Thursday, August 30, 2012

School Daze

The Pioneers got off to a great first step with their scrimmage win over Masco last Saturday but they stumbled a bit Wednesday afternoon with an uninspiring effort against Triton in Byfield.

It was the first day of school for the Pioneers and the squad seemed to suffer from some opening day blues when they took the field in a two quarter scrimmage against Pat Sheehan's Vikings. The Vikes are in full rebuilding mode, with sophomores scattered throughout the lineup on both sides of the ball, but they played the Pioneers evenly, as the contest ended in a 6-6 tie.

The Lynnfield offense managed only two first downs gaining only 30 yards on 10 carries, but 26 of that total came on one carry by captain Mike Karavetsos late in the second quarter. Of the other nine rushing plays, two were for losses and four were for two yards or less.

The passing game wasn't much more effective with Karavetsos completing three of eight passes for 23 yards. Add in a Triton sack and the Pioneers had net passing yardage of 17 yards. Total offensive output in the half: 47 yards.

On the defensive side, the Pioneers allowed the young Vikings to move the ball on several drives including a 60 yard march for Triton's only score. The home team picked up 19 yards on the ground but the Viking quarterbacks were 7 for 11 for 61 yards including a three yard TD pass.

The defense did come up with two turnovers on an interception by A. J. Gallo and a fumble recovery by Alex Roper that he returned 55 yards for the Pioneers' only TD.

It was safe to say that it wasn't Pioneer head coach Neal Weidman's favorite half of football.

"No, it was embarrassing," the coach agreed after the scrimmage. "Honestly just unfocused, not ready to play. We just didn't have our head in the game. It was a little bit of 'woe is me we had school today, then we had to get on the bus and get here.' That was what that was."

"Probably the best thing for us," Weidman continued. "We could use a kick in the butt."

The Pioneers conclude their preseason scrimmage schedule with a traditional battle against Northeast Regional on Saturday morning. The matchup goes back as far as I have been covering the Pioneers which started in 1989.

The scrimmage in Wakefield starts at 10 am.

Around the CAL/NEC 4
Triton scrimmaged North Reading on Tuesday and I asked Sheehan how Lynnfield's arch rival looked.

"They looked good," he told me. "(Tailback Carl) Lipani is the real deal."

Sheehan was pleased with the way his front line played against the veteran Hornets.

"We matched up well up front and we're playing a lot of sophomores," Sheehan said. "But a good back can change things up in a hurry and Lipani can certainly do that. I was pleased with how we did against them."

Up north last Saturday, Manchester-Essex hosted Pentucket in a scrimmage in a battle between two teams the Pioneers will face this year. M-E figures to be in the hunt for the league title and they held their own against the Sachems according to Nick Curcuru reporting in the Gloucester Times.

The defenses dominated as neither first team offense managed to get into the endzone. Curcuru noted that Hornet coach Mike Athanas "appreciated the physical play of both his offense and his defense."

In an interesting side note, the Hornets have five captains this year, similar to the Pioneers with Karavetsos, D. J. DeGeorge, Andrew Kibarian, Alex Pascucci and Tyler Palumbo. That is something that is not the norm in high school football. The last time the Pioneers featured five captains was in 2000 when Dan Venoit, Jim Motzkin, Mike Geary, Drew Barraford and Kevin Condardo led the squad.

Georgetown, a team that struggled last season and is hoping to rebound this year, got an early season setback because of the EEE situation on the North Shore. After a horse died from the virus last week, the town ordered a town wide spraying including the athletic fields. The School Department must close the fields for five days after the spraying so the Royals weren't able to get on the field to start practice until yesterday.

Not exactly what coach Paul Sobolewski needed to start his second season.

That's it for now. Check back over the week for a recap of the Northeast scrimmage.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The 1973 CAL Champion Pioneers: Blazing the Trail

The 2012 season marks the 40th year that the Pioneers will play in the Cape Ann League. To mark the anniversary, I thought it would be appropriate to feature the first Lynnfield Cape Ann League team - the 1973 Pioneers - for my weekly Wayback Wednesday feature.

