Friday, December 23, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Here's wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Thanks for reading and for all your kind words of support.

Now that the season is over, I will be reverting to my off season schedule which will be the first Friday of every month. My first post will be on January 6th when I'll take a look at the Top Plays of the 2011 season.

Check back then and again Happy Holidays!


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The 1986 Super Pioneers: Valiant Ending

To commemorate the 25th anniversary of the only Pioneer team to make it to the Super Bowl, I am taking a week by week look back at the Super 1986 season.

LHS Football Wayback Machine
December 6, 1986
If you had happened to wander by the Lynnfield High weight room the week before the Pioneers' first ever Super Bowl appearance, you would have heard a familiar tune blasting away from inside.

Preparing for the big game, the squad did their final prep work to the blaring sound of "Eye of the Tiger" by the group Survivor. The song was the theme for Rocky III in which everyone's favorite underdog took on the invincible Clubber Lang in a fight no one thought Rocky Balboa could win.

It was appropriate that the Pioneers were pumping iron to that song since they went into the Division III Super Bowl as nearly as decided an underdog as Rocky. Playing the role of Clubber Lang was the Lincoln Sudbury Warriors, who came into the game undefeated, winners of 24 straight including a 35-21 win over New Bedford in the 1985 Super Bowl.

"I remember Chris Miele blaring "Eye of the Tiger" in the weight room every day that week leading up to the game," Jason Mochi recalled recently. "He pulled a few of us aside and told us that it was our destiny to make it this far. It was pretty inspirational."

The Pioneers certainly needed that inspiration facing such a dominating team.

Head Coach Bill Adams recently told me about a dinner he attended several nights before the game.

"I was talking to someone from Lincoln Sudbury and they asked how many students we had at Lynnfield High," Adams recalled. "When I told him it was about 600 he told me 'We have about 1900. What are we doing playing you?"

The Warriors were indeed stacked. They featured two players who would go on to play pro ball and featured one of the best backs ever to go to the school in Brendan Mahoney. Mahoney led Division Three in scoring coming into the game with 106 points (17 touchdowns and a pair of two point conversions.) Quarterback Craig Berkel tossed 13 TD's in the regular season.

"It was the perfect mismatch," Adams told me in 1996 when I did a story on the '86 team. "We were the smallest school in the smallest league in the division playing one of the largest schools in the largest league."

No one thought the Pioneers could win.

In the movie, Rocky takes Lang's best punches and eventually knocks out Clubber in a rematch to regain the Heavyweight Championship. Unfortunately for the Pioneers, their Super Bowl was played at Boston University Field and not on a Hollywood backlot. The result was a 19-0 defeat, but the game was much closer than that and if not for a couple of bad breaks, the Pioneers too might have sprung the upset.

Things started badly for the underdog Pioneers even before the opening kickoff.

"(Co-captain Todd) Coviello, (co-captain Darrell) Carty and (Chris) Loomos all were suffering from the flu that day," Adams recalled.

In spite of all the odds being against them, the gutsy Pioneers gave the Warriors all they could handle.

L/S opened the game with a seven play, 64 yard drive capped by Rodney Chance's 11 yard run to give the Warriors a quick 7-0 lead. According to the game account by Villager reporters David Angelini and Rob Irion, it would be the only sustained drive the heavily favored Warriors would mount the entire game.

"The kids were nervous and a little bit tight," Adams told the Villager. "But we found out that we could play against them and we improved after that."

The Lynnfield offense went out quickly after four plays, but the Pioneer defense made the first big play of the game when Mike Pascucci leveled Berkel forcing a fumble. Coviello recovered on the Warrior 38 giving the Pioneers a golden opportunity.

Lynnfield could not convert, however, as Dave Frontero was intercepted at the 10 yard line on third down.

The Pioneer defense held again giving Lynnfield the ball back at midfield. They then mounted an impressive 10 play drive, all on the ground, to get to the L/S three yard line after a two yard gain on fourth and two by Coviello.

The next play would be the first key turning point of the game.

Coviello took the handoff and plowed toward the goal line looking for the tying touchdown. As he reached the endzone, he fumbled the ball forward and the Warriors recovered to end the threat.

Whether it truly was a fumble or not still remains controversial to this day.

Glenn Listernick (LHS '74) who was an assistant coach for Amesbury at the time was at the game and saw the play very differently.

"I was standing with many Amesbury coaches and players at that end of the field," Listernick remembers. "Coviello did score the touchdown but fumbled AFTER crossing the goal line. We all cheered when we thought he had scored, but the refs ruled it a fumble."

"I was pretty close to scoring," Coviello told the Villager after the game. "I saw the line and I tried real hard to lean in. The ball just popped out."

"I think Todd was showing good sportsmanship by saying he almost scored," Listernick insisted when I told him about Coviello's quote. "He really did cross the goal line!"

Mochi, Coviello's running mate, agreed with Listernick's assessment.

"I was on the sideline since Todd and I rotated at tailback," Mochi recalled recently, "but yes I think he did cross the plane. I think he was partially tackled and then reached over with the ball."

The call against the Pioneers was obviously huge and preserved the Warriors' slim lead.

Another key play later in the half was almost as big.

The Pioneer defense continued to bottle up the Warriors forcing them to punt again. Lynnfield got the ball back on their own 39 and on third down, Coviello took the handoff on an apparent run play.

"He paused and lofted an option pass to a wide open Ron Grasso downfield for what looked like a sure touchdown," according to the Villager report. "But fate had something else in mind. In an unbelievable play, the ball glanced off Grasso's hands and shoulder pads, popped into the air a little bit, and settled into the hands of - who else - Brendan Mahoney. The ubiquitous senior raced the ball 39 yards back to the Pioneer 31."

The Warriors got as close as the Lynnfield 12 but stalled and missed a field goal attempt. The Pioneers went in at the half down 7-0 but they could just as easily have been up 14-7.

Unfortunately, the Pioneers would get no more chances. Lynnfield took the second half kickoff and moved to midfield, but on third and 11, Frontero was picked off by Mahoney and this time the L/S rocket returned it 66 yards for the score. The PAT was no good but the Warriors led 13-0.

L/S drove the final nail into the Pioneers' coffin late in the third when Mahoney got around the Lynnfield defense on a sweep for a 55 yard TD run to make it 19-0. The Pioneers could never recover.

"We made the big mistakes," Adams told the Villager after the game.

"We said before the game that we had to prevent the big play," Adams told me ten years later. "But they scored all three touchdowns on big plays."

"We played well but couldn't score," Kevin Murphy, the team's center told me in 1996. "It was almost a case of things coming due. All year long we got the breaks, but we got only the bad breaks in that game."

"It was a great season and memorable time for everyone involved," Mochi said recently. "Some of us still hang on to the glory days. Scott Yerardi can still be seen wearing his Super Bowl jacket!"

"From a coaching standpoint it was a dissapointment," Adams said of the loss. "But it shouldn't be that way for the kids who got there. They worked hard, gave a great showing and made the game interesting."

Following the season, the honors rolled in for the Super Pioneers. The Boston Globe named Adams Division 3 Coach of the Year and Coviello to the All Scholastic defensive team. Carty, Loomos, Frontero and Mark Sutera each earned All CAL honors.

The 1986 team remains the high water mark for Lynnfield High School football. For the next 22 years, only four Pioneer teams would post winning records and none would win a league championship. Adams' 1991 team came closest with a 9-1-1 mark, but came in second to Ipswich.

The league championship and post season drought ended in 2009 when Neal Weidman's squad became the first Lynnfield team to win 10 games and the first since the '86 team to make the postseason. However the '09ers fell to Austin Prep in the playoffs leaving the 1986 Pioneers as the only Lynnfield team to make it to the Super Bowl.

