Sunday, October 31, 2010

Newburyport Leftovers

You'd think after covering nearly 350 high school football games I wouldn't be surprised by much. Well I was certainly shocked by the events of Friday night.

Before every game, assistant coach Fern Lavoie and I exchange predictions on the final score. I predicted 23-8. But as you might expect I picked the Pioneers to prevail.

Don't get me wrong. I knew there was a chance that the Pioneers could be upset by the Clippers. One thing that NEVER surprises me are the strange events that can happen in Newburyport. But what I never expected was for the Pioneers to be dominated like they were. I just didn't think that could happen to this particular Lynnfield team.

But then I reminded myself that things like this happen in high school football. In my preview I wrote about the Pioneers' snapping of the Clipper streak of 38 straight wins back in 1977. That Lynnfield team, which would finish 3-7 had no business beating a Newburyport team that was 7-0 and rolling. But they did.

But the way the Clippers completely shut down the Pioneers on Friday was actually stunning. Let's put it in historic perspective.

- The seven points were the fewest the Pioneers have scored in 16 games. You have to go back to the 28-7 loss to Wilmington in game three last season to match it. The 24 points allowed is the most since the 26-20 loss to Austin Prep in the playoff game last December.

- The Pioneers gained only 111 yards of offense. You have to go back 42 games to find a Lynnfield offense that picked up less. Back to the Thanksgiving Day game in 2006 when the Pioneers managed to gain only seven (7) total yards in a 22-0 loss to North Reading.

- The Pioneers picked up only two first downs. You have to go back  64 games to match that. The Pioneer team that would go winless (0-11) in 2004 managed to get only two first downs against Hamilton Wenham in a 29-6 loss.

Upsets happen. At the professional level. At the college level. And certainly at the high school level. And most times there is no real way to explain it. But I asked Pioneer head coach Neal Weidman after the game to try.

"They were real agressive and they attacked some things and had some success," Weidman said. "We had a real hard time running the ball. It made us one dimensional. They were definitely trying to take (the run) away and we didn't make them pay passing the ball. We had a lot of completions that if we hit may have got the running game going. But you never know."

"We were on the field too much defensively," he went on, "and offensively we were putrid. Awful."

I talked to the coach again on Saturday morning after what was most likely a fitful night of sleep and following a lengthy video session. He was in a better position to be analytical.

"I feel better after watching the film," Weidman said. "We left a ton of plays on the field. We just didn't execute. Kids started pressing and doing their own thing trying to make plays instead focusing on just doing their jobs. Kids that know their assignments just didn't do it."

"Right after the game, I thought they were that much better than us," Weidman summed up, "but that was not the case. They defnitely wanted it, but we just didn't play well. It just wasn't our night I guess."

Lineman's Dream
The Clippers rolled over the Pioneer defense for 244 yards, the most yards on the ground Lynnfield has given up since October 2008. In that 14-7 loss to Wilmington, the Wildcats exploded for 294 rushing yards.

Even more amazing, Newburyport's leading rusher was Clipper captain Dean Cataldo, a converted offensive guard. Cataldo carried 12 times for 139 yards and a touchdown. Not bad considering he has been a running back for only a couple of weeks. In fact, he is still listed in the program as an OG/LB wearing number 56.

When I watched the Clippers warming up I saw this huge number 44 running with the first team and knowing the shenanigans that get pulled up in Newburyport, I was wondering what was going on. Apparently, with the loss of Andrew Sokol, their lead back in the beginning of the year who suffered another ACL injury, head coach Ed Gaudiano converted Cataldo to fullback to add some power to the backfield. Looks like it worked pretty well.

I wonder if that will send some of the Pioneer linemen scrambling to Coach Weidman's office asking to carry the rock.

Postseason Puzzle
As I note in my Villager game story this week (on local newstands Wednesday), the loss hurts but does not completely kill the Pioneer chances for a CAL Small title and a post season berth. It just makes it more difficult.

I hate to start doing this already, but I'm sure everyone is curious, so here goes.

Hamilton Wenham is in the driver's seat and controls their own fate. They are the only undefeated team left in the league with a 3-0 mark (after a 12-10 escape over a valiant Georgetown team on Saturday). If they run the table, they will be 6-0 and will take home the title and head to the playoffs.

That is easier said than done, since they have to play in Amesbury this week, then finish at home with the Pioneers and Ipswich on Thanksgiving Day. Let's put it this way. If they finish 6-0, they will certainly have earned it.

Newburyport, Amesbury and Lynnfield all have one loss, but the Clippers and Indians play on Thanksgiving, so only one of them can finish 5-1. Newburyport is already 3-1 and after a non-league game against Triton this week, they finish with Georgetown and Amesbury. Even though the Royals have been improving, I can't see Newburyport stumbling in that game especially since it will be played at home.

So where does that leave us.

First, the Pioneers have to win out. That would leave them at 5-1. It would also leave H-W at 5-1 if they won their other two games. Then it would come down to Amesbury-Newburyport.

This is where that final touchdown Newburyport scored on Friday night with 34 second looms large. That score effectively put the Pioneers on the wrong end of any tiebreaker involving the Clippers.

If the Clippers win out and finish 5-1, they would win the head to head tiebreaker by virtue of their win over the Pioneers.

If H-W beats Amesbury and Ipswich, but loses to the Pioneers, and Newburyport beats Amesbury, the three teams would finish 5-1. H-W beat Newburyport, Newburyport beat Lynnfield and the Pioneers would have beaten H-W. Still tied. On to the next tiebreaker.

Points allowed among the tied teams.

Here is where that late Clipper touchdown could doom the Pioneers. Newburyport lost to H-W 14-7 and beat Lynnfield 24-7 so they have a total of 21 points allowed in that three team tie. H-W allowed only seven to the Clippers. That would bring it down to the score of the H-W/Lynnfield game.

Lynnfield has already given up 24 points to Newburyport, so they could never win the points allowed tiebreaker with the Clippers.regardless of the score against H-W. However, if Newburyport hadn't scored that last touchdown, the Pioneers would have been sitting at 17 points, four less than Newburyport. So theoretically, if the Pioneers could beat H-W, score more than 10 points (to get H-W above the 17 the Pioneers would have had) and allowed less than four (to keep them below the 21 Newburyport has allowed), they could have still won the tiebreaker with Newburyport. But already sitting with 24 points allowed, they don't have that opportunity. They can't win any tiebreaker in which Newburyport is involved.

So let's simplify this. The Pioneers have to win their final three games and Amesbury has to beat Newburyport on Thanksgiving Day. If that happens, it would leave Lynnfield in a tie with either Amesbury or Hamilton Wenham and the Pioneers would win either of those tiebreakers thanks to head to head victories (if they win out).

So to make it short and sweet: Go Indians.

Horror Films
For those who are gluttons for punishment, here is the link to Fox25's "Highlights" of Friday night's game. And here's the link to the photo gallery of Friday nights's game.

Thinking Pink
In a nice touch, the Pioneer seniors all wore pink armbands during the game to support Breast Cancer Awareness month. Dodie Bossi, mother of senior nose guard John Bossi, came up with the idea and provided the bands to the players.

Preventive Medicine
We all know what a great job Athletic Trainer Sean Roach does handling the bumps, bruises and more series injuries the Pioneers suffer during the course of the season. Friday night in Newburyport, he went a step further.

Rather than just treating injuries, he proactively worked to prevent them. During pregame, Roach noticed an exposed sprinkler head on the field at World War Memorial stadium. He got to the grounds crew who dutifully brought out some dirt to cover out the dangerous hazard.

You know what they say: a pound of prevention.....

- The Pioneer seven point output snaps their 20+ points a game scoring streak at 12, Ironically, the streak started against Newburyport in last years 27-13 win in Lynnfield.

- The loss was Lynnfield's 30th against Newburyport with only eight wins since 1973. The Pioneers have been outscored by nearly 500 points (864-379) in the 38 games between the schools.

That's it for now. Check back on Tuesday when I will take a look at the weekend action around the league.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Lights Out

Prior to tonight's game in Newburyport, one of the banks of lights atop the condemned visitors stands at World War Memorial Stadium was malfunctioning. A repairman scrambled up a ladder twice and final got the lights to operate.

In view of the Clippers' stunning 24-7 upset of the Pioneers, it probably would have been best if all the lights had gone out...and stayed out.

Normally I try to be an objective chronicler regarding Pioneer football. Not tonight.

I hate that stadium. Probably as a result of too many visits there watching strange, bad things happen to the Pioneers. This is the 12th straight time a Lynnfield football team has traveled up Route 95 to that place and came away empty. Local supporters are working to have the old depression era stadium restored. Me, along with many Pioneer fans would probably prefer they took a wrecking ball to it.

Fox25 was in attendance as part of their High School Friday feature. They interviewed the coaches, took video of the cheerleaders and broadcast their 6 pm newscast from the stadium. Lots of hoopla.

But ultimately, it wasn't the misbehaving lights, or the crumbling stadium or the Fox25 circus that knocked the Pioneers from the ranks of the undefeated and tossed them headlong into a life and death race for the CAL title.

No, it was an inspired Clipper team that befuddled, bewildered and ultimatly beat up the Pioneers.

You can read all the gory details in my Villager game story on Wednesday, but for now understand that this defeat was not a fluke. The Clippers took control early and kept the Pioneers bottled up and on their heels most of the night.

Yes the loss was extremely disappointing, but we need to keep it all in perspective. I was reminded of that by my son, former Pioneer captain Kevin Condardo (1998-2000). He follows me on Twitter so he gets all the in game updates of the Pioneer games real time. Knowing what my state of mind would be following the crushing loss, he texted me shortly after the game ended with the following: "Tough loss. Just don't forget how lucky you are to have this be the exception and not the rule!"

