Sunday, December 23, 2012

Merry Christmas to All!

At the Awards Dinner last Tuesday, head coach Neal Weidman asked me how many states the blog has reached. I hadn't checked in a while so I threw out "30 or 40."

It turns out I was a little short.

This season, the Gridblog had over 6,000 visits from 43 states plus the District of Columbia. I had visits not only from Lynnfield but from locales that reached from Skowhegan, Maine to Thonotossa, Florida to El Paso, Texas to Monterey, California to Poulsbo, Washington.

I also had hits from around the world including visits from Russia, Spain,  France, Germany, Ukraine, Brazil, China, United Kingdom, Canada, Philipines, Sweden and Japan.

It's a little mind-boggling actually.

Thanks to all who tune in regularly and especially to those who have made donations. I truly appreciate it. I also want to thank specifically North Reading offensive coordinator Ed Melanson and Triton head coach and Lynnfield native Pat Sheehan for their input. They are always there for me when I need expert football commentary and updates from around the league. I truly appreciate it.

And thanks to the 2012 Pioneers for providing exciting material.  I'm already looking forward to the 2013 season which starts in about eight months.

Stocking Stuffers
Ipswich head coach Ted Flaherty has resigned so the search will begin shortly for a new coach for the Tigers.

Flaherty coached for eight years at his Alma Mater compiling a 26-60 record. His high water mark came in 2006 when he took a 9-2 CAL Small Champion Tiger squad to the Divison 3A Super Bowl and defeated Cape Cod Tech 7-0.

Flaherty has always been a class, totally cooperative win or lose and he will be missed.

The other big news is that Saugus has been admitted to the Cape Ann League beginning with the 2013 season. They requested to be released from the Northeast Conference citing the significant differences in size between Saugus High and the other schools in the NEC.

Saugus' male enrollment of 350 is slightly less than Triton (384) and Pentucket (383) and just above Newburyport (349) and North Reading (342). The Pioneers male enrollment was 305 last year.

With the Sachems' move, Winthrop has now applied to move into the CAL as well. At 241 male enrollment, the Vikings are the smallest school in the NEC by far, although they have always been highly competitive in that league.

Should the Vikes be admitted, the 12 teams that comprised the bottom two tiers of the now defunct combined NEC/CAL would become the new Cape Ann League. There will still be two divisions in the CAL, but according to Weidman, the exactly breakdown of the two is still to be determined. That will all be sorted out in the next few months as the league wrestles with all the ramifications of the new playoff system.

Just for fun, here is one man's opinion of how the league could break down (not that anyone would listen to me). Male enrollments are included.

Pentucket (383)
Newburyport (349)
North Reading (342)
Hamilton-Wenham (307)
Winthrop (241)
Manchester Essex (227)

Triton (384)
Saugus (350)
Amesbury (328)
Ipswich (314)
Lynnfield (305)
Georgetown (210)

The key to this alignment is that it splits up all the Thanksgiving Day rivalries so it avoids having to play your rival during the league season. The balance of the schedule, both pre playoff (prior to week 7) and post playoffs (Week 8-10) could be filled with games from the other division. And the season would end (for all but two teams in the entire division that would be heading to the Super Bowl) with the traditional Thanksgiving Day game.

And the reason I would put Winthrop in the CAL 1 is more due to the strength of their program. They have proven to be competitive in the NEC where schools like Lynn Classical, Salem and Beverly have literally three times the male enrollment as the Vikings.

Anyway, just a thought. I will be passing on the real info in future posts as it becomes a available.

Speaking of posts, I am now in my offseason schedule and will be posting on the first Friday of each month. My next entry will be on January 4th, when I'll be doing my annual Top Plays of the season post.

Also, don't forget to pick up a copy of the Villager this week for my article on the Awards Dinner including all award winners and photos.

So once again, thanks to all for reading and I wish you all a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The 1973 CAL Champion Pioneers: Capturing the Crown

Due to unforeseen circumstances - an awesome Super Bowl run by the 2012 Pioneers! - I put off this last post on the 1973 team. But never fear, here is is.

To commemorate the 40th anniversary of the first Pioneer team to play in the Cape Ann League, I am taking a week by week look back at the 1973 season.