The members of the 1986 Lynnfield Pioneers were Co-captains Darrell Carty and Todd Coviello, Maurice Twomey, Chris Loomos, Stan Zaremba, Bill Aldenberg, Jay Kelleher, Brian Corbett, Pete Blasidell, Charlie Moore, Andrew Sanborn, David Cox, Dan Madden, Paul Booras, Scott Yerardi, Jason Mochi, Ron Grasso, Mark Sutera, David Callahan, Doug McLaughlin, Mike Pascucci, Steve Bucci, Steve Vaccaro, Mike Connor, John Wilson, Tom McDonald, Charles Loomos, David Donohoe, John Funches, Steve Walsh, David Frontero, John Dean, Scott Shafner, Dan Kelleher, Dan Fanikos, Mark Guido, Michael Gwynne, Rob McGee, Steve Saggese, Eric Malerba, Pete Raftopoulos, Eric Keller, Mark Spychalski, Kevin Murphy, Bill Dalton, Chris Miele and Kevin Dunham.

Adams summed up that team best in an interview with the Villager's Rob Irion a week after the season ended.

"I hope the kids feel really good about the whole year and don't lose sight of the great season because of (the loss in the Super Bowl)," he told Irion. "We answered a lot of challenges, got there and did OK. They should be proud."

As should all Lynnfield Pioneer football fans. Congrats to the Super Pioneers of 1986. Happy 25th Anniversary.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The 1986 Super Pioneers: Super Thanksgiving!

To commemorate the 25th anniversary of the only Pioneer team to make it to the Super Bowl, I am taking a week by week look back at the Super 1986 season.

LHS Football Wayback Machine
November 27, 1986
After two tough wins against the iron of the league, the Pioneers only had to avoid stubbing their toe against North Reading to clinch the Cape Ann League title. They came into the game in second place in the Division Three rankings but simply a win over the Hornets would not guarantee them one of only two spots that were available for the Super Bowl.

The Pioneers led Foxboro by only a half point in the complex ratings in use in those days. The ratings system valued wins against teams in higher or lower divisions and also took into account wins by teams that you had beaten. Lynnfield would need some other right things to happen to finish in the top two.

But they couldn't control any of those variables. What they could control was making sure they focused on beating their traditional rivals.

The Pioneers rolled into the holiday game 8-1 after solid wins against Ipswich and Hamilton Wenham. The Hornets struggled and limped into the game with a 2-7 mark. On paper it looked like a mismatch. In true Belichickean style, Lynnfield head coach Bill Adams did his best to pump up the Hornets' tires.

"North Reading has nothing to lose and everything to gain," Adams told Villager reporter Rob Irion before the game. "It's an opportunity for them to go out and make their season a success. They have a lot of incentive - they're not going to roll over and die."

"It's a different season," Adams continued to lather it on. "I have to feel that North Reading will come out very intense and play their best game of the season."

Nice try by the coach, but the game played out the way it appeared that it would.

The Pioneers rattled the Hornets early as the visitors coughed up the ball twice early in the contest. The Pioneers took advantage and jumped out to a two touchdown lead in the first quarter on a one yard dive by Todd Coviello and a 30 yard TD pass from Dave Frontero to Bill Aldenberg. A teeth rattling tackle by Darrell Carty and Mike Pascucci forced the fumble to set up the first score and a diving interception by Mark Sutera set up the second.

Coviello barrelled in from the three in the second quarter to give the Pioneers a 21-0 lead at the half.

Carty had 8 tackles in the first half to lead a smothering Pioneer defense.

Jason Mochi broke through for a three yard run in the fourth to make it an official blowout at 27-0. The Hornets scored late to finally get on the board but this one was never in doubt.

The Pioneers wrapped up their second straight CAL Championship and this time did not have to share it with anyone. But they needed help to nail down their first Super Bowl berth.

Lynnfield was in a neck and neck battle with Foxboro for the second spot and needed two out of six other results to go their way to earn enough points to edge them out. And it nearly didn't happen.

According to the explanation in the Villager, Sharon (8-1) was upset by Oliver Ames (5-4) and Westwood (8-1) surprised Holliston (9-0). The Sharon and Westwood wins gave Foxboro two more ratings points since they had beaten both teams.

More bad news came from up north when Amesbury, the only team that beat the Pioneers, defeated Newburyport, depriving them of any points there. However the Pioneers, who were ahead of Foxboro by five ratings points heading into Thanksgiving, picked up points from Wayland (who beat Weston) and finished two points ahead of Foxboro.

That set the stage for the Pioneers to travel to Boston University's Nickerson Field to take on undefeated powerhouse Lincoln Sudbury in the Division Three Super Bowl the following week. L/S would roll into the championship game riding a 24 game winning streak and looked to be a formidable foe for the Pioneers.

"No matter what happens, win or lose, there's going to be a letdown when we play our last game," Adams told Villager reporter David Angelini after the game.  "This team means more to me than the Super Bowl."

Next: Facing a Super Test at BU.

If you played on or were involved with the 1986 team and would like to share a memory, please pass it on to me at

Monday, November 28, 2011

Around the CAL/NEC 4: Week 11 & a 2012 Sneak Peak

Well the season has come to a close and the CAL/NEC 4 has officially crowned Hamilton Wenham as its champ and standard bearer heading into the Division 3A playoffs Tuesday night against Newburyport. Today we'll take a look at the Thanksgiving Day rivalry games and then we'll take a first glimpse at what the 2012 season might have in store.

First, a look at the final standings.

No real surprises on the holiday. The Lynnfield-North Reading game figured to be the only contest and that's they way it turned out for three quarters at least. The other two games didn't look to be too competitive and that also turned out to be the case.

Hamilton-Wenham put an exclamation point on a undefeated regular season with a convincing 33-8 beatdown of rival Ipswich as they tune up for a rematch with Newburyport.

The General defense, which has been solid all year, led the way in this one returning two interceptions for scores in the second period to help build a 26-0 halftime lead. Ipswich finally got on the board in the third with a pick six of their own to cut the lead to 26-8. But H-W quarterback Trevor Lyons tossed his second TD pass of the game to account for the final 33-8 score.

Meanwhile, up in Georgetown, Manchester Essex won their second game in a row with an impressive 28-7 win over the Royals.

Georgetown actually jumped out in front with a 1 yard run by Tyler Wade, but the Hornets stung back.

Quarterback Corey Burnham connected with Joe Burgess to cut the lead to 7-6 at the half then ran for touchdowns in the third and early in the fourth to take a 20-7 lead. Chris Dumont capped the scoring with a one yard run.

So North Reading sewed up second place with a 4-1 mark. Lynnfield, M/E and Ipswich all tied with 2-3 league records but M/E beat Lynnfield to take third place and the Pioneers beat Ipswich to take fourth. Ipswich ended up in fifth and struggling Georgetown, winless in league play, brought up the rear.

Overall no real surprises in the final standings. H-W figured to be the toughest team in the league with Lynnfield and North Reading battling for second place. M/E's win over the Pioneers lifted them higher than expected. Ipswich lost a lot of seniors, started slow and then rebounded in the league season.The young Georgetown team with a new coach looked to struggle in rebuilding mode.

So what does next year look like?

The most striking difference will be at quarterback.

This year, five out of the six teams started the season with a new signal caller. Lyons for the Generals was the starting tailback last year but was playing QB for the first time this season. Karavetsos, Burnham at M/E, freshman Nick Andreas in Ipswich and Jackson Kellog in North Reading were all first year QB's. Ironically, the only team with a returning quarterback was Georgetown with Tyler Wade.

The situation will be completely reversed next year with Karavetsos, Burnham, Andreas, Kellogg and Lyons all returning. The Royals will be the only team breaking in a new signal caller.

So let's take a quick sneak preview of the 2012 season in order of this year's finish.

