Thursday, January 5, 2012

Top Plays of 2011

Happy New Year and welcome to my first post of 2012. 'Tis the season to review the past year, so this is an appropriate time for my Third Annual Top Plays of the Year post.

2011 was an interesting year for the Pioneers. As head coach Neal Weidman pointed out at the banquet, there were some ups and downs. So fittingly, some of the plays I've chosen were ups and some were downers. My criteria is purely subjective (my blog after all) but what I am looking for are plays that had a significant affect on a game or the season either positively or negatively or just an outstanding individual accomplishment. I rate plays in league games higher than non league games.

So here we go. In reverse order of significance, one man's opinion of The Top Plays of 2011.

#17. The Return of the Captain. Pioneer tri captain Mike Thomas suffered a broken collar bone against St. Mary's in the fourth game of the year and was thought to be lost for the rest of the season. But after only five weeks, Thomas consulted with his doctor and was cleared to play. On the first play of the second half against Georgetown, the captain made a dramatic return. With the Pioneers leading 28-7, Weidman just wanted to get Thomas a series to get some hits and get used to carrying the ball again. But Thomas didn't see much contact. He took the handoff from Karavetsos and with his lily white uniform, burst through an enormous hole in the center of the Georgetown line and sprinted 76 yards for the eighth and final touchdown of his high school career. Thomas would reinjure his collarbone against Manchester Essex and did not score again.

#16. The Freshman Fling. With quarterback Mike Karavetsos knocked out of the Thanksgiving Day game with a head injury and backup signal caller Alex Roper down with mono, it fell to 5'6", 135 lb freshman Danny Sullivan to rally the Pioneers from a 16-12 halftime deficit against North Reading. It was a nearly impossible task for the ninth grader, but the youngster made his mark on the first drive of the second half.   After the Pioneers forced the Hornets to punt, Lynnfield took over on their own 20 yard line. On the Pioneers' first offensive play of the half, Sullivan reared back and threw a perfect spiral to Alex Pascucci who got behind the Hornet defense and sprinted 80 yards for the Lynnfield TD. The Pioneers would go on to lose to a tough North Reading team 37-18, but that Sullivan TD pass gave Lynnfield an 18-16 lead that would hold up until early in the fourth quarter. Quite a start in his varsity debut.

#15. The Fortunate Bounce. In the third game of the season, the Pioneers moved quickly through the young Bishop Fenwick defense on their opening drive. On a first and ten from the Fenwick 14, Thomas took a handoff from Karavetsos and headed through a gaping hole toward the endzone. At the three yard line, Thomas took a vicious hit that knocked the ball loose. Fortunately for the Pioneers, the ball bounced on the four yard line and straight back up into the arms of Alex Pascucci who carried it the rest of the way into the endzone for the score. The play happened so fast, that most people didn't realize that Pascucci had scored and thought that Thomas and run it in. That would be the kind of day it would be for Bishop Fenwick who fell to the Pioneers 35-8.

#14. Goal Line Stand Part One. The Pioneers trailed 14-0 to Pentucket at halftime but early in the third period Karavetsos scored on a 30 yard run to cut the lead to 14-7. The Sachems answered right back, however, driving to the Pioneer two yard line where they faced a fourth and one for the first down or two for the touchdown. Pentucket quarterback Matt Kuchar handed off to running back Cody Rothwell who headed to what appeared to be a huge hole on the left side of the line. But Mike Soden fought off a block, tripped up Rothwell by the leg with his left hand and reached up and grabbed the back of his jersey with his right hand to pull him down short of the first down marker. That got the ball back to the Pioneers on downs. Lynnfield would then embark on a 98 yard drive capped by a 35 yard run by Karavetsos to tie the game at 14-14.

#13. The Fake Punt. Midway in the fourth period of the Pentucket game, tied 14-14, the Pioneers faced a fourth and five from their own 35 yard line. Lynnfield lined up in punt formation, but the snap from Roberto didn't go to punter A. J. Gallo and instead to the up man Alex Roper, who also happened to be the Pioneer back up quarterback. The Pentucket defense was completely fooled and Alex Pascucci was wide open in the middle of the field. Roper lofted it to Pascucci who took it to the 50 yard line for the first down. On the next play, Karavetsos found a wide open Steve Yobaccio down the left sideline for a 50 yard TD strike that turned out to be the winning score in the 21-14 Pioneer win.

