Friday, December 17, 2010

Unsung Seniors

The Pioneers held their annual breakup banquet last Sunday and the Moms did a tremendous job putting together the event. The Middle School Cafeteria was festooned with plenty of Blue and Gold with beautiful centerpieces on the tables A delicious steak dinner was served and there was an array of homebaked desserts to die for. Not to mention (Shameless Plug Alert!) the outstanding photo collages of all the seniors by Sunrise Photography that were prominently displayed.

Head Coach Neal Weidman and the coaching staff presented a host of awards. You can check out my Villager article and photos in this week's edition for all the details.

"I'd like to tell the players how much respect we have as coaches for playing football, for playing a whole season," the coach said as he began his comments. "In Massachusetts, it's a long season. They show up the third week in August when it's a hundred degrees out and they play until Thanksgiving Day when it can be ten degrees out. It's a tough thing for everybody but we have a lot of respect for all these guys.Without them it doesn't matter. They're the reason we're here."

All season long, there was much talked and written about the outstanding stars of the team, and all if it was well deserved. At the banquet there was also some heartfelt comments about some of the other seniors who did not get as much recognition during the year.

I thought this would be a good time to share some of those tributes for those of you who were not able to attend the event. And for those of you who were there, I'm sure you won't mind revisiting them.

In no particular order, here are your 2010 Lynnfield Pioneer Unsung Seniors, as described by their coaches.

John Bossi
"John really grew as a player and as a person over the last four years," Weidman said. "He took advantage of his opportunity to play this year and I am extremely happy for his success this year and I'm very proud of his efforts."

In presenting Bossi with the game ball for the Chelsea win, defensive coordinator Greg Haberland said Bossi was "someone who will always hold a special place for me because of how far he came as a football player this year. He worked hard in the offseason and became a difference maker this year. I coach football to provide student-athletes with positive experiences. When you see someone like this individual change in front of your eyes and develop into a hard working football player that's what's most rewarding to see as a coach.

"This guy is why I coach football," Haberland went on. "I'm very proud of him. I'll always remember him for the effort that he put in every day in practice. It's not always about the wins. It's about helping young men to achieve success. This guy made the season for me."

Ben Kendrew
"I was very happy when Ben decided to play this year," Weidman said. "Had he played for four years I believe Ben would have been a very good high school football player. I was actually surprised at how good he actually was. Unfortunately there's a lot to learn in football. Probably any other year than last year Ben gets a lot more playing time than he did because he was that good. I have a lot of respect for him coming out as a senior and showing up every day. He worked hard and stuck it out for the entire year."

Rich Dimare
"It was nice to get Rich back this year," said Weidman. "He took some time off from football but decided to come out after the season started. He gave us some depth at the line positions. It's always nice to have a positive senior join the team."

Wes Sullivan
"Wes had a great senior year," Weidman said. "As a junior we could see him technique-wise in the defensive backfield as probably the best guy that we had. He was real close to becoming a starter. He defended against all potential big plays this year. I don't think anything got over his head. He defended a ton of passes. He tackled well in the run game. For guys that don't get beat deep it's not easy for them to get involved in the run game but he did that when he needed to. Wes was given Honorable Mention honors for All-League deservedly so.

"Going into the season we had a bit of concern about our defensive backfield only because we graduated all three starters and it ended up being a strength for us and Wes was a big reason why."

In presenting Sullivan the game ball for the Danvers win, assistant coach Chris Sakelakos said that Sullivan rose above the rest of the young defensive backs to become the vocal leader of the group and "backed it up by playing with intensity and confidence."

Tim Shannon
"Mr. Consistency," Weidman called him. "Tell Tim to do something once and you never have to tell him ever again. It's really amazing actually. During the Amesbury game they had a little bit of success on us in the beginning of the game throwing the ball. They were throwing it underneath our zone a little bit. At halftime we told everybody to guard them a little bit closer within your zone. Done. That's it. No more success for them. All we had to do was tell Tim once and that was it. He tightened up a little bit, knocked down every pass they decided to throw. Down 13-7 at the half we ended up winning 30-13. Tim was a big reason we were able to do that. Tim was also given Honorable Mention for All League."

In his presentation speech for the game ball for the Bishop Fenwick win, Sakelakos described Shannon as the kind of guy that "doesn't say much, leads by example, always know what he is doing and where he is supposed to be at all times. He knows what everyone else is supposed to be doing and can tell them if they don't know. He's dependable, consistent and steady at all times."

During the Bishop Fenwick game, Shannon was called on to cover Ryan Lipka, who would go on to catch over a hundred balls, breaking the Massachusetts high school record for receptions. The Pioneers held Fenwick to 30% pass completions (11 for 34). Shannon had two tackles and an interception in leading the Pioneer defensive backs.

In presenting the LAA Scholar Athlete of the Year  award, Weidman said of Shannon, "not only is he one of the nicest kids in the school but he had a great season as a football player his senior year. Most impressively is that he is also a phenomenal student. He brings our overall GPA up and makes us look a little better to the rest of the school. He has a GPA of 4.23."

Craig Cataldo
"Craig was a great addition to our team this year," Weidman said. "To be honest with you, going into the season  we weren't sure how the offensive line was going to shake out. Then we lost Evan (Panzero) and we didn't know Craig was going to play but when we passed out equipment he was there. To be able to start both ways after not playing a down of high school football  is really a testament to his athletic ability. He really made himself into a good offensive lineman. He was limited on technique only because he hadn't played before. Craig was given Honorable Mention for All League this year."

"I always felt like there was a ton of talent walking the halls of Lynnfield High and sometimes the most talented athletes just don't play football," Line coach Gino Fodera wrote in his presentation speech awarding Cataldo the Ipswich win game ball. "My first day of football this year coach said to me 'hey we got a kid who's a first year player who's a senior' and I said, 'good maybe he can help us.' When I walked into the team meeting and saw him I said 'ok,we have to use his size somewhere on the O-line.

"From day one his form and technique were on cue," Fodera went on. "It seemed as if he had been playing for years. He's one of the most coachable players I've ever dealt with and I wish he was coming back next year."

Fodera noted that when the Pioneers were prepping for Ipswich, they were keying on a particular Tiger lineman that was a two time All League player. According to Fodera, Cataldo dominated him throughout that game.

"I seriously wish I sent that film to the people who voted for All League because it clearly belonged to Craig Cataldo for that game," Fodera noted.

Matt Kelly
"Matt is a very good athlete who most years is a two way starter for us," said Weidman. "He had no high school playing experience until this year. His speed and quickness was a great attribute to our special teams. If we hadn't had the players that we had this year in front of him I believe that he would have had great success not only on special teams but also on offense and defense as well."

Coach John O'Brien said that Kelly played special teams all year and was the leading special teams tackler.
In presenting Kelly with the game ball for the Cathedral win, O'Brien noted that Kelly had four tackles and two interceptions. On the season, Kelly had 31 tackles, three interceptions, a blocked punt, a PAT block and forced fumble.

Nick Burtman
"Nick turned himself into a very good and consistent offensive lineman," Weidman said. "He made himself a lot stronger over the last four years and became one of the stronger guys on the team. He had some games where he really moved some people. Our offense is predicated on our running game and you have to get movement on the double team. The reason we were able to run the ball so well this year was in part because of  Nick Burtman. One of the other reasons our line was able to come together was because of his consistency."

In awarding Burtman a game ball for the Manchester Essex win, line coach Fodera noted that the Hornets had a reputation for being big and physical up front "so we made it a point to tell the guys at practice to match their physicality." According to Fodera, Burtman  "in particular really played up to the challenge. He really did his job blocking for the O-line opening up holes and pass blocking."

According to Fodera on one particular play Burtman trapped his man with "perfect form. He hit him so hard his helmet flew off his head and opened a hole that was textbook. I will show this one play to younger players for years to come. That's how you trap block."

Fodera summed up "we were lucky to have a player like Burt the hurt."

Pete Foustoukas
"Pete had a great year," Weidman said. "One of those guys that as a junior was right there on the edge of playing. He kind of got overlooked a little this year. Being in the same receiving corps with Steve (Ullian), Ricky (Berardino) and A.J. (Roberto) will do that to you. He had three of the best players in the league that he had to share the spotlight with. Pete knew that and was willing to do the other things. Block, try to motivate the team when he could, all the little things that we needed. In the Amesbury game not only did Pete motivate everybody at halftime, but also had a huge catch on the scoring drive that gave us the lead that we needed. I give him a lot of credit for that."

"Pete was a guy that got better as the year went on and worked very hard in practice," Haberland said about Foutoukas in presenting him with the Amesbury win game ball. "I really pushed him at times. I told him before the season that he's a senior now and there are no more excuses and he responded. He even said to one of the coaches 'I don't think coach Habs likes me very much.' Actually it was the opposite. I really liked him and I wanted him to succeed which he did. He cared and it meant a lot to him. Not just for him to succeed but for his teammates to succeed. I always saw him giving his teammates word of encouragement.

"As the season progressed," Haberland continued. "He made some big catches as a result of all of his hard work in practice. In the Amesbury game it all came together. He made a big catch for a first down. That drive ended up being the go-ahead TD and we never looked back after that."

Haberland noted that this year's seniors "were part of two seasons of real good football. Our society nowadays measures success by wins and losses. This group is 19-4. Pretty impressive. It really changed Lynnfield football. When I first started four years ago we could see that we had a special group here and they proved it. It was a pleasure coaching this group."