Hamilton-Wenham: The dynamic and dangerous Lyons will return for the defending champs, but he will not have the powerhouse supporting cast around him. The Generals used about 14 players all year, and they will be graduating nine of them including four of their five gargantuan linemen. They will still be formidable just by reason of having Lyons and having two years of confidence building success. The defense will revolve around Lyons, Steve Turpin, Christian Ecker and Pete Duval, but those are all linebackers or DB's. Coach Andrew Morency will have to come up with a line to build around returnee Matt Vogus. The Generals will still be a factor, but will probably not be as dominating as they were the past two years.

North Reading: The team that will likely take the top spot as most dominating in the league is the Hornets. They will be scary good. Their entire backfield, including Division 3A leading scorer Carl Lipani will be back and the Hornets will have another year of working with the single wing. They really started to get into a rhythm as the year wore on and another season will only make them more dangerous.

"Yeah and we have another kid on the sidelines (Ryan Sanborn) who's a sophomore who is one of the fastest kids on the team," North Reading coach Jeff Wall told me. "He's a big strong kid. He hurt his knee (against H-W) and he's coming back also. We have our whole backfield coming back. We just have to replace a few guys on the offensive line."

When I told him I would be installing the Hornets as preseason favorites for 2012, Wall was aghast.

"No, pick us last," he said in mock horror. "Don't put us first. It gives us something to fight for."

Nope. The Hornets are for real and will be the team to beat next year.

Manchester-Essex: The Hornets graduate 10 seniors but they return a good looking quarterback in Burnham, two running backs in Chris Dumont and Jake Fitzgerald and a receiver in John Beardsley. Most of a good sized line returns as well, so look for M/E to be improved.

Lynnfield: The Pioneers return skill position players Karavetsos, running back Kyle McGah, receiver Alex Pascucci but the home team's strength should be on defense where the Pioneers return most of their defense including standout linemen Andrew Kibarian and D. J. DeGeorge and quietly effective Mike Soden. Linebackers Tyler Palumbo, McGah, A. J. Gallo and Alex Roper all return as well. The Pioneers will be in the hunt.

Ipswich: The Tigers played this year with a freshman quarterback which tells you what they think of him. They already started to modify their Delaware Wing T to accommodate their new weapon so expect the Tigers to be more of a throwing team next year. Bullish running back Derek Chamberlain returns as does tight end Chris McCormack so look for Ipswich to be able to score on offense. Hard hitting John Elnagger returns to lead the defense. The Tigers too look to be improved.

Georgetown: The Royals were the youngest team in the league with only two seniors on their roster. They were also starting over with a new head coach in Paul Sobolewski. The good news for them is that they return virtually everyone so the lumps the young team took this year should start to pay off. The bad news is that they lose Wade, the lynchpin of their offense. You would think the Royals should improve but losing Wade and with the rest of the league improving, they could face another tough season.

So in summary what can we look forward to next year?

H-W should take a step back. North Reading will take two steps forwards. Lynnfield, Ipswich, M/E should all take a step forward and Georgetown will likely take a step back, mostly because of the improvement in the rest of the league.  Bottom line is that it promises to be a very tight race and the eventual champ may not be able to run the table as the Generals have the past few years.

That's it for now. Check back Wednesday for my next post on the 1986 Super Pioneers.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

North Reading Leftovers

At the end of the tough 37-18 loss on Thursday, we group of scribblers approached Pioneer head coach Neal Weidman following the game the way we always do.

When our little "news conference" follows a loss, it is usually a tense time and there can be a few moments of awkward silence before the questioning begins. That was the case after the North Reading game.

Kevin Doyle of the Daily Item finally spoke first to Weidman.

"You faced a lot of adversity today," he said quietly.

Weidman simply started laughing.

That about summed it up.

Saying the Pioneers faced "some adversity" on Thanksgiving Day was like saying the Big Dig was simply a little construction job.

Battling injuries all season, the Pioneers reached the tipping point against North Reading.

At the beginning of the season, I sat with the coach to go over the lineups on both sides of the ball for my season preview article. At that time, he will usually mention the starters and key backups at each position. During this year's interview in September, Weidman mentioned the names of 22 players that he expected to either start or see significant action either offensively or defensively.

By the end of the North Reading game, seven of them were not on the field. That's 31% of those 22. So yes I would say the Pioneers faced a lot of adversity in their final game of the year.

"We came in with a bit of a MASH unit and it got worse as the game wore on," Weidman said after the game.

Going in missing tri-captain Mike Thomas who reinjured his collarbone was bad enough. Not having starting outside linebacker, placekicker and backup quarterback Alex Roper added to the problem. Then the unthinkable happened early in the second quarter when signal caller Mike Karavetsos, the key to the Pioneer offense already nursing a bad ankle, took a big hit to the head on a nine yard run. As co-athletic director and head trainer Sean Roach helped the wobbly junior off the field, he looked at Weidman and shook his head slowly. At that point it was clear that Karavetsos was done for the day.

Enter 5'6", 135 lb freshman Dan Sullivan to take over the controls of the Pioneer spread. Ultimately, sophomore Matt Kramich would also see action at quarterback.

"It's one thing to have your back up quarterback out but we had to ask a freshman and sophomore who have never played before to shuttle in and out," said Weidman. "But you know what, they didn't do a bad job. We thrust them into really a no win situation for them and they really took advantage of it. Matt made a couple of nice runs and Danny threw the touchdown pass."

It was quite a debut for Sullivan, who tossed his first varsity TD -an 80 yarder to Alex Pascucci- on his first varsity pass. He would later throw an interception that was returned for a score, but considering the circumstances he did well for a ninth grader in a stressful spot.

"Field position got flipped on us there and that didn't help," Weidman said of the pick six that came when Sullivan was forced to throw out of his own end zone. "We threw Danny into a tough situation and they picked off the one pass and ran it in for the touchdown. We just didn't have a lot to go to from the one yard line. It was tough. But (Danny's) going to be a good player some day."

But as usual, Weidman hoped to get some positive out of the difficult circumstance. When I asked him what the young guys would get out of being thrown into the fire he responded, "They mainly need to realize you need to commit to be good. It just doesn't happen."

The loss means the Pioneers ended the season with a two game losing streak, the second time that has happened this year. They also lost consecutive games to St. Mary's and Danvers. The loss leaves the Pioneers at 5-6 snapping a two year winning season streak.

"It was an up and down season," he summed up. "We had some good moments. Obviously we weren't playing our best football at the end for a lot of reasons. That's one of the things that happens when you coach at a small school. It only takes one or two players to make a huge difference."

Fast Start
For the first time in weeks, the Pioneers got off to a fast start, stunning the Hornets with two quick touchdowns in the first four minutes of play. The Pioneer had 2 first downs, a fumble recovery, 72 yards of offense, a 58 yard kickoff return and a pair of scores before the Hornets ran off their first offensive play. Unfortunately it went downhill from there.

After the injury to Karavetsos, the Pioneers managed only 29 yard rushing and 79 net yards passing on two completions, one of them the Sullivan to Pascucci 80 yard touchdown.

Meanwhile, the Hornets regrouped in impressive fashion and rode the running of Division 3A leading scorer Carl Lipani for the comeback win.

"The kids played well," said North Reading head coach Jeff Wall. "It's tough when you go down 12-0. It showed a tremendous amount of character to come back. Some teams would have packed it in. We preached to them right before the game. We told them today you play with heart, you play with pride and you play with courage. I think they've taken that to heart. They know they have a will to win and they just wouldn't be denied."

Despite the loss, the Pioneers still hold a 32-22 edge in the rivalry. They have outscored the Hornets 868-717. The Pioneers fall to 15-12 in games in North Reading. They hold a 17-10 edge in games at the Middle School Field.

Uneven Playing Field?
There were eight touchdowns and one safety scored in the game on Thursday. All eight scores came in the east endzone where rabid fans from both towns took turns taunting the opposition. The Pioneers scored their TD's in the first and third period, while the Hornets did all their scoring in the second and fourth quarters. The Fieldturf at the west end of Arthur Kenney was barely used. The Hornets made it to the 20 as the first period ended and to the 18 as the third ended. The Pioneers never got any deeper than the 42.

