Saturday, October 31, 2009

First Place!

Over the past weeks I have referred several times to the benchmark years of Pioneer football success: 1960...1986...1991...1996...2003....

Well I would advise you to savor what you are witnessing this season. Before this is all over, 2009 has a chance to be up there with the best of them all. With their convincing 27-13 demolition of Newburyport today (trust me, it wasn't even that close), the Pioneers have cleared a path for themselves that leads to the CAL Small Championship.

Of course it won't be as easy as it might appear as the Pioneers have to face two rapidly improving teams in Ipswich (at their place) and Hamilton Wenham (getting healthy at the wrong time for Lynnfield), and then a tough-as-always battle on Thanksgiving Day with North Reading. The Pioneers have to win two of those three games and I don't know about you, but I wouldn't want to see it come down to a must win situation on Turkey Day.

But there is plenty of time to worry about that (and from what I saw today from some of the Dads on the sideline, some fingernails will be bitten down to the knuckles before this is done). For now enjoy the big win in the biggest Lynnfield High football game in nearly two decades. The kids played great and richly deserved the "W" and their hard earned perch atop the league.

More on the game in my Villager game story on Wednesday, and much more right here in my post later tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


There's a classic clip from NFL films where Bill Parcells is exhorting a group of his players: "Hey fellas, this is what you work all off season for. This is why you lift all them weights. This is why you do all that."

For the Lynnfield Pioneers, the showdown game this Saturday against Newburyport is the reason they "worked  all off season" and "lifted all them weights."

As far as big games go, they don't get any bigger than this one.

The Clippers (3-0) and the Pioneers (2-0) are the only undefeated teams left in the CAL Small. While anything can happen in high school football, the winner of this game has a clear path to the title with a mulligan to boot, while the losing team still has a slim shot at the championship, but needs lots of outside help.

As you read in my Villager pregame story this week, if the Pioneers win, they will be 3-0 in the league and will need to win two of three games against Hamilton-Wenham (1-5), Ipswich (0-7) and North Reading (1-6) to clinch. If Newburyport wins, they will be 4-0 in the league and only have to defeat either Georgetown (1-5) or Amesbury (1-5) to win it. In simpler terms, the winning team Saturday will still be undefeated and would have to lose two games not to win it all. If the two teams finish 5-1 in league play, the first tiebreaker is head to head play, and the winner of Saturday's game would have that tiebreaker advantage.

Big enough for you?

Well it's certainly the biggest game in Lynnfield High history in over a decade and one that the Pioneers need to win if they have any realistic hopes of capturing their first title in 23 years and moving on to post season play.

So let's take a look at the Clippers.

They lost 10 seniors from a team that went 5-1 in the league last year and tied Amesbury and Georgetown at the top of the league. But Amesbury won the three way tie on a points tiebreaker and moved on. The Clippers' biggest loss was quarterback Joe Clancy who was a key cog in the offense but they returned several skill players. At the top of that list is Kyle Leblanc, an all everything back that runs, catches passes, kicks field goals, punts and plays defense.

He is clearly the key to their offense and as Pioneer coach Neal Weidman says "They hand it to him, they throw it to him" they'll do anything to get the ball in his hands. He has scored 59 points via three rushing touchdowns, three receiving touchdowns, four field goals and 11 extra points.

He is the poster boy for the Clippers, a speedy, athletic team that.can hurt you quickly offensively, defensively and on special teams.

Newburyport started the year trying to replace Clancy with a battle between juniors Matt Mottola and Ryan O'Connor. Mottola started the season but they have shifted to O'Connor who has developed into a solid signalcaller. He's thrown three TD passes in his last two games and appears to be coming into his own.

Running backs Mottola (now shifted from QB) and Josh Freeman are also threats. Freeman hit an 80 yarder against Wilmington.

The Clippers come into the game 4-3 over all compared to the Pioneers' 6-1 record, but don't let that fool you. The Clippers have played a killer schedule, and will play all five CAL Large schools, which count as league games for them but not for Newburyport. They were crushed by Masco 33-0 (Masco playing any CAL Small team is a disgrace) but held their own against Pentucket (3-2 loss) and Wilmington (24-22 last second loss) and beat North Andover last week 17-14 on a last second field goal from Leblanc.They seem to be getting stronger by the week.

They are clearly a speed team who likes to use the outside of the field. This was illustrated in the North Andover game. Trailing 14-7 in the second half, they blocked a punt and recovered on the Knight one yard line. Instead of punching it up the middle, they opted for a Leblanc sweep for the score. So don't expect them to try and pount the ball inside against Evan Panzero, Eric Inglese, Jon Leydon and Andrew Kibarian. They will test the edges, so the pressure will be on the ends and outside backers to contain and on the defensive backs to stay with the speedy Clipper receivers.

A point of concern is that while the Pioneers have done a good job containing backs in the running game, they have been vulnerable to backs coming out for passes. Danvers' Eric Burghos was held to 51 yards on 20 carries but caught 4 passes for 39 yards. Amesbury's Jesse Burrell was held to 53 yards on 11 carries, but caught four passes for 86 yards. The Pioneer defense is going to have to stay close to Leblanc as coming out and catching passes is his type of game.

There are lessons to be learned from some of the Clipper games. Teams with speed (obviously Masco and also Wilmington) gave them a hard time. Pentucket, a pound the ball team, was able to neutralize their speed, mostly because it was a rainy day and the game was played on the quagmire in West Newbury. The Middle School field should provide a fast track Saturday as early forecasts call for sunny with temps in the sixties. However, the Pioneers may just have enough speed to keep up with the Clipper track team.

An interesting note from the Wilmington game. After the Clippers took a 22-21 lead with 2:59 to go, Wilmington went almost exclusively to the air and Wildcat QB Sean Hanley completed 8 of 12 passes on a 54 yard drive that got them close enough to boot the winning field goal.

Does this mean that Gino Cohee and Chris Grassi could find some openings in the Clipper pass defense?

Also, Newburyport will be facing the spread offense for only the second time this year, with only North Reading running it exclusively against them. Hornet QB John Brooks was 8 of 18 for 101 yards and running back Bobby Rosano ran for 112 yards. North Reading moved the ball against them but four second half turnovers allowed the Clippers to escape with a 17-13 win.

Does this mean Cohee, Grassi, George Hennessey and Jeff Gannon could find some running room?

Bottom line is that the game is too close to call. The Massey Ratings, which predicts scores of every game, pegs this one as a 14-14 tie.

I don't do predictions, but one amazing stat stands out for me. The Pioneers and the Clippers have played a total of 14 games. Of those, four or almost 30% have been decided by a field goal (three for the Clippers, one for the Pioneers) and three of those were in the final seconds to decide the game. Leblanc has kicked four field goals this year, two of them over 30 yards, and Pioneer kicker Steve Ullian has a pair of three pointers. That said, it would not surprise me if this one came down to the last second and one of those two kickers will be asked to win it.

In any event, it promises to be quite a game.

Game time is 11 am at the Middle School Field.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Around the League: Week Seven

Now that we are into serious league play, the CAL Small is starting to take shape. Six of the seven teams played within the league last week with only Newburyport playing a non league game.

First, let's get to the updated standings:

Well I guess we know what's going on at the top of the league, and barring something very unusual, the title could very well be decided this week. The Pioneers and Clippers are undefeated in league play with Amesbury and Hamilton Wenham lurking with one league loss.

Newburyport tuned up for the big showdown with an impressive come from behind win over North Andover. The Clippers were playing their fourth straight CAL Large opponent in a row and the first three were losses. The latest one was a tough, last second loss on a field goal to Wilmington. This week, they turned the trick on the Knights when Kyle Leblanc booted a 37 yarder to beat the Knights 17-14 with one second left.

