Sunday, December 1, 2013

North Reading Leftovers

by Tom Condardo

Lots of things conspired to upend the Pioneers on Thanksgiving Day. The cold. The gusty 30 mph wind. The loss of starting linebackers David Adams, C. J. Finn, and Kevin Lee against a RUN HEAVY North Reading offense. The return to full health of the Hornets for the first time this season.

But as you would expect, Pioneer head coach Neal Weidman wasn't using any of that as an excuse. As you'll read in my Villager game story on Wednesday, the coach said simply, "they outplayed us."

North Reading offensive coordinator Ed Melanson had the perfect game plan and the Hornets executed it perfectly. The single wing is nearly unstoppable when run the way North Reading ran it Thursday. The whole idea is getting more blockers to the ball than the defensive tacklers. The defense just has to fight through to make the stops and the Pioneers just weren't able to do it as the Hornets controlled the clock: 34:22 to 9:38 and number of plays: 76-32, and ultimately out gained the Pioneers 401-274.

But what the Hornets planned to do was not a surprise to the Pioneers.

"That's their game plan ever week," Weidman told me after the game. "Same game plan they had against us last year, the year before that and against every other team they played."

Obviously all the headlines went to C. J. McCarthy who scored five TD's and ran for 271 yards on an amazing 46 carries. He finished the season with 200 points to lead Division 4 so he is obviously an outstanding running back, but he was far from the entire story for the Hornets.

"He's a good player, a good runner," Weidman said. "They do a good job blocking at the point of attack. We just weren't getting enough guys to the ball. We just weren't getting off the blocks enough but that's because they're good."

Hornet linemen Austin Bradley, Shane Brousseau, Dan Colangelo, Mike Farrelly, Cole Hughes, Michael Dell Isola dominated the trenches with help from running backs Mike Cresta, Ryan Sanborn, Nic O'Connell, and Blake Tamlyn-Hayden.

Speaking of Tamlyn-Hayden, Pioneer fans have him to blame for McCarthy's big game.

Melanson relayed this to me after the game:

"Blake Tamlyn-Hayden game to me in the second quarter after rolling his ankle. He told me he can still run straight, but he couldn't cut on it. He wanted to stay in the game. I told him that I would keep him in if the trainer said it was alright since it is his senior year, last game.

"The trainer said it was okay so we stuck with him. That is one of the reasons why (McCarthy) ended up with the amount of carries he did. We were limited in our ability to counter with the wingback."

Melanson also added that "this was the healthiest going into a game we have been since August. There was no game up until (Thursday) where we had all our starters out there."

The Pioneers did throw a scare into the Hornets with the opening TD run by Jon Knee.

"I thought we might be in for a long day after that first play from scrimmage," Melanson said. "I remember thinking, I knew they were big and strong, but now they are fast too! I have to give our kids a lot of credit. They didn't get down and didn't quit. Every time Lynnfield scored and something didn't go right, they stayed upbeat and came right back.

"That's the beauty of the Thanksgiving Day game," Melanson went on. "Most times there is no tomorrow and for senior players they want to leave everything out there. All in all I thought it was a great football game. I think the fans got their money's worth and both teams played their hearts out."

For Weidman, the end of the season means sending off another group of seniors.

"Every year it's painful to see guys go," Weidman said. "We miss them every year and this year we have some really, really nice kids that we're going to miss a lot. There were a few that were here for four years and played and were varsity players multiple years. We'll miss all 20 of them."

"Now it's back to the drawing board," the coach summed up. "That's  how it works. We start all over again."

Just Shy
I wrote a story that you can see in the Villager Wednesday about the impact that Kyle McGah has had in his four years of Lynnfield football. It was disappointing that he came up 15 yards short of breaking the all time scoring record that has stood for 52 years.

Since he came up just one TD short, I combed through this year's game charts and it's amazing how close he actually came. Against both Newburyport and Hamilton Wenham, McGah was stopped inside the four yard line and the Pioneers failed to score. More heartbreaking were the two TD's he scored against Ipswich that were called back because of penalties. I'm sure if I went back through his junior year, I'd find similar situations where he could have gotten that single TD that would have put him over.

Watching McGah try to reach the mark tells you how truly difficult it is. I never thought anyone would ever come close. Frank Berardino scored his 262 for a couple of championship teams in 1960 and 1961 that had a penchant for running up scores. The 1960 team averaged 50 points a game.

In the half century since Berardino set the record, no one has come anywhere near threatening it. Gino Cohee had a stellar four year career from 2007-10 and scored 182 points but was still 80 short. Eric Hansen, the single season record holder with his 128 point senior season in 1978, still finished with only 180.

McGah topped the 100 point mark in his junior and senior seasons, but still couldn't get there. It's as close to an untouchable mark as there is. But McGah gave it a run and it was exciting to witness.

