Thursday, September 30, 2010

Pioneers Crack 100

Well apparently is going to continue the unenviable task of rating the Emass High School football teams and the latest Top 100 List is out.

The Pioneers have vaulted from somewhere off the grid to #28 on the list, which is pretty impressive for a Division 3A school.

Cathedral, Lynnfield's opponent this week, comes in at #50.

Other schools of note on the list include Hamilton Wenham (#40), Northeast Regional (#51) and Newburyport (#82).

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Pioneers Will Be In Fast Company With Cathedral

There are many reasons for the Pioneers' impressive start this season. One of the more prominent ones is their overall team speed. The Pioneers were simply too quick for M/E, Georgetown and Bishop Fenwick on both sides of the ball.

Crusader head coach Dave Woods in particular noted how fast the Pioneers were and cited that as a key factor in his team's 42-21 loss to Lynnfield last Friday.

This week could be a little different. Cathedral comes to town Saturday, and they might be the first team the Pioneers face in this young season that has enough speed to match up with them.

"They are fast and athletic," said Pioneer head coach Neal Weidman. "They have some good speed."

The Pioneer coaching staff scouted the Panthers last Saturday and that is pretty much all they have to go on in preparing for the game.

"We know very little about Cathedral," said Weidman. "They don't exchange tapes."

Of course that means they won't have much to prepare for the Pioneers either, so that is certainly an advantage for the home team.

This will be the second year in a row that Cathedral will come to town. Normally teams sign up for home and home series, so you would expect that the Pioneers would be travelling to Boston for the game. But Weidman explained that getting fields for the Boston teams is difficult so many times they would just as soon play on the road.

The Pioneers were not very good hosts last year, scoring on their first four possessions to open a 28-0 lead and adding another to go in at the half up 34-6. So considering how well the Pioneers have been playing, and the fact that the Panthers play two divisions down in the 4A Catholic Central Small, one might be quick to chalk this one up as an easy victory.

But one would be wise not to jump to that conclusion.

First of all, Cathedral comes into the game 3-0 after convincing wins over O'Bryant (32-6), Hyde Park (26-0) and Burke 16-0). That may not seem impressive, considering all three opponents hail from the Division 4A Boston South League. But consider that last year, the Panthers came to town 0-3 after playing the same three teams and losing to O'Bryant 28-8, Hyde Park 12-6 and Burke 34-26.

Clearly this is an improved team this season.

Twelve seniors return from that team that eventually finished the season with a 3-8 mark. Two of the returnees are running backs David Cinelli Jr and Geeavontie Griffith. Last year as a junior, Cinelli was the Panthers leading ball carrier, rushing for 47 yards on 9 carries. Griffith was a sophmore and carried only once for two yards.

This year, Griffith has come into his own scoring six touchdowns and vaulting into third place in Divisoin 4A scoring with 36 points. Spinelli has used his 4.4 speed to notch three TD's and three 2 pt conversions and is currently ranked seventh in 4A scoring. The Pioneers are going to have to contain these two speedy threats.

They will also have to contain quarterback Antonio Thomas who will be looking for receiver Carlos Lopez. who had four TD's and over 500 yards receiving last year.

Griffith leads the defense from his linebacker spot and the Panthers have been solid, allowing only one touchdown so far this year.

Game time at the Middle School Field is 1 pm.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Around the CAL Small: Week Three

It's still early and while things are still a bit murky, some things are starting to clear up regarding the pecking order in the CAL Small.

But first, let's get to the revised standings.

Before the season began, Pioneer head coach Neal Weidman said that there were five teams that could win the CAL Small. Most people could name Lynnfield, Newburyport and Amesbury. The other two: Ipswich and Hamilton Wenham.

Based on last year, that seemed to be a stretch since H-W won only two games and Ipswich won only one, snapping their 31 game losing streak on Thanksgiving Day by guessed it...Hamiliton Wenham.

Weidman also said that every team in the league had depth problems and the one that stayed the healthiest would probably win it.

Well the coach was obviously on to something. Amesbury has not lived up to expectations largely because they lost their best defensive player in Ian McLaughlin to a knee injury early in their opening win over Triton. They have since allowed 84 points in the two games he has missed and 105 points overall.

Newburyport has looked pedestrian in losses to H-W and a win over North Reading but they could be in trouble with the potential loss of their best player Andrew Sokol, who injured the same knee that kept him out of most of last season's games.

So the CAL Small could come down to a war of attrition, with the team still standing at the end taking the crown. It certainly looks like it all will be decided at the Thanksgiving Day games of Lynnfield/North Reading, Newburyport/Amesbury and Ipswich/Hamilton Wenham. Fasten your seat belts.

There was only one league game this week, so let's get right to that.

Newburyport traveled to Ipswich last Friday in a game that gave the Tigers a chance to show if they could be a part of the title chase this year after struggling for a number of seasons. Meanwhile, the Clippers were facing an almost "must win" situation seeing as this was their third straight league game and a loss to Ipswich, coupled with the H-W loss would have given them two league losses.

The Clippers prevailed, 17-12 but not without a fight from the Tigers. Quarterback Ryan O'Connor recovered from a subpar game in the rain at North Reading to lead Newburyport. O'Connor finished 10 for 18 for 178 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

The Clippers led 17-6 at the half. The Tigers scored in the third period to cut the lead to 5 points but failed to convert the two point try and could never mount another score.

Ipswich hosts winless Triton this Friday as the Vikings try to get Pat Sheehan his first head coaching win.

The Clippers begin their unusual CAL Large schedule Friday when they host Pentucket. Because there are only five teams in the CAL Large, it was decided that the Newburyport games would count for those teams in the Large standings. Thus after facing the Sachems, the Clippers face a brutal stretch against Masco, Wilmington and North Andover before returning to the CAL Small against the Pioneers on October 15.

If their win over Newburyport wasn't enough, Hamilton Wenham established their credentials as a true CAL Small contender on Saturday by handing CAL Large Pentucket their first loss of the season 27-10. The Generals are for real as they won the battle of the trenches in beating the Sachems.

Elliot Burr (79 yards) and Trevor Lyons (60 yards) led a bruising rushing game and quarterback Dylan Keith was 11 for 14 passing for 155 yards and 2 TDs, both to standout receiver James Love who had seven catches for 100 yards.

The Generals led 14-7 at the half and stretched it to 20-6 in the third before the teams traded fourth quarter touchdowns to account for the final score.

We'll get a good gauge of just how good the Generals are since they travel to Peabody to take on Bishop Fenwick this Friday. We know what the Pioneers did to the Crusaders and based on the undefeated Generals' play so far, Bishop Fenwick could be in for another long evening.

As for the other contender, Amesbury took a trip to the stadium by the airport and was ripped by East Boston 42-26.  Indian head coach Thom Connors was clearly not happy and told the Newburyport News that "we played as poorly as I can ever remember us playing."

The Jets scored on seven of nine possessions and never punted. Three East Boston running backs ran for over 100 yards as Amesbury was simply unable to stop the Jet running game. Amesbury trailed 22-11 at the half and 30-11 in the third quarter before putting a couple of late scores on the board.

Matt Enaire scored all three Amesbury touchdowns while Indian quarterback Tyler Lay was 7 for 12 for 110 yards.

The Indians have a tough job ahead if they hope to stop their two game slide as they host St. Mary's on Friday. The Spartans have shown an explosive running game and come in averaging 42 points per game.

The two youngest teams in the league suffered their lumps again this weekend and remained winless as North Reading was thumped by St. Mary's 36-0 while Georgetown was beaten by Shawsheen 35-7.  The Hornets travel to Austin Prep this Saturday while the Royals get a much needed bye.

That's it for now. Check back Thursday for a preview of the Pioneers' game against Cathedral.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Bishop Fenwick Leftovers

I'm running out of reasons to play down the Pioneer's early season domination.

Let's review and compare to the latest rout:

Manchester-Essex and Georgetown were both young. Well Bishop Fenwick featured 15 seniors and 9 juniors so they are hardly young so we can't use that one this week.

M-E and Georgetown both played without their starting quarterbacks so that is why they couldn't generate any offense. Well the Crusaders certainly had their starting QB in Brett Kidik. Here is a quote from head coach Dave Woods about the BF signal caller taken from the preseason preview in The Daily Item.

