Thursday, May 31, 2012

Schedule Preview Part 2; Summer 7 v 7 Schedule; Passing of Warren Clayton

Last month I took a first look at the Pioneers' non-league schedule for the upcoming season. In this month's post, I'll look ahead for a quick preview of Lynnfield's CAL/NEC4 slate. Also I have the Pioneers' 7 v 7 schedule. Hint: It starts in three weeks!

Finally I'll finish up with a few words on the passing of Warren Clayton, the longtime bus driver for the Pioneer sports teams.

First, let's get to part two of the schedule sneak preview.

Last year, before the season started, everyone pencilled in Hamilton-Wenham as the clear favorite in the league, and that proved deadly accurate. The Generals survived their only close call last year when they escaped a Pioneer upset with a last minute score to tie the game and then prevailed in overtime. Other than that one scare, the Generals dominated, beating the other four teams in the league by combined score of 137-40 enroute to an undefeated season and the league championship.

This season looks to be quite different.

While the Generals will still be formidable, and are still the champs until someone knocks them off, there are several teams in the league that could ultimately capture the crown. In fact, I wouldn't even make the Generals the preseason favorite. That distinction in my opinion goes to the Pioneers' archrivals at the other end of Chestnut Street.

Yes, this could be the year of the Hornet. North Reading is stacked, hungry and ready to take their first championship in over 30 years. More on them later.

There's no question that whoever ultimately takes the league title and heads to the Division 3A playoffs, will have to fight through what appears to be a most competitive CAL/NEC4.

"The league is going to be really good this season," asserted Pioneer Head Coach Neal Weidman.

So let's take a look at the road the Pioneers will have to travel if they hope to earn another championship this season.

Saturday, October 20 vs. Ipswich

The Pioneers open their league slate at home this year when they host the Tigers.

The Tigers were 3-7 in 2011 but they finished a strong 2-3 in the league, tied with the Pioneers and Manchester-Essex for third place. They graduated nine including All Leaguers lineman Chris Desmond and defensive back Louis Galanis. But they will return 15 seniors and a talented group of underclassmen led by All League linebacker John Elnagger and All League Honorable Mentions Peter Moutevelis (RB), Derek Chamberlain (RB), Mike Dillon (Line) and Nate Glaster (WR).

Moutevelis (84 points last season) and Chamberlain (6 TD's)  will key a potent ground and swerve Delaware Wing T offense. The traditional Tiger attack will again supplemented by good looking sophomore quarterback Nick Andreas who threw a pair of TD passes last year playing as a freshman. He didn't play in last year's hard fought 13-6 Pioneer win in Ipswich, but expect him to blossom this season. Moutevelis torched the Pioneers for 113 yards in that game and Chamberlain picked up 85 and the Tigers' only score.

Lynnfield will have their hands full in the league opener.

"Ipswich has a lot coming back," said Weidman. "They have that good quarterback and they are a young, good team."

Saturday, October 27 @ Hamilton-Wenham

The Pioneers hit the road for week two of the league schedule when they travel north for another shot at the two time defending league champion Generals.

Hamilton-Wenham loses a tankload to graduation including 80% of their dominant offensive line. Gone are All League linemen Shane Jenkins, Taylor Drinkwater, Paul Kim and All League Honorable Mention Ryan Foringer. Other All Leaguers leaving are linebacker Kevin Anthony, defensive back/receiver Matt Putur, bruising running back Eliot Burr and receiver Luke Wendt.

But the Generals, who finished 11-1 last year with their only loss coming in the Division 3A Super Bowl, will not be fully depleted.

They return the league's Player of the Year in quarterback Trevor Lyons, whose loss for the second half likely led to their 16-14 Super Bowl defeat to Bourne. They were leading 14-8 at halftime when Lyons left with an injury early in the second half.

Lyons is a dynamic runner who finished third in Division 3A scoring with 124 points on 20 touchdowns and a pair of 2 point conversions. Playing quarterback for the first time last year, his passing needed work early on, but he improved dramatically and finished the season with six TD passes.

With only five returning seniors, Lyons' supporting cast will be greatly diminished, but he will not be alone in the quest for a title defense. Back are All League defensive back Christian Ecker and All League Honorable Mentions Pete Duval (RB), Matt Vogus (lineman) and Steve Turpin (RB).