True enough. We have all been spoiled (deservedly so) by the Pioneers' success the last two years. 17 wins in 20 games will do that. But as a player who celebrated only eight wins in his three year varsity career as a Pioneer, he knows better than most how special the past two years have been. One loss can't tarnish that.

Now let me help you crawl back from the edge. The loss, though tough to swallow, was not totally crippling. With only one league loss, the Pioneers are still very much in the hunt for the title. Amesbury beat Ipswich tonight, so that leaves the Pioneers, Indians and Clippers all with one loss behind unbeaten Hamilton Wenham who still has to play the Pioneers, Amesbury, Ipswich and Georgetown.

This thing is far from over. That is the solace we have to take from tonight's disappointment. Check back Sunday night for my Newburyport Leftovers post.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Heading to the House of Horrors

At this time of year, it's quite traditional for people to visit a Haunted House or two. So it's therefore appropriate that the Pioneers get in the true spirit of season on the Friday before Halloween by trekking north to their own personal House of Horrors - World War Memorial Stadium in Newburyport.

Now I chronicle the following not to make anyone nervous or to be an alarmist, but only to lay out an obvious fact. For the Pioneers, playing the Clippers in general and traveling to Newburyport in particular has rarely been a pleasant experience.

The Pioneers began playing the Clippers in 1973 when Lynnfield joined the Cape Ann League. In the 37 games played between the schools since then, the Pioneers have come out on top a grand total of nine times.

Playing the Clippers in the quaint little stadium behind Newburyport High School has turned into the Nightmare on High Street for the Pioneers. In 18 trips to World War Memorial Stadium, the Pioneers have enjoyed the bus ride home only three times. The last time they celebrated a win on Newburyport sod was in 1986 – 24 years ago.

Since that 19-7 win by the Pioneer team that would go on to play in the school's only Superbowl, Lynnfield has made 11 straight futile trips to the “Home Port of the Clippers” as the scoreboard proclaims.

The only other years the Pioneers have won in Newburyport were 1982 (14-7) and 1978 (28-8).

Playing the Clippers at Pioneer Field at LMS hasn't been a whole lot better. In games against Newburyport at home, the Pioneers have posted a 5-14 mark.

Prior to last year’s dominating  27-13  win in the de facto CAL Small Championship game, the Pioneers had lost six straight and 16 of the prior 17 meetings between the schools.

Granted, the Clippers have had a good deal of success in general over the years as one of the CAL powerhouses, so the string of dominance over the Pioneers is not merely the result of some hex. But there is no denying that Newburyport certainly has had Lynnfield’s number over the nearly four decades they have been meeting.

All of that mean nothing as far as the game on Friday night is concerned, by the way.

The Pioneers come into the game riding high after a tough, come-from-behind win over the Amesbury Indians last week. Lynnfield would like nothing better than to notch another league win and hand the Clippers their second, and possibly crippling, second league loss. Dispelling some of the ghosts of the past along the way would simply be a side benefit.

“They’re a good team,” said Pioneer head coach Neal Weidman. “They run some “I” and they run some single back. They throw it a little bit too. They’re definitely different than (Amesbury). They have a couple of good running backs and the quarterback throws a good ball. They also have a couple of big kids.”

It's hard to get a handle on the strength of this Clipper team. They come in with a 3-4 record that is broken into two distinct parts. They are the only CAL Small team to play a full CAL Schedule, meaning they play all of the CAL Large teams in addition to their regular CAL Small schedule.

In fact, in a quirky arrangement, the Clipper games against the Large schools count in the CAL Large standings but obviously not for Newburyport.

In the four games against the Large teams, the Clippers have sprung an upset, played to a tough loss and been blown out twice.

In the past two weeks Newburyport was whitewashed by Wilmington 29-0 and North Andover 40-0. Those games really need to be discarded for any real analysis purposes. NA is simply on a level well above the CAL Small and the Wilmington loss was played in the same Nor’easter that the Pioneers battled in Chelsea.

The one thing you can take out of that Wilmington game however is that it shows just how reliant the Clippers are on the passing game. The Wildcats were able to run through the storm with their ground game, similar to what the Pioneers did to the Red Devils. Newburyport, however, fizzled when quarterback Ryan O’Connor was shackled by the howling winds and the Wildcat defense.

When the weather, or an opposing defense, shuts down O’Connor, the Clippers have limited options. The main reason for that is the loss of their main running back, Andrew Sokol, who is gone for the second season in a row with a torn ACL.

In Newburyport’s opening game, Hamilton Wenham put enormous pressure on O’Connor, bottling up the Clipper offense. The result was a 14-7 league loss putting the Clippers in the hole right off the bat.

In the Clippers’ second game which was another rain storm in North Reading, O’Connor struggled (1 of 9, 38 yards, 1 interception). They led 6-2 at halftime only because of an interception return by Dean Cataldo.

In the second half, they changed gears and had Sokol simply run behind their mammoth offensive line which includes sophomore Tyler Souther (6’2” 270), senior Timothy Lawler (6’5” 270) and sophomore Kyle Monahan (6’0” 265). The Clippers rolled over the young, tired Hornets, scored twice and came away with a 19-2 win.

With Sokol gone, their running options have been weakened. Sophomore Tyler Martin and junior Tyler Cusack have filled in at running back, but they are both a cut below Sokol.

However, when O’Connor is on his game, the Clippers become very dangerous.

They upset Pentucket 21-18 in the final minutes on a 59 yard pass from O’Connor to Brett Fontaine. They also blocked a kick that led to another score.

Against Ipswich, O’Connor was hot, connecting on 9 of 14 for 152 yards and a pair of touchdowns in a 17-12 win.

Against Masconomet, O’Connor was again on fire, hitting on 15 of 24 attempts for 144 yards, 1 TD and one score. It wasn’t quite enough as the Chieftains marched the length of the field in the final minutes to prevent the upset 20-15.

So the pattern is clear. Pioneer defensive coordinator Greg Haberland has to find a way to stop O’Connor if the Pioneers are going to beat the Clippers.

O’Connor, a well spoken senior, was a guest of Pete Kelly on the WNBP pregame show before last week’s Newburyport-North Andover game. He noted that the team has suffered some injuries but that a lot of his teammates have stepped up. He call Cataldo the “core of the defense” and said that the Clippers have a lot of interchangeable parts.

When asked how he saw the CAL Small race, O’Connor said that, “Lynnfield is the front runner. That’s is a team that is real tough.”

He also talked about the Clippers tough schedule including the murderous stretch they are in now facing Pentucket, Masco, Wilmington, North Andover and Lynnfield in a row.

“We looked at the schedule at the beginning of the year and asked ‘what have we got ourselves into,” O’Connor said.

Dan Guttenplan, sports editor of the Newburyport Daily news, was also a guest on the show and said that “injuries have plagued” the Clippers so far this year. He said “they have looked good in spots.” He also said they are not deep but “they have a lot of good athletes, guys that can step in.” He noted that they have good defensive backs in John Wright and Fontaine.

Clearly the Newburyport defense is going to have to slow down the Pioneer offense, something no one has been able to do to date. The fewest points the Pioneers have scored all year was the 28 against Chelsea, and that was as much a result of the weather as the Devil defense.

The Lynnfield offense will not be at full strength however. According to Weidman, co-captain Jeff Gannon will not be available for the game Friday. That will put more responsibility on junior Mike Thomas who filled in with a strong second half against Amesbury. The Pioneers will need a similar effort this week.

Thomas is a capable substitute and is in fact the second leading rusher on the team with 407 yards to Gino Cohee's 482. He has scored five touchdowns and is averaging 7.1 yards per carry. He has also shown the ability to hit the home run, breaking a 97 yarder against Cathedral and a 41 yarder against Amesbury last week.

However, if the Clippers allow the Pioneer offense to run free, they could be in trouble since they have clearly struggled to score points this year.  Newburyport comes in with a total of 79 points scored. Of that, six came from the defense and Sokol scored 15, so the Clipper offense without Sokol has tallied 58 points in seven games- an 8.3 per game average.

The Pioneer starting defense has given up only 25 points all season, so that would appear to pose a problem for Newburyport. That said, the Clippers, under head coach Ed Gaudiano, are always well prepared and very scary, especially in their House of Horrors.

The Pioneers will likely not take anything for granted.

Pioneers on the Air
As mentioned before, the game will be featured on Fox25 High School Friday, so expect a circus like atmosphere in Newburyport.

Also, the game will be broadcast on WNBP AM 1450 and on Pete Kelly’s pregame show is broadcast at 5 pm.

Spirit of '77
Finally, since I started this post in somewhat depressing fashion, I will end it on a more uplifting note.

So we will be heading back in time to relive one of the more positive Lynnfield experiences in the Pioneer-Clipper series.

Sherman, set the Wayback Machine for November 12, 1977.

The Pioneers of 1977, under head coach Bill Rodan and captained by Steve Defillippo were struggling heading into their game with the Clippers at Pioneer Field at LMS. Lynnfield sported a 2-7 record, and were coming off a 27-8 beating at the hands of Ipswich.

There was no reason to expect that things would get any better on that fall afternoon with juggernaut Newburyport coming to town. This would be the fifth meeting ever between the schools, and the Clippers had manhandled the Pioneers in the previous four games winning all of them by an aggregate score of 133-18.

The 1977 edition of the Clippers expected to administer another beating to the Pioneers. They came into the contest atop the Cape Ann League standings with a 7-0 record and were riding a 38 game winning streak, the longest in the state at that time.

Well you can probably guess the rest. Actually, you probably can’t. We go to the game story in the Lynnfield Villager.

Lynnfield held Newburyport  without a first down in the opening quarter and only 13 yards of offense in the first half.

The Pioneers had the Clippers on their heels all day.

