnfield team had the horses, but after watching the way they dominated Northeast, my first reaction was that the Knights were in for a down year.

Not quite. In case you hadn't noticed, Northeast finished 6-5,  went 4-0 in winning their league (Commonwealth Small) and beat Brighton 22-12 in the Division 4A Super Bowl last Saturday.

The Pi'09ers got off on the right foot with a 34-7 beating of Matignon that could have been more had not Weidman called off the dogs early and let the backups and subvarsity pick up some valuable playing time. Another sign of what was to come. 6:'5" Warrior lineman Jay Kennedy was featured in the Boston Herald the Friday before the game but he was obliterated by what would become a powerful Lynnfield line led by Leydon, captain Eric Inglese and Panzero.

Things really started to come into focus at Georgetown the following week. All the preseason hype was that the Royals would be in the thick of things in the CAL Small. But with the graduation of all everyting Joe Esposito and standout lineman Matt Kumph, I never bought into Georgetown this season. I didn't have the nerve to say so, but it turned out that way as the Pi'09ers shredded Georgetown 32-6 and sent them reeling towards a 1-9 season.

The only bad news coming out of the Georgetown game was the loss of center Greg Banos. As Weidman related at the banquet, the three year starter had been playing his best football up to that time. For him to lose his entire senior season was a tough blow obviously for him, but also for the team. In presenting Banos the Matignon game ball, coach Mike Geary went as far as to say that "if he didn't get hurt, there is no question in my mind that we would be celebrating a Super Bowl victory."

Weidman recalled the decision process that the staff went through following the injury to Banos. They decided to move Doug Ullian to center (despite him never having snapped before) and brought sophomore Jon Roberto into the lineup. Weidman noted that Banos stayed with the team and worked with Ullian whenever he could.

Unfortunately for Lynnfield, the first game for the retooled line was a tough road game against the physical Wilmington Wildcats. The large Lynnfield crowd knew they were in for a tough night when Evan Butters returned the opening kick for a touchdown and then the Pioneers fumbled the first snap from center deep in their own territory. The Wildcats turned that into a score shortly after and Lynnfield was quickly in a 14-0 hole.

They recovered somewhat, battling back to 14-7 at the half, but in the second half they never could stop the Wildcats and suffered their only regular season loss, 28-7.

In a brilliant piece of scheduling, the Pi'09ers were able to try and rebound against Cathedral the following week, although at about 10:45, there was serious concern that the Panthers were going to show up at Pioneer Field. Apparently they had the wrong directions and ended up at the High School. Assistant Coach Pat Sheehan quickly retrieved them.  In a replay of the Matignon game, the Pi'09ers ravaged the Panthers 34-8 to get Lynnfield back on the winning track and improved their record to 3-1.

Then came the toughest four game stretch of the season, that would reveal how good the Pi'09ers really were. Two tough non league games against Danvers (Division 3) and Triton (Division 2A) followed by defending CAL Small and Division 3A Champ Amesbury and a potential winner take all showdown with Newburyport.

At the time, if you had said Lynnfield would sweep all four games by an aggregate 76-48, you wouldn't have gotten too many people to believe you. But that is exactly what they did.

Cohee nearly singled handedly shredded Danvers, picking up 192 rushing yards and a TD. In a steady rain, another common theme for the Pi'09ers,. Lynnfield built a 14-0 lead and then held on for dear life in a wild final few minutes. A last minute iinterception by Roberts finally sealed a huge confidence boosting win for Lynnfield.

They got another shot of confidence the next week when they took on undefeated Triton and super running back Brendan O'Neil. In a see saw game that saw the lead change six times, the Pi'09ers trailed 19-18 with 3:41 to play. From there, Lynnfield embarked on a 56 yard march with Cohee carrying seven times. As assistant coach Pat Sheehan described it at the banquet, there was nothing fancy about the drive. "It was quarterback power right and quarterback power left." With nine seconds left and the ball on the five yard line, record breaking kicker, and 2010 captain Steve Ullian calmly drilled a 22 yard field goal for the 21-19 win. The Pi'09ers moved to 5-1 and were perfectly set up for their league schedule which was to begin the following week.

Problem was, they came out against Amesbury and laid an egg in the middle of Pioneer Field.. Weidman acknowledged that his squad was outplayed, but they didn't lose. With the Pi'09ers trailing 10-7 midway in the fourth, Panzero and Lamusta combined for the play of the year. Panzero stripped Amesbury running back Jesse Burrill and Lamusta picked it up and ran it in for the score to give Lynnfield the 14-10 win.

That set up the huge showdown with Newburport at Pioneer field. The Pi'09ers set the tone on the very first drive. They won the toss, elected to receive and ran the ball right down the Clippers' throats on a 74 yard, four minute scoring drive. The Clippers really never recovered. Lynnfield built a 27-0 lead that showed how dominant they were. Newburyport scored two meaningless TD's to make it a 27-13 final, but it wasn't that close. Most impressive is that the Pi'09ers were riddled with injuries as Cohee played on a bad ankle, A. J. Roberto played with a broken hand and Grassi had a sore thumb. The Clippers, though, were the ones who left bruised and beaten.

With the tiebreaker advantage against Amesbury and Newburyport, the Pi'09ers had their fate in their own hands. They went to Ipswich and had to face a Tiger team with 17 seniors riding a 29 game losing streak. It was a game that was never in doubt, but one in which Lynnfield fans could never really feel comfortable. And also it was in the rain again. They got out of town with a 20-3 win.

The Pi'09ers only needed to beat either Hamilton Wenham or North Reading to secure the league title, but no one wanted it to come down to Thanksgiving Day. It was another lackluster effort against H-W, caused by sickness and an emotional trauma caused by the sudden death of Freddy Shove's sister in an auto accident.

But the Pi'09ers easily defeated the Generals 21-3 who were punchless without injured quarterback Andy Duval. For the first time in 23 years, Lynnfield celebrated a league championship and punched their ticket to the postseason.

Thanksgiving Day was simply icing on the cake as the Pi'09ers took care of business routing the shorthanded Hornets 35-14. Mike Pescione had a pair of touchdowns and the relentless defense harassed NR quarterback John Brooks all morning at the brand new $2 million field at North Reading High.

Five days later, the Pi'09ers travelled to Reading High and took on Austin Prep and as we are all so painfully aware, came up a couple of plays short of making the trip to Gillette. The 26-20 OT loss was a tough ending, but one which should not detract one iota from a tremdous season.

A final word about this coaching staff. I have covered high school football for more years than I care to think about, and I can tell you with assurance that coaching makes a HUGE difference in the success of a program. Yes you need players, but good coaching staffs put their players in position to win. From what I have observed over the past two years, this coaching staff does just that. It is obvious that Weidman, defensive coordinator Greg Haberland and assistant coaches Pat Sheehan, Mike Geary, John O'Brien, Gino Fodero, Fern Lavoie and Sean Roche put in ton of time getting the team ready. Not only do they know football, but they care about the kids and put an enormous amount of time which allows them to be successful. They are to be commended.

After years of struggling, Lynnfield football is back. With 13 seniors next year, the Pioneers will be looking to continue to build on the foundation laid by the Champion Pi'09ers. Next season can't come fast enough.

See you back here on January 9th.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

"Wing" Taking Off Shot Down Pioneers

They say some time has to pass before you can think rationally about a traumatic event. Well it's been two days and I wouldn't say I was quite rational yet, but we do have to go back and take a look at the Pioneers' tough playoff loss to Austin Prep.

In such a hard fought, back and forth contest, it is natural to look at the game with a "micro" perspective. From the opening squib onside kick to the final fumbled winning touchdown, there were any number of individual plays that had they bounced for the Pioneers, we would be previewing the Super Bowl right now.

However, I think we need to look at the game in "macro" context, and if you really analyze the game as a whole, it appears that the Cougars ability to throw the ball effectively is what ultimately did in the Pioneers. Keep in mind that AP quarterback JR Richard is not the Cougars starting signal caller. That job belonged to Ryan Havey. But Havey's was knocked out of the lineup in midseason with broken ribs, so Richard took over the spot. And although Ray Acciavatti was a beast, I believe it was really Richard's passing that was the difference.

"We were aware they were real efficient with their passing game," Pioneer head coach Neal Weidman said after the game. "They don't do it a ton but they bring you in and then make good plays in the passing game. We knew there was a chance of that. The coverage was actually pretty decent most of the time but the kids made nice throws and nice catches."

Richard was 10 for 17 for 126 yards and a score. It was not only the total yardage, but the timing of the plays that hurt the Pioneers. AP's first touchdown came on a Richard to Brendan Burket pass on a fourth and seven from the ten. Richard again stuck the knife in on the final Cougar go ahead drive in the fourth quarter. He was 3 for 3 on the march (which came in the middle of six straight completions for the lefty qb). The second pass of the drive was a 15 yarder to Acciavatti on third and eight from the 33. Then two plays later on a third and four from the 12, he completed a beautiful pop pass to Burke for nine yards and a first down at the three. Matt Mulcahy drove it in from there to give AP a shortlived 20-13 lead.

Then after Gino Cohee connected with Mike Pescione for 20 yards and Ty Surette for 30 yards for the tying score, Richard almost brought the Cougars back to win in regulation. With a minute and a half left, Richard hit Burke for 19 yards to the Pioneer 42, then three plays later he found Nick Dell'Anno for 12 yards and a first down at the 20 with less than a minute to play. Luckily, the potential winning field goal was short and wide to the right, but Richard's passing was key all game.

"We knew they could throw the ball," assistant coach Pat Sheehan told me after the game. "We knew they didn't want to. We made them go to their secondary option. Our defense played well all year long and they played well in this game. They just made one more play."

The Pioneers worked hard to break up the double wing running formation, which has gotten AP this far. Acciavatti was obviously the key for AP, running for 148 yards and a score and catching 6 passes for 76 yards. In total, the Cougars picked up 200 yards on the ground on 42 carries, but 75 of those came on the first two carries by Acciavatti to open the second half. Take those two away (don't we wish) and the Pioneers held AP to 125 yards on 40 carries, a 3.1 per carry average.