The Clippers trailed 14-7 late in the third quarter when they blocked their second punt in a row and recovered on the North Andover one yard line. Leblanc swept in on the first play to tie the score at 14-14. The Knights answered right back and marched to the Newburyport 10 yard line, but the Clippers held and forced a 37 yard field goal attempt that was long enough but wide.

The Clippers got the ball back with less than two minutes and Ryan O'Connor marched them from their own 36 to the Knight 11 completing five passes for 40 yards. Josh Williams took a simple handoff to move the ball to the middle of the field to set up the field goal attempt and actually broke free for the score. The TD was called back for an illegal block, setting the stage for Leblanc's last second game winning kick.

More on the Clippers later in the week.

Two other CAL Small teams finally broke into the win column this week.

Georgetown had an easy time of it with Ipswich, beating the Tigers 28-13 for their first win. Chris Esposito, finally taking the reins at quarterback from brother Joe, continues to improve running and throwing for over 100 yards for the second week in a row. The Royals led 14-7 at the half and built a 28-7 lead in the second half before Ipswich scored a late TD to account for the final score. Ipswich scored their first touchdown on a 77 yard kickoff return by John Etheridge.

It was the 28th straight loss for the struggling Tigers. They travel to Amesbury this week to take on what figures to be an angry Indian team.

Georgetown will go for two in a row  when they visit Hamilton-Wenham in a battle of one win teams.

Speaking of the Generals, Hamilton-Wenham notched their first win of the season with a stunning comeback against North Reading. The Hornets led 16-0 late in the third period, but the Generals scored 24 unanswered points to take the 24-16 win.

Bobby and Nick Rosano each scored a first half touchdown as North Reading dominated the first half, but the Generals awoke in a big way in the second half. H-W quarterback Andy Duval, healed from the ankle injury that has hampered him all year, finished 6 of 11 for 157 yards and two touchdowns.

Duval's first was a 15 yarder to Jimmy Love in the third to cut the NR lead to 16-8. Early in the fourth, Dan Beckett broke loose for a 44 yard touchdown run. Duval rushed for the two to tie the score at 16-16. The Generals took the lead on a 77 yard TD hookup from Duval to Jake Prince.

The Hornets made a furious last minute comeback, getting a first and goal at the General 5 yard line with less than a minute to play, but H-W held four times to seal the win. It was the Hornet's sixth straight loss.

The Generals were bolstered by the return of lineman Paul Littlefield, who has also been hampered by an ankle injury. He made 16 tackles against North Reading.

H-W hosts Georgetown this week while the Hornets will "entertain" the Pentucket Sachems who are coming off a 31-7 loss to Wilmington.

Check back Thursday for a preview of the showdown with Newburyport.

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

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Amesbury Leftovers

Put another big checkmark next to a task on the Pioneers' "To Do" list.

Knock off last year's champ? Check. As Pioneer head coach Neal Weidman was quoted as saying, if you want to be the champion you have to beat the champion. They did that on Saturday. Not that it was pretty.

Check out all the details in my Villager game story on Wednesday.

But now would be a good time to discuss the new order of Lynnfield High Football.

Here are two quotes from the head coaches after the game.

Amesbury head coach Thom Connors:
"They're the best team that we've seen yet. We had a great week of practice and we were very well prepared and I'm very proud of the way we played. A fumble late in the game turns into a touchdown. We had a great effort. I'm proud of my guys. I think we'll be back in the thick of things before this is all over. That's what I hope." 

Lynnfield head coach Neal Weidman:
"We did not play well. Thank God Evan Panzero ripped it out of that kid's hands and it popped up to Timmy and he was able to take it all the way. Otherwise Amesbury would have beaten us. They outplayed us today."

Those two quotes illustrates the almost 180 degree turnaround in the Pioneer football program. Not too long ago it would have been the bad break or turnover that cost the Pioneers a win and the Lynnfield coach would be talking about a great effort and just coming up short. It would have been the opposing coach sighing in relief after escaping with a win with a less than stellar effort from his superior team.

Not this year.

That's not to say the Pioneers should take any solace from the win. They dodged a bullet and they should know that. They may not be so lucky next time. The good news is that they are still very much alive and have their fate in their own hands.

Fumblin' Bumblin'
Speaking of the Lamusta's fumble return for a touchdown. That has happened in Lynnfield High history only 14 times in 52 seasons, and three of those have been this year. Panzero recovered one against Matignon and captain Eric Inglese returned one against Georgetown.

Making a Point
Lamusta's score pushed the Pioneers over the 7700 point mark all time.

The Pioneers' 156 points moves them into a tie for 22nd all time with the 1974 team, with four games to play. The amazing 1960 team will be hard to catch. They scored the most points in a single season by any Pioneer team when they rolled for 410 points in nine games. Yep that's a whopping 45.6 per game average. They had to be fun to watch.

The Pioneers' four game winning streak is the longest since the 1995 Pioneers beat North Reading on Thanksgiving Day and the 1996 team opened with three straight wins.

Rules Confusion?
There seemed to be some confusion among the officials near the end of the game Saturday regarding a pass intereference call against the Pioneers. According to the MIAA web site, the NCAA rules are to be used in MIAA games. I downloaded the rules (all 277 pages) to see if I could find anything out.

The play in question started with Amesbury on their own 21 yard line. The flag came in at around the 40 yard line, 20 yards away. The original call was pass interference and the refs marked off 15 yards from the previous spot giving the Indians a first down at their own 36.

At this point, the Amesbury coaches decided to take matters into their own hands and waved the officials over to share their interpretation, which in essence said the penalty should be at the spot of the foul, not 15 yards from the previous spot. As this discussion was going on, I was standing next to the official  on the Lynnfield sideline and he was saying that the original call was correct and it was not a spot foul.

The Indian coaches must have been very persuasive since the ref changed his original ruling. The side judge from the Lynnfield side ran out to the center of the field and apparently decided not to share his interpretation and the ball was placed at the spot of the foul, the Amesbury 40 yard line, 19 yards from the previous spot.

So looking through the rules, I came upon rule 7.3.c which defines pass interference and outlines the penalty.
The relevant excerpt reads as follows:

"Pass interference by Team B (defense): Team A's (offensive team) ball at the spot of the foul, first down, if the foul occurs fewer than 15 yards beyond the previous spot. If the foul occurs 15 or more yards beyond the previous spot, Team A's ball, first down, 15 yards from the previous spot."

I'm not an official but that says to me that the maximum penalty is 15 yards from the previous spot and that the original ruling was correct. Amesbury ended up with the ball 19 yards from the previous spot.

Maybe coach Mike Geary's dad Ed, a long time high school official can sort it out for us.

Kickin' up a Storm
What's with all the placekicking in the CAL this year?

Five games involving CAL Small teams have been decided by field goals. Newburyport has three of them, losing to Wilmington on a last second field goal and dropping a 3-2 decision to Pentucket. then they beat North Andover on a last second field goal last week. Amesbury's only win was 3-0 over Georgetown and the Pioneer's win over Triton came on Steve Ullian's last second three pointer.

There are three outstanding kickers in the league in Newburyport's Kyle LeBlanc who has four field goals this year, Amesbury's Nicholas Croce who has a pair and just missed a 43 yarder against the Pioneers and the Pioneers' Ullian who has two field goals.

Pioneer kicking coach Fern Lavoie has an interesting take on the improvement in kicking in recent years. He feels it is due to the number of kids playing soccer at younger age and when they get to high school they have strong legs and want to play a more physical game like football. That's as good a theory as any.

The threat of a field goal changes the whole dynamic of the high school game and makes it feel more like a pro or college contest when you start thinking about the possibility of points when a team approaches the 20 yard line. Don't be surprised if this Saturday's showdown comes down to a field goal by either Leblanc or Ullian.

Check back Tuesday as we look Around the League.