"They won the title last year and they have Lyons back," Weidman said. "He is good. It's always tough playing them."

Saturday, November 3 vs. Georgetown

After a tough tussle with the Generals, the Pioneers will return home to face Georgetown. The Royals have struggled since nearly winning the CAL Small in 2008. Over the past three seasons, Georgetown has managed only four wins in 30 games including a tough 1-9 mark last season and they were winless in the CAL/NEC 4.

The Royals struggled in 2011 as first year head coach Paul Sobolewski attempted to install his new program. The Pioneers caught them at a particular difficult time with several players suspended not suited up. The Pioneers were coming off the heartbreaking loss to H-W and took it out on the young Royals, beating them 35-7.

The good news for Georgetown is that all the young players that were tossed into the fire last year received valuable varsity playing experience. They lose only three to graduation but will still have only five seniors. The bad news is that two of their losses are All League lineman Mike Bjork and standout quarterback Tyler Wade. One of their key returnees is junior receiver Colby Ingraham who caught three passes against Lynnfield including the only Royals' touchdown.

"They have straightened things out up there," said Weidman of the turmoil at Georgetown last year. "They have their heads on straight now. The suspended players are coming back and they have a nice nucleus coming back. These guys gained valuable experience last season."

Friday, November 9 @ Manchester-Essex

In their final game before Thanksgiving Day, the Pioneers travel north to face the Hornets in their fourth night game of the season.

M-E handed the Pioneers a 7-6 loss on Senior Day last year, arguably the most disappointing loss of 2011 other than the H-W defeat.

"They got us last year," Weidman admitted. "They played physically and well."

The Hornets finished the season 5-6, 2-3 in the league, winning their final two games of the year.

They graduate 10 including Paul Penoyer, the league's Lineman of the Year along with All Leaguers Joe Burgess (WR) and Mavrik MacEachern (LB). But they were a young team and will have 13 seniors returning led by All League lineman Julian Flavin and Honorable Mentions Cory Burnham (QB), David Wright (lineman), Jake Fitzgerald (RB), Zack Fleming (lineman), John Beardsley (RB) and Chris Wright (lineman).

They will be big and physical and should be in the hunt.

"They are good defensively," said Weidman. "We'll have our hands full."

Thanksgiving Day, November 22 vs. North Reading

The Pioneers will save the best for last as the powerhouse Hornets will come calling on Turkey Day morning.

NR finished 7-3 in 2011, their first winning season since 2007 when they finished 6-5). They were 4-1 in the league with their only loss coming to Hamilton-Wenham.

First year offensive Coordinator Ed Melanson came over from Peabody to join NR head coach and defensive guru Jeff Wall and installed the single wing offense. The Hornets thrived on it - improving each week. They capped the season off by rushing for 339 yards in the 37-18 win over the Pioneers.

On the season, they rolled for 2,685 yards, 2,560 of it on the ground.

They were led by All League running back Carl Lipani, who rushed for 1,736 yards and 24 touchdowns. His 151 points put him in second place in Division 3A scoring. And the scary part? He's back for another year. With a season of the offense under his belt and with another year of experience with a line that comes back virtually intact, it's mindboggling to think what kind of numbers the classy super back will put up.

And he won't be alone.

The Hornets graduate 10 including All League placekicker Eric Valenti and Honorable Mentions Kyle Boucher (LB) and Jason Vella (line), but they return 11 seniors.

Back for a serious title run will be All Leaguers John Fortes (line) and Mike Moscaritolo (line) along with Honorable Mentions Jason Kellogg (QB), Chris McCarthy (RB) and Evan Wade (DB).

"Right now, they are the team to beat," said Weidman. "They have the most guys returning and the best returning core. But we have a long way to go before we start worrying about them."

So there you have it. It should be a wide open league race and the Pioneers could be in the thick of it.

Summer Schedule

But before we get to the regular season though, we need to get through the summer, and the Pioneers will be prepping with a full schedule of 7 v 7 games and tournments.

The Pioneers will again be participating in the Reading Sunday Passing league beginning in Mid June.

