Saturday, January 9, 2010

Top Ten Plays of 2009

Happy New Year All!

As promised, its the 9th of the month and time for the January edition of the Pioneer football blog. As I said earlier, in honor of the the 09 Championship team, I will be posting on the 9th of every month until the season gears back up in August. (Hard to imagine those hot summer days with the cold and snow all around us but it will indeed eventually come.)

Since this is the season for Top Ten lists of various events and happenings of the past year, I thought I would do a Top Ten list of my own regarding the Pioneers successful season. I will be listing the Top Ten Plays of 2009.

But before we get to that, there is some unfinished business I want to share. Anyone who was at the breakup banquet in December listened as Head Coach Neal Weidman announced the amazing list of 10 Pioneers who were named All CAL Small. That list bears repeating so here goes. League Player of the Year, Chris Grassi, League Lineman of the Year, captain Jon Leydon, All League players WR Tyler Surette, DB Nick Roberts, DB Tim Lamusta, DL Evan Panzero, QB Gino Cohee, OL Doug Ullian, LB A. J. Roberto and LB capatin George Hennessey.

Coach Weidman left one important person out of his announcement at the banquet, and that was the fact that he was named CAL Small Coach of the Year. He was nominated by Newburyport head coach Ed Gaudiano and the other coaches unanimously agreed. Weidman was also named  the Daily Item Coach of the Year. Both honors are well deserved.

And speaking of the coach, he wanted to pass on that the 2010 season has officially kicked off with the start of the offseason lifting program this week. The varsity players go on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and the incoming freshmen attend on Tuesday and Thursday.

It's never too early to start since as noted PR man Will Shakespeare once noted, "Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown." The Pioneers will clearly be targeted this season, so they better be ready.

Now on to the Top Ten Plays of 2009..

There were over 1100 offensive, defensive and special teams plays during the exciting 2009 Pioneer season, so coming up with a Top Ten was no easy task. My list is purely subjective and I tried to take into account the significance of the game and the play within that game. Most of the plays were positive but some were not so positive but definitely significant in the grand scheme of the season. I did get some feedback from the coaches and more than half of the plays I selected were on their list as well.

Feel free to comment about my selections or add any you deem more appropriate for this list.

Here goes.

1. The Strip and TD Fumble Return vs Amesbury
In my mind this play by Evan Panzero and Tim Lamusta against Amesbury was the biggest of the year. The Pioneers were sleepwalking their way to a 10-7 loss to the Indians. Coach Weidman relayed how during a time out in that game he blew his cork and screamed that the way the Pioneers were playing that day "was going to ruin the plan." Indeed, everything that followed - the win over Newburyport, the CAL crown and playoff appearance - would probably not have happened if not for this play.

To review, there were six minutes left in the game with Lynnfield trailing 10-7. The Indians had just stopped the Pioneers on fourth down at the Amesbury 24 yard line and got the ball back on downs. But on Amesbury's first play, Panzero wrapped up Indian runner Jesse Burrell and ripped the ball out of his hands. The ball bounced into the waiting arms of Lamusta at the 29 and he never broke stride cruising into the endzone for the winning TD the 14-10 victory.

I couldn't come up with a bigger play in 2009. The coaches placed this one at the top of the list as well.

2. The (Phantom?) Touchdown by Austin Prep
Call it sour grapes, but I am still waiting for Cougar quarterback J. R. Richard to cross the goal line at Reading High School field. In the first possession of overtime in the exciting playoff game, AP faced a fourth down at the half yard line. Richard fumbled the snap but it miraculously bounced right back up into his arms and he dived into the left side of the pile.

I was standing on the three yard line watching through the lens of my camera and the next thing I saw was Richard running out of the pile with the ball, but he was on the FIELD SIDE OF THE GOAL LINE! I never saw him cross the plane, but apparently someone did as the official on the OPPOSITE side of the play quickly raised his hands signaling touchdown. The Pioneers came within a yard and a half of tying it up on their possession, but it just wasn't to be. I know I need to let it go but watching AP beat up Holliston at Gillette just made it all the more galling. However, we must move on.

3. The "Switch" Touchdown vs Newburyport
Gino Cohee ran for 15 touchdowns and threw for nine others during the season, but I think a case could be made that the most important score he was involved in during the 2009 season was his lone TD reception against Newburyport.

In what was the "de-facto" CAL Small Championship game, the Pioneers cruised to a 27-13 win after jumping out to a 27-0 lead. But the Pioneers led only 14-0 at the half and no one felt comfortable with the explosive Clippers able to score in any number of ways. Still nursing that lead with 3:41 left in the third period, the Pioneers faced a fourth and 13 from the Clipper 29 yard line.

Weidman had Chris Grassi go in at quarterback and split Cohee wide. The play worked to perfection as Grassi hit Cohee in stride allowing the junior to cruise into the endzone to make the score 20-0. Weidman said after that game that he went for the fourth down play because he wanted to let his good athletes go out and make a play. They certainly did that as the air went out of the Clippers after that play.

4. The One-Handed Interception vs Newburyport
This was a companion play to the one above and ironically came on the very next play from scrimmage. There was serious concern whether junior linebacker A..J. Roberto was even going to play in this game. He had broken his hand against Amesbury but had the hand in a cast and went out and played a phenomenal game against the Clippers again leading the team in tackles.