"Brett has been throwing the ball as well as anybody we've ever had here." Reminder: The Crusaders won five league championships and two Super Bowls in the last 13 years under Woods.

The Pioneer starters smothered the Crusader attack, limiting Kidik to 10 for 15 passing for 27 yards, an interception and two sacks.

Nope can't use that one.

Pioneer head coach Neal Weidman expected a closer contest.

"There are some good looking kids on that team," he said. "They have some pretty big and athletic players. I think they are trying to do some new things offensively. Sometimes it takes a little time to get used to that. I thought it would be a little different from the first two games but the kids came out ready to play."

Although the Crusaders will not be the toughest opponent the Pioneers will face this year, they were a significant step up from the first two games and the result was the same: big victory.

We may just have to acknowledge that the 2010 Pioneers have the chance to be something special. We'll know better as we move into the tougher part of the schedule.

You can check out the full details and some interesting stats the Pioneers are putting together in my game story in the Villager on Wednesday, but in the meantime, here are some other extra points from the game and Lynnfield's season so far.

Speed Kills
One of the emerging stories surrounding the Pioneers this season is their team speed. Woods' was clearly impressed as he said in the Daily Item following the game. "They have an incredible amount of team speed. They do a good job with it, and that's been one of our weaknesses (stopping other teams' speed)"

It will be interesting to see how the Pioneers fare against Cathedral this Saturday. One of the key reasons for the Panthers 3-0 start is supposedly their team speed. I'll have a full look at Cathedral on Thursday.

Moving On Up
Weidman celebrated his 16th career victory (in 26 games) against the Crusaders Friday night. That moves him ahead of Scott Brennan into fourth place all time for wins by Pioneer head coaches. Brennan posted 15 wins from 1995 to 1999. Weidman was on Brennan's staff on the 1999 team.

Lynnfield's first head football coach, Steve Sobiek is next on the list with 49 wins from 1958 to 1966. Bill Adams (1985-1994, 2000-2007) is in second with 69. Bill Rodan (1969-1984) leads the pack with 101 wins.

Happy Returns
Rick Berardino's 93 yard opening kick off TD was the first kickoff return for a TD for Lynnfield since 2002 when Jamie Solomon ripped off a 75 yarder against Newburyport. There have only been 21 kickoffs returned for touchdowns in the history of the school.

Balancing Act
I got a hint of the Pioneers' game plan in chatting with coach Weidman before Friday night's game. Noting what a perfect night it was, we discussed how it was actually a bit windy. I noted that this was probably not good news for a game that might feature 30 passes from each team. His comment: "I hope we don't have to throw it that much."

True to his word, the Pioneers featured a run heavy attack, rushing the ball 26 times and passing 13. The yardage was a little more even as Cohee was 6 for 10 for 130 yards (three to Roberto for 67 yards) and Gannon's 73 yards led a rushing attack that finished with 149 yards on the ground.

The Crusaders, however, went all in on the passing game, with Kidik throwing 34 times and only 12 runs for the Crusaders. Kidik didn't have much luck against the starters but finished 21 for 34 for 168 yards, two TD's and two picks. He fattened up that line mostly against the junior varsity. He had only 27 yards against the Pioneer first team.

Go Fourth?
A couple of head scratching decisions from the Crusader coaching staff came in the first half when they elected to go for it on two fourth down plays at midfield. The first was a fourth and one from the Pioneer 49 on their first possession. Lynnfield stopped Kidik for a one yard loss and took over at midfield.

They were only down 7-0 at that point but three plays later co-captains Gino Cohee and A.J. Roberto hooked up on a 40 yard TD pass to make it 14-0. A punt there would have at least lengthened the field for the Pioneers.

The second came in the second period on a fourth and three from their own 44. Again the Pioneers threw the Crusaders for a one yard loss and took over with a short field. Again three plays later the Pioneers took advantage, this time on a three yard run by Mike Thomas to make it 28-0.

Return Engagement
The Pioneers sprinted out to a 35-0 lead which the Crusaders cut to 35-7 with a kick return for a score on the opening kick of the second half. The Pioneers quickly matched that on a Cohee 21 yard run to make it 42-7 and the starters headed for the sideline, seemingly for the night.

However, late in the game, the Crusaders managed to score twice against the JV's and when the score got to 42-21 with 4:59 left in the game, Weidman sent the starters back in.

"They got it down to three scores and that's kind of the general rule," Weidman explained. "A couple of onside kicks....We probably should have gone another series or two in the third period (when it was 42-7). They scored on the second half kickoff and we weren't planning on putting the first team back in. Once we scored again I said 'let the other kids play.' That was one of those catch 22's. If we kept the first team in one more series and scored it would have looked like we were piling on."

Pinball Wizards
The Pioneers have been posting points like an out of control pinball machine in the first three games, forcing me again to scour through the Lynnfield record books for comparisons.

The 114 points scored is the highest three straight game total since 1961 when the Pioneers posted consecutive wins against Bedford 63-0, Westford Academy 30-6 and Ashland 34-8.

This is also the first time since those three games that Lynnfield has scored more than 30 points in three games in a row. 100: Abridged
Apparently, has realized the nearly impossible task of ranking 100 teams of various sizes and schedules and the absurdities that creates. This week's ranking has reverted back to the Top 20 which they have been compiling for years. That really makes the most sense.

Check back Tuesday for a look around the Cape Ann League Small and I'll discuss the emergence of some surprising new contenders.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Cruise Control

Pioneer fans are in danger of becoming seriously spoiled.

Another game, another rout, another offensive explosion and another defensive smother job. Ho-hum.

42-21 final over Bishop Fenwick in a game that wasn't nearly that close. Fact is, the Pioneers could have named their final score and this was the third game in a row that was over at halftime.

Six touchdowns by five different players: Gino Cohee (2), Rick Berardino, Jeff Gannon, Mike Thomas. Six more PAT's from Steve Ullian. All in a night's work.

I'll have the full details in my game story in the Villager on Wednesday and I'll have my Leftovers post on Sunday night.

In the meantime, enjoy another dominating win.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Crusaders Getting Lanced by Big Plays

The big preseason news for the Bishop Fenwick football team was their installation of a new "Spread" offense. Two weeks into the season, the headline for the Crusaders has been its inability to prevent the big play.

So far this year, Bishop Fenwick has given up nine touchdowns on defense. They have given up rushing touchdowns of  31, 37, 65, 70, 73 and 71 yards and passing TD's of 49, 92 and 25 yards. Even the touchdown the offense gave up was big - a 40 yard interception return.

With those kinds of numbers, it is no surprise that Bishop Fenwick comes into the game against the Pioneers Friday night 0-2 after lopsided losses to Saugus 41-20 and Weston 28-6. But I would caution you against thinking the Pioneers are going to waltz onto Donaldson Field and repeat their performances against Manchester Essex and Georgetown.

The Crusaders, a Division 3A team like the Pioneers, were stepping up in both games. Saugus is from Division 3 Northeast Small and Weston hails from Division 2A Dual County Small. I would expect this to be a much more competitive game for Lynnfield.

Bishop Fenwick was in both games, trailing at the half 21-8 to Saugus and only 7-6 to Weston, after dominating most of the first two periods.

One thing you can be sure of. Footballs will be in the air Friday night.

Crusader coach Dave Woods has gone to the spread offense full time this year after dabbling with it over the last few seasons. Senior Brett Kidik is at the controls and he has certainly taken advantage throwing 76 passes in his first two games. The Pioneer secondary needs to be ready for a hail of leather.

"They throw the ball quite a bit," said Pioneer head coach Neal Weidman. "They whip it around. They have some nice receivers and (Kidik) is good. They also have a good running back."

Against Saugus, Kidik was 32 for 47 for 321 yards and a touchdown. Against Weston, he was 11 for 29 for 100 yards with a pair of interceptions. Kidik played the Weston game on a gimpy hamstring but is hoping to be ready for the Pioneers.