Wayback Wednesday: The 1973
CAL Champion Pioneers
The year 1973 was notable for other local happenings.

Jordan Park was dedicated in memory of Allan Jordan who was killed in Viet Nam in 1968.

You could get a gas rotary lawnmower at Grant City in North Reading for $49, an economy leaf rack for $.66, a clam dinner for $1.49 (all you can eat), a Keystone XL1000 movie camera ("take indoor movies without lights!) for $89.88, Rally hockey skates for $9.88 and a 6 ft to 8 ft Christmas tree at Pinewood Gardens in North Reading for $4.85. Oh and you could pick up a  9 room, 2 1/2 bath colonial in King's Grant for $87K.

As now, the town had a thriving youth football program but the Pop Warner teams were not named the Pioneers. The A team was the Chargers, the B team was the Rams and the C team was the Spartans.

And the Villager published its first issue on April 18 so 1973 was the first season it chronicled the Pioneer football team.

They certainly had a great story to follow.

Playing in their new league, the Pioneers immediately inserted themselves into the thick of the race and ended up winning a share of the league championship.

So each week this season, I'll look back at that corresponding week 40 years ago to review what happened to the Pioneers as they embarked on a new trail known as the Cape Ann League.

For the first 15 years of the Lynnfield football program, the Pioneers played in the Dual County League  making long road trips to Bedford, Wayland and Weston among others.

Head Coach Bill Rodan stressed that the travel was the key reason for the change.

"Each school is about the same size in (the CAL) and the trips will be much shorter," Rodan said at the time.

An unnamed assistant coach was quoted in the Villager as asking "How can you get a team psyched up and them keep them that way for a one hour bus ride?"

The CAL indeed appeared to be a much better match for the still growing Pioneer sports program in general and the football squad in particular.

According to The History of the Cape Ann League by Joseph M. Hyland, the league was originally a spinoff of the Northeast Conference which began in 1931. In 1937, Rockport, St. Ann's of Gloucester, Essex Aggie, Essex High and Manchester officially formed the CAL for basketball and baseball. Masconomet joined in 1959.

In 1960, the league added football made up of Pentucket, Hamilton-Wenham, Masco, Essex Aggie, Georgetown and Manchester. In 1962, the football league split into two division because the smaller schools were having a hard time competing against the larger schools. Timberlane High of Plaistow, NH was added to Division II at that time.

The CAL reverted back to a single division and began to expand. North Reading left the Dual County League and joined in 1965. Manchester left in 1967, but Amesbury left the NEC to join in 1970. Triton  Regional opened in 1971 and joined the league.

In 1973 Newburyport left the NEC to enter the CAL and Lynnfield joined that year as well to form the 10 team league the Pioneers would participate in during their inaugural CAL season.

Most of the information I have gathered comes from news articles in the Villager and the Wakefield Item, both of which did a solid job covering the team. What would be even more interesting would be some eyewitness accounts of particular games or the season in general from those who were there.

If you played on that 1973 team or were involved with it in any way and have particular memories to share, please send them on to me at Last season's series on the 1986 team was  made much more interesting thanks to the input from members of that great team. Hopefully you 73's can duplicate that contribution!

So join me for a trip in the Wayback Machine back to 1973.

Next: Preseason workouts begin.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Solid Start

I have to admit I was a little apprehensive going into the scrimmage at Masco yesterday.

You know, the little ol' Pioneers from Division 3A taking on the big, bad Chieftains from Division 1A?

It wasn't so much the competition factor that concerned me because stepping up to face a favorite in the second highest division in Eastern Mass isn't the worst way to try to improve - kind of like jogging with ankle weights. But the last thing the Pioneers needed at the end of the first week of practice was to suffer some an injury to key a key player or two. There was enough of that last season.