That looks healthy, but AP throwing 17 times was a clear indication that they knew they could not do it only on the ground against the solid Lynnfield defense.

"We wanted to take them out of the run, but (Burke) killed us with a couple of great catches," defensive coordinator Greg Haberland told me after the game. "They made that one pop pass down there that really killed us. The double wing does it. It wears you down. It gets you to overplay something and then they pop something."

Haberland agreed that quarterback Richard was not just another running back in a double wing offense. "He was a lot better than I thought he would be," Haberland said. "The kids played hard. We couldn't ask for anything more of them. We asked them before the game to give us 100% and they did."

The mark of a good team is when they can adjust on the fly. The Pioneers made the Cougars change from run only to an agressive passing game, and they did it successfully. Take nothing away from them, Austin Prep is a good team.

For those of you recovered enough emotionally to handle it, the Austin Prep/Holliston Division 3A Super Bowl from Gillette will be televised Saturday morning on Comcast Sports New England (Channell 52/852 in Lynnfield) at 9 am. It will be interesting to see how the Cougars due against the high powered Holliston team.

North Reading's Revenge?
The Pioneers beat up the Hornets pretty good on Thanksgiving Day, but there was a measure of revenge for Lynnfield's archrival in the playoff game. Acciavatti and Richard, who did most of the damage agiainst the Pioneers, are both North Reading residents. So is injured quarterback Havey.

True Warrior
If there were an award for the toughest player on the field Tuesday, it would have gone to Pioneer junior A. J. Roberto. Roberto broke his hand against Amesbury. The break, near the thumb on his right hand was casted and A. J. played a huge role the next week in the big win over Newburyport. He actually had a one handed interception and a boatload of tackles.

However, during the game, A. J. rebroke the hand and had to undergo surgery to have it reset. He missed the final three regular season games but received clearance on Monday to play in the playoff game, only a month after surgery. A. J. played a key role in slowing down the potent AP running game. The best news, according to coach Sheehan, is that A. J. did no further damage to the hand in the game.

Speaking of Roberto's, A.J. 's brother Jon came up with a big play against AP, blocking a punt early in the fourth period. Unfortunately, the Pioneers were not able to convert it into points.

Wrong Brother
And while we are on the topic of brothers, in the Boston Herald report on the game, they referred to Lynnfield's quarterback as "Tino" Cohee. Now Tino was at the game and the LHS alumn would have loved to get in, but unfortunately the UNH student is a few years beyond his Pioneer playing days.

As for younger brother Gino, he and captain George Hennessey were the only two players to carry the ball for the Pioneers on Tuesday. Cohee picked up 75 yards and a TD on 22 carries. Hennessey rushed 11 times for 47 yards.

The Pioneers were flagged only once all night and that was for an illegal substitution in the second period. AP had four penalties for 40 yards.

Final piece of useless information: If you skimmed through the playoff program they were selling at the game, you would have noticed there were 55 Eastern and Central Mass playoff teams listed. Three of them were the Pioneers.

We'll have a final look at the season next week.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


So close but yet so far.

It's a cliche, yes, but perfectly describes the Pioneers' heartbreaking 26-20 playoff loss to Austin Prep.

I'm still waiting to see the replay on the Cougar's TD in overtime. Quarterback JR Richard clearly fumbled the snap and when he came up out of the pile he looked like he was short of the goal line, but apparently the officials saw him recover the ball in the endzone for the score.

The Pioneers had one last chance, but the AP defense made a nice call blitzing on the fourth down play and Gino Cohee had no chance to get into the endzone. Even if he had, the play would have been called back due to an illegal formation call (which head coach Neal Weidman didn't agree with by the way). So it would have been fourth and goal from the six and a half, a much tougher assignment.

But now is not the time for sour grapes. Considering the stakes and the atmosphere, this was one of the best high school football games I have ever seen. Two evenly matched teams battling it out to the bitter end...and then some. The lead changed seven times and Ol' Momentum kept switching from a black to a white jersey

Ultimately, it came down to a few feet of artificial turf either way and the Cougars made one more big play than the Pioneers. That's the way it goes sometimes.

The loss in no way should take anything away from a dream season for these Pioneers. 2009 will go down as one of the best years in Pioneer football history and will be the measuring stick for many Lynnfield High teams for years to come. They won their league title and made it to the post season for the first time in 23 years. They are the first Pioneer team to win 10 games and they were a few short yards from making the trip to Foxboro.

Assistant Coach Pat Sheehan probably put it best after the game. "It was a great season all year long. The kids played their butts off today. That might be the toughest way to lose as far as emotions go. It's going to sting for the kids for a while but they should be proud of themselves."

All in all, a terrific year and congrats to all the players and coaches.

More on the AP game and the season as a whole later in the week.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Playoff Mission: Blow Up the "Wing"

If you like three yards and a cloud of dust football, you're going to love Austin Prep. Although instead of a cloud of dust Tuesday night, you'll get a little puff of ground up tires on the artificial turf at Reading High School. The Cougars run the Double Wing, which means tight splits, pulling lineman, misdirection and running the football. Lots of running the football.

AP scored 34 offensive touchdowns this season, and 28 of them came on the ground. The offense is relentless and is happy to pick up 2-3 yards per carry. They just keep pounding on the defense until they wear them down or find a crack for a long gainer. AP is more of the pounding type since 19 of their 28 rushing TD's have come from inside the 10 yard line.

The Double Wing offense is almost exclusively a running offense. In fact the quarterback is not asked to do much passing and is really just another running back. Of course the Pioneers can't completely sell out against the run against AP since they have scored six passing touchdowns.

The offensive linemen must be mobile and aggressive. They may have to drive block on one play and then pull out and lead block the next. Most double wing offenses run a limited number of "core" plays that they disguise by moving backs around in the formation prior to the snap. A double wing offense also needs to have three or four good running backs, because the ball could end up in any of their hands.

AP fits that bill and more with five.. Ray Acciavatti is the best of the lot. He is fourth in Division 3A scoring with 124 points. He has tallied 18 touchdowns and 8 two point conversions (more on that later.) The other Cougar backs that will get carries are Matt Mulcahy who has four TD's, Nick Dell'Anno who has three (he also has one receiving and one on a fumble return) and Bill Maradei who has four. The Cougars started the season with Ryan Havey at quarterback, but now go with J. R. Richard.

If you'd like to see what the offense looks like in action, here's a link to a six and a half minute video of AP's game against Arlington Catholic in November of 2008. Not all the players are the same as this year, but the formations and plays are. What is also interesting is that AC runs a spread offense like Lynnfield's, so you can get a chance to see what that type of offense looks like against the AP defense.You'll have to scroll down a bit to get to the appropriate game.  AP vs AC - 11/15/2008

There is a ton of information out there on how to run and stop the double wing, but here are a few basic things that most coaches agree are needed to defense the Double Wing. The key for the defense is staying at home and reading the guards' blocks. The nose guard is also a key and the Pioneers are in good shape there with Evan Panzero. If he can blow up the center and disrupt the guards either trying to pull or double team him, that will leave the linebackers available to fill gaps and make plays. That's where George Hennessey, Jon Roberto and Jeff Gannon will have to clean up. This is where having A. J. Roberto back in the lineup would be huge. There is a very slim chance he could play in this game and that would certainly boost the Pioneers' chances of slowing down the Cougars. The ends, Dante Padovani, Joe Hennessey, Freddy Shove and Mike Pescione need to crash down and break up the power sweep.

According to everything I can find on the double wing, the bread and butter play is the power sweep, where the guards pull and leads the blocking. But if the defense gets sucked in to a pulling guard, the offense will come back with a counter trap right into the spot the defense has vacated. So it comes down to discpline, staying at home and actually defending against the blocking schemes rather than keying on the what the backs are doing.

AP has been running the offense for a while and is successful at it. They've scored 291 points this year so the Pioneers will certainly have their hands full.

On interesting oddity regarding Austin Prep is their complete lack of a kicking game. They attempted a point after kick following their first touchdown of the year and failed. They have not tried another one. They only go for the two point conversion every time they score. They apparently have no placekicker so the field goal is not a weapon in their arsenal. That will be different for the Pioneers who spent the year playing teams that all had kickers so once a team got inside the 20, they were a threat to score. That will not be the case with AP. If as expected the game is close, the Pioneers having LHS record breaking kicker Steve Ullian and the Cougars not having such a weapon, could be a huge advantage for Lynnfield.

"We have to prepare for a very good team," Pioneer head coach Neal Weidman told me after the Thanksgiving Day game when he knew they would be playing AP. "We know basically what they do and we just have to learn their personnel a bit. Obviously anyone you play at this point is a good team. We are going to have our hands full. Hopefully the kids and the coaches will be up to the challenge."

I'll leave the final word to the most objective voice I could find, that of North Reading head coach Jeff Wall. The Hornets are the only team to play both Lynnfield and Austin this year so I felt he would be perfect to assess the matchup. North Reading lost 36-6 to AP and 35-14 to the Pioneers.

"Both teams are good and both did a number on us," he told me after the Thanksgiving Day game. "Lynnfield probably has more weapons."

I asked him how he thought the Lynnfield defense would handle the Double Wing. "I think they will handle it very well," he replied. "Their linemen are big enough to handle the double team blocks and the linebackers are quick enough to fill the gaps. I think they'll do well but I think it will be a close game."

Game time at Reading High School is 5:15 pm.

One final note, South Shore champ Cohasset (9-1) who lost to Hull on Thanksgiving Day will face Tri Valley champion Holliston (11-0) at Bridgewater-Rayham at 5:15. The two playoff game winners will play for the Division 3A title in the opening Super Bowl matchup at Gillette Stadium at 9 am on Saturday.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving Leftovers

After doing the statistics, doing my story for the Villager and reviewing my photos of the game, I am even more impressed with how totally in command the Pioneers were on Thanksgiving morning. There may have been some concern that the Pioneers would be looking past the Hornets toward Tuesday night's playoff game.