Special teams coach Fern Lavoie provided the perfect summary with his final address to the seniors.

"Everything you need to know about yourself, you've learned from playing football," Lavoie said to the seniors. "You know how you respond to adversity, you know how you respond to challenges, you know how you work in a group and you know how well you work with other people and the respect that you have for your teammates. If you like what you saw in yourself, then by all means carry that with you and make that part of your personality. Make that part of your inner core. And if you're not so happy with it, it's never too late for you to change your path. You're all great guys, and I think you all have a wonderful life ahead of you and it's been a pleasure working with you."

Offseason Posting Schedule
The season may be over, but I will be keeping the blog alive during the offseason. I'll be posting on the first Friday of every month until the 2011 season begins in August. My first post of the new year will be on January 7 when I will highlight the Top Plays of 2010. Be sure to check back for that.

I would also like to thank you all for the overwhelmingly positive response I have received in regards to the blog. Since the beginning of the season, over 1800 unique readers have visited the blog with almost 14,000 page views. I'm told there are readers from many other states and this has become a way for friends and family to follow the Pioneers during the season.

As you can imagine, it takes a good deal of time to put these together, but it is truly a labor of love. I appreciate the support and kind words, and if you continue to read, I'll continue to write.

In closing, I'd like to wish you all a Happy Holiday seaon and a healthy and prosperous New Year.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Pioneers Dominate CAL Small All Stars

In this week's Villager, you will find many photos, my game report and articles on co-captain Gino Cohee and the Pioneer's point scoring spree this year. There is also an article by Dan Tomasello listing the Pioneers who were named to the CAL Small All League Team.

The Pioneers captured six of the 24 spots on the team, most of any team in the league.

Co-Captain A. J. Roberto led the way, being named the League's Player of the Year for his strong two way play as a receiver and linebacker. This is his second year earning All League honors.

This is the second year in a row that a Pioneer was named Player of the Year. Receiver/defensive back Chris Grassi earned the honor last year.

Lynnfield nailed down four of the 11 offensive slots. Co-Captains Gino Cohee at quarterback - his second straight year as All League, Jeff  Gannon at running back and Steve Ullian at wide receiver were all named. Offensive lineman Jonathan Roberto joined his brother on the all league squad, one of only four juniors selected.

Senior Rick Berardino was selected as a defensive back, the only Pioneer named to the All League defense.

Four other Pioneers received Honorable Mention recognition: Senior defensive backs Tim Shannon and Wes Sullivan and senior lineman/linebacker Craig Cataldo. Sophomore lineman Andrew Kibarian also received Honorable Mention, one of only five sophomores named.

The group will be among those honored at the team's breakup banquet on December 12.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

North Reading Leftovers

Hard to believe another season has come and gone. They seem to go by faster as the years go by.

The Thanksgiving Day game against North Reading wasn't overly exciting as the Pioneers were clearly the superior team. However, the scrappy Hornets tried to make a game of it. Although North Reading was either in the lead or within a score of the Pioneers for almost 35 of the 40 minute contest, did you ever really feel like Lynnfield was in danger of losing this one?

Me neither.

Which is not to say that the Hornets didn't play hard and make the Pioneers fight for the victory.

"They made it tough, but they played tough all year," said Pioneer head coach Neal Weidman after the game. "They had some close games against some good teams. They barely lost to quite a few teams including the winner of our league (HW) who they lost to by a point."

Hornet head coach Jeff Wall pulled out all the stops in trying to spring the upset, going so far as to install some Wing T plays in his offense.

When asked if he put those in as a result of something he saw in the Lynnfield/Hamilton Wenham film, where the Generals had some success running the inside counters with running back Trevor Lyons, Wall replied with a smile.

"We saw a couple of counters from the Hamilton Wenham game and a couple of Ipswich counters so we said let's try that knowing they were going to key on Nick (Rosano) a lot. We thought we could get something cutting back. We tried."

"We hadn't seen any of that," Weidman said of the Wing T plays. "They hadn't done it all year. This week they obviously took the extra time to put in some new stuff."

The Hornets' game plan was to stuff the run and make the Pioneers beat them with their passing game and that's exactly what happened.

"They played man coverage the whole game," Weidman said. "It was what we thought they would do. We wanted to run it enough to stay honest and we knew we were going to have to get big plays in the passing game."

In the end, the Pioneers picked up 260 yards of offense, 99 rushing but 161 through the air including three Gino Cohee touchdown passes.

QB Ratings
Speaking of Cohee, he played an outstanding final game, completing 6 of 11 for 161 yards with three TD's and no interceptions. I got to thinking about how to measure that performance and decided to try and use the NFL's quarterback rating to see how Cohee's game measured up. I located the formula and plugged in the numbers and came up with a QB rating of 139.2 for Cohee against North Reading. A perfect rating is 158.3.

Just for context, this year's leading NFL ratings so far are Micheal Vick (108.7), Tom Brady (105.8), Philip Rivers (105.0) and Ben Roethlisberger (101.9).

People always talk about how complicated the formula is (it is trust me) but that's what Excel is for. Some of the calculations are incomprehensible but at the heart of it, the formula accounts for completion percentage, yards gained per attempt, touchdown passes per attempt and interceptions per attempt.

Now putting that kind of information into the hands of a stat geek like me is dangerous. So once I had the formula, I decided to see what Cohee's rating was for the entire year. Seeing as he threw a record setting 17 TD's with only six interceptions, I figured it had to be high and it was. He came in with a 99.1 for the season. The next step was calculating his four year career rating which came in at 87.95.

So the next step was seeing how those ratings stacked up against other Pioneer quarterbacks of the past. Now I only have yardage stats since I have been covering the Pioneers which goes back to 1989. In those 22 seasons, there have been only five in which a Lynnfield quarterback has thrown for over 1000 yards. They are Chris Grassi in 2007 (1437 yards), Cohee this year (1347 yards), Jason Caggiano in 1996 (1199 yards), Cohee last year (1087 yards) and Luke Kimball in 2001 (1060 yards).

I took those five seasons and plugged them into the formula and Cohee took the top two spots with a 99.13 rating this year and 84.5 rating last year. Caggiano was third with a 63.9 in 1996, Kimball was fourth with a 61.3 in 2001 and Grassi was fifth in 2007 with a 51.9.

Here is the final stat line for each:
  • Cohee 2010: 74/154, 1347 yards, 17 TD's, 6 Int's, QB rating 99.1
  • Cohee 2009: 79/146, 1087 yards,  9 TD's, 5 Int's, QB rating 84.5
  • Caggiano 1996: 78/159, 1199 yards, 10 TD's, 12 Int's, QB rating 63.9
  • Kimball 2001: 60/159, 1060 yards, 10 TD's, 8 Int's, QB rating 61.3
  • Grassi 2007: 117/237, 1493 yards, 10 TD's, 18 Int's, QB rating 51.9 
One Man Band
While we're on the topic of quarterbacks, this would be a good time to discuss North Reading signal caller Nick Rosano. The gutsy, elusive QB showed why the Hornets turned competitive after he was installed at quarterback following North Reading's third game of the season.

Rosano was pretty much the Hornet offense against the Pioneers. Of 55 total offensive plays, Rosano triggered 42 of them. He carried 25 times for 125 yards and completed 9 of 16 passes for 38 yards. NR's first drive of the game consisted of 16 plays. Rosano carried 13 times and threw two short completions on the drive. He plowed in for the touchdown from the one for the Hornets only score.

He took matters into his own hands to a new level in the closing minute when he actually completed a pass to himself. His throw was blocked but it was batted right back to him. It goes into the books as a completed pass and a pass reception for minus seven yards.

"Any time he has the ball in his hands, something special can happen," Wall said of his senior QB.

Late in the game Rosano was racked up and suffered an ankle injury. He went to the sideline, got taped up, with the help of Pioneer trainer Sean Roach, and insisted on going back out despite the fact that the game was out of hand.

"He told me 'I'm not coming out,'" Wall said. "so you can't argue with that."

The Pioneers did a better job of controlling Rosano after that first drive.

"The defensive ends were a little overagressive (on the first drive)," said Weidman. "We told them if they come unblocked we wanted them to read the hands of the quarterback. Guys were a little fired up so after that first drive they made the adjustments. That's what we worked on in practice during the week. Then we started to make some good plays after that."

Big Day for A.J.
It was a full plate for Pioneer co-captain A. J. Roberto on Thanksgiving Day.

He started with an appetizer by breaking through and blocking Eric Valenti's extra point try following the Hornet's opening drive touchdown.

From there he moved to the main course course with a beautiful catch and run over the middle to complete a 47 yard touchdown play for the Pioneers' first score.

He finished up with dessert by recovering a fumble early in the second half.

And he seasoned the whole thing with his usual array of hits and tackles.

All in all, a pretty impressive way to end his high school career.

High Efficiency
The Hornets' game plan clearly was to eat up clock and keep the ball away from the Pioneers' high powered offense. They accomplished that by winning the time of possession battle by a two to one margin (25:47 to 14:13). The problem for North Reading, was that the Pioneers made the most of those precious moments when they had the ball.

Breaking it down, the Pioneers averaged one point for every 41 seconds of possession. They accumulated 260 yards of offense, or one yard every three seconds of possession.

Emotionally Involved
It didn't take long for tempers to flare in the emotional battle between the rivals. The boys scuffled on the opening kick and the result was a 15 yard personal foul against North Reading  which pinned them inside the 15 to start their opening drive.