Wayback Wednesday: The 1973
CAL Champion Pioneers
November 28, 1973 - The Lynnfield Pioneers capped a highly successful debut into the Cape Ann League by dropping North Reading 30-14 to earn a piece of the league title.

As expected, Newburyport routed Amesbury 32-8 and Pentucket pounded North Andover 49-7 resulting in the crowning of CAL TriChampions.

The Pioneers, however, didn't have as easy a time as their fellow champions. The visitors fell behind by two scores and trailed 14-8 at the half. But they settled down after the break and dominated the final two quarters to take home their fifth straight win over North Reading and their 12th in the 16 game series.

The Hornets, buoyed by the home crowd, played the Pioneers even in a scoreless first quarter then drew first blood. North Reading's "All Everything" Greg Stewart got things started by picking off a Steve Olsen pass. The Hornets drove to the Lynnfield 25 after the turnover and appeared to be stopped facing a fourth and 20, but according to Villager reporter Geof Simons, Lynnfield "drew a penalty on a disputed call and somehow it was first and ten for North Reading."

Hornet Peter Mastro plowed in from the one, Stewart added the PAT and North Reading led 7-0.

The Pioneers appeared shaken up by the score and fumbled on their next possession, setting up the Hornets on the Lynnfield 35 yard line. Three plays later, Stewart sliced in from the ten yard line, added the point after and the Hornets led the stunned Pioneers 14-0.

Lynnfield regrouped and mounted a 55 yard scoring drive, with Olsen taking it in from the six. Lindsay Ross took in the two point conversion to cut the Hornets' lead to 14-8.

North Reading nearly scored again before the half on a bizarre play.

"North Reading quarterback Steve Hartery threw under great pressure by Lynnfield's defense and the pass was nowhere near its mark," Simons wrote. "Two Pioneer defenders were just waiting for the ball to drop into their arms but the ball popped out and into the hands of the intended receiver who was brought down on the one yard line."

The Hornets had a first and goal from the one, but "it would have been easier for the North Reading offense to penetrate a stone wall" according to Simons as the Lynnfield defense held the Hornets three times and the clock ran out to end the threat.

The goal line stand seemed to energize the Pioneers who came out for the second half as a different team.

The Pioneers took the lead for good on their first possession with a 52 yard march. Olsen snuck it in from the one and Ross converted the two pointer as Lynnfield took a 16-14 lead.

Two series later, the Pioneers recovered a fumbled Hornet punt on the North Reading 25 yard line. They cashed in six plays later on a Brian Rea four yard run to put the Pioneers up 22-14. Ross recoved another Hornet fumble on the next North Reading possession and again Rea made the home team pay, this time from three yards out. Olsen ran in the conversion to make it 30-14 Lynnfield and it was all over but the celebrating.

Olsen and Ross didn't connect on any touchdown passes in the game but their 1973 season stamped an indelible mark on the Pioneer record book. Olsen's 13 touchdown passes in 1973 stood as a Lynnfield record for 38 years until Gino Cohee broke it with 17 TD's in 2010. Olsen's 23 career TD throws also stood for the same length of time until Cohee broke it with 30 touchdown passes from 2007-10.

Ross' nine TD catches in 1973 still stands as a Pioneer record after 40 seasons. Rick Berardino came close with seven in 2010 but no one has been able to top Ross' single season performance. His 11 career TD receptions also still stands with only Justin Haskell (1994-96) coming close with 10.

Three members of the 1973 Pioneers were named to the CAL All League team - quarterback Olsen, kicker Allan Harrington and Ross. Harrington was one of only three juniors selected to the team. Ross was also named to the Boston Globe's first string All Scholastic team.

At a banquet at St. Maria Goretti Hall held in honor of the 1973 champs, varsity letters were awarded to Greg Anderson, John Callahan, James Carabello, Steve Celata, David DiFillippo, Paul Fitzgerald, Craig Franklin, Allan Harrington, John Imbrescia, Frank McHugh, Brian McMahon, Paul Millen, Steve Millen, Larry Mitkus, Jim Neumann, Robert Olsen, Steve Olsen, Jim Peterson, Brian Rea, Rick Rosenthal, Brian Robinson, Lindsay Ross, Jeff Silva, Mark Stone and Gary Wolfe.