Lynnfield opened the second quarter with a drive to the Newburyport 16 yard line but stalled and turned the ball over on downs.

Later in the period, the Pioneers sacked Clipper quarterback R. J. Welch, forcing the Clippers to punt and Steve Bunker returned it to midfield. Seven plays later, Eric Hansen, the number three leading scorer in Lynnfield school history, bulled in from the two to give the Pioneers a 6-0 lead. Hansen picked up 44 of the 50 yards on the drive.

The Clippers picked up the pace in the second half, marching to the Lynnfield 13 yard  line on their opening possession after the break. On 3rd down, Welch fired one into the endzone but sophomore Rich Erb made a diving interception to end the threat.

Newburyport had another golden opportunity midway in the fourth quarter. Back to back penalties forced the Pioneers into a 3rd and 30 from their own 12. They fumbled and the Clippers recovered giving them a first and goal from the Pioneer six yard line.

But Lynnfield’s inspired defense held forcing a fourth and goal from the four. Again it was Erb who saved the day, picking off his second interception in the endzone to preserve the Pioneers’ shaky 6-0 lead.

The Clippers were still not done, playing with desperation, knowing their record setting streak was on the line.

The Pioneers drove to midfield and were forced to punt. Newburyport blocked it giving them another scoring chance with time running out. Unable to run against the charged up Pioneers, they went to the air. Welch threw four straight incompletions as the clock wound down and the scoreboard still read 6-0 in favor of the Pioneers.

Newburyport's streak thudded to an end  at 38 on the field at the Lynnfield Middle School at the hands of the giant killing Pioneers.

According to the report in the Villager, “Lynnfield took over and one play later mayhem broke loose. The frenzied Pioneer crowd exploded with excitement at the incredible upset victory.”

The Pioneers held the Clippers to 108 total yards of offense and only six first downs in the improbable win. There was outstanding play from the line of Defillippo, Bill Long, John Mastrangelo, George McCarthy, linebackers Mark Owens, Hansen, Mark Gianelli, Mark Connolly, Mark Supino and Erb.

That was the apex of the 1977 season for the Pioneers. Ten days later,  the Pioneers traveled to North Reading on Thanksgiving Day forced to take on their archrival without the injured Hansen. Owens would suffer a first half injury and missed most of the game. The depleted the Pioneers were thumped 30-0 to finish the year 3-7.

But that would take nothing away from the defeat of mighty Newburyport on that November day which still stands as one of the brightest moments in Lynnfield football history.

That's it for now. Check back after the game on Friday.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Around the CAL Small: Week Seven

Things are starting to get interesting as we have entered the meat of the CAL Small schedule. Two league games to cover this week. First let's look at the updated standings.

As the Pioneers move to 7-0, they are beginning to gain more and more recognition. In today's Globe, they remain one of only 14 teams on The Undefeated Bus. Also in the Herald, Danny Ventura has ranked them number three in the Division 3A Super Seven.

Now on to the results around the league.

The Pioneers were a few yards away from a huge gift Friday night in North Reading, but the Hornets came up just short in their upset bid of Hamilton-Wenham.

The Hornets made Triton assistant coach and former Pioneer assistant Mike Geary look like Nostradamus with their effort on Friday. Remember in my CAL Small Preview post last week, Geary said he was most impressed with the improvement in the North Reading squad. They had a chance to show off that improvement against the Generals.

After a scoreless first period, the Generals broke the scoring ice in the second with a 15 yard TD pass from Dylan Keith to Trevor Lynons to give H-W a 7-0 lead. The Hornets answered with a two yard run from quarterback Nick Rosano, but the attempted PAT was blocked. That left the Generals with a slim 7-6 lead going in at the half.

They stretched it to 13-6 in the third on an Elliot Burr one yard run, but the rush for two failed leaving them with a 13-6 lead.

It stayed that way until the final minute when the Hornets scored on a 7 yard Rosano pass to Joe Jones. NR coach Jeff Wall opted to go for the win right there but the two point conversion rush was stopped by outside linebacker Jake Prince. The Generals escaped with a 13-12 lead, leaving them tied with the Pioneers atop the league with a 2-0 record.

It was a heartbreaking loss for the Hornets - and the Pioneers who would have had at least a one game lead on every other CAL Contender with the upset.

An interesting stat from the game. The Generals put up 262 yards of offense, but only 45 on the ground from what is supposed to be primarily a running team.

The Hornets fall to 0-6, 0-3 in the league and remain the only team in the CAL Small yet to win a game, although with a few breaks they could very well have won their last three in a row. They will upset someone before this season is over.

They get a huge test this week as they travel to West Newbury to play their final non-league game against Pentucket, fresh off an upset win over Wilmington.

The Generals travel to Georgetown to take on the Royals Saturday afternoon.

Georgetown had a rough go of it this past Friday night when they were slammed by Ipswich 41-14. The suddenly rolling Tigers, who got back some key players in running back Jake LeBlanc and receiver John Eldredge, built a 20-0 lead early in the second period and never looked back. They led 34-7 at halftime and both teams added a score in the second half.

Ipswich quarterback Brendan Gallagher ran for 78 yards and passed for 145 and three TD's. LeBlanc ran for 104 yards and a touchdown and Eldredge caught three passes, two of them for scores.

The Tigers host Amesbury Friday night in what promises to be a exciting matchup. Both teams have a loss so the loser of this game will have a rough time getting back into the race with two league losses.

Newburyport continues its thankless march through the CAL Large with a 40-0 defeat at the hands of North Andover at home last Friday. In the past two weeks, the Clippers have been beaten 69-0 by the two leading CAL Large powers Wilmington and NA. They return to a more even playing field when they host the Pioneers this Friday night.

I'll have a full preview of that game on Thursday. That's it for now.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Amesbury Leftovers

Most of the stories you have read or will read about the Pioneers' impressive 30-13 win will offer some variation of the theme that they overcame a shaky first half with a great second half burst to win going away. My game story in the Villager on Wednesday will definitely talk about the great second half comeback, but not much about a "poor" first half.


Well, yes the Pioneers scored only once and trailed at the half. And yes they had a few shaky plays and allowed Amesbury to move the ball, but don't lose sight of the fact that the Indians are a very good football team with a lot of weapons. Ian McLaughlin (24) is a battering ram and Stephan Deas (3) is quick and elusive. Quarterback Tyler Lay is big and strong, can throw and is a threat to run. Amesbury is going to be able to test a defense, even one as good as the Pioneers.

So all that said, you can actually make a case, and at the risk of being accused of looking through life through Blue and Gold colored glasses I will, that the Pioneers actually played pretty well in the first half considering the circumstances. Here goes.

- Exhibit 1: The Opening Drive. Pioneers = hot knife. Amesbury = butter. Enough said.

- Exhibit 2: Amesbury fourth and goal from the four. Lynnfield stuffed them. Turnover on downs. 55 yard drive. No points.

- Exhibit 3. Amesbury fourth and two from the Lynnfield 22. Mclaughlin thrown for a one yard loss. Turnover on downs. 40 yard return on fake punt intereption return. No points.

- Exhibit 4: Amesbury third and six from the Lynnfield 13. Incomplete pass. 31 yard field goal. 55 yard drive. Three points.

- Exhibit 5: Pioneer drive to end the half. 1:21 remaining in the second period. Jonathan Roberto recovers a fumble at the Amesbury 48. Pioneers hit with a personal foul penalty so drive starts at the Indian 34. Nine plays, five first downs, 55 yards. Cohee two carries 22 yards. A. J. Roberto three catches 26 yards. 28 yard field goal attempt hits the cross bar (thanks to the wrong placement of the ball. More on that later.)

- Summation: So with the Pioneers playing a "poor" first half, the Indians came up with only 11 points (the two points on the safety was a gift).

Lynnfield's biggest problem in the first half and the reason they couldn't seem to get untracked, was field position. They had no problem solving the Amesbury defense on their first three play drive, but after that they lost the field position battle.

"The first half was a field position nightmare for us," said Pioneer head coach Neal Weidman. "Once they made that drive down there and then got the safety, we didn't get the field position back until the second half. And they took advantage of it. That's how teams win a lot of games."

Indeed, looking at the numbers reveals how much of an edge the Indians had. Two of their five first half drives started in Lynnfield territory (41, 30). Their other three drives began on their own 46, 41 and 43. That is an average starting field position of the 50 yard line.

The six Pioneer drives all started on their own half of the field (25, 4, 31, 23, 29 and 34). That is an average starting field position of their own 25.

That's a 25 yard difference in field position, a huge edge in Amesbury's favor. But did they really take advantage?

After the safety, they did manage to put together a 54 play drive (aided by a 15 yard personal foul penalty) for their only touchdown.

For all their field position advantage, all Amesbury could muster was one touchdown and a field goal. Not nearly enough for the golden opportunities they had.

Just ask Amesbury head coach Thom Connors.

Connors was quoted in the Newburyport News game story by John Shimer on Saturday as saying "I thought we could have got ahead of them by a couple of touchdowns and we didn't. By not converting those first downs we let them hang around and they're way too good of a team to let hang around."

He was dead on. In the second half, the field tilted the other way as the Pioneers had an average starting position of their own 44 while Amesbury's average staring position was their own 28.

The result? The Pioneers DID take advantage with 23 points while it was the Indians who could never get untracked.

That was the big difference in this game. The Pioneers took advantage of their opportunites and they prevented the Indians from cashing in on theirs.

That's the kind of foundation on which you build a championship.

Jitters Bug
Not that the Pioneers didn't suffer some jitters in the first half created some of their problems such as the mixup on the snap that caused the safety and some other miscues on both sides of the ball..

"I think the guys may have been a little too worked up at the start," Weidman explained as a reason for what looked like a tentative start for the Pioneers. "It was our first league game since early in the year. They knew the importance of it and they came out and maybe were a little tense. Then I think in the second half they just said 'hey we're down. We have nothing to lose." Then they played a little more relaxed and took care of business."