Bishop Fenwick will come into the game with 15 seniors and an experienced line. Kidik's main targets are Ryan Lipka, tight end Jake Bugler, who caught two TD passes against Saugus and tailback Tyler Thomann. Eamon Barrett (6'3", 225) and Billy Klemczuk (6'3", 210) provide the quarterback with two more huge targets.

After installing the spread at Lynnfield in 2005, Weidman knows how difficult the first year with a new offense can be.

"It really depends on the personnel," Weidman said. "It's not just the spread. It's any new offense you put in. If the kids have only been running it for two or three weeks they're not going to be as good as if they've been running it for two or three years. That's just the way it is."

Bishop Fenwick has been a power in the Catholic Central Large conference for much or the past 15 years having won the league championship in 1995, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2003. They also won Superbowls in 1999 and 2000 under Woods.

However they have struggled a bit in recent years with a 5-6 mark in 2008 and a 4-7 season last year. Woods was quoted in the Lynn Item as saying that this team is as good as they've been in recent years.

This should be the toughest test to date for the Pioneers, who begin a stretch of four straight non league games in preparation for the balance of their CAL Small schedule beginning October 22. You can look forward to a wide open affair.

Another unexpected wrinkle comes in the form of the weather. The forecast calls for temperatures near 80 at kickoff time, so conditioning could come into play.

Game time in Peabody is 7 pm.

OD'S Run
Just a word about the OD's 7th Annual Memorial Run/Walk to be held Sunday morning at 10 am at the High School .

The race is held to raise funds for scholarships in memory of Johnny (OD) O'Donnell former Pioneer football player who passed away in 2003 at the age of 19. The event serves as a tribute to Johnny's short life.

You can participate in the 5K road race or walk. For further information contact Karen Mahon at 508-528-1286 or or go to

Monday, September 20, 2010

Around the CAL Small: Week Two

Two more league games this week, so let's get right to it.

First the standings after Week 2.

The Pioneers defeated Georgetown for their first league win which puts them in a tie for first place.

In the only other CAL Small contest, Newburyport rebounded from their opening week loss to Hamilton-Wenham to pull away from North Reading 19-2. I attended this game (in a steady rain) and it was a lot more competitive than the final score would indicate, especially in the first half.

The Clippers came out sluggish and flat and despite a distinct size advantage in the line, the frisky, young Hornets carried the play in the first two periods. North Reading stopped the Clippers cold in the first half and forced quarterback Ryan O'Connor into a 1 for 9 night and an interception.

Offensively, NR moved the ball deep into Clipper territory on some strong running by sophomore Carl Lipani but they just couldn't punch it in. They stalled on the two yard line but then turned it into points when senior linebacker Jamie Mantho (a beast of a player) sacked O'Connor in the endzone to give the Hornets a 2-0 lead.

The Clippers turned the game around on the Hornet's next possession. NR again drove deep into Clipper territory but Dave Cataldo picked off a R. J. Warnock pass and returned it 85 yards for a touchdown score to make it 6-0.

Newburyport made some significant changes in the second half and decided to pound Andrew Sokol behind that huge offensive line. That began to wear down the young Hornets as the Clippers put two scoring drives together to put this one away.

A word about the Hornets. They will most like struggle this year, but they will be a force to be reckoned with in the future. Lipani is a strong runner and Warnock, only a sophomore, will like improve as well. The Hornets have a 46 man roster and 31 are either sophomores or freshmen. It will be interesting to see how much they grow before their Thanksgiving Day meeting with the Pioneers.

The Hornets are probably in for another tough night this Saturday when they travel to St. Mary's who has now scored 90 points in their first two games.

The Clippers play their third straight CAL Small game when they travel to Ipswich on Friday for what promises to be a more interesting game than it might have looked like before the season began.

After a thrilling win over Triton last week, Amesbury stepped up and out of its class taking on North Andover this week. Typical of what happens when CAL Small teams refuse to recognize that they are not competitive with the big CAL Large teams like NA and Masco, the Indians were hammered 41-6. These games are just mismatches, which is why the CAL finally split into large and small divisions.

Amesbury fumbled the opening kick on their own 25, the Knights scored three plays later and the rout was on. NA led 14-0 after the first, 27-0 at the half and 41-0 after three. The Indians finally scored on their last possession to account for the final score.

The Indians return to a more competitive environment when they travel to the airport to take on East Boston this Friday.

Speaking of mismatches, the two game winning streak of the Ipswich Tigers came to an abrupt halt as they were beaten up by Marblehead 34-6. Again, the Tigers were stepping up a division and also had the misfortune of taking on the Magicians following a heartbreaking loss in their opener last week. Marblehead lost to Pentucket 29-28 in the final seconds on a bad punt snap for a safety. Unfortunately for the Tigers, the Sachems needed to take it out on someone and they were next on the schedule.

However, the Tigers are much improved and I believe they will give Newburyport a good test when they meet this Friday in Ipswich.

Finally, we may have to start talking about Hamilton-Wenham as a true contender. After their opening day upset of Newburyport, the Generals beat Pat Sheehan's Triton Vikings 14-8 to go to 2-0 on the sesaon. H-W won only two games all last year, so their fast start bears watching.

The Generals showed a big play offense and solid defense in handing Triton their second defeat of the year. QB Dylan Keith hit receiver James Love on a 65 yard TD pass on the game's opening play. Love then caught a 39 yarder on a halfback option play early in the second quarter to make it 14-0 for the home team.

The Generals got good production from tailback Trevor Lyons who ran for 117 yards on 14 carries.

Meanwhile, it appears that H-W won the battle of the trenches, harassing Viking QB Blaise Whitman who is running the spread offense for the first time this season. The Generals also held Triton to only 50 yards rushing and forced two fumbles and an interception.

H-W will get an even sterner test this week when they host Pentucket. We will know a lot more about them after that game.

In other games featuring future Pioneer opponents Cathedral beat Hyde Park 26-0. They are now 2-0 having outscored their opponents 58-6.

Danvers lost to Pentucket 31-16 in their opener and Chelsea fell to Brighton 14-12 and stand at 0-2.

That's it for now. Check back on Thursday for my preview of Friday night's game against Bishop Fenwick game.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Georgetown Leftovers

The season could not have begun better for the Pioneers. Two games - two convincing victories.

But it may be time to temper the expectations a bit. I actually had more than one person come up to me at halftime Friday saying essentially the same thing: "Gee they look great. Is there anyone that can beat them?"

This comes under the heading of what former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan would call "Irrational Exuberance."

Don't get me wrong. I'm all for enthusiasm for Lynnfield football. However, let's take a step back for a minute and summarize what has happened so far.

The Pioneers have come out and dominated two teams by a combined score of 72-6. Both teams have storied histories and solid pedigrees, but being totally honest, they are both young and inexperienced this year. And they both faced the Pioneers shorthanded - M/E was without their main weapon in QB Alex Carr and Georgetown was missing a bevy of seniors including two captains.

Now I don't think the eventual outcome would have been different had both teams been at full strength, but anyone who has watched high school football for any length of time would have to admit that both squads are probably in for a tough time this year as they rebuild.

That is not to take anything at all away from the Pioneers. They did exactly what good teams are supposed to do: beat the living daylights out of inferior teams, get the starters off the field early and get the underclassmen some invaluable varsity experience. Check. Check. Check.

So all that said, my answer to the above question was yes there is serious competition to come. Amesbury is lurking. Hamilton Wenham beat Triton and is now 2-0 and looking good. Newburyport has looked sluggish against H-W and North Reading but you have to figure they will get things going by the time the Pioneers travel to War Memorial Stadium, a place in which the Pioneers never play well.

In summary, the Pioneers are 2-0, 1-0 in CAL Small play and are playing like a team determined to defend their CAL Small Championship.

How does head coach Neal Weidman guard against his team getting too overconfident?

"We have to keep telling them that the goal is that no matter what, we can't be the same the next week as we were this week," Weidman said. "We have to get better. We HAVE to. We can't be the same team five weeks from now as we are right now. Every team is going to continue to improve. We just have to practice more and get used to running our plays more. Everyone else is getting better and we have to continue to get better too. That is the message that we need to send."

Pick up a copy of this week's Villager for my Georgetown game story complete with photos, but in the meantime, here is some additional info on the game and other topics.