JV certificates were given to Ed Andrews, Mike Carmody, John Carlson, Nick Costas, Jim Cronin, Dave Dodwell, Glen Dolbeare, John Fusto, Jim Gaffney, Fran Guarino, Steve Hansen, John Kerber, Steve Klimowicz, Richard McMahon, Dan Moore, Jim Nelson, Mark O'Hearn, Dave Pevear, Steve Reinstein, Steve Rosenthal, John Shea, Steve Stickney, Brian Voke, John Wallace and Bill Wind.

Congrats to the 1973 CAL Champion Pioneers. Happy Fortieth.

If you played on or were involved with the 1973 Pioneers and would like to share a memory, please pass it on to me at

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Bishop Feehan Super Bowl Leftovers

So this year the Pioneers have played a quarterback as dangerous as Bishop Feehan's Nick Romero (HW's Trevor Lyons). They have contained a running back nearly as good as Matt Allen (NR's Carl Lipani). They've handled a running back almost as quick as Isaiah Douglas (Pentucket's Cody Rothwell). They stopped a fullback as bruising as Matt Glebus (Amesbury's Perry Mroz). They played toe to toe against a fast aggressive defense nearly as good as Feehan's (Newburyport). They beat back a tough offensive line a cut below the Shamrocks (North Reading.)

But they never had to take them all on in one game.

That turned out to be the challenge for the Pioneers in the the Super Bowl at Gillette. Or to frame it a different way, the Shamrocks were the equivalent of a CAL/NEC All Star team. The Pioneers held their own overall, but ultimately the Shamrocks simply had too many weapons, too much speed and too much power in their offensive and defensive lines and the result was a 21-7 Feehan win.

And to cap it off by paraphrasing a certain head coach who plays his home games at Gillette, the Shamrocks just made more plays than the Pioneers.

Despite all that, and in spite of a quick Feehan start, the Pioneers clawed their way back into the game. They nearly tied it on the first play of the second half with the halfback option pass that missed and twice in the fourth quarter they were close to making it a one score game. They just couldn't punch it in from the 11or the two against an outstanding Shamrock defense.

That tough defense was no surprise to Pioneer head coach Neal Weidman.

"All you had to do was watch one film and you could tell their team speed was fantastic," the coach said. "That defensively was their m.o. all year. Yards were hard to come by. They were all over the place defensively."

To that point, seven of quarterback captain Mike Karavetsos' 19 pass attempts were tipped by Shamrock defenders. Six were incomplete and one captain Alex Pascucci was able to juggle into a reception. Pascucci had a fantastic game with four catches for 73 yards, an interception that prevented a sure touchdown at the end of the first half and running down Matt Allen to prevent a touchdown on the 47 yard screen pass on the third play of the game.

The first oh-oh of the game came on that screen pass. The Pioneer defense stuffed the Shamrocks on their first two plays forcing a 3rd and seven, but the screen pass, the only pass Romero completed in the game, was the perfect call and vividly showed the speed the Shamrocks would be utilizing in the game. Douglas reinforced it on the next play when he zoomed in for the score.

Leading up to the game, Feehan's coaches and offensive linemen were pretty confident about their ability to play man on man, be "tougher" and just beat their opponents to the punch. I didn't think a team could do that to the Pioneers, but on the blood-draining, 80 yard, 19 play, 9:49 minute second TD march, they did exactly that. Not that they were ever able to break one, but they continued to win the tough battle in the trenches.

"You never want to have those types of drives when you're on defense," Weidman said. "Obviously it shortens the game and chewed up a lot of time."

The Pioneers thus found themselves down 14-0 to a team that gave up only an average of 6.5 points per game. But Weidman didn't feel the slow start was caused by Pioneer nerves on being on the big stage.

"I think it was a case of playing against a good team," the coach replied.

Give the Pioneers credit though. They didn't get this far by packing it in, and they didn't Saturday night. They put together some plays and drove 72 yards in 14 plays, cutting the lead to 14-7 late in the half.

"We ran the ball fairly well on that drive," Weidman said. "Their team speed is fantastic so it was tough to pick up big chunks of yards but we were able to pick up first downs. And we did what we wanted to do which was to mix in passes with runs. We didn't want to get caught up in running on first and second down and then having to throw on third. Their defensive backs are way too fast. You have to keep them off balance. We tried to mix it up a little bit."