Not to worry.

"I was a little concerned," said Pioneer head coach Neal Weidman, who by the way is now undefeated against North Reading. "But once they put the ball down, that was it."


The Pioneer defense swarmed all over the Hornets in the first three quarters, holding them to a negative 32 yards rushing (thanks in part to the two bad punt snaps totalling minus 51 yards) and negative 16 yards passing, (thanks partly to six sacks for minus 41 yards.). Of the Hornets' 35 plays in the first three quarters, including the bad snaps, 24 were for no gain, negative yardage or a turnover. That is total devastation.

Dante Pandovani led the charge but Mike Pescione, the offensive star with a pair of TD catches, was also active on defense. So were Joe and George Hennessey, Jon Roberto, Freddy Shove, Eric Inglese, Jon Leydon,  Andrew Kibarian, Tim Lamusta, Nick Roberts and Evan Panzero. It was a total team defensive effort.

Offensively, the Pioneers put up the most points they have scored in 11 years and they did it with one weapon tied behind their back. Leading scorer and rushing leader quarterback Gino Cohee may not have to have his white jersey cleaned for Tuesday night's game. In a brilliant coaching stroke, the plan was clearly not to have Gino jeopardize the ankle he injured earlier in the year.

In the post game interview, one of the reporters mentioned that Cohee did not have a carry. I pointed out that was not the case. He did have ONE carry - the kneel down at the end.

"One carry for negative one yard," Weidman laughed. "Not his best game."

The coach was obviously joking since Cohee did plenty of damage with his upper appendage. While his main role in the ground game was to hand off to the running backs, he was a big part of the passing attack. The junior was an efficient 6 for 9 for 133 yards and a pair of TD's.

Dominating Line
Cohee was kept neat and clean by another great effort from the offensive line of Doug Ullian, Jon Leydon, Eric Inglese, Evan Panzero, Jon Roberto and Nick Burtman. The same couldn't be said for Hornet quarterback John Brooks who spent most of the morning getting introduced to the brand new artificial turf at Arthur Kenney Field. Unfortunately for him, most of the intro was face first at the hands of the marauding Pioneer line and linebackers. The Hornets played without two starting lineman, but I'm not sure that would have made a lot of difference the way the Trench Warriors were playing.

"The line dominated," Weidman said. "(North Reading) is a little younger. We don't have a whole bunch of linemen, but the guys we have are good."

Big Game for Pesh
Weidman had some nice comments about Pescione who had a great two way game.

"He got himself into the endzone two times," the coach said. "He had a great game. It was good for him. We ask him to block a lot so he got a chance to show he can catch the ball and score touchdowns which is always nice for a senior on Thanksgiving Day."

Pescione was also active on the defensive side, chipping in with a sack and a half.

Late Hornet Fireworks
There was some excitement at the end for the home crowd when the Hornet varsity was able to put up a pair of touchdowns against the Pioneer subvarsity which included most of the freshmen. I could see the starting defense getting itchy on the sideline as the Hornets ran double reverses and flea flickers in an effort to put up some points. But with the game coming up on Tuesday, it made no sense to have them out there. The game was well in hand, and it was good for the youngsters to get some varsity playing time.

"The stuff at the end was unfortunate, but it happens," Weidman said of the late Hornet flurry. "(North Reading) has had a long year and they were trying to get the ball in the endzone. It wasn't that long ago that we were trying to do the same thing."

Scary Moment
The only ugly moment came midway in the final period of what was a relatively penalty free game (four total penalties for 41 yards). Lamusta punted and the Hornet's Nick Rosano actually returned it 75 yards for a score, but offsetting penalties nullfied the play. However during the run back, a Hornet took a cheap shot at Lamusta's ankle and the senior punter/defensive back had to be helped off the field. North Reading was flagged for a 15 yard unsportsmanlike penalty. Hopefully the injury will not hamper Lamusta in the game on Tuesday.

Kicking and Screaming
And speaking of kickers, junior Steve Ullian wrote himself into the Pioneer record books in a big way Thursday, breaking FOUR Lynnfield High kicking records.

Ullian's four PAT's gives him 28 for the season which breaks the prior single season record of 25 set by Scott Milne in 1985. It also gives Ullian 39 PAT's for his career which breaks the all time mark of 36 set by Dave Frontero in 1986-87.

Ullian also banged home a 35 yard field goal which is his third of the year. That breaks the single season record of two held by Kevin Hanegan (1992) and Joe Maney (1983). The three field goals also breaks the alltime record of two previously held jointly by Alan Harrington (72-74), Maney (82-83), Frontero (86-87) and Hanegan (91-93).

Multiple Threat
Grassi's TD pass gives him 19 for his career, one away from Jason Caggiano who tossed 20 from 1994-96 good enough for second place all time. Grassi's touchdown reception now gives him 140 points all time in sixth place, 11 behind Dan Veinot's 151 and 12 ahead of Cohee's 128

Other Notable Numbers
  • The 35 points scored against the Hornets is the most scored by the Pioneers since a 35-0 whitewash of Hamilton Wenham in 1998. It's the fourth time Lynnfield has topped 30 this year as they scored 34 against Cathedral and Matignon and 32 against Georgetown. That's the first time that has happened since 1970 when they scored 30 vs Westwood, 46 vs Lincoln Sudbury, 44 vs Masco and 42 vs North Reading.
  • The Pioneers have now won eight straight. That is the longest winning streak since 1985-86 when Lynnfield won 13 straight. That is the school record set in 1959-61.
  • Lynnfield has now scored 259 points which is the most since the 264 scored in 1961and third most all time. This year's 23.5 average points per game is the most since 1978's 25.8 ppg.
  • The 117 points allowed is the fewest since 2003's 110. The 10.6 average ppg is the best since 1991's 9.1 ppg.
  • The two safeties against North Reading was the first time that has happened since 1983 when the Pioneers did it against Pentucket. Keith Ryan and John Manganaro were credited with those two. It was the first safety against North Reading since 1966.
Coming To a Television Near You?
Finally, my counterpart at the North Reading Transcript did the play by play for the Pioneer/Hornet game on Thursday for the North Reading Local Access channel. He told me after the game that he was working with Lynnfield cable access to get the game broadcast in Lynnfield . Once I get the details, I will pass them along so you can set your DVR's.

That's all for now. We'll take a look at Tuesday night's playoff game on Sunday night.

Heading to Reading

The MIAA just announced the sites and times for Tuesday's playoffs. The Pioneers will take on Austin Prep at 5:15 pm at Reading High School. Here's a link to Mapquest. Reading High School Location.

Lynnfield will be the visiting team so the Good Guys will be wearing white.

I'll post a preview of the game on Sunday night.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


Coach Neal Weidman and his staff couldn't have drawn this one up any better.

Cruise to an early lead, blow it open by halftime and coast on in with lots of face time for the JV's and freshmen. The final was 35-14 but if the Pioneers had chosen to keep the pedal to the medal they could have named their final score. But with the upcoming playoff game on Tuesday, the regulars pretty much punched out for the day at halftime.

It didn't help that the Hornets  didn't have their best running back and leading scorer Bobby Rosano who was not available. However, in reality the end result may wouldn't have been altered although they may have made more offensive noise than they did, which was none. The Pioneer defense ransacked the Hornets for minus yardage in the first two quarters. You can get all the details in my game story in the Villager on Wednesday.

Speaking of the playoffs, the Pioneers playoff opponent will be Austin Prep, which shut out Bishop Fenwick 24-0. The site of the game will be announced Tuesday but apparently North Reading put in a last minute bid to be a host, and that would be a perfect venue for the AP/Pioneer contest. We'll see tomorrow.

Check back for much more on the Thanksgiving Day game tomorrow night and a full preview of the playoff game Sunday night but for now, enjoy your turkey and all the trimmings.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Pioneers vs Hornets: 2009

Thanksgiving Day: Turkey, apple pie and high school football.

For those out of the area (and I'm told we have folks following from Wisconsin and Florida at least), our custom of playing high school football on the holiday morning may seem quaint, but for those of us who grew up around here, we just can't picture Thanksgiving Day without a high school rivalry game. Some of these games go back over 100 years and are treated religiously.

Our little Battle of Chestnut Street with North Reading is young by comparison, going back "only" to 1958. Which brings up a point that may cause some confusion to anyone looking at previews in various newspapers. This will be the 52nd meeting between the schools, with the Pioneers holding a 30-21 edge. However, if you read today's Villager, the headline on my preview story reads "Pioneers, Hornets in 51st Thanksgiving Day Battle." It will also show that the Pioneers lead the series 30-20. Today's Boston Globe shows the same thing.

So what's the problem?

Well, this WILL be the 51st meeting between the schools "on Thanksgiving Day," but it will be the 52nd time the teams meet. That is because the very first game in 1958, a 26-12 Hornet win, was played the first week in November, not on the holiday. The traditional Thanksgiving Day schedule was established in 1959.

Now if you really want to get technical, this will actually be the 50th game played on Thanksgiving Day since the 1989 game was snowed out on the holiday and postponed until the following Saturday. I know from first hand experience that this is the only time that has happened since 1976 (this will be my 34th straight game in the series I will be covering). I am not aware of it happening before that, but someone else out there may. Drop me a line if you do.

No matter how you slice it, this will be the 52nd reenactment of the rivalry.

Opposites Attract
Looking at the records of the two teams would lead you to believe the Pioneers are heavy favorites and that is probably accurate.

But other factors are involved. First is that Lynnfield has the playoff game to play on Tuesday, so the ideal situation is that  the Pioneers get a big lead and let some of the younger guys play most of the second half. Considering this is rivalry game and the Hornets' struggles this year, you can bet North Reading will be playing this like it's their Super Bowl. They would like nothing better than to tarnish the Pioneers' newly won CAL Small Crown in their final game of the year.