Pass or Run?
There was some discussion following the game on co-captain Steve Ullian's 47 yard touchdown in the second period. Was it a pitch and run or a pass? The coach saw it as a pass.

"(Cohee) did pitch it forward so theoretically it was a pass," Weidman explained. "The way the play is drawn up it's actually a bubble pass. So it was a pass."

That gave co-captain Gino Cohee three  TD throws for the day and six total for the season. That lifts him to 19 for his career and ties him for third best all time with Chris Grassi (2006-09). Next up for Cohee is Jason Caggiano (1994-96) who has 20 career TD passes. Steve Olsen (1971-73) leads the list with 23.

"He's started for two and a half yearss and continued to improve," Weidman said of his senior quarterback. "When he started out, we ran him a lot as a sophomore. We ran him a ton as a junior. He started to throw more as a junior and this year our passing game has been pretty good. We've been up and down but its been pretty sharp at times. We're going to need (Cohee) to have success for us to go anywhere this year, so I hope he breaks (the record)."

Room to Run
After rushing for 142 yards against M/E last week, the Pioneers moved the ball even better on the ground against Georgetown. They picked up 153 in the first half alone and finished with 198. Obviously that would have been a lot higher had the starters not been pulled after the first half.

In particular, co-captain Jeff Gannon had a big game after struggling against M/E, leading the Pioneers with 53 yards and a touchdown on only 4 carries, an impressive 13.3 average. Against the stacked up M/E defense, Gannon carried only four times for nine yards.

"He got a lot more opportunities this week," explained Weidman. "Last week they were blitzing everyone and begging us to throw the ball. We had to go with that. We don't want to whip the ball around, but if they keep everyone inside, then we have to do that. Today (Georgetown) stayed in a two deep shell and they stayed loose and we're going to run if they do that. If they come up and bring everyone in the box, then we're going to throw it. It's kind of that simple."

And to Weidman's point, although the Hornet defense stacked up Gannon on the ground last week, he did get free for a couple of pass receptions for 61 yards and a touchdown.

As a side note, with the Pioneers emptying the bench in the second half, Lynnfield had 11 players officially have at least one carry, eight of them running backs.

That brings to mind a quote from former Pioneer head coach Bill Adams several years ago when Lynnfield was on the wrong side of one of these games and Newburyport had eight or nine running backs notch carries.

"They had nine running backs get carries," he told me after the game. "We don't even have nine running backs on our roster."

Times certainly have changed.

Anger Management
Weidman is clearly taking nothing for granted as evidenced by his reaction to the less than stellar performance of his squad on the one drive of the first half in which the Pioneers DID NOT score.

The sequence in question came latet in the first quarter. The Pioneers had already scored twice and led 14-0 when they took over on the Royal 44 yard line. An incomplete pass, a Cohee run that was shortened to a 12 yard gain because of a holding penalty (one of eight Lynnfield penalties for 75 yards), another incomplete pass, a two yard loss and an illegal procedure call set the Pioneers back to the Georgetown 49, a net loss of five yards on the drive. Ullian came out to punt.

Weidman was visibly upset on the sideline and let his offense hear it - with full volume- when they trotted to the sideline.

"We had a really bad offensive series," Weidman explained. "It's one of those things where we got two quick scores but then just didn't go out on that series and focus. They need to realize that they can't do that as the season goes on. They can't waste a whole drive. There's going to be games when we're not going to get the ball 10 or 15 times. We were in games last year when we got the ball only twice in a half. They just can't give up a whole drive."

Hit of the Day
There were several big hits in the game but the trophy for the biggest hit of the game goes to junior Frank Coburn who completely leveled Georgetown kick returner Thomas Zargaj at the Royal eight yard line late in the first half. The crack was clearly audible and drew considerable oohs and aaahs from the large opening day crowd.

Stellar Performers
Most of the Pioneers played well, but Weidman had words of praise for two in particular.

"A. J. Roberto has really stepped up all around on both offense and defense," Weidman responded when asked to name a player who has really stood out so far this year. "He's playing like a senior captain should play. He's been very, very good. He was good last year as a junior but he's really stepped it up to another level in his game. He's a physical player and sets the tone for us."

Weidman also lauded Andrew Kibarian, whose name game announcer Tom Waisnor seemed to be shouting out all during the first half.

"He had a great game," Weidman said of the sophomore two way lineman. "He got a lot of playing time as a freshman last year. He's starting to get it. He's becoming a nice player. He's a big, strong kid and we're expecting him to continue to improve."

Youth Movement
With the lopsided win, the Pioneers were again able to get their underclassmen some valuable game experience against Georgetown's varsity. And the youngsters performed well.

The Young Pioneers outgained the Royal varsity 56-15 in a scoreless third period. In the fourth, Georgetown put in what ever backups they had and Lynnfield put together a nice little 26 yard drive getting to the Royal 16 yard line as time ran out.

Sophomore quarterback Alex Roper was 2 for 2 passing including a beautiful 28 yard hookup with sophomore Mike Soden. Running backs gaining yardage were junior Joe Mehr (16 yards), sophomore Tyler Palumbo (15 yards - 14 with the varsity) and  freshmen Anthony Costa (5) and Matt Kramich (2).

Among others seeing action were seniors Matt Kelly and Rich Dimare, juniors Jared Owens, Dan Ashwell, Tyler Shaffer, Cameron weeks (who had a sack) and Steven Yobaccio, sophomores Mike Karavetsos, Alex Pascucci (who made a nice upending tackle of Royal quarterback Jackson Fritz), Michael Bonafine, Connor Lordan, Corey Ragusa, Zack Panzini and DJ Degeorge and freshmen Kyle McGah, Matt Connolly and Joe Dias.

If I missed someone, I apologize. As you can imagine, there was a lot of ins and outs as the staff shuffled players into the game.

Making Points
The Pioneers' offensive outburst in the first two games had me scurrying into the records books for comparisons.

The 72 points in the first two games is the most by a Lynnfield team since 1960 when the Pioneers opened the season by slamming Dracut 54-12 and followed that up with a 22-16 win over Weston.

The two game total is the most in consecutive games since 1978 when the Pioneers had a three game streak against North Andover (21-0), Masco (56-0) and Pentucket (24-21).

The 72 points so far is already more than was scored by Lynnfield teams in the entire seasons of 1958 (64 total points), 1965 (63), 1989 (57) and 1990 (55).

Top 100???
Finally, for a few laughs, check out the 100 which was "updated" last Thursday.

Unfortunately, the Pioneers' convincing 37-6 win over M/E last week wasn't good enough to get them to crack the Top 100. However by losing by four touchdowns, Manchester-Essex was able to move UP a couple of places from 58 to 56. Hello???

Ipswich joined the list at #92 after their win over North Reading but Hamilton Wenham's victory over Newburyport only got them in at #93.

I realize it is an impossible task to compare schools from different divisions, sizes, schedules, etc, but that begs the question: If they are going to just pick names out of a hat, why bother with it at all?

That's it for now. Check back on Tuesday for my wrap up of the weekend action in the CAL Small.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Royal Routers

Well that wasn't a bad half game of work.

The Pioneers took care of business this methodical, efficient and devastating fashion. Playing in their home and CAL Small opener at the Middle School Field, the Pioneers crushed the young, undermanned and shell shocked Georgetown Royals 35-0.

The Pioneer varsity scored on five of six first half possessions, rolled for over 200 yards, held the Royals to two first downs and one yard of net offense....and then broke out the proverbial lawn chairs for the second half.

The Lynnfield JV's played the Georgetown varsity to a scoreless third period and then outplayed the Royal second teamers in the fourth period while the Pioneer starters watched from the sideline.

The Pioneers are now 1-0 in CAL Small play and 2-0 overall.

You can read my full game account in this week's Villager and check back here Sunday night for more on the Georgetown game.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Pioneers Need Royal Focus

My mother used to tell me that if something looks too good to be true, it probably is.

The Pioneers would be wise to follow that advice Friday afternoon when they take on the Georgetown Royals in their 2010 CAL Small opener.

The key word this week needs to be focus.