Coming out for the second half, the Pioneers nearly tied it up with the option pass but Kyle McGah's throw was out of the reach of a wide open A. J. Gallo.

"The first play to open the second half would have turned the thing around," Weidman said.

The backbreaker was the naked bootleg by Romero on the Shamrocks next drive on fourth and short that made it a 21-7 game.

"He ran the ball during the season too," Weidman said of Romero who scored two of the Shamrocks' three TD's. "But they have a ton of speed overall. (Allen), (Douglas) and then they go to the full house backfield and put in their power backs. It's one of those things where when you spread the ball around that much and they have that many good players, you can't focus on one guy."

Again the Pioneers kept plugging away and nearly cut it to a one score game.

"We had a chance to get it back to a one score game," Weidman said. "But we were running out of time there late with a chance to punch one in. We had our chances toward the end a little bit. The kids gave themselves a chance."

Despite the loss, the coach recognized that the 2012 season was special.

"In order to get to this point you have to have communication and chemistry," he said. "The kids have to have some sort of camaraderie and have to want to play for each other.

"I hope next year we have a crew like we had this year," the coach summed up. "Not just the seniors but nine through 12, they were a really good, nice group of kids that were great to be around."

Record Breaker
With his two yard TD blast against Feehan, junior Kyle McGah set a new single season rushing TD record with 18. That tops Eric Hansen who ran for 17 TD's in 1978. McGah now has 24 rushing TD's for his career, placing him fourth all time behind Frank Berardino's 31 rushing TD's from 1958-61.

That final TD gave McGah 108 points for the season thus becoming only the third Pioneer in history to crack the 100 point mark in one season. The others were Hansen (128 in 1978) and Berardino (120 in 1960). For his career, McGah has 144 career points, placing him in eighth place behind Berardino who heads the list with 262.

McGah, who was named TV38's player of the game for Lynnfield, finished the season with 1,197 yards rushing and a 6.7 yard per carry average. He is only the second Pioneer to run for more than a 1000 yards since 1989. Dan Veinot had 1,363 in 2000. McGah now has 1,594 career yards.

Happy Returns
Junior Matt Kramich had a couple of catches in the game but was also strong on kickoff returns. He took back three for a total of 78 yards or a 26 yard average. On a couple he was close to breaking it all the way.

Final Touches
Karavetsos finished an outstanding career Saturday night. He ended the season with 963 rushing yards, third best for a single season since 1989. He finished his career with a total of 1,766 yards rushing and 16 touchdowns and an even 100 points, placing him 15th all time.

He also ended up 148/307 for 2,198 yards passing. His 19 career TD passes ties him with Chris Grassi (2006-09) for fourth place all time.

Holy Moly
With the loss to Bishop Feehan, the Pioneers have now lost three games in a row to Catholic schools. Earlier this year they fell to Bishop Fenwick 14-7 and last year they lost to St. Mary's 40-16 a week after beating Fenwick.

All time, Lynnfield has a 9-6 record against Catholic schools. The breakdown is Matignon 3-1,  Fenwick 2-1, Cathedral 2-0, St. Mary's/Brookline 1-0, St. Mary's/Lynn 1-1, Bishop Feehan 0-1 and Austin Prep 0-2.

Quick Picks
With Pascucci's interception in the Super Bowl, the 2012 Pioneers finished with 20 picks, the most in a season since I've been keeping stats (since 1989). Nine players had at least one interception with captain Tyler Palumbo, sophomore Cam Rondeau and Pascucci tying for the team lead with four each. Kramich had three while McGah, Anthony Costa, Guilio Pellegrini, Gallo and Connor Lordan each had one.

The previous high in the last 24 seasons was the 1996 team which had 17 led by Tony Reed's six. The 2010 team had 14 led by Rick Berardino's  five. The 2003 team had 11 led by Andy Poor and Rick Parziale who each had three.

For the fashion conscious, you may have noticed that the Pioneers sported a different uniform look in the Super Bowl. For the first time all year, Lynnfield wore white jerseys and blue pants. For the rest of the season they wore all blue at home and also as the home team in the playoff against Amesbury. They were 5-0 in those games. On the road they wore all white and were 4-2.