There were no more extracurricular activities after that, but the hitting within the game was certainly fierce.

Punt Returned
Senior Rick Berardino appeared to have his second punt return touchdown of the year early in the second period when he broke one for 71 yards. Unfortunately, the Pioneers were flagged for blocking below the waist nullifying the TD.

"He may have blocked below the waist," Weidman said of the unnamed Pioneer blocker. "It was close. He didn't completely cut him but when he blocked him he kind of turned and went low and was on his thighs a little bit."

Trick Kick
Co-captain Steve Ullian has obliterated all of the Lynnfield school records for placekicking finishing with 75 career PAT's more than twice the previous record. He also booted 34 extra points this year, four better than his record setting 30 last year.

However, Ullian's punting has also been a key factor in the Pioneers' success, something rival coach Wall was keenly aware of.

"Any time you can change the field position like that it's unbelievable," Wall said.

Ullian capped off his high school kicking career with a great play in the second period. The snap sailed over his head, but Ullian calmly went back, retrieved the ball and still punted it cleanly. He got a great roll and the result was a 32 yard kick with no return, pinning the Hornets at their own 14 yard line.

"That play was great," Weidman said. "It was a very athletic play. To be honest with you, if we have two guys that can punt and if one guy can punt it a little bit further but the other guy is a little more athletic, I'll go with the guy that's a little more athletic. A punt is a big play obviously for field position. You can't just put anyone back there."

Home Sweet Home
After the game, Weidman was reminded that he was still undefeated, a perfect 3-0, in Thankgiving Day games.

"Yes I am," he said with a smile. "But we also haven't lost at home and that's a big thing. We protect our field, our home turf. We'd like to keep that going."

The Pioneer win was their 12th straight home victory and completes two straight seasons without a home loss. Their last loss at Pioneer field came in November 2008 against Manchester Essex.

As a symbol of protecting their home field, following the game, the Pioneers joined hands and stretched across the entire field and proceeded to walk the length of it. They ended by diving into the endzone.

That has become a tradition for the Pioneers as they did the same thing last year following their last home game against Hamilton Wenham.

What Might Have Been
Not to reopen a sore subject, but looking at the final results from Thanksgiving Day kind of makes the Hamilton Wenham loss somewhat easier to take. As things turned out, even if the Pioneers had held on for the win, they still wouldn't be going to the postseason.

Let's say they had beaten the Generals 15-13 and then went on to beat North Reading as they did. The Pioneers would have finished the CAL Small season with a 5-1 record.

Hamilton Wenham handled Ipswich on Thanksgiving Day 20-8 so they would have finished at 5-1 as well.

But the crusher would have come in Newburyport, where the Clippers ripped Amesbury 26-0 which would have given them a 5-1 mark as well.

The first tiebreaker in that three way tie is head to head play. The Pioneers would have beaten H-W, H-W beat Newburyport and Newburyport beat the Pioneers. Still tied. On to the next tiebreaker which is points allowed in games among the three tied teams.

The Pioneers would have allowed 37 points (24 to the Clippers and 13 to H-W). The Generals allowed 22 points (7 to Newburyport and 15 to Lynnfield) and Newburyport allowed 21 points (14 to H-W and 7 to Lynnfield) so the Clippers would be going to the post season by that one point difference in points allowed.

So it wasn't the Hamilton Wenham game that ultimately ended the Pioneers' championship hope, but that 24-7 loss in Newburyport.

"I'm not going to lie to you," Weidman said after the North Reading game when asked to look back at what might have been. "The Newburyport game we didn't play well. They outplayed us. the Hamilton Wenham game is the one we'd like to have back because we played well enough to win and we just didn't. We had a chance to put them away and we didn't do that.

"But you have two choices," Weidman went on. "You either dwell on it, which we did for a few days, or you move forward and we did that. Eventually you have to get over it otherwise you keep beating yourself up forever."

That's why the win over North Reading was so important. It not only ended the season on a positive note, but sets the right tone going into next season.

On The Flip Side
Of course if Pioneer fans start to feel too depressed over the way the season played out, they only had to look across the field on Thanksgiving morning to see some real pain on the other side of the coin.

The Hornets struggled through another losing season, finishing 1-9 with five or six tough luck losses. NR's Wall and his staff should be given a lot of credit for keeping his team up and competitive for the entire season as they appeared never to quit.

"I'm frustrated for the kids," Wall said after the game. "Because when you see how hard they play and you can't get them a win it hurts to see the look in the seniors' eyes. Knowing that they've shown more heart than any other team I've coached and yet they don't have the wins to show for it. I know they'll be better off in life for how hard they worked, but it would have been nice to get them a couple of wins."

Senior Sendoff
Weidman was asked after the game to reflect on this year's senior class.

"We're going to miss them obviously," Weidman said. "That's the worst part about coaching. You have to say goodbye to the guys. We're lucky as coaches because every year you get to come back and the seniors that leave don't. I remember my last high school game and my last college game. It's a little bit of an empty feeling. It takes a little while to get used to."

Turkey Toss
Finally, for those who may have missed it, Lynnfield participated in the annual Kiss 108 Turkey Toss at the Meadow Glen Mall in Medford on the day before Thanksgiving. The event is hosted by Matt Siegel and Lynnfield's own Billy Costa. Mike Lynch of Channel 5 was also on hand.

Teams of two players each throw and catch a 20 lb  turkey as far as they can and the team that gets the longest distance wins. The turkey has to be caught for the throw to count.

The Pioneers were represented by co-captain Steve Ullian and Craig Cataldo. Cataldo was the thrower and Ullian the reciever and the pair came up with the third best throw at the time of their performance. Ullian made a nifty catch and spiked the turkey.

Unfortunately, they came up short to Arlington who won in an overtime throw battle with Everett.

For those who may have missed it, here is a link to the event.

Lynnfield comes on for their throw at the 7:30 mark and then at the 22:50 mark the turkey disappears and Lynnfield is accused of taking it! Only those in attendance knows if that accusation is true.

That's it for now. I'll be back with a post sometime after the banquet on December12th.

In the meantime, make sure to pick up a copy of this week's Villager. I will have my complete game story and photos, all the game statistics as well as an article on the record setting career of Gino Cohee.

    Thursday, November 25, 2010

    Holiday Threepeat!

    The Pioneers scored 21 unanswered points to upend a hearty band of North Reading Hornets 21-6 for their third straight Thanksgiving Day win.

    It wasn't easy, as Nick Rosano and the Hornets put up a valiant battle, but in the end the Pioneers were just too strong for the young North Reading team.

    Appropriately, Gino Cohee, the most prolific passer in Lynnfield football history, tossed three TD passes to three different receivers - A. J. Roberto, Jeff Gannon and Rick Berardino. Cohee finishes his outstanding high school career as the Pioneer leader in career TD passes and single season touchdown throws.

    The Pioneers finish another outstanding season at 9-2.

    You can read my full game story in the Villager on Wednesday and I'll have much more in my Leftover post sometime over the weekend.

    Enjoy the rest of your Thanksgiving holiday!

    Tuesday, November 23, 2010

    Young Pioneers Set The Table!

    Rivalry week got off to a roaring start last Friday as the Pioneers swatted the Hornets 28-14 in the JV game played in North Reading.

    Sophomore quarterback Mike Karavetsos tossed three touchdown passes, two to junior Dan Ashwell and one to sophomore Mike Soden while freshman Kyle McGah ran in a fourth score to pace the Pioneer attack.

    Karavetsos also ran in a two point conversion and connected with Soden for another two pointer.

    According to coach Chris Sakelakos, Karavetsos also had a solid game running while linebackers Connor Lordan, Alex Pascucci, Alex Roper and Anthony Costa all played well defensively.

    The Pioneers took a 14-0 lead and the Hornets pushed one in before the half to make it 14-6 at the break. Lynnfield put it out of reach with two more scores to up the lead to 28-6 before North Reading scored late to account for the final score.

    The JV's had an impressive season overall, going 8-2 with wins over Manchester-Essex, Georgetown, Bishop Fenwick, Cathedral, Newburyport, Hamilton Wenham, Ipswich and the Hornets. Their only losses came against Amesbury and Danvers.

    "Karavetsos played well all season," Sakelakos said. "Kyle McGah was our running back most of the time and ran really well."

    The Pioneer JV receiving corps consisted of Soden, Ashwell, Pascucci, Steve Yobaccio and Tony Mancini. The linemen were Lordan, Zack Panzini, Cameron Weeks, Mike Bonafine, Corey Ragusa, Joe Dias, Nick Bucci, Andrew Mucci, DJ DeGeorge, Terin O'Neil, Tom Arsenault, Matt Connolly, Anthony Vaccaro and Chris Brown.

    According to Sakelakos, other contributors were Alex Roper (QB/LB), Matt Kramich ((QB/DB), Tyler Shaffer (RB/DB), Anthony Costa (RB/LB), Ryan Devoe (RB/LB), David Aiken (WR/LB), Andrew Martin (WR/LB), Antonio Soares-Timas (WR/DB), Shyheim Cole (WR/DB), Kenny Grant (WR/DB), Jared Owen (WR/DB), Guilio Pellegrini (WR/LB), John Klug (WR/DB), Joe Mehr (WR/DB), Frank Kalanderi (QB/DB) and Frank Coburn (RB/DL).

    Now that the youngsters have posted a win, the varsity will be looking to keep pace with a victory on Thursday Morning.