#12 The Blown Whistle. Tied 7-7 with Newburyport in the opening game of the season, the Pioneers were moving the ball on the opening drive of the second half. On second and seven from the Newburyport 36, Karavetsos faked a handoff to tri captain Mike Thomas. The Clippers bit on the fake big time as four Newburyport defenders collapsed on the senior running back. But Karavetsos had kept the ball, broke a tackle after the fake handoff and headed to the right. Tri-Captain John Gaff wiped out the Clipper defensive end and Karavetsos was off to the races with what appeared to be the go ahead touchdown. Unfortunately, Karavetsos' fake was so good that it fooled the officials as well. As the empty handed Thomas went down under a heap of Clippers, the officials blew the play dead. Unfortunately for the Pioneers, Karavetsos was dancing clear in the flat heading for the endzone with the ball. But the whistle blew the play dead and after a huddle, the officials gave the Pioneers a first down at the Clipper 28. The Pioneer drive subsequently stalled at the Clipper 24, Newburyport took over and moved 76 yard drive for a score. Instead of leading the eventual CAL/NEC Tier 3 champs 14-7, the Pioneers trailed by the same score. They would go on to lose 27-14 but the result could have been very different if the Pioneers had taken that one touchdown lead.

#11. Goal Line Stand Part Two. In the second game of the season, Amesbury was hitting on all cylinders on their opening drive as they marched to the Lynnfield one yard line. But on fourth and one, All League Lineman D. J. DeGeorge tunnelled under the Indians' offensive line and corralled Indian running back Delante Castle for no gain. Not only did he keep him out of the endzone, but the stop was also short of the first down marker which was at the half yard line.

#10. The Bomb. After stuffing Amesbury at the one yard line on their opening drive, the Pioneers took over on downs. Runs by Karavetsos and Thomas got the ball to the eight yard line. On third and three, Karavetsos faded back and unloaded a bomb to Jonathan Rogers who caught it at the 27 and outran the Indian defense to the endzone for a 92 yard TD hookup. Instead of trailing by a score, the Pioneers led 7-0.

#9 The Scooped Fumble. Tied with Amesbury 7-7, the Pioneers were yielding yardage to the Indians on their opening drive of the second half. On a third and five from the Lynnfield 27, Amesbury running back Delante Castle headed into the line. D. J. DeGeorge met him there, put his helmet on the ball and popped it loose. A. J. Gallo was right there to scoop up the fumble and out race the Indian defenders to the endzone for a 73 yard touchdown. Quarterback Matt Talbot was the only one with a chance to stop Gallo on the return, but he was obliterated out of the play by tri-captain Jonathan Roberto. After Alex Roper's PAT, the Pioneers led 14-7 and would ultimate hold on for a 14-13 win, their first of the year.

#8. The Winning Blocked PAT. Gallo's fumble return put the Pioneers up by a touchdown, but the game winning play was made on the Indians' next drive. Amesbury rebounded quickly from the stunning Pioneer score and marched 65 yards for a score that cut the lead to 14-13. Mac Short lined up for what would have been the tying PAT, but Tyler Palumbo hopped through the gap between the center and left guard, came in untouched and blocked the kick and preserve the Pioneer victory.

#7. Pick Six. The Pioneers were all out of sorts for their Senior Day game against Manchester Essex. Nothing seemed to go right for the home team, but despite that, it appeared the Pioneers would go in at the half up 6-0. But late in the second quarter, Karavetsos reinjured his ankle and had to leave the game. Backup quarterback Alex Roper came into a difficult spot facing a second and seven from his own 48 yard line. Looking to pick up the first down, Roper fired a pass to the left side but Hornet Joe Burgess slipped under the receiver and picked it off and then returned it 53 yards for the TD. He added the PAT that would ultimately be the winning point as the Pioneers failed to score in the second half for the only time all year.

#6. The Breakout Run. The Pioneers could not get untracked against Ipswich and trailed 6-0 at halftime of their CAL/NEC 4 league opener. Lynnfield managed only 42 yards of offense and a pair of first downs in the first two quarters of play and were in danger of falling to the Tigers. But after forcing a three and out on the Tigers' opening drive of the second half, the Pioneers began to put things together. On a third and nine from the Ipswich 30 yard line Karavetsos broke loose on a quarterback draw and romped through a wide open middle of the field for the score. Roper added the extra point and the Pioneers would not trail again enroute to a fingernail biting 13-6 win.