Also, there will be added hype in North Reading with the christening of the new turf athletic field at the high school. This will be the first contest played on it, and there should be a huge crowd on hand to root the Hornets on., Bottom line: if the Pioneers hope to win this one, they should expect to have to battle for four quarters against a pumped up Hornet team.

Three Pronged Attack

The Hornets scored only 115 points on the season (about half the 224 the Pioneers racked up) and 96 were scored by three players: Running back brothers Bobby and Nick Rosano along with quarterback John  Brooks. Bobby is the Hornet's leading scorer with 48 points (7 rushing TD's, and three 2 point conversions). Right behind is brother Nick who has 34 points on three rushing and two receiving TD's along with two 2 point conversions. Brooks has rushed for a pair of TD's and has tossed 4 TD passes, two of them to Richard Schaeffer. Eric Valenti has a field goal and seven PAT's and that's about it for Hornet scoring.

They've also been hurt by turnovers. "They've been down inside the red zone quite a bit and haven't scored," said Pioneer coach Neal Weidman. "But sometimes a lot of turnovers come when you're down and you're trying to throw the ball and the pass gets intercepted. When you don't have a lot of wins for the season, some of those numbers get inflated."

Defensively, North Reading has had issues as well. They've allowed 243 points, about two and half times as many as the Pioneers, but they have definitely been in some games.

In six of their 10 games they have either been ahead or down by a touchdown or less at halftime. Of those games, they won two and lost the other four, one by 28 points and one by 23 points. Offensively they've done better in the second half ironically, scoring 68 points to only 47 in the first half. However they have allowed 132 points in the second half compared to 112 in the first half.

"That's pretty typical for a Lynnfield/North Reading type team," explained Weidman. "Depth. They've hung with a lot of teams for a while then ended up getting worn down a little bit. That's always a problem that towns like us struggle with."

Two interesting stats stand out. In the first period they have been outscored 64-27 which says they tend to get off to poor starts. But the big problem for the Hornets comes in the third period. The period right after halftime has actually been their most productive, as they scored 43 points, most of any period. However, it has also been their poorest defensively having given up 85 points their worst period by far.

Impressive Start

North Reading had high hopes of contending in what appeared at the beginning of the season to be a wide open CAL Small. They got off on the right foot by bludgeoning Ipswich 26-0 on opening night which looked pretty good at the time since Ipswich, with 17 seniors looked like they might turn it around this year.

The Hornets looked strong the following week when they travelled to Newburyport to take on the preseason favorite Clippers. The visitors hung tough in the first half, and went in at the half down only 14-13. But four second half turnovers doomed them and a late field goal gave Newburyport a 17-13 win. The close loss raised some eyebrows around the league and served notice that the Hornets might be for real.

Unfortunately for them, that was the high point of their season. The Clipper loss turned into the beginning of a seven game losing streak. Two of the losses were particularly jarring. After Newburyport, the Hornets lost to Cardinal Spellman 28-16. North Reading then hosted likely Pioneer playoff foe Austin Prep and were crushed 36-6. The unkindest cut of all was that most of the Cougar damage was inflicted by North Reading residents quarterback Ryan Havey, Ray Acciavatti and J.R. Richard. The trio figured in four of AP's five touchdowns.

The Hornets' struggles continued the next two weeks as they were bludgeoned by a pair of CAL Large teams in Triton (33-14) and North Andover (28-0). The NA game was particularly deceiving. The Hornets trailed only 7-0 at halftime. However, they fumbled at their own 10 yard line in the third period. The Knights punched it in, took the air out of the Hornets' upset balloon and went on to score two more TD's.

The low point of the season for North Reading came the next week at Hamilton Wenham. The Hornets and Generals battled to a scoreless first half, but North Reading jumped all over HW in the third period, scoring 16 unanswered points. But they could not hold on to the 16-0 lead. The Generals scored one late in the third to make it 16-8, then tallied two more touchdowns in the fourth period to take a 24-16 lead.

The go ahead score came with just over two minutes to play but the Hornets roared back and got to the General four yard line with less than a minute to play but three runs and an incomplete pass sealed their fate.

The Hornets were hammered by Pentucket 34-3 the following week but did bounce back with a come from behind 14-13 win over Georgetown.. Valenti's PAT was the game winner.

North Reading finished up their preThanksgiving schedule with a 30-7 loss to Amesbury. Again, it was only 10-7 at the half, but a 13 point Indian uprising in the third allowed Amesbury to pull away.

"They will be fired up," said Weidman. "Brand new field. There will be a lot of people there."

Fast Track
And speaking of the new field, it will be interesting to see how the Pioneer team speed translates on the new artificial turf. Most of their games this year have been played either in the rain, on the day after rain or at night on a frosty field so they haven't been able to exploit their quickness as much. This will be the first time Lynnfield plays on a fast track which should be interesting for speedsters Chris Grassi, Gino Cohee and Ty Surette among others. It will also give the quick Pioneer defense the best footing they have had all year, so that bodes well also.

So there is nothing left but to play the game. As I said before, I am not one for making predictions, but for anyone interested, the Massey Ratings predict a 28-10 Pioneer win.

Game time in North Reading is 10:30 am.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Thanksgivings Past: 2003 & 2000

The Pioneers and Hornets will clash for the 52nd time on Thursday and overall Lynnfield enjoys a 30-21 edge. However, over the past decade, North Reading has had the upper hand, winning seven of the past ten games. The only wins for the Pioneers since 1999 were last year, 2003 and 2000.

We'll review last year's victory in the game preview I'll be posting tomorrow night. Today I want to take a look at those two other Turkey Day games.

2003: The Defense Never Rested
The 2003 edition of the Pioneers under head coach Bill Adams went 6-4, the only winning season since 1996 before this year. They were also the last Lynnfield team to play a full CAL schedule as the league split into Large and Small the following season. Ironically, the success of the '03 team almost threw a monkey wrench into the Large/Small split.

Going into the 2003 season, North Reading staged a mini revolt and refused to play any CAL Large teams. They threatened to withdraw from the league if the CAL did not split into two. They argued that the small teams like them, the Pioneers and Ipswich could not compete against the Large teams. They got agreement for the split beginning in 2004.

However, the 2003 Pioneers proceeded to go out and have a season that appeared to prove the opposite. The Pioneers ended up beating North Andover and Triton, lost a last second 26-21 heartbreaker to Masco and fell to Pentucket 28-19. The only mismatch was a 32-12 loss to Wilmington. The league argued that the small schools could indeed compete, but they ultimately stayed with the decision to split.

Captained by Will Chiccarelli, Andy Poor and Derek Cataldo, the calling card for the 2003 team was defense. Under defensive coordinator Joe Papagni, Lynnfield posted the best points per game against average in the past 20 years. They allowed an average of only 11 points per game, a mark being challenged by this year's edition who heads into Thursday's game allowing only 10.3 per game. But prior to this season, the 03'ers were the tightest defense since 1991. If you factor out the Wilmington blowout, the Pioneers only allowed an average of 8.6 points per game. What's scary is that the could have been even better but Cataldo, a ferocious linebacker, was hurt early in the year and missed most of the season.

The offense relied primarily on the running of Jamie Solomon, who entered the game against North Reading with over 800 yards rushing and 8 TD's and led the Pioneers with 58 points. Quarterback Lou Navarro threw for over 750 yards and four TD's on the year. Rick Parziale (17 catches, 260 yards, 1 TD), Poor (14 catches, 204 yards, two TD's) and Jesse Conklin (8 catches, 216 yards) were the Navarro's key targets.

Seniors Poor, Chiccarelli, Cataldo, Conklin, Navarro, Solomon, Nick Poti, Ryan Sheehan, Justin Motta, Nick Fringuelli, Jeff Adelson, Sean Reed, Chris Stivers and Michael Griffin had not beaten North Reading since they were freshmen and wanted to end their careers on a positive note.

The Thanksgiving Day game shaped up to be one of the better ones, as the Pioneers and Hornets both went into the game with winning records, the first time that had happened since 1980. The Hornets were 6-3 while the Pioneers were 5-4 going in. But this is where the numbers didn't quite add up. While Lynnfield was competing against the CAL iron, the Hornets were padding the scoreboard against the likes of Easthampton, Mashpee and Weston.

That strength of schedule was decisive as the Pioneers rolled onto Arthur Kenney Field in North Reading and dismantled the Hornets 28-0.

The Pioneers dominated North Reading in all three phases of the game.Solomon ended his career with a bang, rushing for 101 yards and three touchdowns and nailing four PAT's for good measure. Chiccarelli led a devastating defense that held the Hornets to five first downs and 114 total yards including a remarkable five yards on 12 plays in the second half.

"Will Chiccarelli may be the best defensive player in our league," Adams said of his captain.

Solomon gave the Pioneers a 7-0 lead late in the first quarter. Navarro, playing defense for the first time all year picked off a Hornet pass to end a NR threat late in the second quarter to preserve a 7-0 halftime lead. The Pioneers dominated the second half. Solomon burrowed in from the one midway in the third to make it 14-0. Navarro hit Poor with a seven yard strike later in the third to make it 21-0. Solomon capped the scoring late in the fourth with a nifty 20 yard scamper.

"Jamie Solomon played like a man again today," Adams told me after the game. "He played tremendous football on both sides of the ball and special teams."

Solomon's 22 points lifted him to 86 on the season and gave him a total of 158 career points, fourth best on the Lynnfield all time list.

"That was total domination," Adams said summing up the win.

2000: Had 'em All The Way
Y2K marked the turn of the century and the return of Bill Adams as Lynnfield head football coach. Adams had turned over the reins to former assistant Scott Brennan from 1995 to 1999, but took up his whistle again in 2000. Among Adams' assistant coaches that year were current Pioneer head coach Neal Weidman.