Take a Knee
It was quite an eventful Thanksgiving Day for junior Jon Knee. He had two "firsts" with quite different outcomes. He had his first carry of the year on the opening play and he turned it into a sparkling 64 yard TD run. His second carry later in the game on the same play went for 25 yards so his two carry day was good for 89 yards and a 44.5 yard per carry average. That'll work.

He also threw his first pass of the year which didn't turn out quite so well as the wind took it and it was picked off by McCarthy

He was pretty impressive when he stuck to his primary role of catching passes. He had two catches for 26 yards and another touchdown, his fifth of the year. He finished the season as the Pioneers' leading receiver hauling in 24 catches for 469 yards - 6th most since 1989. His 24 catches rank ninth since 1989. His 5 TD's puts him in a tie for fourth for single season touchdowns with six others.

Ranking 2013
The 2013 team accumulated numbers that put them high up on some of the all time lists. They scored 345 points which is second best all time behind only the 410 by the 1960 team. They edged out the 336 points scored by the 2010 team.

Going into the game against the Hornets, the 2013 was in the top 10 averaging 9.4 points per game. The 42 point North Reading explosion inflated that to 12.4 per game and dropped them to 28th all time.

There was one mark that McGah did help the Pioneers reach. His second TD pushed the Pioneers over the 9000 mark in points scored. They now have 9010 and have allowed 8666.

The 9-2 season lifts the Pioneers to 284-264-11 all time, a .508 winning percentage.

Kicking it Off
Sophomore placekicker Daniel Bronshvayg got his career off on the right foot - so to speak - with a productive season. He connected on 28 of 33 PAT attempts for an 85% success rate. The 28 points was the 4th best single season performance all time. Steve Ullian set the single season record with 34 in 2010.

The 28 kicks places him 6th on the career PAT list. Ullian also set the mark there with 75 PAT's from 2008-10.

Pioneers Still Lead
Despite the loss, Lynnfield still leads the head to head series with North Reading. Thursday was the 56th meeting between the schools and the Pioneers now lead the series 33-23. The Hornets are the only team the Pioneers have faced every year since the program started in 1958. That first game was played in late October, so is never counted when the Turkey Day numbers are reported.

Happy Returns
Matt Kramich's 77 yard kickoff return tied a record set in 1995 by Shawn Egerton, who also returned three for scores. That team had four total for the year which this 2013 team matched thanks to Ryan Battaglia's return against Hamilton Wenham.

Solid Sullivan
As mentioned before, Dan Sullivan put together a solid season as Pioneer quarterback. He completed 85 of 123 passes - an amazing 69.1% That is by far the best since 1989. The closest anyone has come to that gaudy number was Cohee in 2009 when he connected on 79 of 146 for 54.1%.

Sullivan finished with an NFL quarterback rating of 96.4 which is second best in the past 25 years behind only Cohee's 2010 season when he posted a 99.1 QBR. Sullivan's 1105 yards this season is 5th best since 1989. Chris Grassi's 1493 in 2007 is the most passing yards in that time.

Top Spot
With another nine win season, Weidman raised his six year record to 45-23. That .662 winning percentage is the best of any Lynnfield head coach, lifting him past Bill Rodan who's 101-52-2 mark is  a .652 winning percentage. In six seasons, Weidman's teams have put up 10 wins once, and nine wins three times. Very impressive.

That's it for now. Check back after the breakup banquet.


Thursday, November 28, 2013


Sometimes you just have to congratulate the opposition and that's the case today for disappointed Pioneer fans. The North Reading game plan worked to perfection.

Their offense ground out first down after first down, scored 45 points and kept the Pioneer offense off the field. The defense created two turnovers that turned into 16 Hornet points and made just enough stops (3) to hold off the CAL Baker Division champs in a hard earned 42-35 win.

C. J. McCarthy was immense on both sides of the ball for the Hornets, rushing for  four TD's and returning a pick for another. He had a second interception that led to a score.

On a disappointing note, captain Kyle McGah came up 15 yards short of breaking the all time LHS scoring record. He needed 17 points and got 12 on two TD runs. He nearly got the third he needed on the last Pioneer drive of the day on a run that got him to the 15 yard line but that was as close as he would get. He finished his amazing Pioneer career with  258 points, a total that will not soon be challenged. He is only the second Pioneer ever to score more than 200 points in his career.

Despite the loss, Pioneer fans still have a lot to be thankful for. A 9-2 record, including a playoff win and a repeat league championship are massive achievements. Never let this recent run of success diminish the magnitude of what this year's squad has accomplished. Revel in it and enjoy it.

It was a great season and the players and coaches should be proud.

As head coach Neal Weidman said after the game, now we start all over again.

Check back later in the weekend for my Leftovers post.