And just because the Pioneers came out breathing fire in the second half, don't think they received a Knute Rockne type halftime pep talk.

"I told them on offense we just had to execute," Weidman explained. "The fake punt was wide open. We definitely should have converted on that. Then later we missed a guy wide open for a touchdown. That was just execution stuff. I knew that if we did execute we'd be in good shape. It wasn't a need for a game plan change. They ran what we thought they were going to run. We really just had to execute in the second half and I think our lack of execution in the first half was partially due to being a little hyped up."

Defensive Guru
The Pioneers did look more effective defensively in the second half and there was some work done on that at half time.

"We made a couple of minor adjustments defensively," Weidman said.

As I spoke to defensive coordinator Greg Haberland about what those adjustments were, Pioneer assistant John O'Brien burst in, hugged Haberland, and called him a "Defensive Guru."

The way the defense has performed all year, the moniker fits.

The Pioneer first defense has now given up 23 points in seven games (12 against Danvers and 11 against Amesbury). They completely shut down the Indians in the second half.

"We played a two gap the whole second half," Haberland said. "We didn't slant at all. And our guys were able to get off their blocks and get more pressure on the quarterback. I was worried about the quarterback bootlegs and sprintouts and I wanted to cover him instead of getting pressure on him. I thought we didn't do that in the first half so we went to the two gap in the second half and got more pressure."

The defense as a whole has given up only 58 points and a total of 942 yards of offense in seven games a remarkable 135 yards per game average. And that includes several games where the young JV's were playing against varsity units desperate to put something on the board in blowout losses.

Boffo Opening
Weidman dipped into his bag of tricks for the stunning opening play that saw co-captain Gino Cohee hand off to co-captain A. J. Roberto who fired down field to co-captain Steve Ullian for a 46 yard gain that set up Cohee's touchdown two plays later.

That one was very reminiscent of the play against North Reading last Thanksgiving Day. That time it was on the second play of the game and was Cohee to Chris Grassi to Michael Pescione which went for a 42 yard touchdown.

Ball of Confusion
The first half ended in a hail of confusion and when all was said and done, the officials still did not get it right.

It started with a second and six from the Amesbury 18 yard line with less than ten seconds to play. Cohee tried to hit Ullian sprinting into the endzone but Amesbury defender Delante Castle clearly hip-checked Ullian and the official correctly threw a flag. Then the meetings started.

At first, it looked like they might be considering calling the ball uncatchable, although Ullian looked like he got a hand on it.

Then they finally placed the ball on the two yard line where the Pioneers set up to try to punch it in.

Then more whistles and more huddles and more conversation. Finally the officials placed the ball on the 11 yard line. The Pioneers elected to go with a field goal try Ullian's 28 yard attempt grazed the crossbar and fell short.

So what was all the confusion about?

"They told me that if the starting line of scrimmage was outside the 25 it would have been on the two, but inside the 25 it was half the distance," Weidman said of the officials' explanation.

Since the original line of scrimmage was the 18, that should have put the ball on the nine, not the 11. But the officials obviously lost track of the original line of scrimmage and the chain gang had moved, as LMS chain gang veteran Brian Roberts alertly noted, so they marked it off from the 22. That was actually the spot where Cohee went out of bounds after making a first down two plays earlier. However, there was another play after that when Cohee hit Roberto down to the 18 and that should have been the spot.

Needless to say, Ullian only needed one of those two extra yard and the field goal would have been good.

"That yard was big because we hit the crossbar," Weidman said. "I can laugh about it now, but I wouldn't have been laughing about it if it meant something."

Stepping Up
The Pioneers suffered a big blow on the final play of the second period when co-captain Jeff Gannon hurt his knee on a defensive stop. The injury was huge on both sides of the ball, but a couple of Pioneers stepped up and helped key the comeback win.

Cohee stepped it up a couple of levels both on offense and he had to jump back in at linebacker on defense and the performance both ways was outstanding.

Once Gannon left the game, you could almost see the senior quarterback just take over and realize he had to make up for the loss of his fellow co-captain. In the 20 remaining Pioneer plays in the half following Gannon's exit from the game, Cohee was involved in 19 of them. He ran six times for 61 yards and completed six of nine passes for 33 yards.

"I think he knew he was going to have to step it up running the ball," Weidman said. "He hasn't had to run the ball a lot this year and he ran well tonight."

Cohee's 12 points brings his career total to 170 and lifts him into sole possession of fourth place on the all time Lynnfield scoring list. His six rushing TD's this year gives him 27 for his career, second most all time to Frank Berardino's 31.

Cohee got some help in the second half from running back Mike Thomas. The junior carried 10 times for 93 yards and a pair of fourth quarter touchdowns that blew the game open.

"We're very confident with Mike," Weidman said. "He's gotten a lot of reps this year so far. He's rushed for a lot of yards. He's going to have to continue to improve on some other parts of the game. He can run the ball but he's going to keep getting better with the whole game of running back."

That was a perfect illustration of the value of getting younger players playing time early in the year, especially against varsity defenses. Thomas came into the game with 314 yards on  47 carries (6.6 yard average) with three touchdowns, so it was not like he was thrown under the bright lights untested. That is the way to build a winning program.

Head Cheerleader?
As if  burning the Indians for 248 yards of offense and a pair of scores and playing a solid game at linebacker wasn't enough, Cohee also took on the role of cheerleader, exhorting the large Pioneer crowd at Landry Stadium to keep the volume up during the exciting contest.

He was pretty effective as the Lynnfield rooting section definitely won the Noise War, especially in the second half when the home team rooters were pretty much silenced by the play of the Pioneers on the field.

Making a Statement
So was the impressive Pioneer performance against a good Amesbury team an answer to the questions regarding the Pioneers' schedule as compared to the other CAL Small contenders?

"The second half was," answered Weidman. "They were definitely more tested than us. And they came in and we had to combat the speed and physicalness of the game because we haven't had that yet and they had."

But the win certainly made a statement that the Pioneer's performance this year was not simply a result of a "soft" schedule.

Amesbury can never be described as soft, yet the Pioneers rolled up 408 yards of offense (258 rushing, 150 passing) against them, their second best output of the year. Only the 421 yards they laid on Cathedral was better.

The Pioneers have piled up 2,443 yards of offense in seven games, a 349 per game average. That is impressive regardless of the opposition, and even a solid defensive unit like Amesbury could not slow them down.

Getting to 20
Lost in all the excitement of the big CAL Small win, was the fact that this was Weidman's 20th victory as head coach of the Pioneers. After two and a half seasons, he now stands at 20-13.

The 33 games it took is the third fastest of all Lynnfield coaches. Current co-athletic director Bill Adams got there the fastest. It only took him 23 games as he went 9-1 in his first year in 1985 and 9-2 in 1986 and then went 2-0 to start the 1987 campaign to hit the mark.

The first Pioneer head coach in school history, Steve Sobiek needed only 28 games to get there as he went 20-8 in 1958, 59 and into 1960. The dean of Lynnfield coaches Bill Rodan, the only Pioneer coach to win 100 games (101-52-2) took 31 games to get there going 20-11 from 1969 into the 1972 season.

Scott Brennan who went 15-37 from 1995 to 1999 and Garland Johnson who went 5-12 in 1967 and 1968 never reached the 20 win mark.

- This was Lynnfield's second straight win over Amesbury. The Pioneers' overall record against the Indians is 22-15-1 with only a slim points advantage of 575-567.

- This was the 12th straight game in which the Pioneers have scored 20 or more points. That is the longest such streak in Lynnfield football history. The 1960 team had ten 20-plus games in a row before having the streak snapped in a 14-0 win over Weston. The last time the Pioneers did not score 20 points was in last year's 14-10 win over Amesbury.

- The Pioneers have now scored 252 points which is 6th best all time for season team scoring. Their 36 ppg average is second only to the 1960 team which put up 410 points in nine games.

Go Rams
Finally a quick shout out to Framingham State who kept hopes alive for a Bogan Division title in the New England Conference with a 48 27 win over Westfield State on Saturday. Former Pioneer captains Pat Lamusta and George Hennessey are freshmen teammates on the Rams (6-2, 4-1 Division) and are trying to mix it up on special teams. Hopefully their winning run can continue.

That's it for now. Check back Tuesday when I take a look around the league and don't forget to check out Fox25 High School Friday for previews of the the Pioneer-Clipper game to be featured this Friday night.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Pioneer Power!

Before we get to tonight's exciting 30-13 win by the Pioneers, there is breaking news.

Fox25 just announced that their High School Friday team will be in Newburyport next Friday night for the Clipper-Pioneer game. That means the two teams will be previewed on Fox25 news during the week and that highlights of the game will be shown on Friday night's 10 pm newscasts. Lots of other features will be posted on the Fox25 website as well. Congratulations to all who voted!

Well the Pioneers will be hard pressed to provide a show as exciting as tonight's performance in Amesbury. That folks, was one quality high school football game, made even better with the Pioneers coming out on top.

You can read my complete game story in this week's Villager which will be out on Wednesday, but suffice it to say that the Pioneers took care of a number of things on their "to-do" list.

- Beat a quality opponent. Check
- Beat a quality opponent convincingly. Check
- Come from behind in the second half for a victory. Check.
- Overcome a major injury (to co-captain Jeff Gannon). Check
- Overcome some weak officiating, bad luck and poor play (in the first half). Check. Check. Check.
- Make a statement to the rest of the Cape Ann League Small. CHECK.

Kudos to the large contingent of Pioneer fans that braved the cold and filled the visitors' side of Landry Stadium. They were as loud and boisterous a Lynnfield crowd as I have ever seen or heard.