Stellar Year for Karavetsos
Losing Karavetsos for most of the North Reading game was obviously a death blow for the Pioneers  and it highlights just how important the junior was to the Lynnfield offense this season. When you review his season totals, it becomes clear what an outstanding year he had.

He finished the year 74/146 passing for a completion percentage of 50.7%. That ranks third in the past 23 years (since I have been keeping these stats) behind Gino Cohee's 54.1% in  2009 and Cohee's 52.8% in 2008.

He threw for 1249 yards, which ranks him third behind Chris Grassi's 1493 in 2007 and Cohee's 1347 in 2010.

He tossed 13 TD passes which ties him for second on the single season TD pass list with Steve Olsen in 1973. It also puts him in 6th place all time for career TD passes with another season to go. Cohee leads that category with 30.

The 13 TD's was good enough for third place place in Division 3A behind Newburyport's Connor Wile who threw 20 and Pat Sheehan's qb Blaise Whitman at Triton who had 14.

He threw only six interceptions giving him a TD/Interception ratio of 2.2 to 1 third best behind 2008 Cohee's 3 to 1 and 2010 Cohee's 2.8 to 1.

According to the NFL passer rating formula, Karavetsos finished the season with a 92.52 rating. That is the second best in the past 23 years behind only Cohee's 99.1 last season. Cohee's 84.5 in 2009 is third best.

The junior also rushed for eight touchdowns and 765 yards, seventh best single season since 1989. Dan Veinot heads that list with 1363 yards in 2000.

It'll be exciting to see what Karavetsos might be able to do his senior year with such a solid season under his belt.

Season Stats
The Pioneers finished the year with 221 points scored and 223 points allowed, which pretty much illustrates the type of year it was. It was only the 11th year in Pioneer history that they have scored over 200 points in a season and marks the third year in a row they have done it.

The 221 points was ninth best all time. The 223 points against was an average of 20.3 per game and ranked 38th all time.

For the three year period of 2009 to 2011, the Pioneers scored 836 points. That is the third best three year performance in the history of the school. The best was 1959-61 when they scored 852 and second best was 1960-62 when they tallied 843.

This season, they gained 2,939 yards to 3,180 yards allowed. They lost the first down battle 103 to 158. They were exactly even in the turnover category, fumbling 9 times and throwing 8 interceptions for 17 turnovers and recovering 11 fumbles and picking off 6 interceptions for 17 takeaways.

The Pioneers now have a record of 266-259-11 in their 54 year history and have a point differential of minus 2 (8,389-8,391).

The Pioneers' three year win total of 24 is tied for second best with the teams from 1960-62. The leader are the teams of 1985-87 which won 25 games in three years.

Season Leaders
Junior Alex Pascucci led the Pioneers in receptions with 24 for 417 yards, both eighth best single season since 1989. Jeff Milinazzo leads both categories with 55 catches for 789 yards in 2007.

Steve Yobaccio had 15 catches for 296 yards and 5 TD's, which ties him for 4th all time for single season TD receptions.

Yobaccio and Dan Ashwell tied for the team lead in interceptions with two each.

Tyler Palumbo led the team with 4 fumble recoveries

Andrew Kibarian was the team sack leader with 5 1/2. No one else had more than one.

Karavetsos led the team in scoring with 52 points followed by sophomore Kyle McGah and Yobaccio with 30 each.

Hitting the (Record) Books
Although no one reached the top of any of the school records, several did make the list.

In addition to Karavetsos and Yobaccio mentioned above, Ashwell joined 21 others who are tied for second place in single game TD catches with 2. He did it against Bishop Fenwick. Charlie Shove heads that list with three TD receptions against H-W in 1998.

Roper broke into the record books for his placekicking. His 21 PAT's was fourth best for a single season. Steve Ullian holds the top two spots in that category with 34 in 2010 and 30 in 2009.

Roper's 21 puts him in seventh place for career PAT's with another season to play. Ullian is light years ahead of everyone on that list with 75 career PAT's, more than double Dave Frontero's 36 in second place.

Roper's 5 PAT's against Georgetown tied him for 3rd place with four others for most single game PAT's. Scott Milne is the leader there with 7 against Masco in 1985.

Four Year Weidman Tally
Weidman's four year record is now 27-18, a .600 winning percentage. That is third best all time for Pioneer head coaches behind Bill Rodan 1969-84 (101-52-2, . 652) and Steve Sobieck 1958-66 (49-23, .620).

The Pioneers have scored 1001 points the past four years for a 22.2 per game average. Rodan's teams averaged 16.6 and Sobieck's squads were at 18.8. Weidman's teams have allowed 15.4 points per game vs. 11.5 for Rodan and 8.5 for Sobieck.

Senior Sendoff
Following the game, Weidman exchanged a hug and a few words with each senior on the team. This is a special group for Weidman since they were his first freshman class as a head coach and he has had them for all four years. He got a bit emotional when he was asked about saying farewell to his seniors.

"You always miss the seniors," he said with a slight catch in his voice. "It's probably the hardest thing about coaching - the last game of the year for the seniors."

That's it for now. Check back Monday night when I take a look at the CAL/NEC Tier 4 rivalry games and also a sneak peak on what next season might hold for the league.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Black Thursday

The valiant but battered Pioneers gave it their best shot but in the end, they were simply a victim of too many injuries.

Even missing their entire starting backfield, placekicker and starting outside linebacker, the Pioneers held an 18-16 lead through three quarters.

In the end, it was too much Carl Lipani who burned the Pioneers for four TD's enroute to a 37-18 Hornet win that snaps a three game Lynnfield winning streak on Thanksgiving Day.

The loss drops the Pioneers to 5-6 on the season. They main thing to take away is that despite the adversity, the Pioneers never gave up and played hard to the end.

More in my Leftover post sometime this weekend.

So just forget the game for now and enjoy the rest of your holiday.

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Thanksgiving Day Game Preview: Avoiding the Sting of the Hornets' Wing

In six out of ten games this year, Lynnfield has faced an opponent who has run some variation of the Wing T offense. It's somehow fitting, therefore, that on Thursday morning, the Pioneers will take on the granddaddy of them all, the Single Wing.

The Wing T, Double Wing, Delaware Wing T all have their origins in the venerable Single Wing. On Thanksgiving Day you will get to see the North Reading version of the vintage, and still effective, offense.

It is an offense with modest goals: three or four yards on every play. Over and over again. Pounding the defense for small gains until the opponent cracks and gives up the big gainer that goes the distance. Three yards and a cloud of dust. Or in the case of the FieldTurf at North Reading High, three yards and a puff of crushed tire dust.

Despite playing on modern artificial turf, the Hornet offense which was installed this year by new North Reading offensive coordinator Ed Melanson, is very much of a throwback. The Single Wing was invented by Glen "Pop"Warner in the 1900's and features four backs behind an unbalanced line.

Single Wing Formation
In the classic Single Wing, the Wingback is set on one end of the line facing into the center. The Quarterback (or blocking back in the Single Wing) is crouched right behind the guard next to the Wingback. The Fullback is set behind and next to the quarterback. The Tailback is set behind and next to the fullback. The line is unbalanced with two tackles on the side of the wing. (see diagram above). The snap from center can go to either the tailback, fullback or quarterback. The Wingback counters on nearly every play and acts as the counterbalance to overplaying the "wing" side of the line. If a team overplays to that side, the ball is given to the wingback on a counter and he will usually have clear sailing going opposite the flow.

 In the 1930's and 1940's, 80% of college and pro teams ran the Single Wing, according to Dave Cisar, a coach who has been using the Single Wing for over 20 years. If you want to see what the Wing looked like back in the day then click on this link.