There are a lot of things that could distract the Pioneers in this game including: 1) Their convincing, relatively easy win over M/E last week 2) The boxscore of the 42-7 St. Mary's win over Georgetown which showed the Spartans running over the Royals like the bulls at Pamplona. 3) An abnormal 3:45 afternoon start which wreaks havoc on a normal game day schedule.

The Pioneers need to block out all those things and to paraphrase the Great Hooded One, they need to simply Do Their Jobs.

On paper it would be easy to see this one as a mismatch. The Royals gave up nearly 500 yards on the ground to St. Mary's last week while never bothering to throw a pass. Somewhere Woody Hayes is smiling. (Anyone under 40 will have to seek out an elder for that reference.)

But let's consider a few things.

1) St. Mary's is very good. They returned most of their offense from a 7-4 team last season. They are ranked third in the Boston Herald's Division 3A Super Seven. (Lynnfield is ranked 6th). They appear to be a real wagon.
2) Five of the Spartan touchdowns came on runs of 36 yards or more, so clearly there were some breakdowns in the Georgetown defense. Royal coach Matt Bouchard is a very good coach and you would expect that he will work on fixing what went wrong. He told Josh Zywlen of the Georgetown Record that "we actually did a great job of getting to the point of attack. So the kids were there on their assignments. But we didn't finish the play once we were there." That is a correctable problem.
3) The Royals did show some signs of life early. After St. Mary's took an 8-0 lead, the Royals drove to the Spartan 14 yard line but a couple of bad snaps (first game jitters) and they turned it over on downs. Who knows what might have happened had they punched something in there. The Royals are a young team and it appears that they just couldn't stand up to the Spartan onslaught.
4) Georgetown moved the ball. They put together three drives of over 65 yards, but as in the opening march, they made key mistakes which blew them up.Quarterback Tyler Wade was 8 of 12 for 110 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed for 60 yards.
5) The Royals are not as bad as the 42-7 score would indicate and they will most likely be a tougher test than the Manchester Essex team, especially with a game under their belts.

Bouchard said in a preseason interview with the Georgetown Record that he felt going into the season his offensive and defensive lines would be the strength of his team. Returning to anchor both lines are captains Ryan Moriarity (6'1" 240) and Eric Gesualdi (5'9", 250) along with seniors Ricky Charron (6', 210) and Nicholas Carbone (6"0", 180) and junior Michael Bjork (6'4", 195).

Wade, a 6'0", 160 lb junior, has able wideouts in Niko Edwards, Jared Lathrop and Michael Watson. His running backs are Max Mangano, Derek DePasquale and captain Luke Prescott.

You can be sure that Bouchard and his staff has spent the week telling his young team to forget about the St. Mary's game. He is preaching that Friday is the real beginning of the season and a win against the highly regarded Pioneers will give them a leg up in the CAL Small title chase. They will be ready.

That is why the Pioneers must attend to business quickly. They need to come out hard and score early to make the Royals feel like this is going to be another dose of what they got Saturday night. The longer Georgetown hangs around, the more dangerous they become.

And if the Pioneers need any further inspiration, they need only look to fellow contender Newburyport, who may not have taken Hamilton-Wenham seriously enough and the result was a 14-7 H-W victory. The Clippers are now sitting with an 0-1 league record one game into the season. It would behoove the Pioneers not to find themselves in that same leaky boat.

Game time at the Middle School Field is 3:45.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Around the CAL Small: Week One

All seven CAL Small teams were in action over the opening weekend, including two league games.

So let's get right to it. First a look at the standings:

So let's address the obvious first.

That bombshell you may have heard landing in Hamilton Saturday afternoon was the sound of the biggest upset of the young season. The Hamilton-Wenham Generals, coming off a 2-8 season, stunned Newburyport, one of the preseason CAL favorites, by a 14-7 count.

Now one of three things went on there. First, we may have all underestimated how good the Generals are going to be and they may have just announced they will be a contender this year. Second, everyone overrated Newburyport or third, the Clippers may have stepped on a land mine by thinking they could waltz into the Generals' house and stroll to an easy win similar to their 19-0 opening win over H-W last season.

My guess is door number three. Obviously the Generals, who were croaked with injuries all last year, promise to be much improved. And I don't believe the Clippers are overrated with the amount of talent they have returned. So that leaves option number three: Newburyport may have been struck down by a bad case of overconfidence.

From the news accounts of the game, the smaller H-W line simply overpowered the bigger Clippers on both sides of the ball. Despite going up against a Newburyport line featuring three players of plus 260 lbs, the Generals apparently dominated.

They ran for 170 yards and a pair of touchdowns, and came up with a big fourth down stop on a fourth and two on their own 21 to halt the Clippers final drive.

H-W head coachAndrew Morency was quoted in the Newburyport News that he feels his line is his strength. That would appear to be the case from this effort.

The Generals opened the game with a 74 yard drive but then missed the extra point to take a 6-0 lead. Their defense harried Clipper quarterback all first half sacking him three times.

Newburyport got on the board in the third on a 7 yard run by Andrew Sokol. He then kicked the PAT to give the Clippers a 7-6 lead. But the Generals answered right back with a 61 yard drive capped by a one yard run on fourth and goal by Elliot Burr. Dylan Keith hit Jake Prince for the two points to account for the final score.

The Generals host Pat Sheehan's Triton Vikings on Saturday while the Clippers travel to North Reading for a Thursday night game under the lights at 7 pm.

The other league game featured Ipswich at North Reading in a battle of two teams that combined for three wins last season.

The Tigers snapped their 31 game losing streak last Thanksgiving Day and they enjoyed the experience so much they put up another "W" last week with a 22-6 victory over the Hornets.

The Tigers have a lot of skill people back, so they figure to be much improved and they showed it against a very young North Reading team. The Hornets jumped out quickly and scored on their first drive thanks to the running of Carl Lipani and quarterback R. J. Warnock. Nick Rosano punched it in from the one for the score to give NR a 6-0 lead.

But it was pretty much Tigertown after that.

Ipswich opened the game with a 50 yard bomb from Brendan Gallagher to Cam Murray. Several plays later the two connected for a five yard score. Gallagher hit John Eldredge for the two and the Tigers led 8-6.

Gallagher and Eldredge would hook up for two more touchdowns in the second quarter and that would be enough as the two teams battled through a scoreless second half.

Ipswich will look to make it three in a row when they travel to Marblehead to take on the Magicians Thursday night. Meanwhile, the Hornets have the unenviable task of hosting Newburyport who is coming off a disappointing loss to H-W and was probably tortured all week in practice.

Amesbury, another CAL Small contender, opened up on a positive note with a thrilling 22-21 win over Sheehan's Vikings Friday night. The former Pioneer assistant has installed the spread offense at Triton and his senior quarterback Blaise Whitman seemed to flourish it in. The Vikes and Indians battled all game long with neither team able to pull away.

Triton scored on their opening drive to take a 7-0 lead but the Indians took a 14-7 lead when quarterback Tyler Lay led them to two first quarter scores. Lay scored the first on a 23 yard run, then threw the second to Aaron Venezia from 30 yards out.

Triton tied the game early in the third then took a 21-14 lead early in the fourth on a Whitman four yard run.

On the following kickoff, Sheehan showed the nerve of a riverboat gambler, opting for an onside kick. Triton apparently recovered, but the officials ruled the kick had not traveled 10 yards. Amesbury took possession but could not score.

The Indians got the ball back for their winning drive with just under four minutes to play and then drove from their own 40 to the Viking 11. Lay, who was 3 for 4 on the drive, hit Nick Croce for an 11 yard strike pulling Amesbury to within one at 21-20 with 53 seconds to play.

Amesbury opted to go for the two rather than risk overtime and Lay ran it in for the winning points.

Amesbury hosts North Andover Friday night.

Finally, the Pioneers' next opponent, Georgetown was literally run over by a highly regarded St. Mary's team Saturday night. The Spartans rolled for nearly 500 yards on the ground en route to a 42-7 win over the Royals.

St. Mary's scored on runs of 43, 67, 36, 59, 80 and 9 yards as they didn't attempt a single pass. The Royals did have some success passing the ball, as Tyler Wade was 8 for 12 for 112 yards against the Spartans.