But not to worry.

The Pioneers more than held their own and in fact outplayed and for the most part out hit the Chieftains, winning the varsity portion of the scrimmage 2-0 (touchdowns, not points). Lynnfield's first teamers gained 160 total yards in their 20 plays while holding the Chieftains to 81 yards and keeping them out of the endzone.

"I thought it would be competitive," said Pioneer head coach Neal Weidman after play concluded. "I thought it would be close either 2-0 them or us or 1-1. We've been fairly competitive with them the last couple of years. I think they may have edged out us each year."

I received my first indication that this would be a fair fight when I got to the field and noticed that the Pioneers have some good size again this year, and in fact matched up with Masco pretty evenly in that department.

When I mentioned that to Pioneer head coach Neal Weidman as the teams warmed up he said with a smile, "Yea they're not super big. They decided to be super fast instead."

They then began play in typical scrimmage format - alternating 10 plays each beginning at their own 40 yard line.

The Pioneers went first and and moved to the Masco 25 yard line in the first ten play set. Captain quarterback Mike Karavetsos (5/9, 119 yards, 1 TD, 1 Interception) completed two of three passes in the set with the longest play a 13 yarder to senior Mike Soden.

Masco then had their 10 plays and mirrored the Pioneers moving only as far as the Lynnfield 25. The Chieftains ran it seven times and were 0 for 3 passing.

The Pioneers ramped it up on their second ten play set. After an incomplete pass on their first play, Karavetsos connected with senior A. J. Gallo for a 35 yard gain to the Masco 25. Two more runs got the Pioneers to the Chieftain 16 and captain Alex Pascucci swept left end to get it to the eight. After another incomplete pass, junior Kyle McGah rammed it to the four and then Karavetsos carried it in for the score.

The Pioneers still had two plays left in the set and on the first one, Karavetsos found a streaking junior Matt Kramich down the left sideline for a 60 yard touchdown.

On Masco's next set, they were able to get it only to the Lynnfield 20 yard line. The Pioneers held the Chieftains to five yards or less on five running plans and forced two incomplete passes and had one sack. The big Masco play was a 26 yard run.

The Masco second team defeated the Pioneer backups 2-0 scoring twice on their second set of ten. The Pioneers managed only 44 yards of offense to 183 for Masco who scored on a 23 yard run and a 60 yard pass.

The second team matchup really highlighted the difference between the schools.

"It's one of those things where enrollment puts them up in (Division 1A)," explained Weidman. "Any given year if you have a good team, you can be competitive. Where they really have an advantage is in depth. If we have a good team, our top 20 might be able to match up with them, but they get to go further and we get young fast where they have some veteran backups."

Overall, Weidman was happy with the first week of practice.

"Even when practice wasn't going great the kids in general had good attitudes," Weidman said. "They're a really nice group to be around. The week flew by. Hopefully that continues throughout the season."

"Obviously it always starts with the senior leadership which has been great," the coach continued. "But grades nine through twelve is just a nice group of kids. We have some good things going with the jayvee group as well."

The Pioneers were hit with a bit of an injury bug and were playing with less than a full complement, especially on the line.

Nick O'Brien, a new guard from Peabody who had been starting, was out with a groin pull and Joe Dias and Dominic Costa were out as well.

"Costa is a nose guard that is that is splitting time with Zach Panzini," Weidman said. "Dias has really worked his way up and worked himself into the second group at defensive end. So we lost some depth and starters so we were pretty light on the line today. They still did a good job though."

Next up for the Pioneers is a trip to Byfield to tangle with Triton in a scrimmage on Wednesday afternoon around 3:45. The Vikings are coached by former Pioneer assistant coach and captain Pat Sheehan.

Check back Thursday and I'll have a report on that contest.

Also, check out my first preseason article which will appear in the Villager on Wednesday.