Saturday, October 24, 2009


That pretty much sums up this afternoon's nailbiting 14-10 win over Amesbury.

The Pioneers overcame a lot (some spotty play, flagloads of penalties and a determined Indians team) but thanks to Evan Panzero's strip tackle and Tim Lamusta's return of the fumble for the touchdown in the fourth quarter, the Pioneers escaped with the win.

You can read all the details and check out my photos in this week's Lynnfield Villager later this week, but suffice to say the victory sets up a CAL Small showdown with Newburyport next week. This will be the biggest Lynnfield football game this late in the season in almost 20 years and the winner will have a significant advantage in the title race heading into the final three weeks of the season. Can't ask for more than that.

Check back for more on the Amesbury game and much more on The Showdown as the week unfolds.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Smile For The Camera!

We'll pause here for a brief commercial message.

Jack Schnelle of Sunrise Photography and I have been taking photos at every Pioneer game this year and have captured some great shots. To view thumbnails please go to or click on the link I have posted on the left hand side of this blog. Once at the Sunrise site, click on the link labeled Lynnfield Football to have a look.

If you are interested in any of the photos, send an email to or and we will send you ordering information.

Now back to our regularly scheduled program.

I'm working on the Amesbury preview and hope to have that posted later tonight.

Send comments and feedback to

Danger Zone - Amesbury A Formidable Foe

In the exuberance following the outstanding win over Triton last week, many Pioneer fans are pointing to what could be a game for all the CAL Small marbles against Newburyport in two weeks. They see an Amesbury team coming to town this Saturday with a 1-4 record, and think this will be a walkover/tuneup for Lynnfield heading into the "big game."

I am here to tell you that anyone who buys into that is making a serious mistake.

We've spoken before about trap games.This is not a trap game. It will be a tough game against a tough opponent.

For those of you just tuning in or to those who need a refresher course, let's make note of a few things. The Amesbury Indians are the TWO TIME DEFENDING CAL SMALL CHAMPS. Also they are the DEFENDING DIVISION 3A SUPER BOWL CHAMPIONS. (My caps for emphasis).

Last year, the Indians went 10-1 in the regular season, then crushed Whittier 34-0 in the playoffs and routed Martha's Vineyard 40-19 in the Super Bowl. In 2007, Amesbury went 4-1 in the league, 5-5 overall, then lost a tough 19-16 to Greater Lawrence.

The point?

Although they lost eight starters on both sides of the ball, Amesbury will suit up nearly a dozen players that saw action last season and many others who contributed in practices to a team that has won 17 of 23 games and participated in three post season contests in the last two seasons.That, friends, is a winning football program.  And the lessons learned by the players that are still around, don't just disappear when other players graduate.

Yes they did lose quicksilver backs Jared Flanigan and Kevin Johnston, along with big tight end/linebacker Steve Serwon. That trio accounted for 80% of the Indian offense last year.

But they do return solid two way player Jesse Burrell, who is in the mold of Triton's Brendan O'Neil in that he is a force as a tough running back and hard hitting linebacker. Burrell is not at the level of O'Neil, but he is certainly one of the better backs in the CAL Small. He was not available for the Indians first two shutout losses but he has returned to give Amesbury a legitimate threat.

So don't be fooled by their 1-4 record coming into this game. Last week we looked behind Triton's 5-0 mark and found some reasons why that might not have been as impressive as it looked. This week, we need to do the same thing, and when we peel back the Amesbury season so far, we find some things that should warn the Pioneers that they had better take this Indians team very seriously.

First let's look at Amesbury's four losses, three of them against CAL Large teams two divisions up.
  • Opening night: 40-0 loss to Triton. Burrell was not available, serving the first of a two game MIAA suspension. The Vikes are a load, and Amesbury was playing its first game with new quarterback junior Tyler Lay and new starters at 16 positions. Triton is now 5-1 outscoring opponents 194-65.
  • Week two: 21-0 loss to North Andover. Again, no Burrell, but only losing by three scores to the Knights is pretty impressive. NA is now 5-1 outscoring opponents 173-81.
  • Week three: 34-19 loss to East Boston. Burrell returns to score a pair of touchdowns. The Indians trailed only 14-12 at the half before the Jets pulled away in the second half. Eastie is now 5-1 outscoring opponents 209-71
  • Week four: Bye
  • Week five: 3-0 win over Georgetown. Some pretty impressive stuff here, especially on the defensive side. The Indians held the Royals on three plays inside the three yard line late in the game to preserve the win. Placekicer Nick Croce's 26 yard field goal was the winner. He attempted three other kicks in the game and Amesbury coach Thom Connors is clearly willing to use him all over the field. Connors was quoted in the Amesbury News as saying Croce is able to kick a 45 yarder.
  • Week six: 24-7 loss to Pentucket. Another game closer than it looked. They were tied 7-7 just before the half and made a big stop on third and seven from midfield, but the Indian tackler was a bit overexuberant and was flagged for a 15 yard unsportsmanlike penalty. It kept the Pentucket drive alive. They went on to score and wore down the Indians in the second half to take home the win.Pentucket is now 4-2 outscoring opponents 105-56.
So in summary, the Indians have lost four games against teams that are a combined 19-5, averaging more than 28 points per game on offense and holding opponents to 11 on defense. They are also five games and a bye into the season, so those inexperienced players that started the year now have a half a season of coaching and game experience under their belt, which only makes them better.

Make no mistake, they are a clear and present danger to any title hopes the Pioneers have.

And to make things a little bit more dicey, the forecast calls for steady rain on Saturday. And if you are the superior team, and let's be realistic, the Pioneers are the better team, the last thing you want is rain which is called the "great equalizer" for a reason.

Now a few things that bode well for the Pioneers.
  • The Indians are still young and if the Pioneers play like they have the last two weeks, they should take care of business
  • Being young, Amesbury has shown a tendency to hurt themselves with penalites, especially against East Boston and last week against Pentucket. Giving the Pioneers extra downs or yardage is not a good idea
  • The Indians have shown to be tough for the first half and wear down in the second, which they did against East Boston and Pentucket. That comes from having a lot of players going both ways.
  • On a similar note, Burrell has to go both ways and that can take a lot out of a player as we saw with O'Neil last week who was not quite the same player late in the game as he was in the first half.
As good as the Pioneers seem to be, they have to go out and do the job on the field. They would do well to score early on the Indians, which tends to rattle young teams. If they let the Indians hang around, they will gain valuable confidence and become even more dangerous. And you don't want this coming down to the wire with a chance to lose on a field goal, especially when the other team has a kicker who may be able to bang it through from 40+ yards.

Pioneer coach Neal Weidman knows the danger that lurks on Saturday.

"They are good," Pioneer coach Neal Weidman said. "I don't know about some of the scores you see with them. I was at the (Pentucket/Amesbury) game. It wasn't a 24-7 game," he related. "Those kids are tough and they play hard.We can't just show up and win. I think the kids know that.We're not capable of doing that. We're going to have to work hard and we're going to have to be fired up. It's a league game and if we're not going to get fired up for that, we're not going to get fired up for anything."

Game time at the Middle School Field is 2 pm.

Material from the Newburyport Daily News, Boston Herald, Amesbury News and Rally was used in compiling this report.

Send comments and feedback to

Monday, October 19, 2009

Around the League: Week Six

There were no league games this week, and once again, the Pioneers' big win over Triton was the only non-league win for a CAL Small team. However, unlike in week's past, Lynnfield's league brethren did not go quietly and actually played come tough games last week.

First, let's take a look at the standings.

Despite losing their third straight game and falling to 3-3 overall, Newburyport still leads the CAL Small with a perfect 3-0 mark. But don't be fooled by the losing streak. All three have been to CAL Large powerhouses. The first was a blowout by Masco, but two weeks ago they lost  a tough 3-2 contest to Pentucket.