It may look old fashioned with leather helmets and no facemasks, but it is pretty much what you will see when the Hornets come on the field with their offense for their first possession. If anything, the North Reading splits are even tighter than what you see in that clip. The other difference is that in this clip, the tailback goes in motion in front of the fullback on every play. The Hornet's don't run it that way. Everything else is pretty much the same.

Core Principles of the Single Wing
According to Cisar, the core principles of the Single Wing are overwhelming power at the point of attack, using angles and leverage, deception and great ball fakes. It is primarily a running offense, and North Reading proves that to be the case.

The Hornets have run 399 plays so far this year and 380 (95%) have been runs. They have thrown only 19 times all season and completed only four passes. Of the 2,333 yards they've gained, 2,221 have been on the ground. That's also about 95%.

Supposedly Warner invented the offense at Carlisle to take advantage of the talents of Jim Thorpe.

Hornet head coach Jeff Wall doesn't have Thorpe, but he does have a junior dynamo in 5' 10", 180 lb Carl Lipani (#44) who certainly knows how to take advantage of the offense. As a tailback, Lipani is the North Reading workhorse.  He has carries 244 times, or 64% of the Hornet rushes. He averages 27 carries per game and has amassed over 1500 yards, 19 touchdowns and 119 points. He is the leading scorer in Division 3A.

"He is a fantastic kid," Wall said. "He leads like that in practice. He runs hard every day, every play. He's a nightmare for the scout team. More importantly, he's a great kid. Ke's a leader in the classroom as well as on the field. We told him you may carry the ball 50 times. We just try to pound it out. If people stop Carl, hopefully we can get (wingback) CJ (McCarthy #30) coming back on the counter.

Pioneer head coach Neal Weidman is also impressed by Lipani.

"He's quick and he breaks tackles," Weidman said of the standout running back.

Although they run on nearly every play, they do pose other problems.

"They don't do it much but when the they throw the ball, it's for big plays," said Weidman. "(Lipani) throws it or (McCarthy) throws it. It's tough because you have to commit a lot to the run but at the same time when they throw it four times, they're looking for four touchdowns."

Of the Hornets' four completions, two were for touchdowns and when they throw they almost always go long.

Stopping the Single Wing
So how do you stop the Single Wing?

Most coaches who run it say you can't as long as the execution is there. On the website, a number of coaches offered up their opinions.

One offered that the best defense to play is the 46, where you have four down lineman and then six defenders on the second level and a safety back alone on the third level.

"The key is to have enough linemen," one coach opined. "They want to block with 10 and run one. If you don't meet force with force they will push you around. We had our middle linebacker key the blocking back - the one who looks like the quarterback lined up behind the guard. He takes you to the play nearly every time."

In the Hornet scheme, that would be Peter Bishop #19 and it is true. On nearly every play, regardless of the fakes and deception, #19 leads the blocking on every play. Follow him and the ballcarrier, be it Lipani, McCarthy or Jackson Kellogg (#4) will almost certainly follow.

Best Defense is Good Offense
Cisar says on his web site that no defense can truly stop the single wing, but the teams that gave him the most trouble were those "with an offense that gets a few first downs every possession and keeps the single wing off the field."

The Pioneers have shown that type of offense at times this year.

And Wall certainly agrees.

"Oh boy," Wall said when asked for his impression of the Pioneers' spread offense. "We're hoping to grind out the clock on them a little bit, shorten the game up. That's the thing with our offense. We just have to be patient and be willing to get three and four yards as a shot. Hopefully we give them a heavy dose of Carl but they're big up front. They're talented."

But despite the reputation of the spread as a passing offense, Wall has a different concern.

"I know they can pass," Wall told me. "But they can really run. Not taking anything away from their receivers - they're good as well. But they're big up front."

The numbers over the years back up Wall's concern. Over the past five seasons running the spread, the Pioneers have become more of a running team than a passing team, despite the spread's reputation as a wide open throwing offense.

In 2007, the Pioneers ran the ball 319 times and passed it 260, a ratio of 1.2 to 1 in favor of the run - nearly equal. Every year since then, Lynnfield has increased the ratio in favor of the run. In 2008 it was 1.6 to 1. In 2009, the Pioneers' championship year, it increased to 1.8 to 1. In 2010 it was 1.9 to 1. This year, the Pioneers have run the ball twice as much as they have passed it with a ratio of 2.0 to 1.

"That has something to do with our ability to run the ball," Weidman told me. "When we started we had a difficult time running the ball so we got stuck into passing it more than we wanted to."

With Wall gearing the Hornet defense to stop the run, Karavetsos may have to go to the air to generate some offense. He is very capable of doing that having completed 50% of his passes for 1,227 yards and 12 touchdowns. He has plenty of targets with five receivers having more than 100 yards receiving and six receivers with at least one toucdown.

Alex Pascucci (22 catches/325 yards/1 TD) leads the receiving corps in catches and yards but senior Steve Yobaccio (5/296/5) is coming on strong. Dan Ashwell (10/191/2), Nico Varano (9/131/2) can also make plays.

The Hornets have suffered some injuries with the most critical being lineman John Fortes, the Hornets' biggest lineman at 6'2" 270. He is not expected back but it's Thanksgiving so you never know.

Both teams realize that the best way to stop the opposing offenses is to keep them off the field so look for both teams to try and put together long, clock eating drives.

I have a full preview of the game in the Villager coming out on Tuesday, then check back here Thursday after the game for my post game comments.

Happy Thanksgiving to all and I'll see you in North Reading on Thursday.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Top Five: The Most Exciting Thanksgiving Day Games of the Past 35 Years

I have been covering either Lynnfield or North Reading football since 1976. That means this Thanksgiving, I will be attending my 36th battle between the two rivals.

To get in the spirit of the 54th meeting between the schools, I thought I'd take a look back and pick out my personal selections as the most exciting North Reading-Lynnfield games that I have seen.

I know there were several exciting Turkey Day games prior to 1976, but for today, I decided we'd consider only the ones I have seen personally.

There were some classic battles between the two teams over the last 35 years. Some were for championships and some were simply for Chestnut Street bragging rights. Either way, they rewarded the traditionally large crowds that annually come out for the big game.

So time to fire up the LHS Football Wayback Machine. Here in reverse order is my personal Top Five Most Exciting North Reading-Lynnfield games.

Number 5: 1990 - Holding On 14-13

Both Lynnfield and North Reading came into the 1990 game with losing records. The Pioneers were 2-7 and the Hornets were 3-6. Steve Migliero put the Pioneers up 6-0 in the first period on a two yard run. The Hornets answered back in the second when  quarterback Chris Hansen scampered in from the four yard line. Aldo Vittozzi added the point to give North Reading a 7-6 lead.

That's the way it stayed until early in the fourth period when Todd Guido plunged in from the three to give Lynnfield a 12-7 lead. Chris Sutera hit Mike Accomando with the two point conversion to make it 14-7.

With just over a minute to play, Hansen hit Stephen Burt with a 42 yard bomb to get the Hornets to within one at 14-13.  North Reading went for the win but a blitzing Chris Sheehan hurried Hansen and Sutera knocked down the pass to preserve the win.

Number 4: 2002 - Stung at the Buzzer 13-12

The excitement for the 2002 game started when Mother Nature dumped an early season snow storm just before Thanksgiving. The DPW along with the football team and other volunteers worked all day Wednesday to clear the field for the holiday morning game.

Their efforts were not in vain as the large crowd that turned out at the Middle School field were treated to a real nailbiter.

The Hornets were running a double wing in 2002 and they took the opening kick and drove 78 yards over the snow covered field to take a 6-0 lead. Jamie Solomon and Chris Bryant helped the Pioneers get in gear late in the first half. Quarterback Mike Parizale connected with Andy Poor and Jared Polansky to get the Pioneers to the NR three yard line. But the Hornets stuffed Polansky at the one to preserve their 6-0 lead.