Captained by (current Lynnfield coach) Mike Geary, Dan Veinot, Kevin Condardo, Jimmy-Scott Motzkin and Drew Barraford, the 2000 Pioneers lost four of their first five games and came in to the Thanksgiving Day game with a 3-7 record. But they had just spanked Triton 28-7 so feelings were running high that they could halt a two game North Reading winning streak.

Veinot was the engine that drove the '00 team. The flashy tailback could be a speed or power back and showed that all year, amassing 1086 and 5.4 points per carry coming in. He scored 68 of Lynnfield's 116 points heading into the game.Opening the holes for him was a strong line led by Geary, Condardo, Barraford, Mike Lombardi, Matt Talis, J.R. Russell, Joe Pelletier.

Motzkin was solid at QB throwing for 673 yards and four TD's coming into the game. His main targets were Brian McBride ( 19 catches, 208 yards, 3 TD's and Sal Gesamondo (11 catches, 130 yards, 1 TD).

Geary, Talis, Veinot and Barraford led the defense.

In addition to the captains, other seniors playing in their final game were Russell, Chris Feeley, Brendan Reed, Ja Ja Leviner, Neil DiBicari, Vin Pintone, Chas Ryan, Mike Fringuelli and Matt Stanton.

The Hornets limped onto Pioneer Field at the Middle School having only one win, a 9-0 victory over Amesbury, so the game figured to be close. But it didn't start out that way.

The Pioneers roared out of the starting gate and looked like they were going to turn this one into a rout. Veinot carried five out of seven times on Lynnfield's opening drive and cruised in from the five to make it 7-0 less than three minutes into the game. The Hornets answered on their first possession tying the game on a 43 yard pass play from Tom Tone to A. J. Richardson.

The Pioneers quickly retook the lead on their next possession when Veinot broke loose for a 62 yard scoring jaunt to make it 14-7. Lynnfield kept up the pressure when Chris Lampropoulos recovered a fumble on the Hornet's first play following the score.

On the first play following the turnover, Motzkin was dropped for a seven yard loss and twisted his ankle. Sophomore Mike Parziale replaced him, but his main duty consisted of handing the ball to Veinot, who took over the game. Two plays after Motzkin was hurt, Veinot got loose again, this time sprinting for a 37 yard TD. Parziale hit McBride for the two and the Pioneers led 22-7.

The Hornets cut the lead to 22-13 midway in the second period when Tone hit Richard O'Neil for a 21 yard scoring strike. Leading by 9, the Pioneers still appeared to be in control

But things got dicey in the second half. The Hornets took the second half kick and marched 65 yards for a score to make it 22-20. Drew Canan did the honors from three yards out.

The Pioneers answered with a long drive of their own, covering 79 yards. Veinot exploded for his fourth touchdown of the day from 19 yards out and added his third extra point to give the Pioneers a 29-20 lead with just over nine minutes to go in the game.

But the Hornets would not go away. They drove to the17 yard line and stalled so Mark Tringali booted a 33 yard field goal to make it 29-23 with just over four minutes to play.

All the momentum was on North Reading's side and the question was whether the Pioneers could hold on. It didn't look good when they went three and out and gave the Hornets the ball back at midfield with 1:57 to play. A Tone to O'Neil pass gave the Hornets a first down at the Lynnfield 28. Canan got them another first down at the 16 with 52 seconds left. Fans on both sides of the field were up and roaring.

An illegal procedure penalty and two incompletions gave the Hornets a third and 15 from the 21 with 28 seconds to play. Tone went back to pass and Geary broke through and was just about to sack him when Tone released the ball. In story book fashion, Veinot, the offensive player of the game, turned in the defensive play of the game when he stepped in front of the Hornet receiver and picked off the interception in the right side of the endzone. The Pioneers survived for their 29-23 victory.

Veinot etched his name in the Pioneer record book with his performance. He ended with an amazing 277 yards non 28 carries. His four TD's and 27 points scored are a Thanksgiving Day record.  His holiday explosion lifted him to 95 points for the season and 151 points for his career. That was good enough for fourth place at the time, but he was nudged back to fifth place by Solomon three seasons later.

Current Pioneer quarterback Gino Cohee is breathing down the necks of both Veinot and Solomon. The junior currently sits in sixth place with 128 points with two more games this season and all of next season to go.

"He is an outstanding player and a great athlete," Adams summed up about Veinot after the game.

On that particular Thanksgiving Day, he had to be.

Check back tomorrow and we'll take a peek at this year's contest. You can also read my pregame story in the Villager which will be out on Tuesday.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Exciting Times Coming Up

The lull is just about over and we are about to head into one of the most exciting times in Lynnfield High football in many years. They boys are looking forward to at least two more games - the traditional rivalry game against North Reading on Thursday and the Division 3A playoff game on Tuesday, December 1.

I'll have a full week of postings that will include a look at some recent Pioneer Thanksgiving Day wins over the Hornets (to be posted Monday night), a prelook at Thursday's 52nd annual Battle of Chestnut street (Tuesday night), a review of the Pioneer/Hornet contest (Friday night) and a more in depth preview of the playoff game once the Pioneers' opponent has been decided on Thanksgiving Day (Sunday night).

Also, all you LHS Alums who want to relive the glory days are welcome to share any interesting, enlightening or entertaining stories from past Lynnfield-North Reading games in which you have participated. Just email them to me at I'll put a separate post together for those if I get any of them.

Of course you should also check out this week's Villager which will publish on Tuesday. Included in this week's special edition will be my preview of Thursday's game, my overview of the the Pioneers' possible playoff opponents, year to date Pioneer team and individual stats and a look at how Lynnfield and North Reading fared against common opponents.

Also a reminder that Jack Schnelle and I will continue to bang out lots of great photos of this championship season. All the action shots we've taken through the clinching Hamilton-Wenham game have been posted so you might want to check those out on Sunrise Photos. Just click on the "Lynnfield Football" link at the site.

Okay enough housekeeping. Let's get to a few topics.

It'll be AC or AP
The Pioneers playoff opponent won't be decided until Thanksgiving Day, but it is narrowed down to either Austin Prep or Arlington Catholic. In a previous post, I had noted that the Catholic Central Large could end up in a three way tie at 4-1 with Cardinal Spellman being the third team, however, the Cardinals appear to be out of the running.

Austin Prep holds the upper hand right now. If they can defeat Bishop Fenwick (4-5) in Peabody Thursday morning they will take the CCL title and take on the Pioneers' Tuesday. Even if Cardinal Spellman beats Archbishop Williams, AP would prevail. All three teams would be 4-1 in the league but the head to head tiebreaker would be negated since AP beat AC, AC beat CS and CS beat AP.

According to Dan Ventura of the Boston Herald, the next tiebreaker for the CCL is the old Super Bowl Formula which awards points basically for strength of schedule. Teams get points for the teams they beat (more points for teams in higher divisions) and they also receive points for the number of victories by the team they have beaten. AP would win that because they defeated Malden and Medford, two Division One teams that have won a combined nine games. AC did defeat Division One Cambridge, but the Falcons are winless so far this year meaning AC would get no opponent points there. Bottom line, based on that formula, AP tops both AC and CS.

If AP stumbles against Fenwick, that would give AC the title. Althought AC and CS would be tied at 4-1, AC would win the head to head tiebreaker thanks to a 32-15 win over the Cardinals in early November.

Got that? Great, let's move on.

The MIAA will announce the location and time of Tuesday's game on Friday.

SubVarsity Ties Hornets
The Pioneer subvarsity kicked off the holiday festivities with a 6-6 tie with the junior Hornets at Pioneer Field at the Middle School last Friday.

According to coach Gino Fodera it was a hard fought game. The Pioneers had their chances but some costly turnovers prevented them from taking the win.

The Hornets scored on the Pioneers first possession when they recovered a fumble and returned it for a score. The Pioneers came right back on their next possession when Mike Karavetsos hit Alex Pascucci with a 14 yard TD pass to tie the game.

The rest of the game was scoreless although the Pioneers did get into the red zone several times but could not convert. Mike Soden and Alex Roper both picked off interceptions in the contest. According to Fodera, Tyler Palumbo, D.J. DeGeorge and Connor Lordan all played well for Lynnfield.

Fodera and Mike Geary coached the team that finished the season 7-3-1. They defeated, Cathedral, Matignon, Wilmington, Danvers, Hamilton Wenham, Georgetown, and Ipswich. Their three losses came against Triton, Newburyport and Amesbury. Their most impressive win came against Ipswich when the young Pioneers came back from two touchdowns to beat the Tigers.

Other players on the squad are Josh Fodera, Max Kaan, Dan Ashwell, Daniel Marrama, Tyler Shaffer, Derek Maddaleni, Michael Bonafine, Cameron Weeks, John Gaff, Frank Coburn, Steven Yobaccio and Zach Staffier.

Congrats to the future Pioneer varsity on a great season.

Pioneers Rate
With the Pioneers posting a 9-1 record and clinching the CAL Small title, they are starting to earn some recognition in various rankings.

The Pioneers jumped up into the Ventura's Division 3A Super Seven this week, coming in sixth. Austin Prep is at number seven and Arlington Catholic is on the bubble.

The Massey Ratings, which rate all high school teams in the country, has the Pioneers at number 9 in Division 3A with Austin Preo at eight and Arlington Catholic at seven. Massey has Lynnfield ranked 116th in the state (out of 315).

Check back Monday night for a look at some recent Thanksgiving Day pasts

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Turkey Day Appetizer

For those of you who can't wait until next Thursday to see the Pioneers in action, there will be football this weekend.

Friday afternoon, the Lynnfield subvarsity will host North Reading at Pioneer Field at the Middle School at 3 pm. Coach Gino Fodera's Young Pioneers are 7-3. Varsity Line Coach Mike Geary has also been working with the squad.

So if you get a chance, swing by for a look at the future of the Pioneer football program.