They stepped up their game last week in Wilmington, and actually game within two seconds of knocking off the Wildcats before losing on a 38 yard field goal.

The Clippers gave Wilmington all they could handle, coming back strong after falling behind 14-3 in the second period. Josh Williams made it 14-10 on an 80 yard TD run but before the half was over, Evan Butters scored for Wilmington and Kyle LeBlanc caught a TD pass from Ryan O'Connor to make it 21-16 at the half.

The second half was scoreless until late in the fourth when the Clippers forced a fumble and got the ball at the Wildcat 11. O'Connor hit former quarterback Matt Mottola for the score and Newburyport led 22-21 with 3:12 left in the game. However, the Wildcats drove the field on eight passes, according to Phil Perry of the Newburyport News, setting up Chris Frissore who nailed the field goal to crush the Clippers' upset bid.

Newburyport will host North Andover this Friday night in the finale of as tough a four game stretch as any team could face. This will be their final "tuneup" before what could be a huge game against the Pioneers on Halloween.

Amesbury, who is currently tied with the Pioneers in the league at 1-0 and will be coming to town this weekend, put up a fair battle against Pentucket before falling 24-7.

The game was tied 7-7 in the second period and according to Jim Shimer of the Newburyport News, the Indians had just stopped the Sachems on a third and seven at midfield, but were flagged for an obvious hit out of bounds. Pentucket took advantage, scoring a few plays later and dominating the second half to take the win.

Amesbury couldn't get the ball in the second half getting only one possession in the third quarter as the Sachems ate up the clock. The Indians big threat Jesse Burrell was held to less than 40 yards rushing and receiving combined. We'll have more on the Indians later in the week.

North Reading played North Andover tough and trailed only 7-0 at the half. But the Knights forced a turnover at the Hornet 10 yard line in the third and that was the jump start they needed. NA scored 21 unanswered points to hand the Hornets their fifth straight loss after their opening day win over Ipswich.

The Hornets travel to Hamilton-Wenham this week in a game I previewed last week not noticing that the Generals actually had a bye. But what I wrote last week now still holds true for this week, so I'll post it again.

It will be an interesting game this week when the Generals host North Reading. Based on comparative scores, the Hornets would appear to have the edge in this one. North Reading played Newburyport tough before losing 17-13 where the Clippers pretty much handled H-W 19-0. Also the Hornets hung with Triton for a bit before losing 33-14 while the Vikings routed the Generals 39-12.

Georgetown, though still winless, showed some spunk this weekend putting up a bit of a fight against Bishop Fenwick. The Crusaders scored the first two times they touched the ball to open up a 16-0 lead, but the Royals' Chris Esposito, now playing quarterback, ran for 128 yards and passed for 99 and spearheaded a comeback. The Royals made it 22-6 at the half. They then caught BF for a safety and put together a long scoring drive to make it 22-15 before the Crusaders broke a 55 yard run to put it away late.

For perspective, Bishop Fenwick shut out Hamilton-Wenham 30-0.

Next up for the Royals is Ipswich which travels to Georgetown this weekend in what could be another interesting battle of winless teams.

Ipswich showed some life this week as well against Manchester Essex. Going into the game, the Tigers had scored only 6 points in five games. Against the Hornets, they exploded for 28 points. Unfortunately for them, M-E scored 50.

But this was not a blowout. In fact, the Tigers led 22-7 at one point in the first half and was tied 22-22 at the half. But Ipswich was outscored 28-6 in the second half as Brian Ciccone (5 TD's) went nuts.

Check back Thursday for a preview of the Pioneer-Amesbury game.

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

Send comments and feedback to

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Triton Leftovers

Hear that sound? It's the growing buzz surrounding the 5-1 Pioneers. They are certainly on a roll and it comes at a good time heading into the balance of their CAL Small schedule.

You can get all the game details in my Villager article this week, but there are a lot of other things to get to following the game. So hang in there. This could get lengthy. But it's always fun talking about a win right?

Lynnfield football hasn't been respected for quite some time and that was certainly the case going into the Triton game. Handicapping the Pioneer-Viking game in his predictions column last Friday, Dan Guttenplan of the Newburyport Daily News stated that "Triton should begin its league schedule next weekend with a 6-0 record....". He predicted a 21-7 Viking win.

Uh, not quite.

But after defeating the Vikings, who Globe North had rated #10 on the North Shore this week, the Pioneers are going to start to get noticed.

"It's great for the kids," said Pioneer head coach Neal Weidman. "We went through some years here where the kids didn't get a lot of attention. Even though they weren't quite as good, they still had to go out and put the pads on and hit and it's not easy. For these kids to get some attention to the program to get something for some of the other kids that went through the tough times is really good."

Never give up, Never give in
We've talked in the past about the progressive development both physically and mentally of this Pioneer team. Against the Vikings, the small steps became a giant leap for the program. The steps are familiar: blowing out an inferior opponent and then holding on against a quality opponent in the Danvers game

This week's progression was to then playing an opponent that was bigger, in a higher division, and hit them in the mouth a little bit and still hanging in there. Mission accomplished.

They faced some adversity for the first time in a close game and came back not once, but three times to take home the win. That is a huge for this team. Knowing that you can get knocked down, but you can still get up to fight and win is a significant sign of maturity for this team.

There were several opportunities for the Pioneers to give up in this one and simply tell themselves that Triton was the better team. But that simply never happened.

The Vikes' super back Brendan O'Neil knocked them upside the head on the first play of the game, rolling for a 38 yard gain. Three plays later, Triton took advantage of the overpursuit of the amped up Pioneers and burned them for a 32 yard TD on a misdirection reverse play. But instead of folding, the Pioneers answered with a vengance on a TD of their own.

Then when it looked like they would have a 10-6 lead at the half, they were burned again on O'Neil's punt return for a score. I don't want to tell you home many times a play like that at the end of a half cratered former Pioneer teams. But it didn't faze this one. Credit them and the coaching staff for now allowing that to happen.

"When they came off the field (after the punt return) some of the heads went down," said Weidman. "We hadn't seen much of  that and I just told them 'hey they scored on a Statue of Liberty and they scored on a punt return. It wasn't like they were absolutely dominating us.' I told them to get their heads up and finish the game off.. But you don't have to tell these kids that much. They want to play. they want to do well. They're tough kids and they're going to play for four quarters no matter what." 

They came out and dominated the third period sucking the life out of the clock on a long drive deep into Triton territy. Ultimately they turned it over twice inside the 15, and that would have crushed lesser teams, but not this team. They hung in and eventually scored the go ahead touchdown anyway.

Their resiliency was to be tested one more time when the Vikes again took the lead with 3:41 to play in the game. My first thought was that Triton had left this Lynnfield offense with too much time. Weidman was confident as well.

"I was thinking to myself that we had had some success moving the ball against them," said the coach. "We did move the ball well at times so I knew we had a chance."

He also knew that they had a kicker in Steve Ullian who had already kicked a 27 yard field goal and was capable of doing it again.

"We could run all of our plays and get down close enough. Sometimes you get into those situations when you have to force the ball downfield (to get into the endzone) and it gets intercepted and we didn't have to do that."

This was truly a "baptism of fire" game and demonstrated a never-say-die attitude that will prove crucial going into the last five league games of the season.

There was an interesting interlude at the changeover from the third to the fourth quarter in Saturday's game. When Triton picked off the second interception in the endzone near the end of the third quarter, the Vikes' Billy Murphy tried to run it out and got nailed at the one foot line. That meant that Triton needed to get to the 10 yard, 1 ft line for a first down. They ran two plays and got to the seven yard line as the third quarter ended.