In other games featuring future Pioneer opponents, Bishop Fenwick (Sept 24) lost to Saugus 41-20, Cathedral (Oct 2) beat O'Bryant 34-6 and Chelsea (Oct 15) lost to Pope John 12-6.

That's it for now. Tune back in Thursday for a full preview of Georgetown game.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Manchester-Essex Leftovers

You can read my complete game story along with my photos in the Villager on Wednesday, but in the meantime, here are some extra points from Friday's 37-6 win at Manchester.

Proceed With Caution
No doubt the beating the Pioneers administered on Friday night was satisfying. For a first game with mostly new starters, the squad looked good in many areas. However, let's not get too far ahead of ourselves.

M-E is a very young, very inexperienced team that was destined to fall off from their 9-2 squad of last season. Losing Alex Carr, the key to their whole offense to an ankle injury, made the Hornets' task of upsetting the Pioneers almost impossible. Although sophomore Cory Burnham did a credible job under the circumstances (10 for 17 for 115 yards and a touchdown) it was obvious this game was a mismatch. And you even have to add an asterisk to Burnham's numbers since half those yards - 64 to be exact - came in the fourth quarter when he was still operating the Hornet's first team against the Lynnfield JV's.

Although Pioneer head coach Neal Weidman was happy with the win, he knows there is work to be done.

"The first part of the year it is going to be everything," the coach responded when I asked him after the game what his team needs to work on. "We missed a couple of tackles and you can't do that. I'll have to watch the film but I'm guessing that on some of the plays that were negative I'm sure there were assignments blown. And you can always get better at blocking."

Weidman was pleased with how hard the Pioneers hit and how physical they were throughout the contest.

"We need to be physical," he said. "That's obviously a plus."

Weidman was also happy with the offense, especially the air attack.

"We did some good things in the passing game," he said. "They gave us some things where they were keeping guys in the box knowing that we like to run the ball. Keeping some guys in tight made it possible for us to take advantage of some other matchups. We have some nice weapons to go to. It makes it easier to call plays when you have guys to get the ball too. We were able to spread it out and hopefully that is going to be our strength. We have different guys we can go to at different times. We don't want to become predictable."

So all in all, it was a good start, but understand the true tests are still to come.

Just For Starters
The Pioneers' win was their third straight opening game victory. Weidman is 3-0 in openers.

Prior to 2008, the Pioneers had lost 11 straight opening games and 13 of 14 going back to 1994. Their overall record in first games is now 30-23.

The win, Lynnfield's first ever against M-E after losses in 2007 and 2008, extends the Pioneers' regular season winning streak to nine. Including the playoff game last year, the Pioneers have now won 13 of their last 16 games. They won only 6 of their previous 51 games prior to that stretch going back to 2004.

Baking Some Turnovers
The hard hitting Pioneers forced four turnovers in Friday night's game. Captain Gino Cohee, Tim Shannon and Mike Thomas all recovered fumbles and Rick Berardino picked off an interception.

"They've been good all preseason and they were good again tonight," Weidman responded when asked about the performance of his secondary. "They were getting after the ball. They were ball hawking and it's good. I think we may have had years when I don't know if we forced four turnovers all season and we had four tonight. That's something we've been emphasizing the last two years both going after the football and stripping it and being more aggressive when the ball is in the air."

The coach was speaking with tongue-in-cheek when talking about the low number of turnovers Lynnfield teams have created in the past but he wasn't far off. In 2008 the Pioneers had only 11 turnovers and in 2002 they took the ball away from opponents only eight times.

The four takeaways Friday night was the most for Lynnfield since they forced three fumbles and picked off two interceptions against Triton last year in that exciting 21-19 win.

Back in the day, Steeler quarterback Kordell Stewart was nicknamed "Slash" because he lined up at quarterback/running back/wideout.

It may be time to hang the nickname "Swiss" on captain Steve Ullian since he has become the Pioneers' Swiss Army Knife. Not only is he the Pioneer's record setting placekicker, but this year he is also starting on defense, catching passes (he had 4 for 71 yards Friday night), returning punts and kickoffs as well as kicking off and punting.

"We ask him to do a lot," Weidman said.

As for his placekicking, Ullian began the process of adding to the career records he set last season. His 26 yard field goal raises the school career mark for field goals to four and his four points after lifts the record for PAT's to 45.

He has now kicked 13 consecutive PAT's. The last time Ullian failed to convert was on a bad snap in the rain in Ipswich last season and before that he had one blocked against Newburyport. You have to go all the way back to last year's Cathedral game to find Ullian's last actual missed point after.

Up The Charts
Speaking of the Pioneer record book, Cohee stepped up another rung on the ladder with his three TD passes against the Hornets.

That ties a Lynnfield High record for most TD passes in a game. Cohee joins Luke Kimball (vs Wilmington in 2001), Kris Borkowski (vs Hamilton-Wenham in 1998) and Steve Olsen (vs Lincoln Sudbury in 1972, vs Hamilton Wenham in 1973 and vs Triton in 1973) who also performed the hat trick.

Cohee's three scoring tosses gives him 16 for his career and lifts him past Steve Mucica (15 from 1960-62) into fourth place all time. Olsen leads the pack having thrown 23 six pointers from 1971-73.

Cramping Their Style
Some hearts went aflutter on several occasions during the game when at various times Ullian, captain Jeff Gannon and junior Jon Roberto fell to the ground grabbing their legs. Turns out they were only suffering from leg cramps.

"I guess they all have to condition more," Weidman quipped after the game.

Fresh Faces
One of the less appreciated but key results of a lopsided win like Friday night's is the ability to get some younger players game action. M-E helped the cause by leaving in their regulars while Weidman put in his JV's to play the fourth quarter. That gave the youngsters some valuable varsity experience against first teamers.

"We did see some of the younger guys," Weidman said. "And you know what, some of those guys stepped up."

Particularly impressive was freshman Kyle McGah who figured in two exciting plays. They youngster scored the Pioneers' final touchdown exploding for a 33 yard touchdown run.

McGah also capitalized on a broken play a few plays earlier. With Ullian cramping up, McGah went in to punt from the Pioneer 43 but the snap and catch was muffed forcing McGah to run for it. The freshman broke free, made the first down and actually got the ball inside the Hornet 20 but a holding penalty nullified the play.

"He's going to be a nice little player we think," the coach said. "He's got to keep working at it and keep getting better. That was an all young line that he was running behind on that touchdown and that was a nice hole that those guys opened up."

McGah then got off a 29 yard punt that glanced off the Hornet punt returner. Thomas recovered for the Pioneers at the M-E 42 ultimately setting up McGah's TD run.

Top 100?
Last week put out their Preseason Top 100 EMass football rankings. Curiously, your Lynnfield Pioneers did not make the list. Even more curious were some of the teams that did make it ahead of the Pioneers.

Northeast Regional, who the Pioneers crushed in their preseason scrimmage was ranked 54th and Manchester Essex was listed at 58th. Not only were those schools listed ahead of Lynnfield, they were also ranked higher than Wilmington (#71), Swampscott (#73) and Masco (#78).

Methinks they need to recalibrate their dartboard.

True or False
Friday night's game was the third straight for the Pioneers on FieldTurf  going back to Thanksgiving Day on North Reading's new field and the playoff against Austin Prep at Reading High.

"The kids love it," Weidman said. "They say 'Coach I feel so fast." I tell them so does the other team."

Playing on turf recalls the line from eccentric former Red Sox pitcher Bill "Spaceman" Lee who was once asked if he preferred grass or artificial turf. His response? "I don't know. I never smoked artificial turf."

That's it for now. Check back on Tuesday when I recap the  weekend action around the Cape Ann Small.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Boffo Opening!

As far as opening nights go, you couldn't ask for one much better than this.

The Pioneers celebrated the opening of Manchester-Essex's brand new field by rolling for over 350 yards of offense, forcing four turnovers and posting a shutout until the final play of the game. Touchdowns by Gino Cohee, Jeff Gannon, A. J. Roberto, freshman Kyle McGah and RICK Berardino (I know I have a mental block and keep referring to Rick as "Frank" Berardino, who is the Pioneers' all time leading scorer. I will watch myself in the future.) Throw in a field goal and four PAT's from Steve Ullian and you pretty much have the whole package.