Many of them were looking for the Tums at halftime as the Pioneers trailed 13-7 after a shaky first half. But Lynnfield tied it in the third and blew it open in the fourth behind co-captains Gino Cohee, A. J. Roberto and Steve Ullian, junior Mike Thomas and a revived defense that rose up and smote Amesbury, shutting them out in the second half.

The Pioneers are now 7-0 overall but more importantly 2-0 in the CAL Small.

Athletic trainer Sean Roach will be busy this week. Gannon suffered some type of knee injury and Wes Sullivan was shaken up in the closing minutes of the game as well.

Check back Sunday night for more on the Amesbury game.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

It Should be a Dandy at Landry

It's probably too early to call this a "must win" game, but it certainly could be labeled a "really important one to win". Whoever takes this game will be 2-0 in the league and will have a leg up on the loser who will fall to 1-1 in CAL Small play. Big difference.

In any case, one thing is sure. We should be in for quite a football game at Landry Stadium in Amesbury on Friday night when the league champs from the last three years (Amesbury in 2007 & 2008 and Lynnfield in 2009) hook up.

A lot of questions will be answered Friday night.

How good are the Pioneers?

They have obliterated every team they have played thus far. The closest margin of victory has been 21 points. They have been tested only briefly, by Danvers, and that was shortlived and quickly overcome.

Can they continue their dominance now that they are in the CAL Small league play?

The Boston Globe thinks they are pretty good. The Pioneers are ranked 26th in the latest Top 100 list.  Hamilton-Wenham is the only other team in the CAL Small on the list and they come in at number 69.

And what of Amesbury? Should we overlook their 2-4 record because three of their losses have come against CAL Large powers North Andover and Pentucket and undefeated Division 3A's St. Mary's?

We'll know a lot more at around 9:30 pm Friday.

We do know this. Amesbury is a prime contender. They came the closest of any team in the Small last year of beating Lynnfield. Truth be told, they outplayed the Pioneers on their home field and it took a miracle play in the fourth quarter when Evan Panzero stripped an Indian runner and Tim Lamusta ran it back for the score.

The Pioneers escaped with a 14-10 win and they knew it.

If they made the mistake of taking Amesbury lightly last season, you can be sure that won't be the case this year.

"They're good," said Pioneer head coach Neal Weidman. "We get Amesbury and Newburyport back to back on the road. That's the way it is. We had them both at home last year so I guess we can't complain. We have Amesbury first and that is what we have to focus on."

Like the Pioneers, the Indians are experienced, starting eight seniors on offense and defense. Offensively, quarterback Tyler Lay is the key. He has only thrown two TD passes but he has run for two others and for three two point conversions.

Tall and rangy, Lay looked strong against Pentucket until they started pressuring him. It will be key for Jonathan Roberto and Andrew Kibarian to introduce themselves to Lay early and often.

Matt Enaire leads the Indians with five rushing TD's, but Ian McLaughlin has also been getting carries. They are also starting to get the ball to Stephan Deas, on run plays and little swing passes. He is small, but quick and dangerous, very similar in style to David Cinelli, Jr. of Cathedral and Troy Crossley of Chelsea. The Pioneers' quickness bottled up both of those quick runners, and they will need to do the same to Deas.

No team has been able to run against the Pioneer's first defense. In their first six games, the Pioneer first defense has given up a total of 162 yards on 85 carries - an amazing 1.9 yards per carry average. Even more stunning, 37 of those carries (43%) went for 1 yard or less. The have given up only 11 runs of more than five yards in six games.

John Bossi has been a rock in the middle of the line, taking on multiple blockers freeing up linebackers co-captains A. J. Roberto and Jeff Gannon to make tackles.

"Bossi's been doing a great job in the middle," said Pioneer defensive coordinator Greg Haberland. "Everyone is double teaming him now. It's a great story."

Meanwhile, linebackers co-captains Steve Ullian and Gino Cohee, Craig Cataldo and Tyler Palumbo have set the edge so no one could get to the outside. Defensive backs Rick Berardino, Wes Sullivan, Tim Shannon and Matt Kelly have come up to provide great run support.

The Pioneers need to shut down the Indian running game, pressure Lay and make him beat them through the air. Easier said than done.

Offensively, the Pioneers have shown the ability to take what the defense gives them. M/E, Georgetown, Bishop Fenwick and Cathedral tried to shut down the Pioneer running game, so that allowed Cohee to carve them up through the air completing 32 of 49 passes for 637 yards and nine TD's. Danvers decided to try and shut off the passing game, so Gannon and Cohee gashed them on the ground for 239 yards on 24 carries, a 9.9 yards per carry average.

Amesbury head coach Thom Connors has scouted the Pioneers extensively and understands the dilemna facing him Friday night.

"They spread you out and throw the ball," Connors told me. "They present you with some challenges that you don't see every week. It goes back to like when we played Triton (coached by former Pioneer offensive coordinator Pat Sheehan) at the beginning of the year.

"We're probably going to have to do a few things differently defensively to take away that spread," Connors continued. "But I still think they run the ball a lot even though they spread out. They make you cover guys wide then they run the ball at you. We have a pretty good scout on them. We'll know what they do. We just have to go out and execute."

Mike Geary, former Pioneer line coach and current assistant coach at Triton watched as his Vikings lost to Amesbury 22-21 in the opening game of the season.  He understands the challenge that the Pioneer coaching staff faces in preparing for the Indians.

"Preparing for Amesbury, one of the toughest problems for Lynnfield could be getting used to the slanting and stunting up front by their D-line and linebackers," Geary said. "That movement gave our offensive line a tough time when we played them because we couldn't simulate it enough in practice. That's the problem when mostly freshmen are on your scout team. Hopefully Neal (Weidman) can do a better job than we did getting the line prepared for their quickness up front."

Weidman put this game in particular and the rest of the league schedule in perspective.

"I think they have some specific goals," Weidman said about his team, "and these first games aren't going to get them where they want to go. They're the ones that came up with the goals and what they wanted to do. They're smart enough to know that the last five games are the ones that count. And it's not going to be easy. It's going to be five tough weeks in a row. All we can do it take them one at a time."

The first one is Friday night. Game time in Amesbury is 7 pm.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

CAL Small 2010: The Amazing Race

Now that the preliminaries are out of the way, it's time to get down to determining who will wear the CAL crown in 2010. Because of the overall parity in the league, this could prove to be one of the most exciting (or nerve wracking from the point of view of Pioneer fans) races since the league split into Large and Small Divisions in 2004.

Just a warrning before we get started. This will be a long one. Refill your cup with coffee (or your other beverage of choice) and settle in for an in-depth look at what's ahead. Call it the curse of limitless space.

In four of the six seasons that the small schools have been in their own league, the eventual champion has been undefeated in league play:

- 2004 Newburyport 5-0
- 2005 Hamilton Wenham 5-0
- 2006 Ipswich 5-0
- 2009 Lynnfield 6-0

In 2007, Newburyport and Amesbury tied in league play with 4-1 records, but the Indians took the title and advanced to the playoffs by virtue of a head to head win over the Clippers on Thanksgiving Day.

In 2008, Amesbury, Newburyport and Georgetown (who joined the Small that season) all finished with 5-1 records and it came down to the tiebreaker.

Now would be a good time to discuss the tiebreaking process since given the projected tightness of the race it could very well come into play to determine the league champion.

This is the CAL Tiebreaking process for football which was used in determining the 2008 champion:

1. Head to Head result
2. Record vs teams in the division (which is superfluous since this will match the league record)
3. Points ALLOWED (my emphasis) in games involving those teams that are tied.
4. Coin flip

So for illustration purposes, let’s review the 2008 season and how it played out using this process.

Georgetown, Newburyport and Amesbury all finished with league records of 5-1

1. Head to head:
    a. Georgetown beat Amesbury 15-14
    b. Amesbury beat Newburyport 22-7
    c. Newburyport beat Georgetown 27-26

2. Record v teams in the division: All were 5-1

3. Points Allowed in games among tied teams:
    a. Amesbury 22
    b. Georgetown 41
    c. Newburyport 48

Amesbury was awarded the title and went on to win the Division 3A Superbowl.

Going into the Thanksgiving Day game, Newburyport only needed to beat Amesbury to win the crown since they would have been undefeated at 6-0.

But Amesbury not only needed to beat Newburyport to create the three-way tie, but they needed to hold the Clippers to under 26 points. For example if Amesbury had beaten Newburyport 30-28, they would have created the three way tie, but they would have allowed 42 points against the other two teams. That would have given the crown to Georgetown who only allowed 41 points.

Got all that?

Confusing, yes but the message is clear. Other than head to head wins, “points allowed” in league games is the crucial tiebreaker.

That bodes well for the Pioneers who have displayed a nearly impenetrable defense. The first D has allowed only 12 points (all to Danvers) and continuing that trend would seem to be essential in these league games.

So what does that mean in practical terms?

Well, it may make coaches around the league think twice about pulling out the first defense, even if they are fortunate enough to get a comfortable lead. Since teams will not know if or with whom they may be tied at the end of the year, keeping points off the board is paramount. They would not want to lose a possible tiebreaker by having the second team allow what might appear to be “meaningless” points at the end of a game since in fact those points could be VERY meaningful.

This tiebreaker involves more sportsmanship than point differential, as an example, since the latter encourages running up the score, where focusing on points allowed does not.

Obviously if one team (the Pioneers?) could come out and just win six games, the conversation is moot. But given the relative strength of the league, that would appear to be formidable task. More likely is that the more than one contender will suffer a loss somewhere along the line and the tiebreaker could come into play.

So with all that said, let’s get to handicapping what looks to be an extremely exciting race.