As they switched ends, the official in charge of resetting the chains was off by five yards, putting the chain at the five yard 1 ft mark showing that the Vikes had to get to the 15 yard 1 ft line for a first down: in other words third and 9 instead of 3rd and 4 which it was supposed to be. The Triton coaches predictably were apoplectic and the refs finally figured it out and set the chains correctly. It turned out to be a moot point as captain George Hennessey stopped O'Neil for no gain on third down and Triton had to punt.

However I did notice that veteran Lynnfield chain gang member Brian Roberts, father of Nick, was strangely silent during the incident. He didn't appear to be in any hurry to straighten out the kerfuffle. File that one under "home field advantage."

Two way, too much
Speaking of Roberts, he has seen a lot of Lynnfield games from the sideline and called this one "the hardest hitting LHS game he's seen."

The hitting took a toll on players on both teams, but it may have benefited the Pioneers most by wearing down O'Neil, who in addition to being an outstanding running back, is a force on defense getting in on most of the defensive action from his linebacker spot. In the second half, when the Pioneers had over a two to one time of possession advantage, O'Neil had to expend a ton of energy tracking down Pioneer ball carriers. It probably affected his running since he had 92 yards in the first half and only 22 in the second, although the 15 yard run in the final quarter gave them the lead. But in his only two other carries in the fourth quarter he was held for no gain and a two yard gain.

"Honestly it was such a hard fought physical game I think both sides toward the end started to get tired," said Weidman. "It was actually very similar to the Danvers game. Even though it's not that warm out those kids are playing hard on both sides. O'Neil must have carried I don't know how many times and then he has to turn around and make a whole bunch of tackles on defense. He's a real tough kid but eventually you start to get worn down a bit."

Underrated Key Play
Former Pioneer head coach Bill Adams was on hand (more on that later) and he felt Mike Pescione's interception of the lateral on the point after try after O'Neil's punt return was the key play of the game. Adams felt that it stopped the Vikings' momentum and set the tone for the Pioneers' strong third period.

By the way, Pescione was finally tracked down at the 20 yard line and some people wondered why the Pioneers' didn't get the ball right there. It's because as soon as he was tackled, the point after try ended and then Triton had to kick off. If Pescione had made it all the way to the endzone, it would have been two points for the Pioneers.

One of the impressive things at the end of the game was the professional way the coaches handled the win. The kids understandably and justifiably were going nuts, but there was no "Josh McDaniel-like" celebration for Weidman and his assistants.

After a few minutes of frenzy, the coaches quickly rounded up the jubiliant Pioneers, had them go through the post game handshake with Triton and settled them down for the post game huddle. They knew that it was a huge win, but they are also aware there is much more work to do to achieve the goals they set for themselves this season.

It's Good!
Ullian's two field goals ties him for the single game record for most FG's in a game. In fact it has been done only once before in LHS history. Former Pioneer captain and coach Joe Maney nailed a pair, ironically also against Triton, in 1983. Coincidently, Maney was on hand Saturday to see Ullian tie his record.

Two is also record for most FG's in a career, held by Maney, Alan Harrington (1972-74), Dave Frontero (1986-87), Hannigan (1991-93) and now Ullian.

There have only been 14 field goals in the history of Lynnfield football, the last one before Saturday coming off the foot of Kevin Hanegan in 1992 against Ipwich.

Pioneer Coaching Legacy
Only six men have ever been head football coach at Lynnfield High. Amazingly, four of them were present at the Pioneers' big win on Saturday. Bill Rodan (1969-1984), Bill Adams (1985-1994, 2000-2007), Scott Brennan (1995-1999) and Neal Weidman (2008-present) were all in attendance. Together they represent the last 41 consecutive seasons of the 52 year history of Pioneer football.

And since Rodan, the winningiest coach in LHS history with 101 victories, coached with Steve Sobiek, the first ever Pioneer coach, the history of Lynnfield coaching from the beginning was represented at the game. And as has been the tradition at LHS, the coaching line is unbroken back to the inception of the program.

Rodan was an assistant with Sobiek; Adams was an assistant with Rodan; and both Brennan and Weidman were assistants under Adams. Together they have been in charge of 411 of the 508 games played by the Pioneers. The only head coaches missing were Sobiek (1958-1966) and Garland Johnson (1967-68).

Pretty impressive.

Enough for now. Check back on Tuesday for a look Around the League.

Send comments and feedback to

Saturday, October 17, 2009


It wasn't a league game and has no bearing on the standings, but the Pioneers huge 21-19  last second win today over the Triton Vikings means so much in so many ways to this developing Lynnfield team.

  • It shows the Pioneers can step up a couple of divisions and beat a quality team (5-0 coming in would qualify as a quality team).
  • It shows they can overcome adversity since there were many times during the game (long punt return for a score, turnovers inside the  red zone, late Triton score to fall behind) where the Pioneers could have packed it in, but they did not. 
  • It shows this team will be a factor in the CAL Small. From here on out, its all league all the time, and the Pioneers have their fate in their hands.
Suffice to day, it was a great high school football game and even greater win for the Pioneers.

Full details in my Villager game story on Wednesday plus more on the win right here on Monday.

Send comments and feedback to

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Pioneers Should Respect, Not Fear Triton

On first look, the numbers for the Triton Vikings half way through the season are daunting.

  • Undefeated with five straight victories
  • Two shutouts
  • Outscored opponents 175-44
  • Division 2A's leading scorer Brendan O'Neil has scored 15 touchdowns, 9 extra points for 103 points
 It's enough to hope that the Vikes, like Cathedral, miss the turn into the Middle School field and head to the High School. Only this time, no one should go and retrieve them. However, a deep dive into those numbers may reveal a slightly different picture than one of an unstoppable juggernaut.

Let's look at Triton's four lopsided victories
  • They have all come against Lynnfield's CAL Small brethren Amsesbury, Hamilton-Wenham, Ipswich and North Reading from Division 3A. two divisions beneath Triton
  • Those four teams - which Triton  has coldcocked by a score of 146-26 - have a combined record of 2-17 (and one of those wins was NR over Ipswich)
  • That quartet has been outscored 554-89 and been shut out 11 times. 49 of those points have been from North Reading. Ipswich, Amesbury and H-W have scored a combined total of 6 touchdowns in 19 games.
The Vikings only tight game was a solid come from behind 29-18 win over Whitman Hanson, the only school from the same Division (2A) that Triton has played so far this year. W-H appears to be a solid team, although their 4-1 record has come against three teams one division below them and one team from their own division with a combined record of 5-15. Triton has not played a team in a higher division yet this year.

Compare that to the Pioneer's schedule which has resulted in a 4-1 mark. Yes they have had easy victories over two teams two divisions below them in Cathedral and Matignon. Those two teams are 1-8 but have scored a combined 87 points to 224 against.

One of the Pioneers' lopsided wins came against struggling Georgetown from their own division. The other was against a solid Danvers team, one division higher than Lynnfield, that came into the game with a 3-1 record..

Lynnfield's only loss came when they stepped up two divisions (as they will be doing this week) against Wilmington. The Pioneers were sunk in that game by the disastrous opening game TD kickoff return and two short field drives by the Wildcats set up by fumbles. One could argue that there were long stretches of time when the Pioneers showed they could hang with Wilmington. The Wildcats, by the way, are 4-1 having outscored their opponents 118-40 and are a solid contender in the CAL Large.