    For my look at the big game, check out my previous post, "Thanksgiving Day: Time to Finish Strong" by clicking on the link on the left.

    Monday, November 22, 2010

    Thanksgiving Day: Time to Finish Strong

    Obviously there is considerable disappointment in the fact that the Pioneers will not be playing for a post season berth on Thanksgiving Day. That is understandable. But the key for the Pioneers is to not let that affect the way they finish the season.

    Let's be honest. Winning a league championship is difficult and not something that is going to happen every year. It happened in 2009 but it just wasn't in the cards this season.

    What you can look for every year is for the team to be competitive and go into as many games as possible with a realistic chance of winning. This year's Pioneers certainly filled that bill. So rather than dwelling on what might have been, let's be thankful (seeing as it is Thanksgiving) for what has been a terrific season. The 2010 Pioneers are an outstanding football team that has provided us with an extremely entertaining season.

    So to the issue at hand - the annual rivalry game with North Reading. The Hornets are the only team the Pioneers have played every single season since the program began in 1958. Tomorrow will be the 53rd meeting between the schools (52nd on Thanksgiving Day) and finishing the season strong at home should go a long way to healing the hurt of the past two weeks.

    The Pioneers hold a 31-21 edge on the Hornets in the series which has ebbed and flowed over the years. Lynnfield dominated the early years of the rivalry, sprinting out to a 15-4 lead from 1958-1976. North Reading began to turn around their program in the late 70's winning consecutive CAL Championships from 1978-80 and the Pioneers had a slight 9-7 edge from 1977-1992. The Hornets took control from that point winning 10 of the 15 contests from 1993-2008. The Pioneers have won the last two but with the an improving young Hornet team, there is no way to tell which way the series will go from here. Suffice to say it should continue to be competitive.

    As for this year's game, the 2010 Pioneer squad has already established itself as the second highest scoring team in Lynnfield High history (315 points going into Thursday). A win against North Reading would make them only the 6th team in school history to win 9 games and tie them for 8th place in all time winning percentage.

    And with all the focus on the prolific offense, let's not forget the outstanding play of defensive coordinator Greg Haberland's defense. The Pioneers have only given up 98 points in ten games, a 9.8 per game average. Only nine other Pioneer teams have allowed an average of less than 10 points per game. This year's team has also posted four shutouts matching the 1959, 61, 64, 83 and 2003 teams. The 1962 team had six.

    The Pioneers are going to have to play their best on both sides of the ball on Thursday morning to subdue a frisky and improving Hornet team. North Reading comes to town 1-8 but have lost a slew of close games and could easily be 5-4. You also know that head coach Jeff Wall has pumped this game up as being the Hornets' Super Bowl, so they will come in foaming at the mouth. The Pioneers will have to match their intensity.

    Pick up the Villager on Wednesday for my full preview of the game along with some other relevant stats on the two teams.

    You will also find another feature article I wrote about the incredible 1960 game in which both teams were undefeated heading in. A loyal blog reader John Festa, LHS class of 1962, former sports reporter/copyeditor for the Newburyport News and a close friend of many of the players on the '60 team, connected me with Charlie Meeker, one of the heroes of that game. I interviewed Charlie and was able to put a first person perspective on that historic game played 50 years ago Thursday. I think you'll find his story and the events surrounding that game interesting.

    Speaking of first person perspective, this will be my 35th consecutive Lynnfield/North Reading game. I covered the Hornets for the North Reading Transcript from 1976 through 1988. I moved to Lynnfield in 1989 and have covered the Pioneers for the Villager ever since.

    Thursday will be the final game for 15 Lynnfield seniors - co-captains A. J. Roberto, Steve Ullian, Gino Cohee and Jeff Gannon and Peter Foustoukas, Rick Berardino, Wes Sullivan, Tim Shannon, Matt Kelly, Ben Kendrew, Evan Panzero, Craig Cataldo, John Bossi, Nick Burtman and Rich Dimare, Jr.

    Hopefully they can end their high school careers with a pleasant memory.

    Happy Thanksgiving to all, enjoy the game and check back after the game for my next post.

    Saturday, November 20, 2010

    Twenty Years Ago: Pioneers Learn How To Win

    As we prepare for Thursday's big game, I thought it would be a good time to take a look back at another exciting contest in the 53 year series.

    Sherman, set the Wayback Machine for November 22, 1990.

    The Pioneers came into the1990 game with a modest goal. They wanted a two game winning streak.

    Lynnfield struggled through a 1-9 campaign in 1989 and then lost seven of their first eight games in 1990. The young team, with sophomore Chris Sutera at quarterback, was improving as the season went along and seemed to be on the verge of success.

    Co-captains Chris Sheehan (older brother of current Triton head coach Pat Sheehan), Tom Hurley and Tim Doyle (current School Committee member) (see photo below) led a Pioneer team that came back twice to beat Masco 16-13 in the game before Thanksgiving. They wanted to beat North Reading to end the year on an up note.

    "This would be a big step without a doubt," Pioneer head coach Bill Adams told me before the game. "We have been slowly building a winning attitude. Beating North Reading would be a great continuation of that winning attitude."

    The Hornets came into the game at Pioneer Field with a 3-6 record looking to take their second straight Thanksgiving Day win after beating the Pioneers 28-14 in 1989.

    Adams played a little bait and switch with the Hornets prior to the game telling me "We will exploit the air attack if weather permits. Our young quarterback has been getting more competitive and savvy about the passing game and we've been effective throwing the ball."

    What he didn't tell me was that he was really preparing a much different game plan.

    Thanksgiving Day was gorgeous, a perfect day for the predicted Pioneer aerial circus. It never happened.

    With the extra time between the Masco game and Thanksgiving, Adams and assistant coach Jim O'Leary, former Salem High quarterback, installed an entirely new offense. They came out in the Salem Triple Stack with Steve Migliero, Sheehan and Todd Guido all lining up in the "I" behind Sutera.

    The Pioneers struck first against a confused Hornet defense who were caught off guard by the return to grind it out Lynnfield power football. Steve Rea recovered a Hornet fumble on the opening kickoff setting up the Pioneers on the North Reading 35 yard line.

    It took nine plays, but Migliero finally smashed in from the two for the score. The extra point was blocked but the Pioneers led 6-0.

    The resilient Hornets answered quickly on their next possession driving 57 yards on 16 plays with quarterback Chris Hanson sprinting in from the four for the TD. Aldo Vittozzi kicked the PAT and the Hornets led 7-6.

    The Hornets mounted another threat late in the first half after recovering a fumble on the Pioneer 12 yard line. But the Lynnfield defense, led by freshman Harry Loomos and Doug Coonrod, playing in his first game of the season, stuffed North Reading on three plays and forced a field goal attempt. The snap was high and Hanson had to attempt a pass but a diving Guido knocked the ball down to keep the Pioneers within one.

    The two teams battled through a scoreless third period but early in the fourth, the Pioneers began a drive at the NR 43 yard line. Sheehan (see photo below) was the workhorse on the 11 play march taking it down to the four yard line with seven minutes to play in the game. Guido then plunged in for the score to give the Pioneers the lead.

    Lynnfield elected to go for the two point conversion and Sutera sprinted to the left. He then stopped, turned around and threw to Mike Accomando who was all alone in the right flat. Accomando cruised in for the two to give the Pioneers a 14-7 lead.

    But the Hornets were not done.

    The Pioneers turned it over on downs on the Hornet 36 yard line with two minutes left in the game.

    The Hornets came up with a "hook and lateral" play with Hanson hitting Bob Colby who lateralled to Guy Oteri who got it to the Lynnfield 42 yard line. On the next play, Hanson found Steve Burt out of the backfield who made several nice moves and motored 42 yards for the touchdown.

    The large Pioneer crowd sat in stunned silence.

    Trailing 14-13, the Hornets elected to go for the win.

    Hanson went back to pass but a blitzing Sheehan got to him and the Hornet QB threw up a last ditch pass which Sutera batted down to secure the win.

    "I can't say enough about the efforts of our kids," Adams said after the game. "We could have folded several times today but we didn't. We have definitely jumped a psychological hurdle."

    "We had to learn how to win," Adams summed up. "We gained, learned and grew as a team through the tough experiences of the season."

    Adams turned out to be a prophet as this big win turned out to be a springboard for the outstanding 1991 season. The Thanksgiving Day win turned out to be the second victory in what would become an eight game winning streak. The '91 team would go on to a 9-1-1 record and be in the hunt for CAL crown until Thanksgiving Day.

    That's it for now. Check back Tuesday when I'll have a look at this year's contest. My full preview will be in the Villager on Wednesday.

    Thursday, November 18, 2010

    Holiday Kickoff

    The Big Game is a week away, but you can get a head start on the Pigskin Festivities Friday afternoon.

    The Pioneer and Hornet JV's will tangle at 3 pm at North Reading on their new turf field. This is a chance to get a look at the future of the Lynnfield/North Reading rivalry and root on the youngsters at the same time.

    Meanwhile, preparations for the Thanksgiving Day game continue and I'll be keeping you up to date as we get closer. My full preview will appear in next Wednesday's Villager. I will also be looking at some Pioneer/Hornet history so get ready for another trip in the Wayback Machine.

    Check back this weekend.

    Monday, November 15, 2010

    Around the CAL Small: Week 10

    Well the race is over thanks to the Generals' win Saturday, but just to be thorough, let's take a look at the other two league games this past weekend. First a look at the updated standings.