The Pioneers broke through on the opening drive of the second half when Chris Stivers took a reverse handoff and sprinted 53 yards for the score. The PAT try was wide but the score was now tied at 6-6.

Lynnfield took the lead in the fourth quarter on a clock eating drive capped by a six yard Bryant run to give the Pioneers a 12-6 lead with three minutes to play.

The Hornets began their final drive at their own 39 and methodically moved down the field. They got to the Lynnfield two yard line with 20 seconds left. Quarterback Steve Labo took the snap, tried to find a receiver, could not, tucked it under his arm and plowed into the endzone for what appeared to be the tying touchdown. However, the Hornets were flagged for illegal motion which nullified the score and pushed them back to the seven yard line with seven seconds left in the game.

The final play of the game was one of the most bizarre in North Reading-Lynnfield history. Labo took the snap and handed off to John Murphy who was immediately grabbed by Matt Talis for what appeared to be the game winning tackle.

In desperation, Murphy shoveled the ball to Labo who was just standing at the three yard line watching Murphy getting stopped. Finding the ball in his hands, he turned and stumbled into the endzone with no time remaining to tie the score. Labo then drilled the extra point for the 13-12 win over the stunned Pioneers.

Number 3: 1981 - Another Stunning Comeback Defeat 20-15

The Pioneers were heavily favored in this one, coming into the game 6-3 to North Reading's 3-6. The game was billed as a defensive struggle, but the Hornets came out fired up and scored first. Mark Tremblay bulled in from the two and Brian Jones added the PAT and NR led 7-0.

The Hornets made it 14-0 midway in the second when Les Montford hit Jeff Hull with a ten yard scoring strike. The Pioneers got on the board late in the half when Andy Nekoroski plowed in from the two yard line. Nekoroski added the two point conversion and Lynnfield trailed 14-8 at the half.

The Pioneers appeared to right the ship with under three minutes to play when quarterback Scott Sanborn tossed a screen pass to Nekoroski who zigged and zagged his way to a 62 yard touchdown. Joe Krieger added the PAT to take a 15-14 lead with only 2:57 left in the game.

But the Hornets were not done. Billy Germano returned the kick to the 38 and a late hit call on the Pioneers gave NR the ball at midfield. On the next play, Montford found David Lee down the right sideline for a 51 yard strike to get the Hornets to the Lynnfield two yard line. Two plays later, Montford slashed into the endzone for the score. Jones missed the PAT but the Hornets led 20-15 with less than a minute to play.

The Pioneers did not quit. Sanborn hit Jeff Perkins for 28 yards and a head slap penalty on the Hornets moved the ball to the NR 29 yard line with less than 30 seconds to play. But the Pioneers could get no further and Sanborn was sacked on the final play of the game to seal the Hornet victory.

Number 2: 2000 - Veinot leads the way 29-23

This was one of the highest scoring Lynnfield-North Reading games and get my vote as the second mod exciting in the past 35 years.

Tailback Danny Veinot was the story in this one as the outstanding runner finished with 277 yards and scored all four Lynnfield touchdowns and 27 of the Pioneers' 29 points.

Veinot got the Pioneers on the board on their first drive with a four yard run. He booted the PAT and Lynnfield led 7-0. The Hornets answered when quarterback Tom Tone hit A. J. Richardson for a 43 yard TD to tie the score at 7-7.

On the first play following the NR touchdown, Veinot responded with a 63 yard run and PAT to give the Pioneers the lead at 14-7.

The Pioneers appeared to be taking control but quarterback Jimmy Motzkin turned an ankle and had to leave the game. But Veinot was hitting on all cylinders and scooted 38 yards for another TD. Backup QB Mike Parziale hit Brian McBride with the two point conversion and the Pioneers appeared to be in control 22-7.

The Pioneers cut into the lead when Tone his Matt Cecchini for a 22 yard TD pass to make it 22-13 at the half. The Hornets then began to stop the Pioneer offense and crept closer in the third when Drew Canan scored from the three to make it 22-20.

The Hornets were driving again, but Veinot went to work on the other side of the ball and picked off a Tone pass to end the threat. At this point, Motzkin reentered the game and seemed to energize the Pioneers.

Motzkin hit Drew Barraford and McBride on consecutive passes to get the Pioneers to the NR 14 yard line. Veinot took it in from there to give the Pioneers some breathing room at 29-20.

The Hornets nailed a field goal on their next possession to make it 29-23. But the Hornets would not go away quietly. They got the ball back with 1:57 left in the game and marched to the Pioneer 21 yard line. On fourth down, with 23 second left, Tone attempted one last pass into the endzone. It was picked off by...guess who...Dan Veinot to preserve the win.

Number 1: 1980 - For All the Marbles 7-6

This was the most exciting Pioneer-Hornet game I have witnessed not only because of the play on the field, but also because of the stakes involved.

The Hornets came into the game as the two time defending CAL Champs with a 7-1 league record (8-1 overall). The Pioneers were 6-1-1 in the CAL and 6-2-1 overall. If they beat the Hornets and Amesbury could knock off Newburyport, the Pioneers would take the crown.

So this was in affect a CAL championship game.

The two teams battled through a scoreless tie as the day started cold then warmed up turning the Middle School field into a quagmire. With 1:14 left in the game, Andy Nekoroski plowed in from the three to give the Pioneers a 6-0 lead.

Playing like the champs they were, the Hornets came back. Warren McNeill hit Jeff Hull on two post patterns to get the ball to the Lynnfield three yard line. With only 23 seconds to play in the game, Billy Welch bulled in from the one to tie the score. Marco Vittozzi nailed the PAT to seal the win and sew up a third straight CAL Championship for the Hornets.

If it makes anyone feel better, the Clippers beat Amesbury 26-6 so even if the Pioneers had held on, they would not have earned a piece of the title.

So there it is. My top five.

Who knows. Maybe 2011 can crack the list on Thursday.

That's it for now. Check back Monday night for my North Reading game preview.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The 1986 Super Pioneers: Tiger Tamers Clinch a Tie

To commemorate the 25th anniversary of the only Pioneer team to make it to the Super Bowl, I am taking a week by week look back at the Super 1986 season.

LHS Football Wayback Machine
November 15, 1986
After the stunning comeback against Hamilton-Wenham the previous week, there was little doubt that the Pioneers had shaken off their late season slump and were ready to claim their crown. 

But there was another huge battle to be fought, this time against the Ipswich Tigers, who came into town with the same 6-1 league record as the Pioneers. The game was to be the defacto CAL Title game.

Both teams had explosive offenses, but it was the Pioneer defense that controlled this one. They held the high-powered Tigers to only a single touchdown, their lowest output of the year. After what the Pioneers had done the week before, there would be no denying the revived Lynnfield squad.

"That game was the test," Pioneer head coach Bill Adams said of the H-W game in a 1996 interview on the 10th anniversary of the 1986 season. "That was definitely the turnaround game for the season."

Against the Tigers, Adams and his coaching staff pulled out all the stops according to the game account in the Villager by David Angelini. After a scoreless first period, the Pioneers jumped out to a lead early in the second after a "diving fumble recovery" by lineman Chris Loomos. Jay Kelleher than took a reverse handoff after a fake pitch at the Ipswich 24 and cruised easily into the endzone. Dave Frontero added the extra point and Lynnfield led 7-0.

Ipswich cut the lead to 7-6 on a 93 yard bomb shortly thereafter. They missed the PAT but had clawed to within a point. That would be as close as they would get.

The Pioneers then embarked on a 76 yard touchdown march consisting of 10 straight running plays, most by co-captain Todd Coviello. Then on the 11th play of the drive, with the Ipswich defense sucked in to stop Coviello one more time, the senior stopped and tossed a pass to a wide open quarterback Frontero at the 12 yard line. Frontero followed that with a TD pass to David Callahan. The point after was blocked, but the Pioneers took a 13-6 lead into the locker room at halftime.