Check back this weekend for more updates on the Thanksgiving Day game and potential opponents in the December 1 playoff game.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Look at Past Pioneer Football Champs

In the 52 seasons of Lynnfield High football, only seven other squads can claim the distinction of being champions. The 2009 edition is number eight.

Now is a good time to take a look back at those other champs.

Of those seven other title winners, only one other has made it to the post season. That would be the 1986 team under Bill Adams who made it to the Division Three Super Bowl.

But to be fair, as Adams himself points out, getting to the postseason in those days was not easy.

"In the old format it was a lot harder to get to," Adams pointed out. "I think there were 36 teams in each division and the top two teams based on that power point system made it. Even undefeated teams sometimes didn't go."

For those too young to remember that system (most of you?) when the Super Bowl format begain in 1972, the MIAA devised a point system to rank the teams in each division. Teams earned points for their own victories - more points for wins against teams in a higher division and fewer points for wins against teams in a lower division. Teams also recieved points for wins by teams that they defeated. So if  you beat better teams in higher divisions, you earned more points. It was very difficult to make the top two, which makes the accomplishment of that 1986 team all the more impressive.

Lincoln Sudbury shut out the Pioneers 19-0 in that game which was not a huge surprise. Adams has called that game "a perfect mismatch" pitting one of the biggest schools in the biggest leagues in the division against one of the smallest schools in the smallest leagues in the division.

L/S came into the game riding a 24 game winning streak with two players - linebacker Mike Croel and lineman Joe Sims- who would go on to play in the NFL. It didn't help that a lot of the key Pioneers were suffering from the flu that day as well.

Early 60's ThreePeat

The (Blue and) Gold standard for Pioneer football is the unbelievable juggernaut of 1960. In only their third year of varsity play under head coach Steve Sobiek, Lynnfield captured the Dual County League crown and finished with a perfect 9-0 mark. But that was only half the story. They also outscored their opponents 410-64.

Stop. Go back and read that again. 410 points!

For those without a calculator handy, that's a 45.6 per game AVERAGE. They beat Wayland and Ashland 60-0 and Lynn Trade 60-6. They trounced Westford Academy 50-0,  Bedford 50-6 and Dracut 54-12. The FEWEST points they scored that season was 22 and they did that twice. They scored 55 touchdowns and 38 two point conversions. And a stat that is inconceivable in this day and age, they did not kick a single point after touchdown. They didn't really need to though, did they?

The Pioneers repeated as Dual County champs in 1961 although they came back down to earth a bit with a 7-2 mark averaging "only" 29 points a game.The defense was better though holding opponents to 56 total points compared to 64 the year before.

The Pioneers made it three in a row with another Dual County League title in 1962 with an 8-1 record. The offense continued to slow down averaging only 17 points a game, but they didn't need much scoring since the defense allowed only 32 points all year. They posted shutouts in six of their nine games and 20 of the 32 points they allowed came in their only loss 20-0 to Wilmington.

The Pioneers would have to wait 11 more seasons for their next championship and it came in the newly formed Cape Ann League in 1973. Bill Rodan's club went 8-1 and took home the first ever CAL title.

Mid 80's Powerhouse
There would be another 10 year championship hiatus until the powerhouse Pioneers of the mid-eighties began to dominate the CAL with three titles in four years. Rodan's 1983 team started it off with an 8-1 mark enroute to the crown. After a 5-5 season in 1984 Rodan retired and Bill Adams took over the program.

Adams' first club in 1985 was a bit of a surprise going 9-1 and winning the CAL. The Pioneers repeated in 1986 with a 9-2 record that clinched the league and sent Lynnfield to the Super Bowl.

It took almost a quarter century, but the Pioneers are back with a title and a post season trip. Most of the Pioneers championships have come in clusters. Could this year's team be the start of a trend?

Check back later for more on the Thanksgiving Day and the upcoming playoff.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Championship Chatter

Cape Ann League Small Champs. It still has a nice ring to it a day later, doesn't it?

Let's pick up some pieces from Sunday's exciting title-clinching win.
  •  The win was the Pioneers seventh straight overall and seventh in a row at Pioneer Field. Lynnfield has now won 11 of their last 13 games. Their nine wins this year surpasses the eight wins of the past five season.
  • The Pioneers have now scored 224 points which is seventh best all time. The 103 points allowed is ranked 16th
  • The victory over Hamilton Wenham evens the Pioneers all time record against the Generals at 18-18-1. The win edges the Pioneers over the .500 mark all time with a 251-250-11 record.
Marching up the Records Charts
Gino Cohee, Chris Grassi and Steve Ullian continue to climb up the single season and career lists in several categories.

Cohee's 90 points this year puts him in 7th place for single season scoring..Joe DiBella holds the number six and five spots on the list scoring 94 points both in 1960 and 1961. Dan Veinot sits at number four with 95 points which he tallied in 2000. Assistant coach Mike Geary was a fellow captain on that club and opened a lot of holes for the blazing tailback. Scott Milne is number three with 97 points. Eric Hansen tops the list with 128 points in 1978 and Frank Berardino's 120 points from 1960 is number two.

Cohee's 128 career points puts him in 6th place all time. His TD Sunday vaulted him past Andy Nekoroski's 126 points scored from 1979-81. Coincidently, Nekoroski's son Zach is a junior at H-W and was on the sideline as Cohee passed his dad on the Pioneer all time scoring list. Venoit is in 5th place all time with 151 points scored in 1999-2000.

Gino's 14 touchdowns puts him in 3rd place for single season rushing TD's. Next up is Berardino who notched 16 in 1960. Hansen's 17 in 1978 tops the list.

Grassi's TD pass to Ty Surette was his 16th of his career and puts him in 3rd place all time for TD passes. He passed Steve Mucica who tossed 15 from 1960-62. Steve Olsen (1971-73) tops that list with 23.

Steve Ullian now has 24 PAT's on the season, only one back of Scott Milne (1985) who is the single season record holder with 25. Ullian's 35 career PAT's puts him in second place on the career list as well, one behind the 36 Dave Frontero booted in 1986-87.

Speaking of Ullians, there was an interesting moment early in the game involving Steve's older brother senior center Doug Ullian. It was brief and largely unnoticed (except by me since I was standing right next to him) and I believe it  illustrates the confidence that this 2009 team exudes.

Late in the first period the Pioneers led 7-0. The Generals had just been stopped at the 31 yard line and faced a fourth and 16 after a Dante Padovani sack. H-W elected to kick and Tucker White dropped a beautiful punt pinning the Pioneers on their own four yard line.

As the offense prepared to take the field, Ullian began to strap his helmet over his red, Troy Polamalu hairdo. As he trotted onto the field he shrugged and said quietly to no on in particular, "Doesn't matter."

Ullian looked like a prophet on the very first play when he snapped to Cohee who fired a pass down field. A General defender got a hand on it but Ty Surette, who had gotten behind the General defense, reached back, juggled the ball for an instant, pulled it in and then exploded down the sideline for what appeared to be a 96 yard touchdown. Unfortunately the brilliant play was nullified on a Pioneer motion penalty.

But the point remains. To paraphrase Ullian, nothing much matters to this team. They just go out and get the job done.

Newest Pioneer
All the excitement and celebration following Lynnfield's clinching victory didn't disturb the newest member of the Pioneer family. One week old Neal Hudson Weidman III slept soundly in mom's baby holder as chaos rained around him. Baby Neal joins brothers Hudson and Cal in the Weidman household. According to mom Jen, the future quarterback will be called Tripp, as in Neal the third. I didn't confirm that, however, so it could also be a reference to one of his Dad's exotic passing formations.

Congrats to Neal and Jen.

Check back tomorrow for a special posting that will take a look at the past Pioneer football champions.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


It feels odd to say it, but long suffering Lynnfield Football fans have no problem shouting it out. The Pioneers are champs of the Cape Ann Small League and are heading for the postseason for the first time since 1986.

The 21-3 win over the young, hobbled Hamilton-Wenham Generals wasn't pretty, but this was not the day to draw pictures on the scoreboard. The Pioneers scored three TD's and shut down the Generals when they needed to and captured their well earned title. Enough said. Who are we to start talking about style points?

The exuberance of the team as they celebrated on Pioneer Field was a joy to behold, especially for those of us who have seen the Pioneers on the other side of that coin too many times over the past two decades.

You can read all the details in my Villager game and sidebar stories on Wednesday and we'll have much more right here late tomorrow.

The Pioneers now began preparations for a grueling two game in six days or hopefully three games in 10 day stretch. The traditional Thanksgiving Day game against North Reading is always something to look forward to, but the Pioneers will also be playing in December for the first time since 1986.

Who they will be playing was thrown into a bit of turmoil today when Austin Prep upset Arlington Catholic 20-14 in Reading. AC was undefeated in league play and could have clinced the league title and playoff berth with a win, but AP was having none of it.

That sort of throws a monkey wrench into the Catholic Central Large race. Arlington Catholic plays Arlington on Thanksgiving Day so today was their last league game and they finished at 4-1. Both Austin and Cardinal Spellman are still alive with 3-1 league records and each has one remaining league game on Thanksgiving Day. AP plays 4-6 Bishop Fenwick and Spellman plays 3-6 Archbishop Williams. If both teams win, all three teams will be tied at 4-1 in the league and each would be 1-1 in the head to head tiebreaker. I'm not sure at this point what the next tiebreaker would be.

If Spellman wins and Austin loses, AC would go becasue they defeated Spellman.
If Austin wins and Spellman loses, AP would go because of today's Austin win over AC.
If both AP and Spellman lose, then obviously AC would go.

So bad news for the Pioneer brain trust if they were hoping to get a start on preparations for the playoff game. The site and time of that game will be announced by the MIAA on November 27th.

In any event, much more football to be played which is exciting for the Pioneer program.

Check back for more.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Game Moved to Sunday

Just got the word from the coaching staff that the game against Hamilton-Wenham has been moved to Sunday at 11 am. Should be a much better day for football and the Senior Day festivities.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Opportunity Is Knocking

Okay boys and girls, the word for the day is "Opportunity."