Some other reasons to believe that the Pioneers have a legitimate shot against the Vikes:
  • Of all the scoring the Vikes have done, only three TD's have come via the pass. No one has stopped O'Neil (more on him later) so sophomore quarterback Blaise Whitman has had an easy time of it. What would happen if O'Neil could be contained (big if of course) and a sophomore had to win the game with a passing attack that has been in mothballs all year?
  • And before you say no one can stop O'Neil, take a look at what the Pioneers stout defense has done against two other pretty good backs. Wilmington's Evan Butters, currently in seventh place in Division 2A with 42 points played the first half against Lynnfield before getting hurt. He carried eight times and managed only 21 yards (2.6 yard average). Of course he did score that 89 yard kickoff return for a score. Last week, the Pioneers faced another good back in Eric Burgos from Danvers. Burgos has 36 points and is tied for seventh place in Division 3 scoring. The Pioneers held him to 51 yards on 20 carries (2.6 yard average). O'Neil appears to be a step up from those two, but the Pioneers have shown they can stop good backs. They will be tested this week.
  • The only offense with any pop that the Vikes have faced is W-H which has scored 104 points so far this year. It's a good bet Triton has not seen anything like the Pioneers multi pronged attack which has scored 121 points so far this year..
  • Interesting tidbit from last week's Triton-North Reading game: Hornet Bobby Rosano ran for 145 yards and a touchdown against the Vikings. That could mean that Gino Cohee ( led by Lynn Item Player of the Week Gino Cohee who is tied for eighth place in Division 3A scoring with 42 points),  Chris Grassi or George Hennessey could find some running room.
  • The Vikings may be without starting tackle Andrew McManus (6'3" 283 lbs) who was taken off the field in an ambulance with an elbow injury. If he does not play, that would surely leave a big hole in the Triton line.
The key to the game is clearly O'Neil and whether he is able to do against the Pioneers what he has done against everyone else he has faced. Pioneer coach Neal Weidman calls him "an unbelievable running back who's real physical and runs real hard." Weidman went on to say that O'Neil is "one of the best players I've seen in a while. He's big and strong and fast and elusive. He's so good he stands out, but they have a bunch of other guys that are real good too but they get lost in the shuffle because he stands out. On some other teams, those guys would probably get more publicity."

So what does all this mean? It means that if the Pioneers can play a solid game, stay away from turnovers and costly penalites, they may have a shot to pin the first L on Triton. If they make it easy for the Vikings with mistakes and they fail to contain O'Neil, it could be a long afternoon at the Middle School Field.

Game time is 2 pm.

Lynnfield Connection
An interesting side note to Saturday's game is the deep connections between the Triton coaching staff and Lynnfield High football.

Head Coach Jim O'Leary was the offensive coordinator in Lynnfield from 1989-1996 under both Bill Adams and Scott Brennan. One of his main weapons was big tight end Billy Adams, Jr. who is an assistant under O'Leary on the Viking staff. Also coaching the Vikes is former Pioneer defensive coordinator Dave Dempsey.

As for O'Leary and young Adams, they have a solid place in Pioneer football history. Both were members of the 1991 Pioneer team which went 9-1-1 and just missed out on a league title and a trip to the Super Bowl. O'Leary's offense scored 238 points, 6th best in LHS history. Adams, a sophomore, caught four TD's and a two point conversion for 26 points on that team. He was also a monster on defense from his defensive end position.

In a bizarre end to the season, the Pioneers went into Thanksgiving Day needing a win over the Hornets and needing wins by Masco over North Andover and Hamilton Wenham over Ipswich. If all three happened, the Pioneers would then have had to win a coin flip with H-W for the CAL crown and the right to go to the playoffs. It was all rendered moot when Ipswich beat the Generals on Turkey Day to take the crown but excitement had been building for that potential dramatic coin flip.

And as a final footnote, that 91 team from almost 20 years ago was the last Pioneers squad that has come close to realistically challenging for a league title. Obviously Neal Weidman and this 2009 group hopes to join that elite team.

Check back Saturday after the game for more.

Send comments and feedback to

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Around the League: Week Five

It was another rough week for the CAL Small. There was only one league game and the rest of the teams went 1-4 with a pair of shutouts. The only non league win was again posted by the Pioneers.

First a look at the standings.

In the only CAL Small game this week, Amesbury edged Georgetown 3-0 to tie Lynnfield for second place in the league. Playing in the same rainy conditions that faced the Pioneers, the Indians moved the ball against Georgetown but could manage only a 26 yard second period field goal by Nick Croce to show for it. Croce missed a 31 yarder on Amesbury's first drive and according to Dan Gutteplan of the Newburyport News, Croce attempted a 45 yarder in the second half.

The Indians made the three points stand up but not before Georgetown threatened late in the game. However the Indian defense mounted a goal line stand to halt the Royals' Chris Esposito to preserve the win.

The tight game shows that the Indians look to be at the same level as Georgetown which bodes well for the Pioneers who handled the Royals easily in a 32-6 win.

Things will get rougher for Amesbury when they host Pentucket this Friday. It will  be no day at the beach for Georgetown either as they look for their first win and try to break a two game scoreless string against Bishop Fenwick. The Crusaders had their way with fellow CAL Small member Hamilton-Wenham 30-0 earlier this year.

Speaking of Hamilton-Wenham, the winless Generals continued to struggle as they fell hard to Wilmington 35-0 last Saturday, the third week in a row they have been shut out. Now 0-5, the Generals have reached the endzone only twice this season, and have been outscored 158-12.

H-W fell behind 14-0 at the end of one and 28-0 after two quarters. They did not make a first down in the first half.

It will be an interesting game this week when the Generals host North Reading. Based on comparative scores, the Hornets would appear to have the edge in this one. North Reading played Newburyport tough before losing 17-13 where the Clippers pretty much handled H-W 19-0. Also the Hornets hung with Triton for a bit before losing 33-14 while the Vikings routed the Generals 39-12.

North Reading played tough in the loss to the Vikes, actually scoring first before getting worn down by the the bigger Triton club. The loss was the Hornet's fourth in a row. They coughed the ball up five times which ultimately led to their demise. They did get an impressive performance from Bobby Rosano who ran for 145 yards and a score against the undefeated Vikings. (File that  tidbit away for future reference when considering the Triton/Lynnfield matchup.)

The loss was costly for Triton, who prepare to come to Lynnfield this Saturday. They lost 6'3" 283 lb tackle Andrew McManus to an elbow injury. He was taken off the field in an ambulance and Viking coach Jim O'Leary was quoted in the Newburyport News as saying "it didn't look good." They also lost starting outside linebacker Bobby Viselli but he is expected to be ready for Saturday.

CAL Small leader Newburyport ran into rough waters again this week as they lost their second in a row, this one 33-0 to Masco. Masconomet was overwhelmingly rejected in their bid to join the Northeast Conference last week and it looked like they took it out on the Clippers.

The Chieftains were up 14-0 at the half and had a pair of other scores called back on penalties. Masco scored 13 in the third period to put it away.

Newburyport has now scored only two points in the last two weeks. They could struggle again this week when they travel to Wilmington to take on the Wildcats.

Two interceptions returned for touchdowns in the first period set the tone for Ipswich, which suffered its fifth straight loss, this one to Pentucket 34-6. The good news was that the Tigers scored their first points of the year in the second period. They have now been outscored 161-6.

Check back on Thursday for more on the Pioneers' big matchup with Triton.

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

Send comments and feedback to

Monday, October 12, 2009

Danvers Leftovers

Another week of drying out after a rain soaked game and another victory for the Pioneers. Let's get on to some tidbits after Friday night's game.

Playing in the Rain
Of the five Pioneer games so far this season, three have been played in the rain. Not great for an intrepid reporter trying to take notes, snap pictures and hold an umbrella at the same time. Much better for the Pioneers who have won all three contests. You can read all about it in Wednesday's Lynnfield Villager.

Size Matters
One of the things that struck me during the game Friday night was the size of Falcon running backs Eric Burgos and Clinton Lutz. I expected them to be bigger but they looked on the smallish side when I first saw them. Doublechecking the program, Burgos is listed at 5'11 and 203 lbs while Lutz is pegged at 6'1" 186 lbs. Even accounting for "program creep" which tends to add a few pounds and inches, that is good size for running backs.

What I failed to take into account is the size of the Pioneers. Lynnfield has always had one or two players that could match up sizewise with some of the league's behemoths, but this year, we sometimes take for granted that the boys are BIG.