The Pioneers totally dominated a young, inexperienced Manchester-Essex team who got even younger and more inexperienced when they took the field without their number one offensive weapon, quarterback Alex Carr. The key to the Hornet offense did not suit up due to an ankle injury. Sophomore Corey Burnham stepped in but had little success against a fired up Lynnfield defense.

It all added up to a 37-6 spanking of the Hornets and is a nice kickoff heading into the Pioneers' CAL Small league opener against Georgetown next Friday.

Check back Sunday for more on the convincing opening night win.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Pioneers Open Season Against "Green" Hornets

It's go time.

After a winter of lifting, a spring of workouts, a summer of 7 on 7's, and three weeks of preseason preparation, the Pioneers are ready to kick off the 2010 season this Friday night.

For their opening act, they travel to Manchester-Essex to face a Hornet team that was cratered by graduation. Eighteen seniors exited a team that went 9-2 last year and only five 12th graders will suit up for M-E this season. With only three returning offensive starters and no returnees on defense, you can certainly color the Hornets "green" in 2010.

However, one of those returning seniors and starters is captain/quarterback Alex Carr. Last year, the talented signal caller threw for 1603 yards and 15 TD's and ran for 416 yards and seven scores. He was at the controls of an offense that scored an eyepopping 345 points in 2009.

The problem for Carr this season is that he is going to have to carry much of the load by himself. His entire backfield and wide receiving corps is gone. His main targets this year will be Joe Burgess, Cam Davis and Alex MacEachern. None touched the ball much last year.

The Hornet running attack will be led by senior Calvin Cook and sophomore Jake Fitzgerald.

Captain Matt Wescott centers what appears to be the strength of the Hornets this year, their offensive line. Wescott and junior Paul Pennoyer, the only other returning starter on offense, head what promises to be a big, physical front wall. If the line can protect Carr and give him enough time to find his young receivers, then the Hornets could once again light up the scoreboard.

And keep in mind that Friday night Carr will be working against a relatively inexperienced Pioneer defense that returns only one starter in captain A. J. Roberto. The entire defensive backfield of Wes Sullivan, Tim Shannon and Rick Berardino will be starting their first varsity game and Carr will certainly provide a baptism of fire. It will fall on the Lynnfield defensive line of senior John Bossi, junior Jon Roberto and sophomore Andrew Kibarian along with the linebacking crew of A. J. Roberto and fellow captains Gino Cohee, Steve Ullian and Jeff Gannon, and newcomer senior Craig Cataldo to not only contain Carr but to get some pressure on him.

On the other side of the ball, the Hornets will be trotting out 11 new faces as graduation took the entire starting defense. M-E coach Mike Athanas has admitted he was not happy with his defense last season. The Hornets gave up 245 points, compared to 143 for Lynnfield, so turning over a complete new leaf may not be a bad thing for M-E.

Again, the strength of the Hornets on defense appears to be their line featuring four 200-plus pounders. Pennoyer, MacEachern and sophomores Julian Flavin and Chris Wright gives M-E a solid front.

Whether the retooled defense can control what promises to be a prolific Pioneer offense is the key. Cohee, starting at quarterback for the third year, has proven to be a dangerous runner, as his 15 TD's last year will attest. Should he decide to throw, he has solid receivers in A. J. Roberto, captain Steve Ullian,  Rick Berardino and Pete Foustoukas. Captain Jeff Gannon also appears ready to break out in his first year as starting running back.

And as usual, it could come down to what happens in the trenches. Kibarian at center, guards Nick Burtman and Cataldo and tackles Jon Roberto and John Gaff must give the Cohee and the offense the room it needs to operate.

If the game gets close, the Pioneers can trot out a dangerous weapon in record setting placekicker Ullian, who set the mark for most PAT's (30) and field goals (3) in a season and most points after (41) and field goals for a career (3) in 2009.

"They are a winning program," said Pioneer head coach Neal Weidman. As evidence, the Hornets are 22-2 over the past two years and 39-9 since 2006. "They are used to winning."

This will be opening night at brand new Hyland Field at the refurbished M-E high school and the Pioneers hope they can recreate their role as rude guests as they did last Thanksgiving Day when they thumped North Reading 35-14 in their first game on their new field.

For more on the Hornets check out this article by Nick Curcuru in the Gloucester Times.

This will be the third meeting between the schools and the final one as a non league game. Next season, M-E enters the CAL, and if the proposed merger with the Northeast Conference goes through, they will be placed in Tier 4 along with the Pioneers, North Reading, Hamilton Wenham, Ipswich and Georgetown.

There are not a lot of fond memories from the previous two meetings. In 2008, the Hornets visited Lynnfield and battled to a 35-21 win. M-E was enroute to an undefeated season and a Division 4 Super Bowl championship. Athanas has been quoted several times as citing the Lynnfield game as one of their toughest in that championship season.

But the heartbreaker was in 2007 when the Pioneers travelled to Newell Stadium in Gloucester to play the Hornets while their high school was under reconstruction.

The Pioneers, behind sophomore quarterback Chris Grassi, receiver captain Jeff Millinazzo and a tenacious defense led by captains Pat Lamusta and Nick Tropeano, built a 14-0 lead. Grassi had hit Alex Mastrangelo with a four yard TD pass and Tropeano blocked a punt and recovered it in the endzone for the second score.

But with 2:28 left in the game, the Pioneers were forced to punt into a howling wind from their own 34. The kick went only two yards and on the next play Hornet quarterback Pat Orlando, who has just been named the starter for the UMass Dartmouth Corsairs, connected with Sam Cohen for a 36 yard TD to cut the lead to 14-7 with 2:19 left to play.

The Pioneers recovered a Hornet onside kick but lost seven yards on the drive and were forced to punt again.M-E took over on their own 34 with 1:42 left and knifed 64 yards through the Pioneer defense in five plays the final one a 32 yard Orlando to Cohen strike to tie the game with 38 seconds to play.

The game went into overtime and the Hornet's Brian Ciccone punched it in for a 21-14 lead. On the Pioneers first of four plays, Grassi hit Lamusta with a short pass, but he was stripped of the ball, M-E recovered and the Pioneers had one of the most frustrating losses in school history.

"This was the difference between a team that's been there and one that hasn't been in the driver's seat for a long time," a stunned former head coach Bill Adams told me after the game.

So if the Karma police have any soul, the Pioneers are owed one. They would love to get some payback on Friday night.

Game time in Manchester is 7 pm.

And just a reminder, if you can't make the game you can still follow the action realtime. Click on the Twitter logo to the left to sign up to follow me. I will be tweeting updates throughout the game.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

2010 CAL Small Preview: Pioneers Face Familiar Challengers

The 2010 football season kicks off this weekend and although the Pioneers begin with a non-league tilt against Manchester-Essex, there will be league games played in Week One. I thought now would be a good time to preview the CAL Small  and take a look at the teams that will be trying to disrupt Lynnfield's title defense.

First let's take a look at the final standings for 2009.

Pioneer coach Neal Weidman feels the race for the 2010 crown is wide open.

"I think anywhere between five and seven teams can win the CAL Small and whoever stays the healthiest has the best chance," Weidman said. "Everyone might be struggling with depth with the exception of Amesbury.

Based on what each team is returning this year, the Pioneers' main competition would appear to be the same as last season: Amesbury and Newburyport. The key to Lynnfield's 2010 season will probably come down to the back to back Friday night games the Pioneers have to play on the road against the Indians (October 22) and the Clippers (October 29).  Depending on how Lynnfield fares in those games, the title could come down to Thanksgiving Day when Newburyport and Amesbury play their traditional holiday game.

Boston Herald Division 3A Top Ten
Dan Ventura of the Herald published his list of the preseason top ten teams in the division and they are as follows:

1. Holliston
2. Cardinal Spellman
3. St. Mary's
4. Rockland
5. Austin Prep
6. Lynnfield
7. Cohasset
8. Mashpee
10. Medway's Division 3A Preseason Poll
1. Holliston
2. Rockland
3. Westwood
4. Cohasset
5. Abington
6. Austin Prep
7. Mashpee
8. Medway
9. Lynnfield
10. St. Mary's

Pick up a copy of this week's Villager for my comprehensive preview of the Pioneers.