I have personally seen five of the seven teams. The only ones I haven’t seen in person are Hamilton-Wenham and Ipswich, but I have been following them closely. What follows is the opinion of one ink-stained wretch sprinkled with some insight from other coaches around the league.

For discussion purposes, I have divided the seven teams in the league into four levels. We’ll start from the bottom and work our way up.



Prior to last weekend, I would have said that the Royals would be the only team in the league that would be a non factor in the race. In their first four games, Georgetown suffered lopsided losses, including league defeats at the hands of the Pioneers and Amesbury.

However that all changed last Saturday when the Royals dominated Bishop Fenwick in a 25-14 victory. The Crusaders have been a Jekyll and Hyde team all year, but they did beat Hamilton Wenham handily, so they have some ability. Head coach Matt Bouchard may have gotten the Royals turned around in that win, and they could pull an upset somewhere down the line.

The Royals start with Ipswich this week then get HW and North Reading at home, then finish their league schedule against Newburyport.

North Reading:

The Hornets already have suffered losses to Ipswich and Newburyport, but they seem to be putting it all together. They are a young team, and struggled to score in their first three losses. However I saw them play Newburyport in the rain in one of those and they outplayed the Clippers in the first half before wearing down in the second in a 19-2 loss.

In game four, Head coach Jeff Wall shook things up by moving his sophomore quarterback R. J. Warnock to receiver and installing senior Nick Rosano at quarterback and that provided the spark. The Hornets built big leads against both Austin Prep and Bishop Fenwick, ultimately losing late to both, 30-26 to the Cougars and 30-24 to the Crusaders. They probably should have won both games.

They have done everything but win, and that should come shortly.

“The team that has impressed me most as the season goes on is North Reading,” said Triton assistant coach Mike Geary, a former Pioneer captain and assistant as well as a former assistant in North Reading. “They will most likely not be in the league race at that point but they could be as good as anyone by the end of the season. They did not look good when we scrimmaged them during camp, but I saw them on tape against Austin Prep and I couldn’t believe how much better they have gotten.

“North Reading moved the ball all over the field against Austin Prep and would have beaten them if it wasn’t for a few bad breaks,” Geary said.

“That’s the game that would worry me most for Lynnfield,” Geary went on. “This is North Reading’s third year running the spread and it always seems like in the middle of the third year it starts to click. That’s what happened with us in Lynnfield in our third year in the middle of 2008."
The Hornets will certainly have a chance to be heard in the race with games against H-W, Amesbury and Lynnfield in their final five.



The Tigers have clearly turned the corner after a horrific 30 game losing streak that they finally ended last Thanksgiving Day. They sit at 3-3 overall and 1-1 in the league having beaten North Reading, CAL Large Triton and Manchester Essex. They lost a close one to Newburyport and were literally and figuratively out of their league in lopsided losses to Marblehead and Pentucket.

I actually considered putting the Tigers up into the next level, but they appear to have been bitten by the injury bug. In fact, that is probably one of the reasons for the 41-2 loss to Pentucket. They played without two of their key weapons in receiver John Eldredge, QB Brendan Gallagher’s favorite target, and running back Jake LeBlanc. Both of those are also key contributors on defense.

The Tigers didn’t seem to miss them in a 23-0 win over M/E, but if they are out for any length of time, Ipswich will be severely affected.

That said, Ipswich clearly is in control of their own fate. They always play tough and that infernal Delaware Wing T offense gives everyone, including the Pioneers, fits.

They host Georgetown this Friday and then run the gauntlet of Amesbury, Lynnfield and Hamilton Wenham to finish the year.

With one league loss already, they will pretty much have to run the table to have a shot at the title. If they get healthy, they have to be considered a contender and at the very least, they will have a say in the ultimate outcome of the race.



The Clippers were one of the preseason favorites but took a hit with an opening day league loss to Hamilton Wenham. They followed that up with a lackluster 19-2 win against North Reading. They were clearly outplayed in the first half by the charged up Hornets but they turned things around with a big interception return at the end of the half.

The Clippers came out in the second half and decided to simply pound the Hornets with their best player, Andrew Sokol, running behind their huge offense line. They wore NR down and pulled away for the win, but were unimpressive in the effort.

But as is usually the case with a team coached by Ed Gaudiano, Newburyport has improved as the season moved on. They outlasted Ipswich 17-12 then upset Pentucket 21-18. They played Masco tough, falling 20-15 on a last quarter drive by the Chieftains.

They got hammered by undefeated Wilmington 29-0 in the storm last Friday night and they will complete their non league schedule with a game against a tough North Andover team this week and their final CAL Large game against Triton in two weeks. Those two games will be sandwiched around their biggest game of the year against the Pioneers on October 29.

The Clippers have already played three league games, and at 2-1 are in the hole with one loss, so one more defeat for them probably puts them on the outside looking in.

You could argue that the Clippers belong one level up, but the loss to H-W hurts them as does the loss of Sokol, who is out with a torn ACL, a similar injury that cost him most of last season.

As always, the Clippers will be a factor one way or another.


The Generals are another team that has engineered an impressive turnaround this season. They suffered through an injury plagued 2-8 campaign last year but the silver lining was that they were forced to play mostly younger players. The experience gained last year is now paying dividends.

H-W roared out of the gate to start the season beginning with a stunning 14-7 upset of Newburyport . They continued to roll with a solid 14-8 win over Triton and a convincing 27-14 victory over Pentucket, both CAL Large teams.

Then the Generals stubbed their collective toes on the artificial turf at Bishop Fenwick losing to what has become an enigmatic Crusader team 25-7. H-W followed that up with a 34-6 loss to Wilmington in a game that was much closer than the final score. The Generals were down only 7-0 at the half and were within one score at 14-6 in the third before the undefeated Wildcats of the CAL Large blew it open in the end game.

Based on their 2-1 mark against the CAL Large and their upset over Newburyport giving them a 1-0 record in the CAL Small, the Generals really belong one step up in this analysis. But I just can’t get over that Bishop Fenwick loss.

The Pioneers could have basically named their score against Fenwick, who also fell to Georgetown in their first win and needed a miracle fumble in the closing minutes to beat North Reading. Yet BF dominated H-W.

If it turns out that the BF loss was just a bad hair day, then H-W is for real and will battle for the title to the end. If that loss to the Crusaders somehow revealed a fatal flaw in the Generals’ armor, then they will have a rough go of it in their remaining league games against Amesbury, Lynnfield and Ipswich on Thanksgiving Day.

Either way, they will make an impact as the title race plays out.



Of all the games in the Pioneers run to the championship last year, Amesbury was clearly the toughest. The Indians outplayed Lynnfield most of the day and only the Strip and Return on Main Street pulled off by Evan Panzero and Tim Lamusta allowed the Pioneers to escape with a 14-10 win.

Again this year, it looks to me like Amesbury will be the top obstacle to the Pioneers' repeating. Not that the games against Newburyport, Hamilton-Wenham, Ipswich and North Reading will be a walk in the park, but the Indians appear to be rounding into shape at just the right time.

That's why this week's showdown at Landry Stadium is so huge. The winner will go to 2-0 in the league and will have the inside track to the title. The loser will need help from someone else. (I'll have a full preview of that game on Thursday).

Why the Indians?

They appear to be the most complete team of all of the Pioneers' contenders. Quarterback Tyler Lay looks like he grew about six inches and he towers behind his solid offensive line with plenty of targets from which to choose. Watching him riddle the Pentucket defense in the first quarter was truly scary.

They also have a solid defense led by Ian McLaughlin. His importance can be seen by what happened to the Indians when he was out. McLaughlin was hurt in Amesbury's thrilling 22-21 last minute win over Triton in the their opener. He did not play in the Indians' next two games and they were blown up by North Andover 41-6 and East Boston 42-26. McLaughlin returned and the Indians fell in a hard fought game to a powerful St. Mary's team 18-7 but the defense was much improved.

Amesbury followed that up with a rout of Georgetown and a near upset of Pentucket. They are 2-4 overall, but are 1-0 in the league and that's all that counts.

The Indians also have that winning experience gained from capturing league titles in 2007 and 2008. The sophomores on that 2008 Super Bowl winning team are now seniors looking to make some history of their own. You can never underestimate that kind of experience.

Like many teams in the league, the Indians are well coached by Thom Connors and continue to improve as the season moves along. Like the Pioneers, they have five tough league games in a row to end the season, and my feeling is they are going to be there in the end.


Until someone takes it away from them, the Pioneers still wear the crown. They have cruised through their first six games winning them all while barely breaking a sweat outscoring their opponents 222-45. And it could have been much worse if head coach Neal Weidman hadn't called off the dogs in the second half in most of those games.

You can quibble with the Pioneers' schedule, playing down for three games, even for two and up for one but that kind of dominance is impressive regardless of the competition. I asked Amesbury's Connors if he felt that his team had an advantage playing a "tougher" schedule (three up, two even, one down).

"The way the leagues have shaped up it's kind of funny," Connors said. "I stopped worrying about playing up or down and just play the game that's at hand."

"You can look at it in different ways," Weidman responded to the same question. "We did play up against Danvers but (Amesbury) is more battle tested, that's for sure. I wish it had been a little more balanced this year."

Perhaps the biggest thing working against the Pioneers is the league schedule. Of the major contenders, Lynnfield has to play three of them on the road. They face Amesbury and Newburyport, a place they have never played well, on back to back Friday nights. Then after returning home against Ipswich, they head back on the bus for a trip to Hamilton-Wenham.

The league race will probably be decided on Super Thursday (Thanksgiving Day) with three huge rivalry games that could have five teams still in contention. The Pioneers host North Reading, Newburyport travels to Amesbury and Ipswich goes to Hamilton Wenham. My guess is nothing is decided until right before the turkeys are carved.

So where does that leave us as we look forward to an exciting finish to the season?

Let the experts opine.