    With the big Thanksgiving Day game coming up, the game of most interest to Pioneer fans occurred in North Reading where the pesky Hornets battled Amesbury tough before falling in double overtime 15-12.

    Coming off their only win, the Hornets were trying to take advantage of a wounded Indian team missing quarterback Tyler Lay and running back Delante Castle.  North Reading dominated the first half but kept hurting themselves with penalties and turnovers (they had three in the game) so only led 6-0 at the break.

    Amesbury could manage only 94 yards against a fired up Hornet defense, but 56 of those came in the third period on a TD march that tied the score at 6-6.  That is the way regulation ended.

    In the first overtime, Ian McLaughlin bulled in from the five to give Amesbury a 12-6 lead. The Indians failed on the mandatory 2 point conversion try. NR Quarterback Nick Rosano hit Carl Lipani with a 10 yard TD pass to tie it at 12-12. The Hornets also failed to convert the two pointer.

    North Reading couldn't score on four tries in the second overtime and that played into the hands of Amesbury who had reliable kicker Nick Croce teed up. The Indians ran three safe plays to set up Croce who booted the 22 yard field goal for the win.

    Rosano was outstanding for the Hornets, picking up 165 of NR's 173 rushing yards and throwing for 63 more. He will be a handful on the holiday morning.

    NR falls to 1-8 with the loss, but it is their fourth defeat by 6 points or less.

    Amesbury moves to 4-6 with the win.

    Meanwhile in a game that looked big on Friday night but not so important after the General's win on Saturday, Newburyport routed Georgetown 32-14.

    The Clippers smelled blood early and were not about to be upset in this one. They scored 20 points in the first quarter and 26 total in the half and cruised to the victory. They move to 6-4 heading into their holiday tilt with Amesbury.

    Georgetown completes a disappointing CAL Small season at 0-6 and are 1-8 overall going into a non league Thanksgiving Day game against Manchester Essex. This will be the final year that this game is not a league game as M/E will join the Royals, Hornets, Pioneers, Generals and Tigers in the CAL/NEC 4 next season.

    That's it for now. Check out my H-W game story on Wednesday and some preThanksgiving Day posts before the big game.

    Sunday, November 14, 2010

    Hamilton-Wenham Leftovers

    The numbness is just starting to wear off from yesterday's stunning ending. Obviously Pioneer fans were hoping for a different result, but it is hard not to congratulate the Generals for a great comeback win and a truly championship season. Sure there was a lot of trash talk before, during and after the game, but that's high school football and that goes on all the time.

    But give the Generals their due. They beat all comers, including their closest challengers Lynnfield and Newburyport. They did it on the field, without resorting to tiebreakers and I'm sure they will represent the CAL Small well in the playoffs.

    "They're having a great year," Pioneer head coach Neal Weidman said after the game. "They beat some good teams and they played well today. They're a good team."

    It's also good to see a team that has been down get a chance to win a championship. The Generals suffered through a 2-8 campaign last year and were 5-5 when the current senior class were sophomores. This will be their first trip to the postseason.

    "I'm so proud of these kids," H-W head coach Andrew Morency said after the game. "You're talking about a veteran bunch of senior leading group that was on the field. Kids that went through their lumps for a little bit the last couple of years and being able to finish strong this way took a whole team effort."

    Morency was gracious in victory in his remarks regarding the Pioneers.

    "It was a slugfest. I give coach Weidman and that team all the credit in the world," Morency said. "They're a helluva group of athletes. They've set records this year. Coming into this we knew we had our hands full. We really did. We did everything we could to kind of contain what they do on offense and hopefully we thought maybe we'd have a shot on our offensive side of the ball. And that's kind of what happened."

    "Lynnfield is a powerhouse," Morency went on. "We knew it would take a team effort and we knew it would be a nailbiter. For us (Lynnfield) has been the standard. We've measured outselves against them. Coming into the game watching them on film you can't help but feel a little intimidated but for us we knew we had a bunch of guys who wanted it. This is something we're not completely surpirised by but we're certainly grateful we're on top in the end."

    As for Weidman, the coach was pretty much inconsolable after the game. When a reporter (okay me) remarked that it was still a great season for Lynnfield despite the loss, he wasn't really having any of it.

    "We're disappointed right now," he said. "It's going to be that way. You can reflect back on having a good year after the season is over."

    It was the appropriate response considering the immediacy of the situation and the coach's overall competitiveness. But when he does have a chance to reflect, he will realize that this team will end up ranking somewhere near the top of best Pioneer teams in history.

    The Drive
    Not to reopen the wound that hasn't even had a chance to heal yet, but it's worth taking a look at the final game winning drive by the Generals.

    They took over on their own 19 with 3:13 left in the game and marched 74 yards to the Lynnfield seven to set up the winning field goal.

    In analyzing the drive, it's obvious that the key General was quarterback Dylan Keith. The Pioneers had done a pretty good job on Keith up to that last drive. He was 3 for 12 for 42 yards including a TD. But on the drive, he was 5 for 7 for 36 yards. He also ran twice for 12 yards.

    The other General who came alive on the drive was power back Elliot Burr. The Pioneers had held Burr to only 15 yards on 8 carries (1.9 yd average) up to that point. But in the drive, he carried three times for 14 yards (4.8 yd average) including the last two to get the ball from the 16 to the seven.

    The biggest play of the drive came with under two minutes remaining when the Generals faced a fourth and one at the Lynnfield 42. A stop there and the game would have been pretty much over. But Trevor Lyons, who burned the Pioneers all day with 84 yards on nine carries and a score, took another counter handoff and picked up five yards and a first down to keep the chains moving.

    "We feel good about that two minute drill," Morency said. "After practicing it all year for moments like this and finally being able to use it in a game at the right moment and we kind of had it in our hip pocket. It worked out."

    I'll say.

    The "What If" Game
    Reviewing a one point loss, it is always tempting to look back on one or two plays that if they had turned out differently, might have changed the outcome.

    For example, I'm sure the everyone is focusing on the holding call on the point after try after the Pioneers' first touchdown. That moved the ball back to the 13 yard line and forced co-captain Steve Ullian to try a 30 yard PAT attempt that ultimately went just wide left.

    There is no question it was a bizarre call.

    "I've never seen one," Weidman responded when asked when was the last time he saw a holding call on a point after try. "We don't even tell them to use their hands. We tell them to get big and get in the way. But what are you going to do?"

    So some would make the argument that if the penalty had not been called, Ullian would have booted it through and the Pioneers would have had one more point. The progression from there is that the final field goal would have made it 16-16 and the Pioneers would have at least had another chance in overtime.

    But here is why such extrapolations don't really work.

    Let's say the penalty wasn't called, Ullian nailed it and the Pioneers went up 10-7 instead of 9-7. Then when the Pioneers scored again, even with the missed PAT, they would have been up 16-7 not 15-7.

    Well when the Generals scored early in the fourth period, trailing by two points, they opted for the two point try and the pass was incomplete leaving the Pioneers with a 15-13 lead.

    But if they had trailed 16-7 at that point, they would have been trailing 16-13, and instead of going for the two, they would have probably just kicked the extra point making it 16-14.

    So in essence, when the Generals took over on the final drive, it would have been the exact same situation except rather than trailing 15-13 needing a field goal to win, they would have been down 16-14 needing a three pointer for the victory.

    The only thing that would have changed is the final score from 16-15 to 17-16.

    But the point is really this. You can't just cherry pick a particular play and assume everything that followed after that in the game would remain the same. It doesn't work that way. Each play is linked to the one before it. Change one and the game likely goes in a totally different direction.

    Unfortunately, that's just the way it is.

    Amateur Hour
    Regular readers of the blog will note that I really try to focus on the positive. This is high school football after all so there is no need to dwell on the negative. That is why I debated long and hard before including this entry, but I feel it really needs to be noted.

    The game announcing from the press box during the contest was really too much.

    Look, I understand it is high school football and I'm all for enthusiasm when the home team does well. That's normal, to be expected and perfectly okay. But the basic job of the game announcer is to give you down and distance, who carried the ball or caught the pass and who made the tackle.

    I knew we were in for a long afternoon during the introduction of the General's starting lineup when the announcer attached lame nicknames to each player. Lameness in and of itself is not the worst thing in the world and can be amusing, and having raised two high school boys, my guess is that the players were rolling their eyes during that performance more than anyone in the stands.

    Once the game started it got worse when the announcer started exhorting the crowd to support the defense or "make some noise" or some other such thing. Again, annoying, but basically harmless.

    But then he stepped over the line. First he urged the band to start making noise while the Pioneers were on offense, clearly unaware that this is not permitted. Fortunately whoever was in charge of the H-W band knew the protocol and ignored his request.

    Then he really went way over the line late in the game when he was actually calling out the Pioneer plays as they unfolded. "Sweeeep" he called out during one of Lynnfield's plays. Now we're talking about actually affecting the play on the field. Totally not okay.

    Again, I understand that he is a volunteer, probably a parent of one of the players or former players and I'm sure a pillar in the community. But if he wanted to root, root, root for the home team, he should have taken his pom poms and gone into the stands with the other General fans and screamed to his heart's delight.

    Cheerleaders belong in the stands, not in the press box.

    However, what it did do was make us appreciate the professionalism of our very own Voice of the Pioneers TomWaisnor. I'm looking forward to hearing a pro do a game on Thanksgiving Day.

