Tuesday, March 9, 2010

2010 Schedule Is Set!

Before we get started with this month's post, I want to make you aware of the new Twitter link I've added to the site. By following the Gridblog on Twitter you can get updates on the blog right from your phone. I will be tweeting alerts as to when I will be posting as well as other interesting tidbits as they come up. Just click on the link to join in!

Now to the business at hand.

Although the snow has barely melted and spring is still struggling to arrive, it's time to mark your calendars: The 2010 Lynnfield Pioneer football season starts six months from tomorrow night!

The 11 game season has some interesting highlights. Three opponents from 2009 are gone replaced with a first time Pioneer foe and the return of two others. As was the case last season, the first half of the year is loaded with non-league contests setting the stage for what promises to be an even tighter CAL Small race in the final five games of the season.

The Pioneers will play almost half their games under "Friday Night Lights" and will have only four games on Saturday. They have one Friday afternoon contest and will wrap up the regular season with the traditional Thanksgiving morning game. 

Perhaps most notably Lynnfield will not be facing any CAL Large teams this year, the first time since the Cape Ann League was formed in 1973 that the Pioneers will not play at least one of the larger schools in the league.

Last season, Lynnfield split their two games with the CAL Large teams, handing Triton their first loss in a last minute 21-19 win and suffering their only regular season loss to Wilmington 28-7. Neither is back on this year's slate.

Playing the larger schools "hasn't been a requirement for a few years," explained Lynnfield head coach Neal Weidman. "But we had two year committments to those teams and they ended last year so we were free to add other teams."

The other school not booked for a return engagement with the Pioneers is Matignon.

Filling those holes this season will be Manchester-Essex, Chelsea and Bishop Fenwick.

The Pioneers kick off the season under the lights against M/E on September 10 marking the return of the Hornets to the schedule after a one year absence. The Pioneers lost a 21-14 heartbreaker to M/E in 2007 after taking a 14-0 lead into the fourth quarter. In 2008, Lynnfield battled what would eventually be an undefeated Division 4 Super Bowl Champion Hornet team in a 35-21 loss.

"We had a couple of good games with them so we wanted to get them back on the schedule," Weidman explained. "We lost the tough one in overtime in 2007 and their coach told us we were the toughest team they played in 2008."

The Hornets returned much of that Super Bowl team in 2009 and finished 9-2, one of those losses to Whittier who went on to capture the Division 4 Super Bowl. M/E graduates a boatload of seniors but will return starting quarterback Alex Carr.

This will be a non-league game, but that could change in 2011. If the proposed massive restructuring of Massachusetts football does not come to pass in 2011, M/E will be joining the CAL Small as a league member.

Speaking of the reorganization proposal, Weidman said he wasn't certain how Lynnfield would be voting on the plan but he did say that he and co-Athletic Director and former Pioneer head coach Bill Adams have been discussing it and are "leaning toward what is 100% best for Lynnfield."

When told that according to preliminary breakdowns, the Pioneers would be the smallest school in their division, Weidman replied "You never want to be the smallest school in a division."

Asked to predict the outcome of the vote later this month, Weidman said he felt it "is going to be very close."

Back to the schedule.

The Pioneers will open defense of their CAL Small title on Friday afternoon September 17 against Georgetown in what will also be their home opener. The start time is in deference to Yom Kippur which is observed that weekend.

Lynnfield's title march last year catapulted from a stunning 32-6 win over the Royals who would go on to finish the season 1-9. They graduate 10 seniors including key two way captain Chris Esposito.

Following the CAL Small opener, the Pioneers will play four non league games before getting back into league play.

The first will be on Friday, September 24 for a first ever meeting with Bishop Fenwick under the lights on artificial turf in Peabody.

"We let it be known that we were looking for a week three opponent," said Weidman. "Fenwick had an agreement lined up but the team is struggling and told them they might not even have a team this year so they asked to be excused and they called us."

The Crusaders have a strong football history winning seven out of nine Catholic Central Large titles from 1995 to 2003 including back to back Super Bowl Championships in 1999 and 2000. They have struggled recently and are coming off a 4-7 season last year and a 5-6 mark in 2008.

The CCL is a Division 3A league, the same as the CAL Small.

The Pioneers return home to host Cathedral on Saturday, October 2. The Panthers came to Lynnfield last season as well, losing 34-8 and the normal protocol would be for the Pioneers to travel to Boston for this year's game, but that will not be the case.

"They're a city school," Weidman explained. "They share fields with a lot of other schools and have to get permits. Sometimes it's helpful to them to play an away game. We are going to play the varsity and JV games that day."

On Saturday, October 9, the Pioneers will host Danvers in a rematch of last year's thrilling 14-6 Pioneer win in the rain at Danvers. The game against the Falcons will be the only one in which the Pioneers will be stepping up in division, as Danvers plays in the Division 3 Northeast Small conference.

The Falcons bolted out of the gate last season with a 3-0 mark, but finished 6-5. They graduate 23 seniors but Weidman is quick to caution. "They are a little different from us. They had 35 kids on their freshman team."

Danvers will also be playing under a new head coach as Sean Rogers, the offensive coordinator for the Falcons for the past three years, succeeds John Sullivan who is stepping down.

On Friday, October 15, the Pioneers will travel down Route 1 to take on Chelsea under the lights on artificial turf. Chelsea head coach Mike Stellato resides in Lynnfield.

"He and I talked about how good it would be if we could play," Weidman said. "They have a nice complex down there. I also wanted to schedule the night games to get the team used to the Friday night schedule which we will be following the next two weeks against Amesbury and Newburyport."

This will be Lynnfield's second meeting with the Red Devils. In 1999, the Pioneers won 12-6 in Chelsea. Current Pioneer assistants Pat Sheehan and Mike Geary played in that game.Sheehan captained that Pioneer club and Geary was a standout two way junior lineman.

The rest of the season figures to be Big Boy Football, as the Pioneers drive straight into the teeth of their CAL Small schedule. They start off with back to back Friday night away games with Amesbury (October 22) and Newburyport (October 29) and both teams figure to be gunning for the Pioneers.

Lynnfield returns home on November 6 to host Ipswich. The Tigers finally broke their 31 game losing streak by beating Hamilton Wenham on Thanksgiving Day.

On November 13, the Pioneers will travel to Hamilton Wenham to face the Generals in their final road game of the year.

They will conclude the regular season as always with the traditional Thanksgiving Day game against North Reading in their final home game of the year.

"Amesbury and Newburyport are the two teams to beat," said Weidman. "Both are returning a lot of players. Hamilton Wenham and Ipswich will also both be improved and North Reading is always a tough rivalry game. It's a tough schedule."

Check back on April 9th for my next post. I'll be discussing the outcome of the realignment proposal and other offseason items of note.