At the beginning of the year, Weidman said any of five teams could win it and injuries could be the deciding factor. How does he feel now?

"Some of the teams that you might not have expected to be the front runners are playing pretty well right now," Weidman said. "North Reading is playing well right now. Ipswich has had their moments. They're banged up now but before that they were doing real well. Newburyport, Amesbury, Hamilton-Wenham are all right there."

Triton has played Amesbury, Hamilton-Wenham and Ipswich, so Geary has first hand knowledge of those teams.

"As far as the teams we (Triton) have seen," Geary said. "I think Lynnfield's size will give them a good advantage against the primary running offenses that Hamilton-Wenham and Ipswich feature.

"I think on paper Lynnfield is the team to beat," Geary summed up. "They're very well coached and they have the best quarterback, which goes a long way in football. However the biggest problem for Lynnfield is that the other small teams will be hunting them this year as opposed to being able to sneak up on some teams like last year."

Amesbury's Connors sums it up best.

"I don't know," Connors said. "I've seen just about everybody play. Lynnfield is as good a team as there is. They have a high powered offense and we're going to have to try and slow that down (this week). Hamilton Wenham is as tough as they've every been. They are back to being a real tough team. Newburyport has beaten Pentucket and a few other teams. I think we'll be all right. I think we have a pretty good team.

"I think it's up for grabs," Connors concluded. "I don't know what's going to happen. You can't make a mistake. This is it. We'll see."

Indeed. It all starts Friday. Strap up and let's go.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Around the CAL Small: Week Six

So this was the last weekend of non-league games for the Pioneers and most of the other teams in the CAL Small as well. The battle for the title begins in earnest this weekend with six of the seven teams in head to head league games.

To bring everyone up to speed on the upcoming battles, I will be doing a special CAL Small League Preview post on Wednesday. Teams have changed since the beginning of the season, and now would be a good time to check back in with each team and handicap the exciting race to come. I have collected some interesting tidbits from other coaches around the league to get their view on how they feel the race will shape up.

But today, let's wrap up Week Six action. First a look at the revised standings.

The game of most interest to Pioneer fans involved Amesbury, Lynnfield's next opponent, who visited CAL Large Pentucket on Saturday. I made the trip to West Newbury and amazingly saw one game in two clearly different parts.

In part one, Amesbury completely dominated the Sachems for just over a quarter. Indian quarterback Tyler Lay sliced and diced the Pentucket secondary, completing eight of 10 passes for 123 yards. Stephan Deas grabbed four passes, Nick Croce had three and Tim Williams had one.

After easily moving through the Pentucket defense from their own 25 to the Sachem 17 on their opening drive, the Indians came up empty when Lay was picked off in the endzone.

No worries. After holding Pentucket to one first down, Amesbury got the ball back and quickly moved from their own 15 to the Sachem 10 where the drive stalled. Croce came in and booted a 27 yard field goal to give the Indians a 3-0 lead.

On the first play of Pentucket's next drive, Amesbury recovered a fumble on the Sachem 25 yard line. After being thrown for a couple of losses, Lay connected with the shifty Deas (think the Patriots' Danny Woodhead) on a 31 yard pass play to the Sachem three yard line. Lay took it in two plays later and Amesbury led 10-0 and was in full control.

However, the dean of CAL coaches Steve Hayden flipped a couple of switches, and that was that for the Indians. From that point on, Amesbury would gain only 26 more total yards and two first downs. Lay would go 0 for 8 with an interception the rest of the way. Amesbury coughed up a fumble and had a bad punt snap for a safety as well.

Pentucket meanwhile, turned into...well...Pentucket. They "winged T" their way over and through the Amesbury defense. The Sachems got on the board on a Mike Doud to Sean Brennan 54 yard pass play which was tipped into Brennan's hands. That cut the lead to 10-7 at the half.

A safety on Amesbury's first possesion of the third period made it 10-9. Then Pentucket converted an Indian fumble on their own 19 into a score late in the third. They added the two point conversion and led 17-10. For the final 13 minutes of the game, Amesbury would run seven plays for 15 yards.

What happened?

According to Pioneer defensive coordinater Greg Haberland who was in attendance, Pentucket started pressuring Lay and that turned things around.

"Pentucket adjusted, started crashing the ends and he threw two picks," Haberland said.

After the game I spoke to Amesbury coach Thom Connors who was obviously dissapointed.

"The first half we played as good as we have all year," Connors said. "Then in the second half we made some big mistakes to let them back in the game.

"The second half they made a pretty good adjustment defensively," Connors went on. "They went from their usual 5-2 look to a 4-4 look. We just didn't make the plays. We're pretty happy with the way we played. Pentucket is a pretty solid football team. We had as easy a chance to win this as we lost it. Overall I'm happy with our effort, we just came up short."

Like Lynnfield, the Indians are 1-0 in the league and now face all CAL Small league games the rest of the way. First up are the Pioneers who travel to Amesbury this Friday night. I'll have a complete preview of the game on Thursday.

The Big Stunner this week occured in Peabody where Georgetown took it to Bishop Fenwick and battered the Crusaders 25-14 to pick up their first win. From all reports, the game wasn't even that close.

Ironically, the Royals moved the game to Bishop Fenwick because of the field conditions in Georgetown, but the Crusaders clearly didn't take advantage of the bonus home field advantage.

The Royals had lost all four of their games by an average of 30 points so this one looked like a mismatch going in. However, someone forgot to tell the fired up Georgetown players. In the second period, Quarterback Tyler Wade ran one in from nine yards out and Derek Depasquale added a three yard burst to give the Royals a 12-0 lead.

That pair hooked up for a 90 yard TD pass play in the third to stretch the lead to 19-0. BF scored to make it 19-6 but then Wade hit fourth quarter field goals of 39 and 40 yards to make it 25-6. The Crusaders added a meaningless fourth quarter score to make it closer than it looked.

According to several reports, the Georgetown line controlled BF all day long and the Crusaders were unable to run against them. Royal coach Matt Bouchard clearly had his team ready to spring the upset. Bouchard told Mike Grenier of the Salem Evening News that his seniors had a meeting on the Monday following the 31-8 loss to Amesbury, and the players responded.

Georgetown will get to flex their newly found muscle against Ipswich on Friday night when the Royals travel North to take on the Tigers.

Ipswich tuned up for that game by manhandling Manchester Essex 23-0 on Friday night in the nor'easter. It was a bad matchup for the Hornets given the conditions with the Tigers primarily a running team and the Hornets a pass-first spread team.

The Tigers smothered the Hornets holding them to less than 40 yards of total offense and posting their first shutout since their 7-0 Super Bowl win in 2006.

Quarterback Brendan Gallagher got the Tigers on the board first with a 35 yard run. Peter Moutevalis blasted in from the one in the second quarter to make it 13-0. Louis Galanis broke a 44 yard TD run in the third to make it 20-0. Kenny Wing added a field goal in the third quarter to account for the final score.

Newburyport had similar problems at World War Memorial Stadium against undefeated Wilmington. Playing in the same weather conditions, quarterback Ryan O'Connor could manage only two passes for 11 yards in the first half.

Meanwhile the Wildcats "ground em up offense" was built for foul weather and they took full advantage. They scored on their opening possession and built a 13-0 first half lead. They broke it open with a field goal on their first touch of the second half and a 38 yard run to make it 23-0 in the third. Wilmington added a fourth quarter TD to account for the final score.

The Clippers have one more game in their CAL Large schedule and it is a doozy. They travel to North Andover, who has been obliterating everyone in their path. After a tough 21-9 loss to Andover in their opener, the Knights have reeled off five straight wins averaging more than 42 points per game.

Hamilton Wenham travels to North Reading this week in what has the makings of a very interesting game. Both teams had bye weeks so they have had two weeks to prepare. The Hornets are looking to rebound from two straight tough losses in games they probably should have won against Austin Prep and Bishop Fenwick. The Generals are coming off a 34-6 loss at Wilmington two weeks ago in a game that was much more competitive than the final score would indicate.

Finally, if you haven't already done so, get onto Fox High School Friday and vote for the Lynnfield/Newburyport contest to be the feature game on October 29. As of 10 pm on Monday night, the lead was down to 56%-44%. Remember you can vote once every 24 hours until the decision is made on Wednesday.

That's it for now. Check back on Wednesday for my CAL Small Preview post.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Chelsea Leftovers

For anyone who made the trip down Revere Beach Parkway to Chelsea, you know how miserable the conditions were. Cold, rainy and windy. Not a night fit for man/woman nor beast. But according to Pioneer head coach Neal Weidman, it was the wind that was the big factor.

"Typically wet doesn't bother us that much but the wind is a different beast," said Weidman."But both teams had to play in it."

The Pioneers scored early but were clearly affected by the conditions. In a savvy bit of coaching, Chelsea head coach (and Lynnfield resident) Mike Stellato took advantage by using the weather as another way of  slowing down the Pioneers.

"They were trying to take some run stuff away from us as well as the short passing game," Weidman explained. "They were right up on us trying to make us throw the ball down the field which is smart when there's 35 mile an hour wind gusts."

Up only 14-0 at the half, the Pioneers locked this one up early in the third period on Rick Berardino's interception followed shortly by co-captain Jeff Gannon's seven yard TD run.

"We made one adjustment that helped," Weidman said about the Pioneers better play in the second half. "That interception, then we came down and scored was huge."

"It was an interesting evening," Weidman aptly summed up.

A Chelsea Legend
The hardy souls that made the trip were treated to the unique work of a true Chelsea legend, public address announcer Arnie Goodman. Goodman has been a fixture in Chelsea as a teacher, coach, sports columnist and unofficial "mayor" for nearly half a century. He has been announcing the Red Devil games at Chelsea Memorial Stadium since I was in grammar school back in the mid-sixties and he still does a thorough job. (And for those that noted several mistakes in his announcing Friday night, trust me the conditions were just as bad for him and his spotters. I was in the booth for the second half and you simply could not see through the plexiglass protecting the booth. He was totally reliant on his spotters.)