    Karmic Coincidence?
    In my preview post last Thursday, I recounted the story of the exciting 13-13 tie between the Pioneers and Generals in 1991. Little did I know that Saturday's contest would come down to a General kick much like the game 19 years ago.

    But unfortunately for Pioneer fans, where Mike McGowan's kick for H-W went wide in 1991 allowing Lynnfield to avoid the loss, on Saturday, James Brao split the uprights on the field goal to win the game.

    Could it have been some kind Karma payback for the game nearly two decades ago?

    The high school football gods work in mysterious ways.

    Return of the Captain
    It was good to see co-captain Jeff Gannon back on the field Saturday  Gannon returned after missing two games after suffering a knee injury against Amesbury. He carried 11 times for 46 yards and was in the middle of the action on defense from his familiar linebacking spot.

    - After Saturday's contest, the Pioneers now have scored 315 points, solidly in second place all time both in total and in average points per game. They will have a chance to add to that total on Thanksgiving Day.

    -With his two touchdowns Saturday, Rick Berardino increased his lead in team scoring. He now has 72 points. Gannon has 56 and Ullian has 52.

    - Berardino's 6th TD reception also moves him into a second place tie for single season touchdown receptions. Justin Haskell also had six in 1996. Lindsey Ross leads with nine in 1973.

    - This was the 38th game between H-W and Lynnfield with the Generals now holding an 19-18-1 edge. They have outscored the Pioneers 635-566.

    - The CAL Small championship the last two years has come down to the H-W Lynnfield game. Last season the Pioneers clinched with a 20-3 win and the Generals won it this year with their 16-15 victory.

    That's it for now. Check back Tuesday when I'll take a look around the CAL Small.

    Saturday, November 13, 2010


    That about sums up this afternoon's tough 16-15 loss to Hamilton Wenham that ends the Pioneers title and post season chase and gives the CAL Small Title to the Generals.

    The Pioneers played hard, coming back to take the lead and appeared about to throw the title race into the maelstrom of tiebreakers. But it wasn't to be.

    Sometimes, however, you just have to credit the other team. As tough as that may be, I think that is the case here.

    The Generals needed to march the length of the field with just over three minutes to play trailing 15-13.It would have been easy for them to pack it in.

    They certainly didn't.

    They moved to the Lynnfield seven and co-captain James Brao drilled a 25 yard field goal with 18 clicks left on the clock to send the home team fans into delirium by earning their first football post season berth ever.

    It was bitter pill for the Pioneers to swallow. But they played hard against a quality opponent and at the very end, that opponent proved to be one point better. Sometimes that's the way it works out.

    We've been treated to two exciting CAL Small title races in a row. Last year, the Pioneers came out on top. This year, they just fell short. No crime in that. We were fortunate to have them in the hunt for the second season in a row.

    It is disappointing right now, but with the passage of time, the 2010 Pioneers will still be remembered as one of the most exciting and successful teams in Lynnfield football history.

    However, the season is not over yet. A big game with North Reading remains on Thanksgiving Day. There won't be any title or postseason plans on the line. It'll just be for the pride of trying to beat a long time traditional rival and the excitement that this will bring to Pioneer Field on the holiday morning.

    For this season, that will have to be enough and I'm sure the Pioneers and their fans will make the most of it.

    For my complete H-W game story and photos, pick up the Villager on Wednesday. Check back Sunday night for my Leftovers post for more on the Hamilton Wenham game.

    Wednesday, November 10, 2010

    It's Now or Never

    "Nobody ever defended anything successfully.  There is only attack and attack and attack some more." - General George Patton.

    Wise words from the Hamilton resident for whom the Generals' sports teams are nicknamed. And it might well be a description of  the Pioneers' game plan when they face the Generals in a must win game in Hamilton on Saturday.

    The stakes are simple. If Hamilton Wenham wins, they clinch the CAL title and start making plans for the post season. A Pioneer victory lets Lynnfield survive to fight another day, try and beat North Reading on Thanksgiving and root for Amesbury to beat Newburyport.

    But accomplishing step one - beating the Generals - won't be easy.

    In compiling a 4-0 CAL Small record (6-2 overall) Hamilton Wenham has proven to be tough on both sides of the ball, but their defense, in particular, has stood out. In their six wins, the Generals have allowed 14 points or less. In their two losses, they have allowed 34 and 25 points. They have allowed a total of 116 points or 14.7 per game.

    “Our defense has been the back bone of our team in essence all year," General head coach Andrew Morency told me after their 20-6 win over Amesbury last Friday night.

    So the plan should be clear: Unleash the cannons and fire at will. The Pioneer defense has put up better numbers, allowing only 82 points total (9.1 per game), but it would appear that the best way to beat H-W is to pressure them like they haven’t been pressed all season.

    You can come to several conclusions in analyzing their schedule. In their five games against teams with losing records (5-29 combined), the Generals are 4-1, but their average margin of victory is less than six points. In their three games against teams with winning records (19-8 combined), H-W is 2-1 with an average winning margin of 10 points in the two victories.

    “We kind of played to our competition a little bit,” Morency said to John Shimer of the Newburyport News after the Amesbury game. “I don’t know what that means, but when you play big teams, you’ve got to rise up.”

    That has certainly been the case with the Generals. They beat Pentucket 27-14, Newburyport 14-7 and Amesbury 20-6 in “big” games. They lost to Wilmington 34-6, but that final score is deceptive. They were down only 7-0 at halftime before succumbing to the CAL Large Wildcats.

    But when they have played struggling teams, H-W has also struggled.

    They were stunned 25-7 by 3-6 Bishop Fenwick, a team the Pioneers handled easily. They were fortunate to escape with wins against 0-9 Triton (14-8),  1-7 North Reading (13-12) and 1-7 Georgetown 12-10.

    I was at the Georgetown game and will back up Pioneer dad Fred Roberto in saying that the Generals did not look good. Although to be fair, the Generals were experimenting with sophomore running back Trevor Lyons at quarterback instead of regular starter Dylan Keith.  I also saw them against Amesbury and they looked like world beaters. So perhaps that illustrates Morency’s comment about his Generals playing to the level of the competition.

    Well that will be of little solace to the Pioneers, since this is the biggest game of the year for both teams and you would expect the Generals to be sky high. This will also be their first home game since September 25 as they have played five straight road games which also adds to the emotional mix.

    However, there is another way to break down the Generals’ results.

    Their two most dominating wins have come against Pentucket and Amesbury, two teams that run the wing T offense. The Indians could do very little with the General defense which was disciplined, stayed at home and didn’t allow Amesbury any operating room.

    That appeared to be the same situation with Pentucket.

    Wilmington is an old fashioned power I team, and the Generals hung with them for a half.

    H-W beat Newburyport, which runs a hybrid offense with some power and some spread.

    So they have done very well in games against either conventional or Wing T offenses, both primarily run oriented attacks.

    But in games against the full spread, the Generals have not fared as well. They defeated Pat Sheehan’s Triton squad 14-8. They were blown out by Bishop Fenwick 25-7. They needed to survive a two point try to escape from North Reading with a 13-12 win. They had to come from behind to get past Georgetown 12-10.

    Could it be they played “down” to the competition or did they simply have trouble handling the spread? That is the big question coming into the game.

    If it was a question of simply stopping the spread, H-W has a serious problem on their hands. The Pioneers have a more explosive offense than any of the previous spread team the Generals have faced.

    Georgetown had a good deal of success by sprinting out junior quarterback Tyler Wade and giving him the option to run or pass. Wade threw for 127 yards and ran for 12. Look for the Pioneers to try to exploit that with quarterback Gino Cohee and receivers A. J. Roberto, Rick Berardino, Steve Ullian and Pete Foustoukas.

    The Pioneers will also get a boost by the return of co-captain of Jeff Gannon. The running back/linebacker has missed the last two games but according to Pioneer head coach Neal Weidman, Gannon will be available for some action on Saturday. His return is huge both for his on field contribution and leadership.

    Offensively, the Generals have solid weapons in power back Elliot Burr and speedback Trevor Lyons. Quarterback Dylan Keith can run and throw and he has two outstanding targets in Jake Prince and James Love. They look like they should be able to score more, but they have not instead relying on solid defense and time consuming drives. But don't let that fool you into thinking they are not dangerous on offense. They can move the ball.

    "I'm looking for them to do exactly what they do," said Weidman. "They play tough. They run the ball hard. They have a very capable quarterback who throws well and they have several receivers who can make plays."

    Morency, too, knows he is in for a battle.

    "This week will be special," the coach said. "We've been on a five game road trip. The kids are dying to get home. We can't wait. We know Lynnfield is tough. They're a great program and we're going to have our hands full but we'll be ready."

    Last year, the Generals came to Lynnfield and the Pioneers beat them 21-3 to clinch the title. The Generals will be looking to return the favor on Saturday. That irony was not lost on Morency.

    "It's funny how things work out in football," he said. "Lynnfield poses special challenges and matchup problems. We'll be ready but we have a lot of work to do this week."

    1991 Showdown
    In view of the upcoming battle on Saturday, I decided to dig through the archives to find the last truly big game between the Pioneers and Generals.

    Sherman, set the Wayback Machine for October 19, 1991.

    In the fall of 1991, the Pioneers and Generals both came into this matchup at Pioneer Field undefeated. Lynnfield was 5-0 while Hamilton Wenham was 4-0. Both were 3-0 in CAL so this was a battle for first place. There was only one division in those days, so it was a ten team battle royale, so one loss usually knocked you out of contention.