That's it for now.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Seasoned Pioneers Scrimmage Masco Saturday

The Pioneers jump into the fire quickly this Saturday morning when they step up four divisions to take on Masconomet in Boxford at 9:30.  Last season, the Pioneers opened the preseason with a dual scrimmage against Masco and Revere. This year it will be the Division 3A Pioneers against the powerful Division 1A Chieftains one on one.

Last year head coach Neal Weidman was looking to fill gaping holes from the 2009-10 squads. This year he has a good deal more experience. Among the 65 players that turned out for the first practice, thirteen either started or saw significant playing time last year. Seventeen seniors populate the roster led by captains Mike Karavetsos (All CAL/Division 4 quarterback), Andrew Kibarian and D. J. DeGeorge (both All CAL/Div 4 defensive linemen), Alex Pascucci (All CAL/Div 4 Honorable Mention receiver) and Tyler Palumbo (All CAL/Div 4 Honorable Mention linebacker). Returning linebackers Alex Roper and Kyle McGah, both earned All CAL/Div 4 Honorable Mention as well.

“I think they’re going to work at it,” Weidman said of the group. “I need to talk to them about commitment but if they show up everyday to practice hard, they have a chance to be a good team.”

“It’s a good group,” Weidman said after getting his first look at the squad last Monday. “It wasn’t a bad first day. Not as crisp as I would have liked but I threw a lot more at them then I did last year because of the experience.”

Lynnfield Pioneer Football Club
Friends of Lynnfield Football has been reorganized as the new Lynnfield Pioneer Football Club, Tracy Karavetsos has informed me. There is a brand new website at  which Tracy encourages everyone to visit. There is also a new facebook page at The goal is to get 100 "Likes" by opening night and as I type this, they have already reached 52 so that goal may have to be nudged upward.

"The reason we dropped Friends of Lynnfield Football and formed this new nonprofit, the Lynnfield Pioneer Football Club, was to separate from the school so we can now accept donations," Tracy said. "We are looking to this as a way to build the football program. We are having a golf tournament on October 3rd at the Black Swan Country Club in Georgetown as our first big fundraiser."

The parents all work hard behind the scenes to help the boys and this is another step in that direction. I'm sure they will appreciate everyone's support.

Preseason Notes:
- For those of you who might have been worried, no need to fret. The Voice of the Pioneers, Tom Waisnor, will be back behind the microphone for all home games at Pioneer Field at the Middle School this season.  We all know what a tremendous job Tom does and the effort he puts in so it's good news that he will be back in the booth.

 - Interesting news out of Newburyport, where the Pioneers will open the regular season on Friday night September 7. Clipper quarterback Conor Wile, who torched the Pioneers on opening day last year with a 12 for 19, 167 yard, 2 TD performance, may not be available to begin the season.

According to Dan Guttenplan of the Newburyport News, Wile didn't take all of the snaps at the Clippers opening preseason practice.

"Wile, who set Newburyport passing records for single-season yardage and touchdowns last fall, suffered a torn labrum prior before the start of the baseball season last spring," wrote Guttenplan. "After starting at catcher as a sophomore on Newburyport’s state-championship baseball team, Wile did not play a single game last spring. He still has yet to receive clearance from doctors or trainers to return to contact drills on the football field."

Guttenplan went on to report that Clipper head coach Ed Gaudiano was "unsure yesterday of whether Wile would be available for the regular-season opener" against Lynnfield.

- Guttenplan also reported that the Clippers had 52 players turn out for first practice. Amesbury, the Pioneers' second opponent, had 64 players on hand to start the preseason.

-  Matt Williams of the Salem Evening News wrote his opening preseason article today and sees Hamilton Wenham as the preseason favorite in the CAL/NEC 4 Division. But Williams also had some love for the Chestnut Street Rivals.

"Look for Lynnfield to challenge the Generals in Tier 4, but don’t overlook North Reading," Williams wrote. "Carl Lipani is a threat to go for 2,000 yards on the ground after tearing up the Tier last year and could carry the Hornets to the playoffs."