The Pioneers exploded into the second half when Jason Mochi took the opening kick and motored 74 yards for a quick six for the home team. Frontero then hit  Callahan for the two point conversion and the Pioneers led 21-6. 

Loomos, co-captain Darrell Carty and John Dean led a swarming Lynnfield defense that continued to smother the Tigers. 

From there Coviello took over. His first carry of the quarter went for 68 yards and then two plays later he punched it in for this 11th touchdown of the year. That  made it 27-6 and the declawing of the Tigers was complete.

Carty recoverd a fumble at midfield early in the fourth quarter to end an Ipswich threat, and then the Pioneer ground and pound offense ate up seven minutes of clock to seal the deal.

"We dominated the line both ways," Adams told Angelini after the game. "The team played a complete game. We went all four quarters."

The win lifted the Pioneers to 8-1 overall and clinched a tie for the CAL title at 7-1. The only team with a better record in Division Three was Lincoln Sudbury, a team Lynnfield would learn more about later in the season.

The only thing standing in the way of capturing the crown was the 2-7 North Reading Hornets, who would be coming to town on Thanksgiving morning. Also on the line, if things broke right could be a Super Bowl bid.

Adams was not taking the struggling Hornets lightly.

"We have no reason to be overconfident going into the game," the coach said. "North Reading has won a couple of games in the past few weeks and they've put a lot of points on the board."

Next: Going for it all against the Hornets.

If you played on or were involved with the 1986 team and would like to share a memory, please pass it on to me at

Monday, November 14, 2011

Around the CAL/NEC 4: Week 10

As expected, the Hamilton-Wenham Generals remained undefeated and captured the CAL/NEC 4 crown on Saturday. We'll take a look at their title winning performance and the other league game. But first, let's check out the updated standings.

No surprise up in South Hamilton as the Generals scored three 40+ yard touchdowns in the first quarter enroute to a 41-14 drubbing of the struggling Georgetown Royals. The win keeps the Generals undefeated at 9-0 but more importantly lifts them to 4-0 in the league and sews up their second consecutive league title.

They will now move on to the playoffs for a rematch with Newburyport who won the CAL/NEC 3 with a 12-7 win over Winthrop on Friday.

The Generals scored twice more in the second and the Royals scored once but H-W went in at the half up 33-6 with the coronation well underway.

H-W will travel to Ipswich on Thanksgiving Day as the Tigers will try to knock the Generals from the ranks of the undefeated.

Georgetown gets ready to host Manchester-Essex on the holiday.

I made the trip to frigid Ipswich on Friday night to see North Reading take on the Tigers and I certainly came away impressed.

The Tigers forced a Hornet fumble on their four yard line to halt an early scoring bid. They then came back to take a 6-0 lead on a pretty 55 yard bomb from freshman quarterback Nick Andreas to Louis Galanis.

It looked like that lead might hold up at the half, but the Hornets single wing offense got into gear and marched 75 yards in 14 plays with Carl Lipani going in from the four. Eric Valenti kicked the extra point and the Hornets took a lead they would never relinquish.

The second half was the Carl Lipani show for the Hornets. The smart, tough, quick, fast running back carried 16 times for 142 yards and two touchdowns in the third and fourth quarters. He finished the night with 227 yards as the Hornets rolled 32-14. He leads Division 3A with 20 touchdowns and 125 points.

The win lifts North Reading to 6-3 and guarantees them their first winning season since 2007 when they beat the Pioneers 30-12 to nail down a 6-5 year.

The Pioneer-Hornet game figures to be an exciting, evenly matched dogfight. I'll have much more on that as we get closer to Thanksgiving Day.

That's it for now. Check back Wednesday for my next installment of the 1986 Super Pioneers series.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Manchester-Essex Leftovers

Pioneer head coach Neal Weidman never saw this coming.

"Practices were better this week then they were last week," Weidman said after the game.  "Just today wasn't. We saw it a little bit before the game."

Once into the game, there wasn't much the coaching staff could do to turn it around.

"You see the guys like that and there's not a lot you can do," Weidman explained. "You can't force it."

Meanwhile, Hornet head coach Mike Athanas had his team sky high for this one. M/E came into the game off of three straight league losses and they played this one like it was their Super Bowl.

To quote old friend Pete Carroll, they were "pumped and jacked" from the beginning and never let down. Weidman mentioned that they wanted it more than his team and it showed.

You can get all the details and photos in my game story in this week's Villager.

For whatever reason, the Pioneers came out flat. They had their usual slow start, but it looked like they had stemmed the tide after stopping two Hornet drives deep in their own end. But the offense couldn't move the ball.

They went three and out on their first two possessions which was made more frustrating due to some dropped passes. The Pioneers had three of them in the first half.

"The drops in the beginning were horrible," acknowledged Weidman. And that was only the beginning of the Pioneers' problems in this one.

"We never got any running game going," Weidman continued. "We never got any big runs. We were forced into throwing the ball too much. Then at the end the circumstances of the game forced us into it."

To back that up, the Pioneers threw 20 times and ran it 18. That is the first time since the Amesbury game that Lynnfield has passed more than run.

Once the Hornets realized the Pioneers were in passing mode, they unleashed the hounds, harassing Mike Karavetsos all game. He was under constant pressure and was sacked for only the second time this year.

"They blitz a lot," Weidman said. "They try to get pressure on you."

Despite all that, the Pioneers were still alive deep into the fourth quarter and were able to mount one last drive.

"We were driving there to at least get a chance at a field goal it looked like," Weidman said of the fourth quarter bid. "When we fumbled that obviously hurt. But that was only one drive. We just never got anything going."

Weidman and his staff now have ten days before the season finale against North Reading. A win would give them three straight winning seasons which should be more incentive if the rivalry isn't enough.

Power Outage
The six points the Pioneers put up were the fewest in their last 37 games. The last time they scored fewer was in October of 2008 when they were shut out by Triton 22-0. It was only the third time the Pioneers have scored single digits in the 33 games since the beginning of 2009. The other two were the 24-7 loss to Newburyport last year and the 28-7 defeat to Wilmington in 2009.

The 138 yards of offense (74 rushing, 64 net passing) was also the lowest of the year. The next lowest was the 185 yards gained against Newburyport in the season opener.

Downs in the Dumps
One of the things to point to in Saturday's loss was the Pioneers' performance on third down on both sides of the ball. Defensively, they allowed the Hornets to convert on 8 of 14 third down chances. What kept M/E from putting up more points was the Pioneers' perfect showing on fourth down where the Hornets were 0 for 4. The Pioneers held them at the 19, 14, 10 and one yard lines.

Offensively, the Pioneers were 1 for 6 on third down and 0 for 1 on fourth down. They managed nine first downs in the game, but five of those came on M/E penalties.

Karavetsos has been hampered by a bad ankle which was aggravated in Saturday's game. As a result and also because of the Hornets' stellar run defense, Karavetsos carried only 4 times for 14 yards. It was his second fewest carries of the year and lowest yardage total. He had three rushes against Georgetown, but had 38 yards and a touchdown.

As a team, Lynnfield managed only 74 rushing yards against M/E, 54 from returning tri-captain Mike Thomas.

Bad Trend
This was the second straight home loss for the Pioneers who finish the year at 3-3 at Pioneer Field at the Middle School. Coming into this season, the Pioneers had won 12 straight home games. With the Turkey Day game in North Reading, they won't have a chance to start a new streak until the 2012 season.

Catching On
Senior Steve Yobaccio had four receptions for 33 yards and no touchdowns in the first three games of the year. Since the St. Mary's game, he has been on fire, hauling in 11 passes for 263 yards and five TD's. On Saturday, he was the Pioneers' leading receiver with three catches for 63 yards and a score.

His five TD's this year ties him for fourth place all time in single season TD receptions. He has plenty of company. Others who have caught 5 in one year are Charlie Meeker (1960), Charlie Shove (1998), Brian McBride (2001), Jeff Milinazzo (2007), Ty Surette (2009) and A. J. Roberto (2010).