As noted on his Facebook page, Tom Waisnor, Lynnfield's own Legend-in-the-Making and Voice of the Pioneers at LMS was in attendance Friday night. Hopefully he was taking copious notes on Mr. Goodman's work. Tom only has about 40 years to go to match him.

See you in 2050 Tom!

Size and Speed
As expected, the Red Devils provided an interesting combination of size and speed that the Pioneers hadn't seen yet this year.

"We haven't seen anyone faster than them," Weidman agreed. "They're fast. (Troy Crossly #3) can run. He was fast but we knew that going in. They had a couple of guys that can run. Cathedral was close in team speed. But Chelsea had a combination of being pretty big too. They had some size. They played tough. They came out ready to play and they played us tough for four quarters."

Streak Snapped
One casualty of the weather in Chelsea was co-captain Steve Ullian's consecutive game PAT streak. Prior to Friday night, Ullian had booted at least one extra point in 17 straight games - all 12 last season and the first five this year. You have to go back to Thanksgiving Day 2008 for the last game in which Ullian did not have a PAT. That was because in the final games that year, Ben Salisbury was doing the placekicking after returning from an injury. Salisbury booted three against the Hornets in that game.

With the gusting winds and driving rain, Ullian had no chance on either PAT try.

Opening With a Bang
Sophomore Tyler Palumbo set the tone on the opening kickoff Friday night. Wes Sullivan gathered in the squib kick on the 30 and Palumbo got things started with a massive hit on a Red Devil coverage player. The devastating block was of the "de-cleating" variety as Palumbo's hit sent the Chelsea player "butt over tea kettle."

Sullivan got to the Lynnfield 40 setting up the first Pioneer TD drive.

Goose Eggs
The Pioneers' 28-0 win was their third shutout of the year, most since 2003 when Lynnfield blanked their opponents four times. The record is held by the 1962 team which posted six shutouts in nine games. That team, which went 8-1, allowed only 32 points all season and 20 of those came in their only loss, a 20-0 defeat to Wilmington.

- The Pioneers' six wins guarantees Lynnfield will have back to back winning seasons for the first time since 1986 (9-2) and 1987 (7-3) under former Pioneer head coach Bill Adams.

- Lynnfield has now scored 222 points on the year, the best for the first six games of the season since 1960 when the Pioneers rolled for 296 points in the first half dozen games.

- The 2010 Pioneers are now in eighth place for all time team season scoring with five games remaining.

Snakebit in Byfield
You have to feel for former Pioneer assistant coach Pat Sheehan who is in his first year as head coach at Triton. The Vikes have been competitive in every game but have not yet put up their first W.

But more frustrating is that their largest margin of defeat has been only seven points. Their average loss margin has been 4.6 points. They lost to Amesbury by 1 on a two point conversion with less than a minute to play. They lost to Ipswich by two.

But the unkindness cut of all came last Friday when Triton lost to Austin Prep 32-26 in FOUR overtimes on a controversial 1 yard touchdown.

The two teams battled to a 12-12 tie in regulation in the mud and rain in Byfield. Both teams scored TD's and two point conversions in the first OT to keep the scored tied at 20-20. Both scored touchdowns in the second overtime to make it 26-26. Neither team scored in the third OT. Triton did not score on their possession in the fourth OT, but on fourth and goal from one for Austin Prep, the refs ruled that Cougar Adam Fraser made it over for the winning touchdown.

"I didn't think (Fraser) crossed the goal line at the end, and it took a long time for them to call it and it was unfortunate, but that's a hard loss," Sheehan was quoted as saying in the Newburyport News.

Despite the losses, Sheehan has his team playing hard and you know that has to pay dividends in the long run. The Vikes just need a break.

High School Friday: Cast Your Ballot!
Finally, just a reminder to get onto Fox High School Friday to cast your ballot for the Lynnfield-Newburyport game to be the feature game on October 29. At one point today, the Pioneer game was leading by 76%-24% but as of 7 pm on Sunday night, it was down to a 65%-35%. Remember you can vote once every 24 hours until the final decisions on Wednesday.

That's it for now. Check back on Tuesday for a look around at what happened to the CAL Small teams in the final week of non-league play.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Cast Your Ballot!

Brenda Kelly just sent out an email letting everyone know that the Lynnfield-Newburyport game in a couple of weeks could be the feature game on Fox News Friday. I just voted and right now the Pioneers are trailing 51-48%. (Not sure how that math works but whatever). Every vote counts so get on line and do your civic duty!

Here is Brenda's email detailing the process.
Hi Everyone,
Just saw on Fox 25 news Lynnfield vs Newburyport could be the featured game on their High School Friday but we must vote...go to,  then click on high school Friday and VOTE for Lynnfield!!!!

Please pass it on to EVERYONE  that you know.  It is also available on facebook.(high school Friday)
Brenda Kelly

Devil of a Night

Notes while drying out from a wild, wet and windy night in Chelsea.

The Pioneers scored early, dominated defensively and cruised to their sixth straight victory 28-0 over Chelsea in a persistent rain and howling winds.

Two more TD's for co-captain Jeff Gannon, one from co-captain A. J. Roberto and another from Rick Berardino provided the firepower.

Meanwhile, the Pioneer defense smothered the Red Devils who made it into Pioneer territory only three times but the deepest penetration was to the Lynnfield 45 yard line.

You can read my detailed game story in this week's Villager.

A major shout out to the hardy band of Pioneer rooters who made the soggy trip. The Lynnfield contingent of friends and family (well actually probably mostly family) clearly outnumbered the home team crowd.

So now the preliminaries are over and the Pioneers head into the part of the schedule that means everything. Five straight weeks of battling their CAL Small brethren beginning next Friday night in Amesbury. Fasten your seat belts.

Check back Sunday night for more on the Chelsea game.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

"Sizing" up the Red Devils

So far this season, the Pioneers have faced spread teams like Bishop Fenwick, speed teams like Cathedral and scrappy teams like Danvers.

Now for something completely different. A size team.

The Pioneers travel to Chelsea Friday night and they will face a team unlike any other they have faced yet this year - a big team that plays old fashioned smash mouth football.

"I know they are an aggressive team and a big team," said Pioneer head coach Neal Weidman. "They are always aggressive and they are well coached."

The Devils head coach is Lynnfield resident Mike Stellato who took over the Chelsea program in 2007 and have improved them every season. Last year he guided them to an 8-2 finish with only a tough 14-12 loss to Northeast, eventual Division 4A Super Bowl Champ, keeping Chelsea out of the playoffs. Prior to coming to Chelsea, Stellato helped to rebuild the St Mary's of Lynn program and then spent a year at Danvers.

"I know they graduated some guys, but I know they are going to be physical," Weidman said. "They'll be pretty big too," he repeated.

A quick look at the Red Devils' roster shows why Weidman is stressing the size of Chelsea's team. Lots of 240 and 250 pounders which will give the Pioneers a different look. And the type of offense Chelsea runs is suited to that size.

"They run a multiple I, but it's more of a power I," Weidman said. Just what you'd expect from a team with that type of front wall.

And their formation is not the only thing that is multiple. So are Chelsea's scoring weapons. After losses to Pope John 12-6 and Brighton 14-12 to open the season, the Devil offense has exploded for 114 points in the last three games. Chelsea routed Greater Lowell 42-0 and outlasted Mystic Valley 40-30. Last week, the Red Devils fell to Shawsheen in a seesaw battle that saw them fall behind 19-6, then rally to take a 32-26 lead before giving up two Shawsheen TD's and a safety to fall 42-32.

Quarterback Jordan Virella orchestrates the Chelsea offense. He has thrown six TD passes and has run for two more. In addition to Virella, four other backs have scored rushing touchdowns for the Devils - Troy Crossely (4), Chris Accosta (3), Juan Martinez (2) and Joseph Saez (1). Virella's main target is receiver Sammy Mojica who has caught three TD passes. Crossley, Martinez and J. J. Rivera have also hauled in scoring receptions.

The Devils also have big play capability as six of their scores have been longer than 50 yards.

The Chelsea defense returned most of its starters from last year. Defensive tackle Kevin DeJesus, Brayan Blanco, Whitney Santil and Virella are key players for the Devil defense. Dejesus and Virella have both returned fumbles for touchdowns so far this year.

The Pioneers will be looking to go 6-0 on the season and they will be playing on FieldTurf for the third time this year and for the fifth time in their past eight games going back to last season.

The game in Chelsea is a homecoming for me. As a Chelsea High graduate, I will be returning to the scene of the height of my football playing career as the invaluable third string center on the 1967 Chelsea Central ninth grade team. We went 5-1 that year and many of my teammates went on to play for the varsity team that snapped a 27 game losing streak our senior year and was unbeaten through the first four games of the season.

That was unheard of in those days when Chelsea played in the Greater Boston League and regularly got beaten up by the likes of Malden, Medford and Somerville. Our big Thanksgiving Day game was against Everett. In the nearly 100 years of the "rivalry" the Devils won 12 times.

Life got a lot better for the Red Devils when they moved into the Commonwealth Conference and began playing teams more their size. And it looks like Chelsea will be a contender in their league again this season. They face a tall task stepping up two divisions to take on the red hot Pioneers, but as Weidman said, you can expect a physical battle.

This is the second time the Pioneers will be traveling to Chelsea to play the Devils. In 1999, Dan Veinot scored two touchdowns as Lynnfield beat Chelsea 12-6.

Game time in Chelsea is 7 pm. Here is a link to Mapquest Directions to Chelsea Memorial Stadium.