#5. The Premature Spike. Leading 13-6 with time running out, the Pioneers had to withstand one last assault from a revved up Ipswich Tiger team. In the final five minutes of the game, the Tigers marched from their own 21 to the Lynnfield 24. But  the clock was running and Ipswich had no time outs left. On third and five, Ipswich quarterback Louis Galanis, playing QB for the first time all year in place of injured Nick Andreas, scrambled four yards to set up a fourth and one. Unfortunately for Ipswich, Galanis must have lost track of the downs and with the clock ticking to single digits, he raced to the line and spiked the ball on fourth down, turning the ball over on downs and sealing the Pioneer victory.

#4. The Hit. With backup quarterback Alex Roper out with mono, the most important thing for the Pioneers on Thanksgiving Day was to keep Mike Karavetsos on the field. He came into the game nursing an ankle injury which didn't seem to bother him in the opening minutes of the game as the Pioneers roared out to a fast start. On his first carry of the game, Karavetsos darted 32 yards for a touchdown. After a Pioneer fumble recovery on the following kickoff, the Pioneers marched 30 yards for a score with Karavetsos capping it with a five yard strike to Anthony Costa. Before the stunned Hornets had run an offensive play, they were already down 12-0. However, midway in the second period, the unthinkable occurred. On a quarterback keeper, Karavetsos sprinted for a nine yard gain, but was hit by three Hornets in the process. As he lay prone on the artificial turf at Arthur Kenney Field, it appeared his day was done. That was indeed the case as freshman Danny Sullivan and sophomore Matt Kramich took over the controls from there but it was too much to ask for them to match the high powered Hornet offense. North Reading would pull ahead 16-12 and Sullivan's 80 yard TD put the Pioneers back on top temporarily, the Hornets exploded for three fourth period scores to capture the Thanksgiving Day contest. The Pioneer offense simply couldn't keep up without Karavetsos at the controls. 

#3. Mine No Mine. Leading undefeated Hamilton Wenham 7-6, the Pioneers opened the second half with an impressive drive. On second and six from the General 10 yard line, Karavetsos tossed to Nico Varano who had inside position on H-W defender Pete Duvall. Duvall reached over and grabbed the ball and the pair wrestled to the ground apparently in joint possession of the football. After about 30 seconds, the official ruled it an interception, though it appeared to be a simulaneous catch which would go to the offense according to the rule. Instead of a possible 14-6 lead, the Pioneers suffered a turnover.

#2. The Pilfer. Three plays after the interception ruling, the Generals faced a second and five from the Lynnfield 35 yard line. Quarterback Trevor Lyons handed off to bruising running back Eliot Burr, 6'0" 200 lbs. As Burr hit the line, Pioneer linebacker Tyler Palumbo, 5'8" 160 lbs, reached in and ripped the ball out of his hands and took off 37 yards the other way to the endzone. Roper added the PAT and the Pioneers led the stunned Generals 14-6.

And now, the most significant play of the 2011 season.

#1. The Almost Touchdown. Ironically, the most significant play of the year ended up not being an official play at all. Leading Hamilton-Wenham 14-6, the Pioneers mounted another drive early in the fourth quarter. On third and three from the General 22 yard line, Karavetsos headed out on a sweep around the left side and sprinted all the way down the sideline for the apparent score that would have put the Pioneers up by two touchdowns with nine minutes left in the game. Unfortunately the home town jubilation was short-lived as the Pioneers were flagged for holding which nullified the score. The Pioneers eventually turned the ball over on downs. The Generals ultimately scored the tying touchdown and two point conversion with 37 seconds left and the winning score and conversion in overtime. Those sixteen points in the closing minutes of the game propelled the Generals to an undefeated regular season, a victory over Newburyport in the Division 3A playoffs and a trip to the Super Bowl. Only an injury to the league's Player of the Year Trevor Lyons prevented them from posting a Super Bowl win and undefeated season. Without Lyons, the Generals fell to Bourne 16-14 after leading 14-8 at the half. It's tough to project what might have been but it's safe to say that if this touchdown had counted, the Generals would not have been able to come back from a 21-6 deficit. It took them the rest of the fourth period and overtime to overcome the 14-6 hole they were in. One more score could have driven the nail into the coffin. An upset Pioneer victory here would have put them in the drivers' seat for the league title and who knows what might have happened from there. Ultimately, injuries played a huge part in the Pioneers' two game losing streak to end the year, but it's interesting to ponder what might have been.

So there you have it. My choices of the Top 17 plays of the season culled from the nearly 1200 that the Pioneers' participated in this past fall. Feel free to chime in with any choices you may have.

That's it for now. Check back on February 3 for my next offseason post.