Try this on for size: Captains Jon Leydon 6'0', 200 and Eric Inglese 5'11 215; Evan Panzero 6'2" 224; Andrew Kibarian 6'2" 200 and Michael Pescione 6'4" 200; Freddy Shove 6'3" 200, A. J. Roberto 6'1" 190; Jonathan Roberto 6'2" 183; . That's some of the biggest players the Pioneers have been able to line up in many years.

Block That Kick!
Speaking of that size, the Pioneer used it to their advantage several times against Danvers with Leydon and Pescione knocking down  passes, A. J. Roberto blocking a punt and Pescione blocking the Falcons' point after try on Danvers' lone touchdown. That was a huge play because if the unthinkable happened (which it almost did) Danvers would have had to go for two to tie the game.

According to Weidman, that block formation was installed specifically to take advantage of the height of Pescione and Shove. "Coach (John) O'Brien put that in for the two tall kids. One's real tall (Pescione) and the other is a basketball player (Shove) so we put them both in the middle. It was nice that they executed that."

Beat The Clock
The Pioneer offense was unstoppable in the first half against Danvers, picking up 240 yards of offense, 197 on the ground. The Falcons slowed them down in the second half, holding the Pioneers to 41 yard rushing and 20 yards passing on only six pass attempts. There was a reason for the steep falloff in production from the Pioneer offense.

"They went to a five man front," Weidman replied when asked how they stopped the running game in the second half. "We don't get a lot of that because we run the spread. But we had a lead so we weren't in a big hurry to start flinging it around too much. We didn't want the clock to stop. Probably in hindsight it would have been a little better for us to open it up against that."

When asked to explain why, Weidman replied of that defensive scheme, "The passing game would be open when they run that. They have to play man to man, but we wanted to keep the clock moving."

"We practice the two and four minute offense," Weidman went on to explain about the offensive approach in the later stages of the game. "The four minute offense is staying in bounds and holding on to the football and we didn't hold on to the football. So we're obviously going to have to practice the four minute offense a little bit more.

"It was also the first time this year that we had to use it in a game situation," Weidman went on. "Some of our wins before were lopsided and the Wilmington loss was a little lopsided too so we didn't have a chance to play the four minute O."

Moving On Up
Senior Chris Grassi and Junior Gino Cohee continue to climb the Pioneer career record lists.

Grassi's TD toss to Nick Roberts Friday night was his second of the season and 15th of his career lifting him into a third place tie all time with Steve Mucica (1960-62). Steve Olson (1972-73) is the all time career leader with 23 and Jason Caggiano (1994-96) has 20.

Cohee, who has scored a rushing touchdown in 6 straight games going back to last Thanksgiving Day, has 42 points on the season. He picked up 38 last year as a sophomore so his total of 80 gets him into the Top 20 of all time leading Pioneer scorers. He is currently in 19th place tied with receiver Lindsay Ross (1972-73) who conveniently enough, caught most of his TD's from Olsen.

Fast Start
This is the first time since 1996 the Pioneers have started 4-1. It has happened four other times, and two of those teams went on to win league championships.

That 1996 team hit a wall after their fourth win, losing three straight. They ended the season with a pair of wins to finish the year with a 6-4 mark.

In 1985, the Pioneers never looked back after getting to 4-1, winning their final five games to finish 9-1 and capture the CAL Championship.

After their 4-1 start, the 1984 Pioneers lost four in a row, beat North Reading and ended with a 5-5 record.

In 1961, Lynnfield jumped out 4-1, won three of their last four to finish 7-2 and capture the Dual County League crown.

Check back Wednesday for my trip Around the League.

Send comments and feedback to

Friday, October 9, 2009

Impressive Win for the Pioneers

This one had it all.

Explosive offense led by Gino Cohee in the first half. Dominating defense throughout led by A. J. Roberto and Evan Panzero. Big defensive plays including a game saving interception by  Nick Roberts to hold off a late charging Danvers Falcons team.

But most importantly, the Pioneers held on for the 14-6 win in one of their biggest victories in years.

All the details will be in my game story in this week's Lynnfield  Villager, but for now, bask in the glow of  a huge win in a close game over a quality opponent. Needless to say it was another major step forward in the resurgence of the program.

Check back Sunday for more on the game.

Send comments and feedback to

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Danvers, Pioneers Have Much in Common

When the Pioneers look across Dr. Deering Field at Danvers High School on Friday night, they will see a team that should look familiar. No, not because they have ever faced each other - this will be the first meeting between the schools-  but because they will be staring at a Falcon team that has followed a very similar path into the 2009 season.

Danvers has struggled in recent years in the tough Divison Three Northeastern Conference Small going 1-21 the last two seasons. That mirrors the struggles of the Pioneers who have gone 6-16 the past two years in the CAL Small.

Both teams were trying to compete with young rosters and headed into this year with seasoned teams that took their lumps, grew up and are now looking for payback. The Falcons bring a 42 man rosters top heavy with 23 seniors and 10 juniors. The Pioneers have 24 juniors and seniors.

Both teams worked hard in the offseason and targeted 2009 as a "Breakout" year. Both teams have started strong and come into this matchup sporting 3-1 records.

This will be the second strongest test for the Pioneers thus far with Danvers who are probably not quite as strong as Wilmington, but will a significant step up from Matignon, Georgetown and Cathedral.

The Falcons opened the season with a 20-0 over Manchester-Essex then followed up with a big 14-7 win over Pentucket and won their third straight against Revere 25-12. They lost their first game last week to Lynn English 28-18.

"We're playing a much bigger school this week," said Pioneer coach Neal Weidman. "They're good. They run a Wing T but they break out of it a little bit. They are primarily a running team but they pass when they have to.

Senior captain Greg Ladd is the quarterback and place kicker. He has thrown for a pair of TD's and has booted a field goal this year. But Danvers does most of their damage on the ground. Senior captain Eric Burghos has five TD rushing so far and sophomore Clinton Lutz has three rushing scores.

Like Wilmington, the Falcons have some size with G/DE Ben Roy (6'2, 191), Zach Ryan TE/DE (6"4", 223), OLB Dan Skinner (6'4", 200), DT Nikolas Longo (6"0" 215), OT Shane Tobyne (6'0", 263) and DE Kell Falite (6"4", 200). 

With that kind of size, the availability of Evan Panzero would be crucial. The 6'2" 224 lineman did not play against Cathedral and it's not known if he will play against Danvers.

The Pioneers showed they can play with a bigger team for a long stretch against Wilmington, but they must come out strong and avoid a disastrous start like the one against the Wildcats.

Game time in Danvers is 7 pm. Here is a link to directions to the field.

Directions to Dr. Deering Field

Check back Saturday for some thoughts on the game.

Send comments and feedback to

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Around the League: Week Four

The CAL Small ran into some tough non-league sledding this week as the Pioneers were the only team in the league to post a win. As for the rest, the tally was pretty gruesome: three shutouts (really four) and five losses by a combined score of 145-8. And two of the eight points came on a safety. Amesbury had the best weekend of the non-Pioneer teams in the league. They enjoyed a bye.

Let's start with a look at the updated standings.

The most significant news came out of West Newbury where Pentucket handed Newburyport its first loss of the season by an odd 3-2 score. Anyone who has watched a game on that quagmire of a field up there can understand the lack of offense in the torrential rains. It had to be like watching one of those fraternity Mud Bowl games.

The contest was scoreless until late in the third period. The Sachems were knocking at the door on the Clipper one yard line, but Kyle LeBlanc sacked quarterback Mike Doud on a third and goal. Pentucket coach Steve Hayden sent out Paul Treado to attempt his first ever varsity field goal. Treado squished it through from 22 yards and according to David Willis of the Eagle Tribune, it was his first ever made field goal at any level.