Williams also predicted that Masco, the Pioneers' scrimmage opponent on Saturday morning, might just take the Division 1A CAL/NEC 1. Lynnfield will certainly get a test against the Chieftains and their outstanding running back Mike Tivinis in the contest.

That's it for now. Check back over the weekend and I'll have some notes on the scrimmage. Also don't forget you can follow me on Twitter at @condardogrdblog. I provide in game updates for those that can't attend the game and also notifications when I post here on the Gridblog.

The Boys of Autumn are back. Let's get started.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Countdown to Kickoff

Well it seems like just yesterday that the Thanksgiving Day game was played, but the fact is that the new season is only a couple of weeks away.

So today I'll cover several topics including the preseason schedule, a sneak preview of this year's Wayback Wednesday post where I feature a Pioneer team of the past and a recap of Pioneers' solid performance in the recent UnderArmour 7 v 7 tournament.

UnderArmour 7 v 7 Tournament
Let's start it off with the tournament held on Saturday, July 21 at Bishop Fenwick High School.

The tournament, started years ago by Lynnfield and Swampscott and played for several years at Lynnfield High, is a passing only/touch tournament. The event has grown exponentially and now consists of three separate tournaments, North, East and South with two finalists from each regional and four wildcards advancing to the New England Championship at Gillette Stadium.

As the name suggests, each team has seven players and is played on a 40 yard field with a 10 yard endzone. There are only two yard markers on the field, one at 25 yards and one 10 yards from the endzone. A team has three downs to earns a first down by passing one of those yard markers. A touchdown is worth six points and a team can elect to go for one point by taking the PAT from the five or they can go for two by going for it from the ten. Tie games are decided by an overtime which consists of each team running one play and whoever gains the most yards gets a point and wins.

The games consist of 25 minutes running time. The quarterback has four seconds to get off a pass once he gets the ball or the play is blown dead.

The Pioneers were one of 32 teams that participated, and they acquitted themselves quite well. Phase one of the tournament consisted of a round robin schedule among the four teams in each of eight divisions. The top three teams in each division would moved on to the championship round which was a one and done format.

The Pioneers were placed in a division with Methuen, a team that won the North Regional on June 20th, Cathedral and Revere.

Lynnfield's opening game against Cathedral was a tight one. Captain Mike Karavetsos opened the scoring with a TD pass to Tony Mancini. The point after was no good and Lynnfield led 6-0. Cathedral then scored twice to take a 13-6 lead. The Pioneers tied it up on a Karavetsos to A. J. Gallo pass and a conversion pass to captain Alex Pascucci. Cathedral took a 19-13 lead but again Lynnfield knotted it up, with another Karavetsos to Mancini hookup.

At this point, time ran out, so an overtime tiebreaker was needed. Cathedral went first and gained about 20 yards, but then Karavetsos connected with Gallo for 30 yards to take the point and a 20-19 win.

The Pioneers faced Revere in the second game and it was another seesaw contest. The Patriots went up 6-0 and Lynnfield tied it up with a Karavetsos to Gallo bomb. Both teams missed the conversions. Revere went up 12-6 and went for the two points and failed. That proved fatal for the Pats when the Pioneers scored on a Karavetsos to Kyle McGah pass to tie the game at 12-12. Karavetsos then hit Pascucci for the one point conversion and the Pioneers held on for the 13-12 win.

Lynnfield took on powerhouse Methuen in their third round robin game and they hung tough in the early going. The Rangers took a 7-0 lead but the Pioneers tied it up when Karavetsos connected with Gallo for the TD and then hit McGah for the conversion. Methuen went up 13-7 and the Pioneers again tied it up on a Karavetsos to Mancini score. It was all Methuen from there as the Rangers scored two more TD's and a 2 pt conversion to win 27-13.

The Pioneers 2-1 mark in their division earned them a second seed and their first game in the championship round was against Pinegree, a team that had lost to Methuen in the finals in the North Regional.