    The Generals were led by bruising running back Mike McGowan the CAL’s leading scorer. He was also the General’s placekicker and came into the contest averaging 17.5 points per game. The Pioneers countered with an attack led by quarterback Chris Sutera, running back Steve Migliero (fourth in the league in scoring) and receivers David Picard, Greg Fellows and tight end Billy Adams, son of head coach Bill Adams. (See my Villager photo below)

    But the story of both of these teams was not on the offensive side of the ball. It was their tenacious defenses that keyed their success, and this game illustrated that perfectly.

    It was hand to hand combat as both teams hammered each other yielding ground grudgingly. The two teams combined for only 305 yards of offense. The hard hitting resulted in nine turnovers between the teams, three interceptions and two fumble recoveries by the Pioneers and two interceptions and two fumble recoveries for the Generals.

    The Pioneers “Mad Dog” defense led by Adams, Dan Tamarro, who was hurt early but returned in the second half, Harry Loomos, Greg Fellows, Carmine Nappa, Jay Nugent, Dogan Tuncel, Picard and Sutera was at its snarling best.

    “It was just a slugfest out there,” Adams told me after the game. “Two excellent teams brawling it out. It was a battle of the unbeaten and it couldn’t get much better.”

    The Generals drew first blood on their second possession of the game when McGowan broke free and rumbled 38 yards for the score. He added the PAT and H-W led 7-0.

    After that score, the Pioneers held the Generals to only one first down until midway in the fourth period. In their final 11 possessions of the game, H-W managed to get into Lynnfield territory only three times, once on an interception and twice only to the Pioneer 48 yard line.

    In such a defensive battle, it was appropriate that the Pioneer defense would tie the game which they did midway in the second period. Fellows picked off a Dave Craigen pass at the 38 and sprinted to the corner of the endzone. Picard booted the PAT to knot the score at 7-7.

    The score would remain that way until the end of regulation, and appropriately, it would take an overtime period to settle this one.

    The Pioneers had the first possession from the ten yard line and scored on their first play when Sutera ran a naked reverse to cruise into the endzone. Ominously, Picard’s PAT try clanged off the upright and the Pioneers led 13-7 and had to face the league’s best runner on four downs from the ten.

    Things got worse in a hurry.

    On the General’s first play, McGowan fumbled, but when the pile was untangled, H-W’s Steve Lombara was left holding the ball - at the Lynnfield one foot line.

    The Pioneers stopped McGowan on second down, but on third down he plowed into the endzone, tying the score at 13-13. He dusted himself off and prepared to kick the extra point that would give the Generals a dramatic one point victory.

    Adams then called a time out to ice McGowan. Most of the large crowd had already resigned itself to a well played loss that would drop the Pioneers into second place.

    Play resumed. McGowan took his stance, moved into the ball and drilled it. But incredibly for the Pioneers, the kick sailed just above but outside the right upright. The Pioneers had “won” 13-13.

    It’s not a win, but it’s not a loss either,” Adams told me after the game. “It would have been a tragedy if we had lost that game. Neither team deserved to lose. That was one of the best high school games you’re ever going to see.”

    And he was right.

    As testimony to how hard the game was played, both the Pioneers and Generals suffered their first losses of the season the following week. Lynnfield was hammered by Ipswich 35-14 and H-W lost a tough 7-0 battle with Masco.

    It would be the only loss for the Pioneers in 1991 as they then reeled off four straight wins to finish the year at 9-1-1. They remained in the hunt until Thanksgiving Day and depending on how things broke, determining the CAL champion could have come down to a coin flip. But Ipswich beat H-W that day to earn the league title and the Pioneers settled for second place.

    That Pioneer squad was the most successful Lynnfield team for the next 17 years until last year's team posted a 10-1 regular season mark, captured the title and went on to the post season.

    With just as much on the line as in 1991, something tells me we may be in for another exciting tussle with the Generals on Saturday.

    Game time in Hamilton is 1 pm.

    Veterans Day
    Finally, I know there are many former Pioneers who have served or are serving in our Armed Forces so I want to wish them a Happy Veterans Day. Thanks to them and all the brave men and women in our military who put their lives on the line so we can obsess about football games.

    We owe them all a great debt of gratitude.

    That’s it for now. Check back for my post after the game.

    Monday, November 8, 2010

    Around the CAL Small: Week Nine

    With only two league games left, things are starting to come into focus. Another team falls by the wayside and the big showdown in Hamilton between the Pioneers and Generals looms large.

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

    Hamilton-Wenham took another step toward the title, kept their fate in their own hands and effectively knocked Amesbury out of the title chase with a dominating 20-6 win over the Indians in Landry Stadium last Friday.

    I was at the game to see the Generals up close for the second time and it was a completely different team than the one that struggled to outlast Georgetown 12-10.

    The Generals were able to move the ball at will and the disciplined Generals completely diffused the Indian wing T offense. Amesbury never got into H-W territory in the first half.

    Despite their dominance, H-W could manage only a second quarter score, putting together a patented grind it out General drive of 10 plays in 94 yards eating up 4:31 minutes of clock. Quarterback Dylan Keith completed four passes on the drive and running back Elliot Burr was the workhorse on the ground and lugged it the final six for the score.

    The Indians had a golden opportunity to even the score early in the third period. After a few misdirections and a double handoff, Indian speedster Stephon Deas found himself with the ball and nothing but open field in front of him. Indian fans were already mentally changing the scoreboard as Deas raced down the sideline. Shockingly, General sophomore Trevor Lyons rocketed on an angle and ran Deas down at the 17 preventing the TD.

    It was a huge stop as the Indians could not punch it in and turned the ball over on downs.

    "Here is a kid who all year long as a sophomore has made plays that go way beyond his years," General head coach Andrew Morency said of Lyons. "We talk about those special plays.Running a guy down, backside pursuit. He was able to do that. It saved us in a tough situation."

    The Generals took over and marched the 83 yards on 12 plays with Keith prancing in from the three for the score to make it 14-0. The way the H-W defense was playing, it might as well have been 140-0.

    On the Indians’ next possession Burr picked off a Tyler Lay pass at the Amesbury 30 and returned it for the score to make it 20-0.

    The Indians scored in the fourth when Lay hit Nick Croce with a 34 yard TD pass, but H-W was never in danger in this one winning a lot easier than the 20-6 final score would indicate.

    "Our defense really stood tough and we really fought hard," Morency told me. "They came through for us again today and I'm very thankful."

    "This is great for us beating Amesbury," Morency summed up. "I have all the respect in the world for this program and Coach (Thom) Connors and beating a team like that is special and big for us.

    The Indians will tune up for their big Thanksgiving Day game against Newburyport when they travel to North Reading this Friday.

    In a game between two future contenders, North Reading picked up their first victory with a 14-7 comeback win at Georgetown.

    The field was a quagmire making the going rough for both teams. The Royals struck first early in the second period when QB Tyler Wade hooked up with Derek Depasquale for a 70 yard touchdown pass.

    The Royals attempted to build on the lead but a Wade field goal attempt failed early in the fourth quarter. Then the Hornets started buzzing.

    Quarterback Nick Rosano (175 yards rushing, 68 yards passing) got NR on the board with an 80 yard run. The try for two failed but the Hornets were within one at 7-6.

    With time running out, the Hornets mounted the game winning drive. They got to the Royal 10 on a 50 yard pass from Rosano to Eric Popp. Rosano swept in for the score. He then hit Carl Lipani for the two point conversion to nail down the win.

    The Hornets will try to stretch their winning streak to two on Friday when they host Amesbury in their final game before the Thanksgiving rivalry game with the Pioneers.

    Georgetown, meanwhile, will be carrying the hopes of Pioneer Nation when they travel to World War Memorial Stadium to take on Newburyport. A Royal upset, coupled with Lynnfield wins over H-W and North Reading would put the Pioneers back into the postseason.

    Meanwhile, former Pioneer assistant coach Pat Sheehan must have broken several hundred mirrors this summer or perhaps he had a herd of black cats roaming his practice field in Byfield.

    How else to explain the run of incredibly bad luck that has keep his team in every game but unfortunately out of the win column? The Vikings fell to 0-9 on the season with another  heartbreaking loss, this one to the Clippers in Newburyport last Friday.

    The Vikes led 7-0 at half time but the  Clippers pulled to within one at 7-6 on a 65 yard run by Brett Fontaine on the opening drive of the second half.

    Triton came roaring back driving to the Newburyport 20  yard line. On fourth and ten, quarterback Blaise Whitman found Caleb Hovey for the score. The two point conversion failed but the Vikings still let 13-6.

    Clipper fullback Dean Cataldo (remember him) broke loose for a 61 yard gain deep into Triton territory then Tyler Martin ran it in from the four to make it 13-12.  The Vikings blocked the kick to preserve their slim lead.

    After forcing a three and out,  the Clippers went to work marching 70 yards in 16 plays eating up almost nine minutes of clock. They stalled at the 15, but Jon Wright drilled one from 22 yards out to win the game for the Clippers.

    Triton had two more possessions but both ended in interceptions.

    The Clippers host Georgetown this Friday and are unlikely to take the young Royals for granted.

    Meanwhile things don’t get any easier for Sheehan and his Vikings. Triton travels to Wilmington to face a Wildcat team still smarting froma 17-7  loss to North Andover that knocked them out of the title chase.