Now, here is a capsule look at each of the other CAL Small teams:

The Indians graduated 13 seniors including workhorse running back Jesse Burrell. But among the 70 player turnout are 15 seniors, the second most in the league including captains quarterback Tyler Lay, running back Matt Enaire and center Greg Lingley. They also return booming kicker Nicholas Croce. This will be Lay's second season as Amesbury's signal caller and he said in an interview with the Newburyport News that "he feels more comfortable and confident" this year in the Indians' Wing T offense.

The Indians have developed a winning tradition, having won the league in both 2007 and 2008 and this team is starting to talk about returning to the top of the CAL Small heap. Lay referenced those championship teams, especially the '08 team that won the Division 3A Super Bowl, in the interview saying "We want it just as bad and we have been working just as hard as that team was. We could be just as good if we put the skills together."

Amesbury kicks off the season this Friday traveling to Byfield to face Triton in former Pioneer assistant Pat Sheehan's  head coaching debut. The Indians then play three more non league games before beginning their CAL Small schedule against Georgetown on October 9. Six of their final seven games will be league games for them.

The Clippers appear to have the talent to challenge the Pioneers again this season. Newburyport graduated 12 seniors including all-everything Kyle Leblanc, but they have some potent weapons back. They return 16 seniors, most in the league, so they have plenty of experience to summon in their quest for the crown.

One key weapon that lost most of his junior season, but who is back looking to make up for it this year is the Clippers' record breaking wide receiver Andrew Sokol. Sokol, who set a Newburyport single season record for receiving yards with 702 in 2008, sustained a knee injury in the second game of the year against North Reading.  He missed the rest of the season.

He told Dan Guttenplan of the Newburyport News that he was completely healthy and ready to go for his senior year. He gives the Clippers a quicksilver receiver who is tough to catch once he gets the ball.

The Clippers juggled a pair of quarterbacks last season, and both are back. Matt Mottola and Ryan O'Connor took turns at the reins last year and whichever one was not the signal caller became a dangerous back.

Newburyport opens their league schedule this Saturday when they travel to play the Hamilton Wenham Generals.

The Generals were a young team last year but still lost 11 seniors. They return 13 including quarterback Dylan Keith who saw a good deal of action last year with the injury to starter Andy Duval. They also return running backs Elliot Burr and Eric Buckley and big receiver Jim Love who caught 5 passes for 64 yards in the Pioneers' title clinching win last season.

In what appears to be a trend in the CAL Small, the Generals also return a solid field goal kicker in Tucker White.

One name with Lynnfield connections is the Generals' senior running back Zack Nekoroski, the son of former Pioneer standout Andy Nekoroski. Andy played for the Pioneers from 1979-81 and is the eighth leading scorer in the history of Lynnfield High Football. He tallied 126 points in three years including a big senior season when he scored 64 points for the 6-4 Pioneers.

The Generals will have their hands full Saturday when they host Newburyport to open their CAL Small season.

Believe it or not, the Tigers could show some bite this season. They graduated 17 seniors but returned 12 included some solid skill position talent. Quarterback Brendan Gallagher, who led the Tiger Delaware Wing T in some scary moments against the Pioneers last year, returns along with shifty running backs Jeff Carpenter, John Eldredge, Ken Wing and Jake LeBlanc.

They snapped their three season losing streak with a 14-13 win over H-W last Thanksgiving, and are ready to move forward. They open their CAL Small season against the Hornets this Friday night under the lights in North Reading.

The Royals struggled through a one win season last year playing without their all everything quarterback Joe Esposito. Brother Chris Esposito labored valiantly to keep the Georgetown ship afloat last year, but now he too is gone along with nine other seniors. Also graduating was running back/quarterback Tyran Harrigan.

They do return 12 seniors including solid running back Derek DePasquale and some good size in the line. They open with a non league game at St.Mary's this week before facing the Pioneers on September 17 in the CAL Small opener for both squads.

North Reading:
The Hornets are going to be featuring a major youth movement this season. They graduated 11 seniors and have only 4 seniors on the roster this year. With only 12 juniors, NR has less than 20 upperclassmen so the burden will fall on the 20 member sophomore class to step up quickly.

Triton scrimmaged the Hornets early in the preseason and Pat Sheehan confirmed that they struggled and had sophomores starting at many positions.

Young running backs Carl Lipani and  Mike O'Brien along with receiver Jamie Mantho (4 catches against the Pioneers) did show some promise during garbage time last Thanksgiving, but it could be a long year for the Hornets. They host Ipswich this Friday night in their league opener.

"Amesbury will probably say that since we are the defending champs we should be favored," Weidman summed up. "But they won it for two years before we won it so they will be back. Newburyport will be good as well. Hamilton-Wenham will be better and Ipswich thinks they will be better as well. North Reading had a big turnout. I think there's a ton of parity."

That's it for now.

Check back Thursday for a preview of the season opener against Manchester-Essex.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Pioneers Impress Against Northeast

The Pioneers surely have more work to do, but they are clearly rounding into shape as evidenced by a strong performance against Northeast Regional Voc in their annual Labor Day weekend scrimmage yesterday.

After a sluggish start on defense, the Pioneers awoke with a vengeance and when the dust had cleared, Lynnfield had dismantled the defending Division 4A Super Bowl champs by a score of 30-0.

"They're expecting to have a good year this season," Weidman said of the Knights. "I thought their line was fantastic. They were big. Both their offensive and defensive lines were good."

That showed in NE's opening drive which began on their own 12 yard line. They picked up three first downs on the drive, but stalled at their own 40 thanks to a sack by captain A. J. Roberto and a nice tackle by captain Jeff Gannon.

After a poor NE punt, the Pioneer offense cranked it up from their own 48. They picked up a pair of first downs, the big one a 24 yard completion on fourth down from captain Gino Cohee to captain Steve Ullian. Cohee hit Ricky Berardino for a 20 yard TD strike to open the scoring. Ullian added the PAT for a 7-0 Lynnfield lead.

The second NE drive started on their own 19 and they made steady progress against the Lynnfield defense. They picked up 5 first downs and got it down inside the Pioneer 20, but a critical tripping penalty nullified the gain and pushed the Knights out of scoring range. Time ran out in the half with the Pioneers leading 7-0.

"We only got the ball once in the first half," Weidman said. "Obviously they held on to the ball way too long on the first two series. But after that I think defensively we kind of picked it up a little bit and started to figure out what we were doing."

Lynnfield started the second half from their own 29 and again was able to move the ball against a good Knight defense. On the first play of the half Cohee and A. J. Roberto hooked up on a 45 yard pass that got the ball to the NE 26. One play later Cohee ran it to the 11. Gannon then ran it in from there. Ullian added another point after and the Pioneers led 14-0.

Ullian's kick then pinned the Knights on their own 5 yard line. On the first play of the drive, Jon Roberto broke through and sacked the quarterback for a safety to give the Pioneers a 16-0 lead.

Early in the fourth period D. J. DeGeorge recovered a fumble at midfield starting another scoring drive. Cohee capped this one with a 5 yard run. The pass for two was incomplete but the Pioneers led 22-0.

That was pretty much it for the varsity, but the jayvees added another score late in the fourth on some heads up scrambling by sophomore quarterback Michael Karavetsos. The defense nearly sacked Karavetsos but he escaped and found a wide open Mike Soden in the endzone for the score. Freshman Kyle McGah bulled his way in for the two point conversion to account for the final score.

Weidman was impressed with some of the younger guys in the scrimmage.

"Some of those guys are starting to come along which is nice to see," he said.

The next live action for the Pioneers will come in their opening game this Friday at 7 pm at Manchester Essex. I'll have a preview of that game here on Thursday. You can also catch my preview article on the Pioneers' 2010 season in the Villager on Wednesday. If you haven't yet subscribed, you can do so by clicking on the link to the Villager subscription form on the left. Just $19 and you can have all the action delivered right to your mailbox..

I will probably be posting before Thursday with more info of interest so keep checking back.