But his biggest play followed the Grassi-Cohee touchdown. Following that Pioneer score, the Clippers returned the kickoff to their own 31. On their first play from scrimmage, Roberto used his one good hand to pick off a Ryan O'Connor pass at the 39 and returned it to the Newburyport 19. Four plays later on another fourth down play, Grassi hit Mike Pescione with a TD pass to give Lynnfield a 27-0 lead and end any dwindling hopes the Clippers had of winning the game.

5. The Strip and TD Fumble Return vs Georgetown
Georgetown ended up with a dismal 1-9 season, but no one knew that would be the case in the week two CAL Opener. The Pioneers traveled to Georgetown ready to take on a Royal team that was being touted as one of the league's title contenders. Lynnfield trounced Georgetown 32-6 in a preview of what would be the fortunes of the two teams, but Top Play #5 was a turning point in this contest.

The Pioneers led 6-0 early in the second period and Georgetown faced a second and 10 from their own 30 yard line. Royal quarterback Tyran Harrigan went back to pass and was assaulted by Pioneer captain Joe Hennessey who sacked him and knocked the ball loose at the same time. A hustling captain Eric Inglese chased down the loose ball, picked it up at the 13 and rumbled into the endzone for the score to make it  12-0. The Royals never recovered and the rout was on as the Pioneers opened their CAL Small season with an impressive road win.

6. The Game Winning Kick vs Triton
Steve Ullian's 22 yard game winning field goal with nine seconds left gave the Pioneers a huge 21-19 victory over Triton. It was a non-league game but was a huge confidence booster for Lynnfield. The Vikings came into the game undefeated at 5-0 after steamrolling over their first five opponents, four of them CAL Small squads. The Pioneers came back three times in this game that featured six lead changes.

Cohee carried seven out of nine times on the game winning drive that got the ball to the ten yard line and left the game in the hands (foot?) of Ullian, the Pioneers' record setting kicker. The snap from captain Jon Leydon was perfect as was the hold by captain George Hennessey and Ullian drilled it straight through for a huge home victory.

7. The Win-Clinching Interception vs Danvers
In a steady rainstorm in Danvers, Cohee sloshed his way for 192 yards and a touchdown and Nick Roberts caught a TD pass to give the Pioneers a 14-0 lead. But with time running out, the game almost unraveled for the Pioneers.

The Falcons staged a furious rally and with just over a minute to play to cut the lead to 14-6. The Pioneers fumbled on the first play following Danvers' score and the horrified Pioneer fans had visions of this one literally slipping away. The Falcons had four shots from the Lynnfield 45 yard line, but on fourth down after three passes went incomplete, Roberts made the key pick to preserve the victory.

8. The "Pick" in the Clincher vs HW
The Pioneers needed a win against a struggling Hamilton Wenham team to wrap up the CAL Small title in Week 10, a task that was made even easier when the Generals were forced to play without injured senior quarterback Andy Duval. But the Pioneers, ravaged physically by injury and the flu and emotionally by the tragic passing of Freddy Shove's sister Natalie, were sputtering.

The Pioneers were leading 7-0 early in the second period but the undermanned and inspired Generals were making it a fight. They got great field position at the Lynnfield 40 after a poor punt and then moved the ball inside the Pioneer 30. The Generals had a second and 14 from the Lynnfield 29 but Chris Grassi ended the threat with a timely interception of a Dylan Keith pass at the Pioneer 16.

The momentum turned at that point as Lynnfield went on an 8 play drive capped by Cohee's 4 yard run that made it 14-0 and effectively out of reach for the offensively challenged Generals. The Pioneers would score another TD and HW could muster only a field goal in the 21-3 title clinching win.

9. The Early "Bomb" vs North Reading
With the league title and a playoff berth already secured, the Pioneers played this one for the pride of beating up on their arch rival. And a beating was what the Pioneers delivered to the beleaguered Hornets who were playing without three starters.

Lynnfield set the tone on this second play of the game. The Hornets had given the Pioneers great field position thanks to a failed on side kick and on second and 1 from the NR 42, Cohee flipped to Grassi who found Pescione behind the Hornet defense for a quick strike touchdown. Pescione would score again later as the Pioneers opened up a 35-0 lead before they emptied the bench allowing the Hornets a couple of late meaningless TD's in the 35-14 rout.

10. Slippery Butters Opening Kick TD for Wilmington
Again not a pleasant play but clearly a significant one which set the tone for the Pioneers' lone loss of the regular season. Wilmington's outstanding running back Evan Butters took Ullian's opening kick at his 11 yard line and rocketed down the sideline for an 89 yard TD return giving the Wildcats a 7-0 lead. Things got worse for the Pioneers when they fumbled on their first play from scrimmage and Wilmington turned that into another score.

The Pioneers settled down but could never overcome the 14-0 hole they dug themselves as they suffered a 28-7 loss in what would be the only spot on their 10-1 regular season record.

So that's one person's opinion of the Ten Biggest Plays of the historic season. Feel free to chime in.

Check back on February 9th for my next post and in the meantime, stay warm.