Let's start with some thoughts to ponder.

"Be ready when opportunity comes. Luck is the time when preparation and opportunity meet." - Roy D. Chapin, Jr.

"Opportunity is rare and a wise man will never let it go by him." - Bayard Taylor.

"When opportunity knocks, you still have to get up and open the door." - Chinese proverb.

The sound the 2009 Lynnfield Pioneers are hearing is that of opportunity knocking...banging...pounding  They only need to get up and answer the door.

They will have a chance to do that Saturday morning when they take on Hamilton Wenham in their final home game of the year. A victory over the Generals earns the Pioneers their first CAL football championship in 23 years. That is the golden opportunity that presents itself.

It will be Senior Day, when the graduating players and cheerleaders will be honored before the game. For captains Eric Inglese, Jonathan Leydon and George and Joe Hennessey, and seniorsTim Lamusta, Ty Surette, Dante Padovani, Nick Roberts, Chris Grassi, Doug Ullian, Michael Pescione and the injured Greg Banos, there is no better way to celebrate their final game on Pioneer Field than with a victory that will send them to the post season.

Standing in their way are the Generals, who lost their own opportunity to compete for the crown last week when they fell to Amesbury 15-14 in the waning moments of the game. They come in to town with a 2-2 league mark and a 2-6 record overall. The Pioneers have not lost at home this year and are in the midst of a six game winning streak at the Middle School going back to last Thanksgiving.

The Generals figured to struggle early this season having graduated 17 seniors from the 5-5 team that spanked the Pioneers 40-21 last year. Head Coach Andrew Morency had some hope since he had one of the few experienced quarterbacks in the CAL Small in Andy Duval, a three year starter. He also had an experienced line led by Paul Littlefield.

However, things didn't work out quite as planned for H-W and they struggled out of the gate. They were shut out 19-0 by Newburyport on opening night and also suffered a double hit when both Duval and Littlfield suffered ankle injuries. Playing without their two captains, the Generals were crushed by Triton 39-12. That was followed by lopsided losses to Pentucket 35-0, Bishop Fenwick 30-0 and Wilmington 35-0.  So going into their bye week, H-W was 0-5 and having been outscored 158-12.

The good news for the Generals is that despite all their troubles, the heavy lifting part of their schedule was behind them and they were only 0-1 in the CAL Small. H-W took advantage of their week off to heal and regroup and came out with guns blazing.

It didn't look that way as they fell behind North Reading 16-0  until the healing Duval heated up  late in the third quarter and led the Generals to a stirring come from behind 24-16 win. They topped it off with a goal line stand that halted the Hornets at the 5 yard line.

The following week, the Generals battled Georgetown in a defensive struggle and Tucker White's 36 yard field goal won it with five seconds left.

The two wins left the Generals with a 2-1 league mark and actually in position to come in this week to fight the Pioneers for first place, but those dreams were dashed when they lost the heartbreaker to Amesbury last week.

So what does this all mean? Well don't expect to see the Generals who went 0-5 and were pummeled by the CAL Large iron with their two star players hobbled. Be prepared for the H-W club that is healing at the right time and has won two of their last three games.

"They're peaking at the right time," said Pioneer head coach Neal Weidman. "They're always a good team."

A key factor could be the health of Duval. He apparently reinjured his ankle against Amesbury and his availability and effectiveness is a question mark.

The Pioneers have struggled with H-W recently having lost nine of the last ten games between the schools. The upset 28-20 win in 2007 is Lynnfield's only victory over the Generals since 1998. And some of those losses have been pretty gruesome such as last year as well as 42-14 and 41-14 defeats in 2005 and 2006. You can bet the Pioneers would like to make up for some of those this week.

So to sum it up, the Pioneers might want to have another saying in mind when they take the field on Saturday: Carpe Diem - Sieze the day.

Game time at Pioneer Field is 11 am.


Monday, November 9, 2009

Around the League: Week Nine

Nine weeks into the season and the Pioneers are the only undefeated team in CAL Small play and they are also the only team in the league with a winning record. Lots of excitement in the league this week as all of the other CAL Small teams were involved in close contests that went down to the wire.

But first, let's take a look at the standings.

Amesbury helped out the Pioneers this weekend and made things a tad easier by upending Hamilton Wenham 15-14. The Generals could actually have come in here this weekend with hopes of a title if they had held off the Indians, but it was not to be as they suffered their second league loss to drop two games behind Lynnfield.

The Indians jumped out to an 8-0 lead but the Generals cut it to 8-6 at the half when quarterback Andy Duval hit Dylan Keith with a 20 yard TD pass. The Generals jumped ahead 14-8 when Duval ran one in from the five yard line in the third quarters.

Amesbury retook the lead midway in the fourth when Tyler Lay hit Matt Enaire for the second touchdown of the game for the duo, this one coming from 21 yards out to tie the game at 14-14. Things then got interesting as Indian place kicker Nicholas Croce, who had booted one from 42 yard to win last week's game for Amesbury was apparently not available. That left Lay to attempt his first PAT ever. His line drive barely made it over the crossbar but it was good enough to give the Indians a 15-14 lead.

The Generals had enough time to come back, but Duval re injured one of the ankles that has been plaguing him all year and had to leave the game. He did not play in that drive but according to Phil Perry of the Newburyport News, Duval "returned to the field limping" with under two minutes to play. He got the Generals to the 20 yard line with 11 seconds to play, but Tucker White's winning field goal attempt sailed wide right and the Indians escaped with another win. The loss dropped H-W 2-2 in the league and 2-6 overall.

We'll have more about them in Thursday's preview.

The Indians moved to 3-1 in league play and 3-5 overall. They host North Reading this weekend.

Speaking of the Hornets, North Reading finally ended their seven game losing streak with a comeback 14-13 win over Georgetown. The Hornets took a 7-0 lead on a 73 yard burst by Bobby Rosano, who rolled for 186 yards on the day. Georgetown made it 7-7 at the half on a Chris Esposito to Tyran Harrigan 33 yard pass.

Harrigan gave the Royals the lead when he returned the second half kickoff 78 yards for a score, but Georgetown missed the extra point and that would prove to be fatal.

North Reading answered on the very next drive, needing only six plays to score. Rosano took it the final nine for the TD. Eric Valenti booted through what turned out to be the game winning PAT.

The Hornets had to withstand two final Georgetown threats. The first was a field goal attempt midway in the first quarter which failed on a bad snap. The final charge ended when Dylan Desrosiers intercepted a Royal pass in Hornet territory in the final minute of play.

North Reading improves to 2-7 with the win and the struggling Royals fall to 1-7.

The Hornets travel to Amesbury in their final contest before Thanksgiving Day while Georgetown hosts Newburyport.

Meanwhile Newburyport couldn't hold on against Triton, dropping a 14-7 decision for their fifth loss in their last six games. After starting the year 3-0, the Clippers now sit at 4-5.

They started off on the right cleat in this one, taking a 7-0 lead in the first quarter on a Ryan O'Connor to Kyle Leblanc 1 yard pass. The lead held until the fourth quarter when Triton, playing without super running back Brendan O'Neil who left the game with a concussion, cut it to 7-6 on a 1 yard run by quarterback Blaise Whitman. They won it with less than two minutes to play on a one yard run by Derek Paquette. Whitman ran in the two to give the Vikes a 14-7 lead.

The Clippers came back and had the ball on the Triton 5 yard line with 29 seconds to go but two straight sacks by Triton's Luke Miller killed the clock and any chance Newburyport had to pull this one out.

Newburyport travels to Georgetown this week.

Ipswich, in a desperate search to end their 30 game losing streak, travels to Medford Friday night to take on the Mustangs.

Check back on Thursday and we'll take a look at Saturday's Pioneer-General matchup.

Material from the Newburyport Daily News, Lawrence Eagle Tribute, Salem Evening News, Boston Herald and Rally was used in compiling this report.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Ipswich Leftovers

It wasn't necessarily pretty but as Pioneer head coach Neal Weidman said when I asked him if this was the type of game you just went in, got the win and got out he replied, "Yea we'll take it. We'll definitely take it."

No style points need to be awarded, but the win was huge in that it kept the Pioneers undefeated at 4-0 in the CAL Small with a chance to clinch the title this week against Hamilton-Wenham. Amesbury did Lynnfield a favor with their come from behind 15-14 win over the Generals on Saturday. That gave the Generals two league losses, so even if the Pioneers don't beat them next Saturday, they can still clinch the title with a win on Thanksgiving Day. That is because the only teams that can match one league loss would be Amesbury and Newburyport and the Pioneers have the head to head tiebreaker with both. If H-W had won, they would have come into the game next week with only one league loss and if they defeated the Pioneers, they would own the head to head tiebreaker and would have had the edge in the title chase.

But even though the Pioneers have a mulligan should they need it, I'm sure no one wants to see it come to that. A Senior Day home game would be a perfect way to put the cherry on top of this outstanding season and you can bet the team and coaches feel the same way. I'll have more on the Generals in the preview article on Thursday.

For now, let's clean up some remnants from the Ipswich Game

The Delaware Wing T
I've been watching Ipswich run that confounded Delaware Wing T for over 30 years at various levels of execution. In the seventies when the Tigers had Bernie Adell, still in the top ten all time scoring leaders and even in the 2005-06 seasons when they had Steve Phaneuf, that offense was absolutely lethal. But the beauty of the offense is that even when the talent level was off, they were still able to compete.

That is why the last few years and this 30 game losing streak is such a head-scratcher. If you watched that game Friday and didn't know anything about Ipswich, you would never have believed that they haven't won a game in nearly three years.

That offense clearly gave the Pioneers fits, partially because it is so rare that teams see it and also because it is diifficult to prepare for because it is so hard to replicate it in practice. Pioneer defensive coordinator Greg Haberland had some interesting comments about it after the game. You can read them in my Villager game story on Wednesday.