The schedule is as follows :

All games at Reading High School. Game 1 starts at 9 am and Game 2 begins at 10 am)

June 17 vs Methuen (Game 1); vs. Boston Latin (Game 2)
June 24 vs Reading (Game 1); vs. Methuen (Game 2)
July 1 vs Boston Latin (Game 1); vs. Reading (Game 2)
July 15 vs Methuen (Game 1); vs. Boston Latin (Game 2)
August 5 vs Boston Latin (Game 1); vs Methuen (Game 2)

Lynnfield will also be playing in the St. Anselm's Tournament on June 24th and in the UnderArmour 7 v 7 Tournament at Bishop Fenwick on July 21st.

Warren the Busdriver

Finally on a sad note, I have to mention Warren Clayton, the busdriver for many of the Pioneer sports teams, who passed away this past Saturday at the age of 89. In particular, "Warren" was the main driver for the Pioneer football team for many years.

Warren W. Clayton
Mr. Clayton was a WWII and Korean War veteran serving in the Navy and receiving the Asiatic-Pacific Medal with nine stars, the Phillipine Liberation Medal with two stars among many other decorations.

He retired from his career as a molder with Clayton Foundry in 1984 and became a bus driver for the town. He loved interacting with all the young athletes but had a particular soft spot for the football teams he ushered all over the North Shore. And you could tell the players returned that affection for the affable gentleman.

I spent many a pregame on the sideline with Mr. Clayton discussing the team's chances that day.

He was an unsung hero of the Pioneer football program for many years and was just a genuine, classy gentlemen. He will be missed.

Rest in Peace Warren.

That's it for now. Check back on the first Friday of July for my next post.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Pioneers Face Another Daunting Schedule in 2012: Season Preview Part 1

The 2012 schedule is out so what better way to start thinking about the fall than by taking a sneak peak at what the Pioneers have facing them this year.

Last season, Pioneer head coach Neal Weidman talked about beefing up his non league schedule after a noticeably soft 2010 slate of non-CAL games.

Just to refresh your memory, in 2010 the defending CAL Small champion Pioneers sliced through non league opponents Manchester-Essex (prior to them joining the CAL/NEC last season), Bishop Fenwick, Cathedral, Danvers and Chelsea. They pounded out five wins by the aggregate score of 187-45. Adding in a 35-0 romp over a struggling Georgetown team in a league game launched the Pioneers to a 6-0 mark heading into the meat of the CAL Small schedule.

Unfortunately, their main opposition, Newburyport and Hamilton Wenham, played a nearly traditional CAL schedule taking on the powerhouses like Wilmington, Masco and Pentucket and when the league schedule began, they were ready.

Newburyport, with a pedestrian 3-4 record, stunned the unbeaten Pioneers 24-7 effectively ending Lynnfield's title defense. The Pioneers would also suffer a heartbreaking 16-15 heartbreaking loss to Hamilton-Wenham, but the damage had already been done by the Clippers.

Weidman admitted that the Pioneers weren't necessarily well served by their weaker non league schedule and decided to toughen things up for 2011.

So last season, out went Cathedral and Chelsea and in popped St. Mary's and Pentucket, significant steps up in competition. The Pioneers held their own in their first half non league schedule, falling to Newburyport and beating Amesbury (formerly league games but now nonleague because of the CAL/NEC merger). They went on to handle Bishop Fenwick easily but fell hard to powerhouse St. Mary's. The lost a shootout to Danvers and finished the first half of the season strong with an impressive comeback win over Pentucket.

With a 3-3 non league slate, the Pioneers were certainly "battle tested" as Weidman had predicted, but they also were a bit beat up as seniors began falling like flies which hampered them as they began their CAL/NEC 4 schedule.

They edged Ipswich to start the league slate and then had eventual league champion Hamilton-Wenham beaten only to have the Generals tie the game at the end and win it in overtime. That seemed to take the wind out of the Pioneer sails. They rebounded from the H-W heartbreater to cruise past a Georgetown team in disarray, but they were upset by Manchester Essex on Senior Day. The Pioneers ended up playing on Thanksgiving without their top two quarterbacks, and went on to lose to rising power North Reading to finish the year 5-6.

So what does 2012 have in store?

Well the schedule is almost identical with only one change. The Pioneers will not be playing St. Mary's and will instead have a bye on the last weekend of September. The break is something they probably could have used last season as the bumps, bruises and injuries mounted.

"If you count preseason, week four is right in the middle of the season," Weidman explained. "I felt like we needed it right there. Last year I felt like we were a little worn down at the end of the season so hopefully this helps us out."