With a TD catch on Thanksgiving Day, Yobaccio can move into a tie for third place with Justin Haskell who caught 6 in 1996.

The single season Lynnfield high record for TD receptions is held by Lindsey Ross who caught nine in 1973.

One of the highlights of Saturday's game was a booming punt by A. J. Gallo in the third period. The line of scrimmage was the 35. Gallo took the snap and kicked from the Lynnfield 25 and it landed at the Manchester 25 - 55 yards in the air. It took a Pioneer bounce and came to rest on the Hornet 11 yard line 64 yards away from where he kicked it.

Flags Flying
The Hornets were penalized 12 times for 120 yards in the game including 8 "major" calls for among other things unsportsmanlike conduct, roughing the passer and a late hit. The Pioneers were flagged 5 times for 45 yards including one unsportsmanlike call.

Weidman disagreed that the game got "chippy" at the end.

"It wasn't too bad," the coach said. "It was more aggressive than chippy I think."

- Manchester-Essex is now 3-1 all time against the Pioneers. The Hornets are 2-0 in Lynnfield.
- In the useless statistic category, the Pioneers have now lost their last game before Thanksgiving seven of the last eight years.

That's it for now. Check back tomorrow night when I take a look at the weekend's CAL/NEC 4 games.

Saturday, November 12, 2011


If you google "just one of those days," chances are you'll come up with a Youtube link to today's Pioneer game.

Nothing seemed right. Nothing felt right. Nothing went right.

No dulcet tones of PA announcer Tom Waisnor since the public address system was on the fritz. No band. Smallish home crowd no doubt due to conflicting Pioneer athletic events with the girls Volleyball team playing at noon and the boys soccer team scheduled for 3 pm.

Just everything out of kilter.

Including the Pioneers on the field.

The result was a frustrating 7-6 loss to Manchester-Essex and a disappointing sendoff to the seniors in their last home game.

The defense pitched a shutout, but couldn't get off the field enough.

The offense never could get untracked, committed three turnovers and provided the Hornets with their only touchdown on a pick six near the end of the first half.

The difference in the game turned out to be a blocked PAT following a TD pass from Mike Karavetsos to Steve Yobaccio. That seemed ironically appropriate in a game that just never seemed to come together for the Pioneers.

To be fair, some if not most of this was due to a fired up M/E team that was revved up from the start and never let down.

You can get all the details and game photos in my Villager game story on Wednesday and I'll have much more tomorrow night in my Leftovers post.

Bad News From Ipswich

It looked good with a minute to go in the first half with Ipswich holding a 6-0 lead. But North Reading scored with 50 second left, kicked the extra point to take a 7-6 and never looked back.

Carl Lipani, who is going to be a handful and a half on Thanksgiving Day for the Pioneers, ran for 227 yards and three TD's to lead the Hornets to a 32-14 beating of the Tigers.

The win gives Ipswich two losses, while North Reading and the Pioneers have one each. With an almost certain win for Hamilton Wenham tomorrow at Georgetown, the Generals will clinch the league title and a playoff berth.

So the Pioneers need to take care of business against Manchester-Essex on Saturday, and set up a battle for second place in the CAL/NEC 4 on Thanksgiving Day.

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

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Manchester-Essex Game Preview: Saluting the Seniors

We'll get to the preview of the game shortly, but before that, I wanted to note the other significance of Saturday's game.

This is the final game of the year that will be played at the Middle School Field, so as is the custom, serves as the centerpiece for Senior Day. The 13 graduating seniors and their parents will be honored before the game against Manchester Essex in a ceremony that marks a milestone in all their lives.

2000 Co-captain
Kevin "Speedy" Condardo
and your Faithful Chronicler
(Hey it's my blog!)
As a parent of a former Pioneer senior captain, I know well the emotions the senior parents will be going through as they march with their sons onto the field. The first is denial: "Wasn't it just yesterday those 10 year olds were strapping on oversized helmets and shoulder pads and heading to after supper practice for the "C" team?"

Yep, it goes that fast. And from personal experience, I can tell you that it doesn't slow down from here. It's hard to believe, but it's been 11 seasons since my son played his last home game for the Pioneers. The time does fly.

The second emotion is pride. The pride that results from knowing the sacrifices each of their sons has made to get to this point in their high school football careers.

On Saturday, tri-captains John Gaff, Mike Thomas and Jonathan Roberto will lead senior teammates Nico Varano, Jared Owen, Dan Ashwell, Tyler Shaffer, Joe Mehr, Cameron Weeks and Steven Yobaccio on to their home field for the last time. Injured seniors Michael Doherty, Frank Coburn and Jonathan Rogers won't be playing but they will be there to take their rightful place as members of this senior class which has enjoyed one of the winningest three year stretches in LHS history.

With one more win this season, this group of seniors will have won 25 games, a three year mark matched only by the seniors on the 1987 team. Two wins would make them the winningest seniors in school history over a three year period.

Former Pioner assistant and head coach Scott Brennan said something to me once which still resonates. And this is not to denigrate any of the other important high school sports but only to show what kind of commitment and dedication is required to be part of a high school football program.

"You PLAY baseball, soccer or basketball," Brennan said. "But you ARE a football player."

That description aptly fits all former Pioneers who have made it through the football program. And it appropriately describes the 2011 seniors that will be honored on Saturday in their final home game. They ARE football players.

Congratulations to you all.

Now on to the game.

Once all the photos have been taken, flowers given out and hugs shared, the Pioneers will have to step onto the field with the hopes of sending the seniors off with a final home win. To do that, they will have to get past a hungry Manchester Essex team that is itching for its first win as a member of the CAL/NEC 4. They have 10 seniors on the squad which also will make them a formidable opponent.

The Hornets - yes the Pioneers will be playing their final two games of the season against the Hornets - come into the game with a 3-6 record suffering through a three game losing streak. But to be fair, they have lost to three good teams - Hamilton Wenham 35-6, North Reading 14-0 and Ipswich 39-20.

Clearly they have struggled offensively which is no surprise seeing as HW and NR have a couple of the best defenses in the league. They also fell behind Ipswich 26-0 before scoring two early second half touchdowns to make the game look closer than it really was.

In addition to the Generals and Hornets, M-E lost to Amesbury 28-7, the other opponent common to the Pioneers.

The Hornets run a spread offense much like the Pioneers. Quarterback Corey Burnham has either one or two running backs in the backfield with him. They have a good sized offensive line with six returning starters, but they could get very little going in the running game against H-W or NR. Burnham was able to pick up some yardage against Ipswich in the second half. Besides Burham, the prime M-E backs are Jake Fitzgerald and Chris Dumont.

Burham is not afraid to throw the ball and when he does he looks for John Beardsley and Joe Burgess.

Defensively, the Hornets can be tough. They basically shut down the rugged North Reading running game inside and NR was able to escape with a 14-0 win after getting some running room outside.

Ipswich was shut down in the middle of the line for the most part, but again was able to gain some yardage to the outside and through the passing of Nick Andreas.

Although the line has been one of the key strengths of the Pioneers' this season, they may have to attack the Hornets at the edges and through the air to put some points on the board. Needless to say, the battle in the trenches will be very interesting.

This will be the fourth meeting between the schools. The Hornets won the first two including the heartbreaking 21-14 overtime win in 2007 when they came back from a 14-0 deficit in the final three minutes of play to tie it then win it in overtime. In 2008, they had to battle to beat the Pioneers 35-21 enroute to a Super Bowl.

The Pioneers finally beat them last year in the inaugural game at Hyland Field in Manchester, winning handily 37-6. It probably won't be that easy this year.

You can be sure, though, that the Pioneers will be up for this one. They do not want their seniors to leave their home field for the final time on a sour note.

Game time is 11 am.

Check back Saturday afternoon for my post game thoughts.