The two teams squished and squashed through the rest of the game and with 15 seconds left, Pentucket was faced with a fourth down from their own nine yard line. Rather than risk a block or shanked punt, Hayden opted to take the safety giving Newburyport their two points (hence really the fourth shutout of the weekend for the CAL Small), and the Sachems a free kick from the 20. LeBlanc fielded the punt at midfield and after a series of typical final-play laterals, LeBlanc ended up with the ball and slipped into the mud ending the game.

The Clippers continue their Macho March through the CAL Large this week when they travel to Boxford to take on the 3-1 Masconomet Chieftains.

North Reading was trounced by Austin Prep 36-6 on Saturday, and to add insult to injury, most of the damage was done by North Reading residents who fled south to play for the Cougars. Quarterback Ryan Havey threw for nearly 200 yards and a pair of TD's, Ray Acciavatti tallied two TD's and JR Richard had a 40 yard interception return for a score. All three are NR townies which had to be painful for Hornet head coach Jeff Walls. It was the third straight loss for North Reading who fall to 1-3 overall.

QB John Brooks continues to throw TD passes, as he connected with Nick Rosano for the Hornet's only score.

The green and gold could be in for another tough one Friday night when they visit Red Hot Triton. The 4-0 Vikes have pummeled their victims by an aggregate 142-30 score.

It appears more and more like Georgetown is headed for a serious reversal from last year’s contending 8-2 season. The Royals were battered by Marblehead 42-0 and is now 0-3. They trailed 20-0 at the half and were never in this one after the first quarter. 

They managed just over 70 yards of offense, 50 of that from Chris Esposito on 19 carries. Crespo also had 18 tackles.He must be yearning for the days when his brother was at the controls making opposing defenses look silly.

Georgetown journeys to Landry Stadium Friday night to take on Amesbury. This week will tell us a lot more about the Indians. They have had two weeks to prepare for the struggling Royals squad so we'll see how they compare to Georgetown.

And speaking of struggling and battering, you have to feel for the Ipswich Tigers. They took another beating last week, this one a 34-0 pasting at the hands of Triton. The Vikes scored the first four times they touched the ball. 

Running back Brendan O’Neil, who the Pioneers will get a close up look at in a couple of weeks, decimated the reeling Tigers, rolling for 163 yards and four touchdowns on 12 carries. He scored on 33% of his carries in what was a monumental mismatch.

Ipswich is now 0-4 and have been outscored 127-0. Yep, not one point yet. They have now lost 25 straight games since winning the Super Bowl in 2006. Bill Simmons of talks about the five year rule where you can’t complain about your team for five years once they win a championship. Looks like Tiger fans have a couple of more years to go. They are in for more trouble this weekend when travel to West Newbury to take on Pentucket.

Hamilton-Wenham capped off the dismal weekend on Monday afternoon as they were crushed 30-0 by Bishop Fenwick.  The Generals were down only 8-0 at the half but had only run eight plays in the first two quarters. Predictably, the overtaxed defense wore down and the Crusaders scored on their first three second half possessions to pull away.

Now 0-4, the Generals host Wilmington this weekend in what could be another rough go of it.

Check back on Thursday for a preview of Friday night's Lynnfield-Danvers contest.

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

Send comments and feedback to

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Cathedral Leftovers

Random ramblings while drying out from Saturday's monsoon...

The Hurrier I Go, The Behinder I Get
In addition to their struggles on the field, Cathedral had a bit of a problem with the time/space continuum on Saturday. With game time approaching at the Middle School and the Pioneers warming up, there was only one thing opponent. Coach Pat Sheehan headed back to the High School rightly assuming that the Panthers' bus had cruised down Main Street right past the game venue. They made it back to the MS about 20 minutes before 1 pm and the game started a few minutes late so they would have a chance to warm up.

They also struggled with time management at halftime, keeping the Pioneers and the referees waiting for an extra ten minutes while they made their way back from the Middle School after the break.

Points Are Piling Up
The Pioneers are averaging 26.8 points per game. While it will be difficult to keep up that pace with the tough schedule ahead of them, it's worth pointing out that their current ppg average is third best in school history.

The amazing 1960 team averaged 45.6 points per game enroute to a perfect 9-0 season. That included wins of 60-0 over Wayland, 60-0 over Ashland and 60-6 over Lynn Trade. They also scored 50 points against Dracut, Bedford and Westford Academy. The FEWEST points they scored that year was 22 which happened twice. The next season, the 1961 team averaged 29.3 ppg in a 7-2 season.

The Defense Isn't Resting
While a lot of focus has been on the Pioneer's prolific offense, we better start paying attention to Greg Haberland's defense. Before the season, head coach Neal Weidman felt the D would be good, and it has been that and more. In four games, the Pioneers have only allowed 49 points, the fewest through four games since 2003 when they allowed 48.

But as good as those numbers are, they do not tell the whole story. Of the 49 points allowed, 7 came on an interception return in the waning minutes of a blowout (Matignon), 7 came on a kickoff return (Wilmington), 14 came against the second team defense when the game was out of reach (Georgetown, Cathedral) and 14 resulted from short field drives of 33 and 35 yards set up by fumbles (Wilmington). For those of you math-challenged, that leaves a grand total of 7 points that were scored on a "conventional" drive. That was a 60 yard march on Wilmington's final score in their 28-7 win. Very impressive indeed.

Youth is Being Served
Even though the Pioneers have over 20 upper classmen on the roster, several underclassmen are getting significant playing time and performing well. Freshman Andrew Kibarian stepped in when Evan Panzero was injured at Wilmington and has recovered two fumbles, notched a sack and made a bunch of tackles on the D-line. Sophomore Jonathan Roberto has seen a lot of reps on the offensive line and been effective. And don't forget Freddy Shove who despite being a regular since last year is still only a sophomore.

Absolutely Useless Factoids
Of the 506 games played in LHS history, Saturday's matchup with Cathedral was only the second one played against a school beginning with the letter "C." The other was a non league game against Chelsea in 1999.

Cathedral was also the fourth Catholic school the Pioneers have played in their 52 year history. The others are Matignon, St. Mary's of Lynn (1991) and St. Mary's of Brookline (1961).

That's it for now. We'll take a look around the league on Tuesday.

Send comments and feedback to

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Taking Care of Business

There certainly wasn't much drama, but that's okay. Today was a day to go out and get the job done. The Pioneers certainly did that.

Today's 34-8 pasting of Cathedral is a measure of how far the Pioneers have come. Not so much in the result as clearly the struggling Panthers were no match for the Pioneers, but in the overall way they handled the game.

They came in facing an opponent they were clearly superior to and grabbed them by the throat and never let go. No letting them hang around and start thinking upset. Knock them down quickly and keep them down. That is what good teams do and the Pioneers are continuing to look like a good team.

You can read all the details in my game story in the Villager on Wednesday, but suffice to say that this one was over quickly. No fuss, no muss. And you didn't see a lot of whoopin' and hollerin' on the sideline. The Pioneers have matured to the point that they knew that this was a team they should beat and they went out and beat them. Convincingly. No carrying on. Just doing their job.

Another positive was the fact that the younger players were able to get another couple of quarters of varsity experience. Don't underestimate how important that is to the continued growth of the program. For the third time in four weeks, the back ups were able to show the coaches, and themselves, what they could do against first teamers. That is much more important than playing the other team's second stringers. That experience will pay huge dividends later in the year should injuries strike and most importantly next year.

Kudos to the Pioneer crowd that showed up in dreadful conditions to cheer the team on. The Pioneer cheerleaders also stuck it out to offer full support despite the rain. Nice job.

Good win. Book it. Let's move on. Next week a stiffer challenge in Danvers. Check back later for more on the Cathedral game, news from around the league and a closer look at Danvers.

For any feedback, I can be reached at