Pinegree scored first to go up 6-0 but the Pioneers roared back to take the lead with a Karavetsos to Mancini score and a one point conversion pass to Gallo. Lynnfield went up 13-6 when Karavetsos found Gallo again. Pinegree would not die and scored to make it 13-12 with time running out. They went for the two pointer and the win but sophomore Cam Rondeau saved the win with a diving breakup in the endzone.

The win lifted the Pioneers into the Sweet Sixteen, but they ran into a tough Bedford team in their next matchup. The Buccaneers scored first and again the Pioneers tied it on a Karavetsos to Mike Soden TD. Both teams missed the conversions so the game was tied 6-6. Bedford went up 12-6 but the Pioneers took the lead 13-12 when Karavetsos hooked up with Mancini for the touchdown and then a diving McGah for the one point conversion.

Bedford then took a 20-13 lead but the Pioneers were not done. Karavetsos found Soden again to make it 20-19 and Lynnfield went for the two pointer and the win, but the pass was picked off to end the Pioneers' day.

Overall it was an impressive performance for the Pioneers who went 3-2 on the day. Karavetsos tossed 12 touchdowns, five to Mancini, four to Gallo, two to Soden and one to McGah. McGah had two extra point catches and Pascucci had one. He also had many catches that weren't scores in the five game set.

Reading took top honors for the day and along with Methuen and Pinegree advanced to the finals at Gillette. Andover ultimately won the New England championship beating Reading in the final.

"It was a good chance for the kids to get together and play together," said Pioneer coach Neal Weidman who took in the event as a spectator. "They played some decent competition and competed. Those are all positive things.

"Some of the younger guys stepped up," he continued. "A couple of guys we weren't sure about because we never saw them play at the varsity level made a couple of decent plays. It was good for those kids to come here and play with varsity players."

The Pioneers have been seeing good competition in 7 v 7 action for the past month since they play in a Sunday morning league in Reading against Reading and Methuen.

All in all it was good to see footballs flying and the Pioneers coming up with a strong performance.

Preseason Schedule
Weidman outlined the preseason schedule the Pioneers' would be following. They start practice on Monday, August 20 and their first scrimmage will be on Saturday, August 25 at Masco against the Chieftains and Stoneham.

The Pioneers return home to face former Lynnfield captain and assistant coach Pat Sheehan's Triton Vikings on Wednesday, August 29th and then will play their traditional final scrimmage against Northeast Vocational on Saturday, September 1 in Wakefield.

The Pioneers open the season on Friday, September 7 under the lights in Newburyport.

"It's getting here fast," Weidman said. "I'm looking forward to it this year. It should be good. We have a tough schedule and it will be tough competition for us again this year but that's good."

Weidman AD Resignation
I asked the coach about his resignation as Co-Athletic Director.

"I enjoyed doing it for seven years," Weidman said. "But it's time to focus on teaching and coaching."

He said he did plan on continuing to coach the Pioneers.

Wayback Wednesday
Last season each Wednesday I ran a weekly post following the historic season of the 1986 Pioneers, the only Lynnfield team to reach the Super Bowl. This year marks the 40th season the Pioneers will be playing in the Cape Ann League so I thought it would be appropriate to focus on the very first Lynnfield team to play in the CAL, the 1973 Pioneers. Not only did that team blaze the CAL trail for all Pioneer teams to follow, but they did it in impressive fashion, crashing the league and taking home a share of the CAL Championship.

Last year's series was greatly enhanced by some recollections from "those who were there" and I'm hoping that anyone involved with the '73 team will drop me a line so I can add some eyewitness color to the historical accounts I've compiled from back issues of the Villager and the Wakefield Item.

If you have anything to share about that stellar season, please drop me a line at Look for my first Wayback post on Wednesday, August 29th.

That's it for now. As the season gets underway, I'll be posting more frequently, so check back often once preseason practices begins.