Even Dozen
With the two game trip to the post season, the Pioneers played 12 games for only the second time in their history. The first was in 2009 when they played 11 regular season games and then the playoff game with Austin Prep.

In the 55 years of the program, Lynnfield has played 12 - 11 game seasons, 25 - 10 games seasons, 14 - 9 game seasons and 2 - 8 game seasons.

Overall, the Pioneers are 275-262-11. The 13 games over .500 is the most since 2005. They dipped to eight games under .500 in 2008 , the lowest point in the history of the program. Since then under Weidman, the Pioneers have gone 34-13. At their peak, the Pioneers were 88 games over .500 in 1987 when they sported a 180-92-10 mark.

Of the 55 seasons, the Pioneers have been above .500 27 years, below .500 23 years and right at .500 three years.

Kickin' In
With his PAT Saturday night, seniorAlex Roper ended the season on a high note, successfully making his final eight tries in the three most crucial games of the season. He was 2 for 2 against North Reading, 5 for 5 in the playoff game against Amesbury and 1 for 1 against Feehan. For the season, he made 30 of 38 and for his two year career he hit on 51 of 63 attempts.

His 30 PAT's this season ties him for second place for a single season with Steve Ullian's 2009 season. Ullian holds the single season record with 34 PAT's in 2010.

Roper's 51 career extra points places him second all time behind Ullian's 75 PAT's from 2008-10.

Roper also holds the distinction of being the only Pioneer to hit 5 or more PAT's in a game four times. He was 5 for 5 twice last season and twice this year. Ullian hit 5 twice and 6 once. No other Lynnfield kicker has done it more than once.

Wrapping up 2012
The 2012 Pioneers ended the season with 276 points, fourth best all time behind only 1960 (410), 2010 (336) and 2009 (279). Weidman-coached teams hold three of the top four spots in all time single season scoring.

The 33 rushing TD's this year's team scored is second best all time only to the 1960 juggernaut which tallied 42 touchdowns on the ground. The six passing TD's are the fewest in the Weidman era and the lowest total since 2005.

The 129 points allowed by this year's Pioneers was a 10.8 ppg average, which places them tied for 18th place all time.

The 9-3 record and winning percentage of .750 was 14th best all time.

After this year, Weidman now has a 36-21 record as head coach. His winning percentage of .632 lifts him past Steve Sobieck (49-23, .620) into second place for all time winning percentage. Bill Rodan heads the list at 101-52-2, .652.

The 2010's continue as the winningest decade percentage-wise with a 23-11, .676 mark. The 1970's at 62-33, .646 is in second.

That's it for now. I will resume the final few posts for the Wayback Wednesday feature on the 1973 champion Pioneers later in the week. I apologize for the delay, but the current Pioneers have kept me kinda busy.

Next up will be a post on the banquet with a full report on all the awards and festivities.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Super Season

My partner photographer Jack Schnelle described it perfectly right after the game: Sometimes it's about the journey, not the destination.

Yes the team and coaches are disappointed tonight with the 21-7 loss and they will be for a while and that is understandable. They are competitors and they lost a football game they desperately wanted to win. After putting everything they had into that type of effort and coming up short, there is little to console them.

At least not yet.

But understand there were no losers tonight. The Pioneers lost to a better team in Bishop Feehan and sometimes that happens. There is much to be proud of in being the second best team in the division as 24 other schools could readily attest.

With time will come perspective, even for head coach Neal Weidman and his squad.

That perspective will reveal that the 2012 Pioneers played one of the most successful seasons in the history of the program.

The won a league championship, as eight other Pioneer teams have done.

They made it to the post season as only two other Lynnfield teams did.

They went to a Super Bowl as only the 1986 team did.

And they won a post season game, something none of the others managed to do.

Would a Super Bowl championship have been the cherry on top? Of course. But simply being unable to reach that final goal does nothing to diminish the outstanding season this group of young men put together.

Yes the 2012 Pioneers may not have reached their final destination. But they certainly enjoyed a spectacular journey. And I'm sure I speak for all followers of Lynnfield football in thanking them for taking us along.