But even though the schedule features the same teams as last year, the degree of difficulty will definitely be going up.

The Pioneers will be improved as well, with lots of talent and experience returning, but nearly all of the teams they will be facing have gotten better as well.

The most obvious area of improvement in Lynnfield's opponents this year will be under center. Last season, of the Pioneers' eleven opponents, nine started new quarterbacks. Of the two that returned starting signal callers, one was Georgetown, which was totally inexperienced everywhere else on the field, and St. Mary's whose quarterback's main role was to hand off in their frightening double wing offense. The Pioneers as well were in the same boat with Mike Karavetsos playing varsity quarterback for the first time last season.

Well Karavetsos turned in a stellar season, earning All League honors for his work.

However of the Pioneers' ten opponents this year, eight will be returning their quarterback, including Hamilton-Wenham which will again feature last season's CAL/NEC 4 Player of the Year Trevor Lyons.

There are several interesting twists to the Pioneers' 2012 schedule. First they will be playing only four home games, one of which is the traditional Thanksgiving Day game against North Reading. They will also be playing four road night games.

In fact, the season starts with three straight games under the Friday night lights, followed by a their bye week. So if you want to catch the Pioneers at home on a Saturday afternoon, you'll have to wait until October 6.

"It will be three tough ones to start: Newburyport, Amesbury, Bishop Fenwick all on the road," Weidman said.

So for this month's post, I thought I'd do the first of a two part look at the Pioneers upcoming schedule. This month we'll look at their five non league opponents and then in June I'll review their CAL/NEC 4 opponents.

Let's get to it.

Friday, September 7 @ Newburyport

I used to say that the Pioneers' trip to Newburyport every other year was like visiting the dentist, but going through some root canal surgery is actually more pleasant.

But this is the year Lynnfield goes north to their personal house of horrors at War Memorial Stadium and it will be a tough trip once again.  The Pioneers are 8-31 against Newburyport all time, their worst record against any opponent. In Newburyport, the record is even more dismal. They have beaten the Clippers on the road only three times in 19 trips.

The task appears to be as formidable this year as well.

The Clippers are coming off a 9-2 season in which they took the CAL/NEC 3 crown with a 5-0 mark. They lost to Hamilton-Wenham 7-0 in the playoffs on a last minute touchdown run by Lyons. They graduate only seven players and return 14 seniors.  

Returning will be quarterback Connor Wile, with a full year under his belt. He riddled the Pioneers on opening day last season in a 27-14 Clipper win, going 12 for 19 for 167 yards and 2 TD's in his first varsity game at QB. He led Division 3A with 20 TD passes. Of course he was throwing to all everything receiver Bret Fontaine, who graduated. In his place though is brother Colten. Also returning is running back Tyler Cusack and most of their offensive and defensive lines.

"They are going to be very good," Weidman said. "Our non league schedule is very tough again this year which is what we want. It will prepare us for our league games."

It certainly will be a challenging way for the Pioneers to kick off the season.

Friday, September 14 @Amesbury

The Pioneers will take another trip to the New Hampshire border in Week Two when they travel to Landry Stadium in Amesbury to take on the Fighting Indians. The Pioneers and Indians have staged white-knuckle specials for the past five years with the games being decided by five points or less in four of those five games.

In 2007 the Indians edged the Pioneers 20-15. The following year, Lynnfield outplayed the eventual CAL Small champs but fell to a late Amesbury comeback on the road 13-12. In 2009, the Pioneers needed the famous late game strip by Evan Panzero and a fumble return by Tim Lamusta to pull out a 14-10 game in which they were outplayed. In 2010, the Pioneers trailed 13-7 at halftime but roared back in the second half to take a 30-13 win. Then last year, the Pioneers needed another fumble recovery return, this one by A. J. Gallo who scooped up the ball that was popped loose on a great play by D. J. DeGeorge. That gave the Pioneers a 14-13 win in another game in which they were outplayed by the Indians.

Amesbury posted a 4-7 record last year, going 1-4 in the CAL/NEC 3. They graduated 16 players but will still have 14 seniors. They lost their frightening running attack of Delante Castle, C. J. Collins and Stevan Deas but return quarterback Matt Talbot who is almost as dangerous a runner as a passer. He carried 15 times for 82 yards in his second varsity game last year against Lynnfield. He will also get back receiver Devlin Gobeil who caught four passes for 33 yards against the Pioneers and had three TD receptions on the year.