    Postseason Puzzle
    With the season down to the final two games, the postseason permutations have been simplified a bit. However, there is still a lot to be decided.

    For this analysis, I will be assuming that the eventual champion will have only one league loss. Believe it or not there is another scenario, not entirely out of the realm of possibility considering the competitiveness of Ipswich, Amesbury and North Reading, where Lynnfield, Newburyport, Hamilton-Wenham and Amesbury could all finish with two losses. I won’t go into that one at this point however.

    For now, let’s consider the likelier “one loss” possibilities.

    Perhaps the simplest way to do this is to look at the three main contenders and outline the ways in which they could capture the title and go on to the post season. At this point, the Generals are the only team that controls their own fate. Everyone else needs help. However, depending on this weekend’s game, that could change.

    1)      Beat Lynnfield and they are in.
    At 5-0 they would be a game ahead of Lynnfield and Newburyport and would own the tiebreaker against each. Game. Set. Match.
    2)      Lose to Lynnfield (while allowing less than 14 points); Beat Ipswich; Newburyport beats Georgetown and Amesbury; Lynnfield beats North Reading
    This would set up a three way tie with the Pioneers, Clippers and Generals and would fall to the “points allowed” tiebreaker. By allowing less than 14 points to Lynnfield, H-W would have allowed 20 points or less to Newburyport and Lynnfield. Newburyport has allowed 21 to H-W and Lynnfield thus giving the title to the Generals.
    3)      Lose to Lynnfield; Beat Ipswich; Lynnfield loses to North Reading
    Worst case this would result in a tie with Newburyport with one loss each and the Generals own the head to head tiebreaker.

    1)      Beat Hamilton-Wenham; Beat North Reading; Newburyport loses to Georgetown
    2)      Beat Hamilton-Wenham; Beat North Reading; Newburyport loses to Amesbury
    In either one of these scenarios, the worst that would result for the Pioneers is a tie with H-W with one loss each and they would own the head to head tiebreaker

    1)      Beat Georgetown; Beat Amesbury; Hamilton-Wenham loses to Lynnfield (and allows more than 14 points), Lynnfield beats North Reading
    This would set up a three way tie with Newburyport, H-W and Lynnfield. Newburyport would need the Pioneers to beat NR because their loss to H-W on opening day puts the Clippers on the wrong end of any head to head tiebreaker with the Generals. This scenario would go to the “points allowed” level and if Lynnfield scored more than 14 points against H-W, it would give the Generals more than the 21 points that the Clippers allowed to H-W and Lynnfield.
    2)       Beat Georgetown; Beat Amesbury; Lynnfield beats H-W; Ipswich beats H-W.
    Worst case, this would put the Clippers in a tie with Lynnfield with one loss each and they own the head to head tiebreaker by virtue of their 24-7 win over the Pioneers.

    So whether or not the race continues hinges on the Pioneers beating Hamilton-Wenham on Saturday. If they don't, everyone is playing for pride and bragging rights on Thanksgiving Day.

    That's it for now. Check back on Thursday for my preview of the Big Showdown.

    Sunday, November 7, 2010

    Ipswich Leftovers

    In my game preview post last Thursday, I called on some Pioneer alumni to help outline the best way to stop the tricky Delaware Wing T offense run by Ipswich. It was all great advice and as a companion piece for future reference, we can simply include the video of Saturday's stonewalling of the Tigers by the Pioneers.

    You can read all the details in my Villager game story on Wednesday, but suffice to say, that was a big time performance in a crucial game.

    I've been watching teams trying to defend that defense for over 30 years and I've never seen it done better than Lynnfield yesterday. There have been years when the Tigers were struggling and didn't have the personnel when the Pioneers have had success, but the result yesterday was not about the Tigers' talent.

    Quarterback Brendan Gallagher, running backs Peter Moutevelis, Jake LeBlanc, Kenny Wing and receiver John Eldredge are good. They were just shut down by a superior defensive performance by the Pioneers.

    "Ipswich does what they do well," said Pioneer head coach Neal Weidman after the game. "They have some very good players. They have a bunch of guys that can play but we wanted it today. Our players wanted it and that's why we had success."

    Although the Pioneers came up huge in a game they had to have, this was a far from obvious outcome coming in. The Pioneer coaching staff (and a good number of the fanbase as well) was definitely apprehensive coming into this game. They were not sure what affect the brutal defeat in Newburyport would have on this team against Ipswich.

    "I've been quite nervous all week," Weidman admitted. "They were workmanlike at practice is the best way to put it. There wasn't a lot of rah, rah stuff going on. I wasn't exactly sure how to take it. At the beginning of the week I thought they were a little somber, but by the end of the week, I realized that they were just serious."

    The Pioneers had to play without co-captain Jeff Gannon for the second week in a row, forcing them to start a freshman, Kyle McGah along with sophomore Tyler Palumbo at linebacker. That is dangerous when you are trying to stop an intricate defense like the Wing T.

    "Guys stepped up," Weidman said. "Last week was the first week with the adjustment (of not having Gannon) and we had another whole week to adjust to not having him which is helpful."

    Gannon's availability for the big showdown with Hamilton Wenham this Saturday is still up in the air according to Weidman. "We're not sure yet. I'd love to have him back"

    Turning Point
    It may sound odd to talk about a turning point in a 41-0 blowout, but I think there clearly was one and it happened on the Pioneers' second series.

    Leading 7-0, Lynnfield faced a second and nine from their own 34 yard line. They ran the option to the right side and co-captain Gino Cohee pitched to junior Mike Thomas. The pitch was a little high and not handled cleanly and the ball fell to the ground with Thomas in hot pursuit. For a moment it looked like the Ipswich defender was about to recover it but Thomas quickly snatched it back, covered it up and the Pioneers kept possession.

    It went into the game chart as a four yard loss, but it could have been a huge momentum swing if the Tigers recovered at the Lynnfield 30 yard line with a short field and a chance to go in for the tying score.

    Instead, on third and 13, Cohee faded back and drilled co-captain A. J. Roberto over the middle who reached up, bobbled it for a second, gathered it in and then motored away for a 70 yard TD reception. So instead of facing a potentioal 7-7 tie, the Pioneers led 14-0, a huge 14 point swing.

    I'd call that a pretty big turning point.

    Third Down Bingo
    Part of the reason for the Pioneers early offensive barrage was their efficiency on third down in the first half. They were faced with third down six times and converted on five of them, two for touchdowns. Here is a rundown:

    Third and 17 from their own 27. Result: Cohee 73 yard TD run.

    Third and 13 from their own 30. Result: Cohee to Roberto 70 yard TD pass.

    Third and 10 from their own 35. Result: Cohee to Roberto pass for nine yards. Punt.

    Third and 7 from the 50. Result: Cohee 10 yard run for first down.

    Third and 3 from the Ipswich 33. Result: Cohee four yard run for first down

    Third and 7 from Ipswich 26. Result: Thomas 10 yard run for first down.

    Those last three kept the Pioneers' third scoring drive alive and allowed them to go up 21-0.

    "On the first two series especially we had more of a chance to see what they were doing against us defensively," Weidman explained. "Once we figured out what they were doing against us, we were able to figure out what we wanted to do on third down."

    Making Their Points
    Cohee notched two more touchdowns Saturday, increasing his career point total to 182. That moves him past Eric Hansen (1976-78) who has 180 into third place on the all time scoring list.

    Meanwhile, Rick Berardino tallied twice more on long TD runs, lifting his point total for the year to 60, tops on the team. There is a real dogfight going on for the team scoring lead. Gannon is in second place with 56 points with co-captain Steve Ullian (49) and Cohee (48) lurking right behind. Roberto with 38 is still within striking distance as well.

    As a team, the Pioneers now have an even 300 points, only the second team in school history to reach that mark. They are now second all time to the 1960 team which scored 410 points in nine games.

    Saturday's game marked the fourth time this year the Pioneers have scored more than 40 points. The only other time that has happened was in 1960 when Lynnfield exceeded the 40 mark six times.

    In addition to leading the team in scoring, Berardino is also tops in interceptions. He picked off his fifth against Ipswich, which is the most in a single season since 1996 when Tony Reed snared six. That is the most since I've been keeping that particular stat which goes back to 1989. Dan Venoit and Matt Stanton each had four in 2000.

    Passing Fancy
    In the early going, the Pioneers looked like they really wanted to throw the ball, which once again was a function of reacting to what the defense was giving them. Eight of the first sixteen plays were pass plays.

    "They were definitely bouncing around trying to make us guess what they were doing," Weidman said of the Tiger defense. "We are good when we run the ball well and when we make teams pay throwing the ball. If they don't let us run then we have to make them pay with the pass. It we don't make them pay then we don't have success."

    Tiger Tales
    This was the 42nd meeting between the Pioneers and the Tigers. That is more than any other Lynnfield opponent other than Masco who the Pioneers also faced 42 times and North Reading. The Hornets are the only team the Pioneers have played every year since the program started in 1958. This Thanksgiving will mark the 53rd meeting between the two rivals.

    Lynnfield has a 16-26 record against Ipswich although the Pioneers have now won four in a row against them. The 41 points is the most Lynnfield has ever scored against the Tigers. Prior to last Saturday, the most points the Pioneers have scored against Ipswich was 28 which happened in 1980 and 1987. Overall the Tigers hold a 724-553 edge in scoring.

    That's it for now. Check back on Tuesday when I'll take a look at this week's results around the CAL Small and update the playoff permutations.