USA today had an article about the Delaware Wing T a couple of years ago. Here is one excerpt that sums up the offense.

"Named the Wing-T because the formation loosely resembles a T, the offense has endured at the prep and small-college level in part because the deception compensates for a team's shortcomings in talent and size. When worked on so the deception is second nature, the results can be phenomenal."

The article compares the offensive scheme to the same components of magic tricks: "sleight of hand, deception and misdirection." It's an interesting article and if you want to see more, I have included a link to the article here.

Facts and Tidbits
  • Gino Cohee's outstanding season continued Friday night when he ran for two touchdowns and passed for another.  Last week we talked about his climb up the all time Pioneer scoring leaders list. After Friday's game, he moved into seventh place all time with 122 points, passing Bruce Rothman (1969-70) who has 112. Next up is Andy Nekoroski (1979-81) who has 126. However, Gino is also moving into rarefied air on the single season list. He now has 84 points this year, edging into the number 10 spot past John Frontero's 1979 season when he scored 82. He is now just behind Jamie Solomon (2003), Charles Meeker (1960) and Jason Caggiano (1996) each of whom scored 86 points in those seasons.  The amazing thing about Meeker is that he finished third that season behind Joe Debella  who had 94 points and the number two player on the list Frank Berardino who tallied 120. Eric Hansen's spectacular 128 point output in 1976 tops the single season list.
  • As you'll read in this week's Villager, the Pioneer win on Friday was the 250th in the history of the school. LHS also has 250 losses and sits at a perfect .500: 250-250-11. The Pioneers reached a high point of 88 games over .500 in 1987. Their low point of 8 games under .500 occurred last year after the loss to Manchester-Essex. They have lost only once in the ten games since. They have won 10 of their last 12.
  • The eight wins this year equals the victory total of the 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008 squads combined.
  • The win was the third straight over Ipswich, the longest active winning streak for the Pioneers over any opponent. Overall Lynnfield is now 16-26 against the Tigers.
  • The Pioneers cracked the 200 point barrier with the 20 points against Ipswich. They now have 203 on the year which is ninth best all time. Next up is the 1986 Super Bowl team who scored 205 and the 1973 CAL Champs who tallied 210.
Check back Tuesday for a look around the league.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Taming the Tigers

It may have been a week late for Halloween, but this was the type of game that was particularly scary. There are several reasons.
  • Possible letdown after an exhilirating victory over Newburyport last Saturday
  • Night game on the road against a team pumped for Senior Night
  • Facing a team that has lost 29 in a row but has been playing well lately.
That last one was the most unnerving. Think about it. 29 in a row. That is almost unimaginable. In high school football, you would think a team would have to win one game in three years just by shear luck. On paper and in fact, the Pioneers should be able to beat the Tigers easily, but the football can take crazy bounces. With a clear path to the Cape Ann League title, Lynnfield did not want to have Lady Luck step in and allow the Tigers to make "a dog's breakfast" out of the Pioneers' season.

Thankfully it never came to that. The whirling dervish Delaware Wing T offense allowed the Tigers to be annoyning most of the frigid evening, but ultimately was a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing. The Pioneers put in a workmanlike effort and subdued the Tigers 20-3.

The win means the Pioneers can clinch the league title with a victory over Hamilton-Wenham next week no matter what the Generals do on Saturday against Amesbury. That is the biggest takeaway from this game.

They did what they had to do. Nothing glamorous, but they got the "W". Now they can move on to the next most important step.

You can get all the details in my Villager game story on Wednesday and I'll have more on the game right here on Sunday. 

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Beware the Eye of the Tiger

Former Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz was famous for building up every opponent his team was about to face regardless of whether they were undefeated or winless. When he was done with his praising, you began to wonder how the other team ever allowed a point let alone lost any games.

In 1989, Time magazine described an example: "Before the Pitt game, he assured reporters that Pitt was only slightly less dangerous than Rommel's Panzers. Yet at practice he was telling his players that Pitt was more like the army of Grenada and that he expected the Irish to beat the bejabbers out of them. When this inconsistency is raised, Holtz is only momentarily at a loss. 'We just point out the problems to the public and the press. We tell the players the problems and the solutions."

As 7-1 Lynnfield prepares to face the 0-8 Ipswich Tigers this Friday night, we can safely assume that Pioneer head coach Neal Weidman and his coaching staff is busy pointing out the problems the squad will face with the Tigers, and that they are also driving home the solutions. Clearly one problem in taking on a team that has lost a mind-boggling 29 games in a row is overconfidence. The solution might be to remind the boys that this is indeed high school football and that taking any opponent too lightly can result in disaster. The Pioneers have a clear path to the CAL Small title if they take care of business in their next three games. That focus has to start with the game at Ipswich on Friday night.

Another problem the Pioneers will have to deal with is the loss of linebacker A.J. Roberto, who injured his hand in the Newburyport win and will not be playing. The junior has been immense all year, always at the point of attack and more times than not making the tackle. His loss leaves a hole in the middle of the Pioneer defense that will be difficult to fill. Understand that the rest of the defense has been outstanding as well, but a school the size of Lynnfield can not afford to lose quality players.

The Pioneers have played most of the year without starting three year center Greg Banos. Doug Ullian has moved to center and done a good job while sophomore Jonathan Roberto moved into the starting lineup and has been solid as well. The Pioneers will need to find a similar solution to A. J.'s loss.

Meanwhile, another key factor is the fact that the Tigers are starving for a victory. Amazingly enough, with almost three years of losing, Ipswich head coach Ted Flaherty has still been able to maintain the right attitude with his Tigers. They have been playing better every game and nearly upset Amesbury last week.

The Tigers came into the season losers of 21 straight after winning the Division 3A Super Bowl in 2006. they have 16 seniors and I frankly expected more from them than what they have shown. Part of the problem may have been that after nearly 40 years of running the Delaware Wing T offense, perfected by longtime Tiger coach Jack Welch, Flaherty installed a new offense this year - the Spread Wing T.

Before the season, Flaherty explained to the Ipswich Chronicle that he made the change to take advantage of the "Tigers' speed against other, larger team's size and strength." He sounded a warning bell in that same interview when he said "it hasn't been easy to install in the preseason, because it's new to everybody."

That turned out to be an understatement.

The Tigers were shut out in their first four games and were outscored 127-0. They  finally got on the board in a 34-6 loss to Pentucket (another ridiculous scheduling mismatch), but seemed to start putting it together against Manchester-Essex the next week.

Running back James Riel scored a pair of touchdowns and wide reciever Aaron Jessen (6'3" , 211 lbs) caught a TD pass from Brendan Gallagher as the Tigers built a 22-7 lead. However, M-E scored twice in the second period to tie the game at 22-22 at the half. Ultimately, the Tigers had no answer for the Hornets' Brian Ciccone who finished with five touchdowns in a 50-28 rout. Nathaniel Bocko broke a 50 yarder for the Tigers' foma; score.

The following week against Georgetown, Ipswich discovered a new weapon in running back Jake Leblanc. His 81 yard kickoff return had the Tigers tied with the Royals at 7-7 midway in the second, but this time it was Georgetown's Chris Esposito who did the damage, finishing with a pair of touchdowns as the Royals pulled away 28-13. Bocko and Gallagher hooked up for a 55 yard TD pass for the other Ipswich score.

The Tigers stepped it up another notch last week against Amesbury. They fell behind the Indians 14-0 and normally with a team that has lost that many games in a row, you would have expected a complete collapse at that point. But instead, the Tigers scored 17 unanswered points to take a 17-14 lead. Bocko and Gallagher connected on a 21 yard TD pass to make it 14-6 and Ben Michael added a 20 yard field goal to make ti 14-9 at the half. In the fourth quarter, Riel scored from seven yards out with less than three minutes to play to take a 17-14 lead.

Amesbury came back to tie it on a 42 yard field goal by Nicholas Croce and then won it in overtime.

"I scouted Ipswich (last Friday night)," said Weidman. "I'll tell you what, they outplayed Amesbury."

Again, the bright spot for Ipswich was the play of Leblanc who carried 18 times for 118 yards.

"They had a kid on the field that was fantastic who wasn't playing earlier in the year," Weidman said of Leblanc. "He's a very good player."

Friday night will be Senior Night for the Tigers and you know they will be aching to pull off the upset. They appear to have good team speed, especially in the skill positions. They also seem to be strong willed and have not let the losing crater them. That is evidenced by their ability to play competitively the last few weeks, despite not being able to get a win.

So maybe this time we should all listen to what Lou Holtz might say. Don't look at the record. Look at a hungry team growing in confidence that could be very dangerous. The Pioneers will have their hands full.

Remember 05 and 06
There might be a tendency to feel badly for the Tigers as they go through this unbelievably difficult stretch - especially for Pioneer fans who know what toll losing can take on players, coaches, parents and fans. Even in the depths of their worst struggles, however, the Pioneers have never gone through a stretch of losing like the one Ipswich is experiencing. Lynnfield's longest losing streak ever occurred in 1993-95 when the Pioneers lost 14 straight. Ironically, that stretch began with a 36-7 loss to Ipswich and was snapped a season and a half later with a 29-20 win over Amesbury.

But before you feel too badly for the Tigers, harken back to 2005 and 2006 when the swaggering Tigers had their way with the Pioneers. In 2005, the Pioneers were missing three of their six seniors and were manhandled 35-2 in Ipswich.

The following year in 2006, when the current senior class were freshmen, the Tigers rolled over the injury riddled Pioneers 34-0 enroute to their Super Bowl win. You can bet this year's seniors remember the bite the Tigers took out of them that day.

Ironically that same week, current Pioneer quarterback Gino Cohee was leading his Lynnfield Youth Football "A" team to a 28 pasting of Amesbury. Cohee ran for a touchdown, threw a pair of TD passes, one to current Pioneer Wes Sullivan and ran in two conversions. I'm sure he'll take a similar night against the Tigers on Friday.

Game time in Ipswich is 7 pm.