There's no reason to think this year won't be another close battle with these two teams.

"They were young last year so they'll be good," Weidman said. "That will definitely be a test."

Friday, September 21 @ Bishop Fenwick

This will be the third meeting ever between the Pioneers and Crusaders, and Lynnfield has pretty much had its way in the first two encounters. They posted a 42-21 win in Peabody in 2010 then routed a very young Fenwick team 35-8 at the Middle School last year.

The problem for the Pioneers is that most of that team returns intact with only seven players lost to graduation. They will have only six seniors, but they have 14 juniors, most of whom played last season.

Two key players that will be back are junior quarterback Nick Bona and the best named running back ever in Rufus Rushins.

Bona took his lumps last year as a sophomore but undoubtedly will come back stronger for the experience. He was 4 of 14 for 108 yards and a touchdown against the Pioneers last year.

Rushins is a man-child who played as a 6'1" 220 lb freshman last season. The Pioneers kept him in check, holding him to 38 yards on eight carries but he got untracked as the season went on. He finished with 11 touchdowns and 70 points and will be a LOAD this year.

The Crusaders also get back junior running backs James Traversy and Nick Tambini.

Fenwick finished 3-8 last year, 2-3 in the Catholic Central Large, but will be looking to build off an impressive 42-29 Thanksgiving Day win over Austin Prep.

"That's another team that was young last year and will be improved," Weidman said.

Saturday, October 6 vs. Danvers

After a week off, the Pioneers finally get to play on their home turf when they return to the Middle School field for their home opener against Danvers.

This will be the fourth straight year the Pioneers will be playing the Falcons and Lynnfield holds a 2-1 advantage. They dropped Danvers 14-6 in 2009 in a game widely seen as a key win in the Pioneers' run to the CAL Small championship. The Pioneers handled the Falcons easily in a 40-18 win in 2010 and then last year the two teams combined for 77 points in a 42-35 Danvers win.

It was the first time in the 54 year history of Lynnfield High football that the Pioneers scored 35 points or more and lost. It tied for the most combined points scored in a Pioneer game, matching the total of the 49-28 loss to Saugus in 2008.

The Falcons finished the season 4-7, 1-4 in the NEC/CAL 2 and graduate 14 seniors including shifty running back Nick Valles, who torched the Pioneers for 132 yards and a pair of TD's last year. Also gone is quarterback Paul Nicolo and running back Jake Palazola who ran for 171 yards and two TD's in last year's contest.

They will return 17 seniors including Nick's brother sophomore Alex Valles who picked up 62 yards and caught a pair of passes for 30 yards in last season's game. Also returning is receiver Jake Cawlina who caught five passes for 57 yards and a touchdown.

"We've had good games with them over the past few years," said Weidman. "We had the shootout last year and three years ago it was a real close game up there. That's the game where we started to really come into our own."

Saturday, October 13 @ Pentucket

The Pioneers' home stand lasts only one game as they hit the road again to travel to West Newbury to tangle with the always dangerous Pentucket Sachems.

Lynnfield played Pentucket last year for the first time since 2007 and snapped an eight game losing streak against the Sachems with an inspiring 21-14 come from behind win. The Pioneers trailed 14-0 at the half, but staged their biggest comeback since I've been covering the team (1989) to earn the win.

It took a goal line stand, a 99 yard scoring drive, a gutsy fake punt call, three second half touchdowns and an outstanding defensive effort to get it done, but the Pioneers pulled it off in what was one of their most impressive wins of the season.

The Sachems finished the year 6-5, 3-2 in the CAL/NEC 3. They lose only 10 to graduation, but return 14 seniors. They also get back junior quarterback Ryan Kuchar who was 6/17 for 101 yards against the Pioneers. Also back is running back Cody Rothwell who ran for 52 yards and a touchdown against Lynnfield. He will have to pick up the slack left by the graduation of Nolan Dragon who notched 106 points last season.

"It's always tough to play up there," Weidman said. "They will be strong again this year."

That will conclude a very difficult non-league portion of the Pioneer schedule and also bring to an end my May post. I'll be back the first Friday of June to take a look at the Pioneers' CAL/NEC 4 league schedule.

Check back then and in the meantime, Happy Mother's Day to all the Pioneer Moms.