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

North Reading Game Preview: Rivalry Renewed

by Tom Condardo

So is anyone going to the game Thursday?

I didn't think so.

Opponents of the new playoff system warned us that it would take away from the annual rivalry games on Thanksgiving so no one is really interested in the 56th meeting (55th on the holiday) between North Reading (6-4) and Lynnfield (9-1) right?

Sure the Hornets are upset that injuries derailed their league season and forced them out of the playoffs despite having a higher power ranking and having shut out eighth place seed Hamilton Wenham. The fact that they would like nothing better than to knock off the CAL Baker division champs and extract a measure of revenge for last year's championship game loss doesn't mean anything to anyone does it?

And seeing if the Pioneers can keep their championship trophy untarnished by defeating a colossally motivated opponent won't be that compelling will it? Or finding out whether the Pioneers can reach double digit wins for only the second time in school history? Or watching Kyle McGah try to break the all time school scoring record?

Or cheering on the seniors (20 from Lynnfield and 11 from North Reading) who'll be suiting up for the final time as high school players doesn't mean anything, right?

Yea, who cares. Let's just not go. The playoffs ruined everything.


Okay, sarcasm switch flipped off.

There are some legitimate concerns with the playoff format that I'm sure will be tweaked as time goes on. But the criticism that it would take away the enthusiasm and excitement of the Thanksgiving Day games was always bunk. The playoff system was great and gave many teams a chance to play in a meaningful game with the hope (distant as it may have been for some) of playing for a state championship. But for all but 12 teams, that dream is now over, which is fine.

It's time for the real second season.

So let's get serious about this. Last year when the Pioneers and Hornets tangled for the league title and a trip to the playoffs was a rare occurrence. The last time it happened before then was in 1978. It was like the Haley's Comet of high school football. To expect the Thanksgiving Day game to have an impact on a championship or post season berth on a regular basis is naive.

But it doesn't matter. The game between the Pioneers and Hornets has almost never meant anything but
Chestnut Street bragging rights.

In the past 25 years, the game had a possible impact for either squad on the league title race exactly....three times. In 1991, the Pioneers came into the game 8-1-1 with an outside chance at the CAL crown if they could beat the Hornets (which they did 27-10) and some other things between Newburyport, Hamilton Wenham and Ipswich happened (they didn't) so Lynnfield settled for second place.

We waited 18 years for the next time the game meant anything for the standings, and it was a tenuous one at that. In 2009, the Pioneers travelled to North Reading with a 9-1 record, already having clinched a playoff spot. They needed the win to take outright possession of the CAL Small championship. Even if they had lost, they would have been co-champs with Newburyport. They would have still gone on to the playoffs because of their win over the Clippers earlier in the season.

The third time it had a bearing on the title was last year.

Other than that, it was just two archrivals battling it out on a holiday morning. I've been there for the last 37 of them (omg!) and I don't remember a time when Arthur Kenney Field or Pioneer Field wasn't ringed with fans cheering them on. Some of those years was a battle between teams that had won only one or two games. It didn't take away one bit. These Pioneer-Hornet games on Thanksgiving Day are always going to mean something regardless of the teams' records or place in the standings.

And by the way, even if there had been no playoff system in place this year, the game on Thursday would still be for bragging rights only. Because of enrollment changes, Amesbury moved down into the CAL Baker and North Reading moved up to the CAL Kinney, so the two rivals aren't even in the same league anymore. Again, it doesn't matter.

Bottom line: enjoy the game for what it likely will be - an emotional contest between two long term rivals on what is shaping up to be a chilly, windy, Thanksgiving morning. Not having a title or playoff berth on the line is irrelevant. I can guarantee it means the world to those players on the field. And that's the way it should be.

Clash of Styles
So what can we expect from this game? For the third straight year, it will offer us another classic contrast in styles.

The Hornets will roll out their tight splits, old-timey, relentless run heavy, single wing offense that features three yards and a cloud of crushed Fieldturf over and over again until your eyes start to bleed. Their goal is to hold the ball as long as they can and keep the other team off the field.

The Pioneers will counter with their up tempo, hi-tech, ADD-injected spread offense that will attack through the air if the Hornets load up on the run, or will counterpunch on the ground if NR takes away the passing game.

You know what the Hornets are going to do. Bunch up and run the wing, and hand the ball to C. J. McCarthy who has scored 156 of the Hornets 268 points (58%). The Hornets' next three scorers are Ryan Sanborn (30), Blake Tamlyn-Hayden (26) and placekicker Angelo Disanto (20).

Only eight North Reading players have scored this year and 39 of their 41 touchdowns have come on the ground. They've thrown two TD passes, kicked 20 PAT's, and run for a two point conversion.

Meanwhile, you never know where the Lynnfield scoring will come from. Sixteen different Pioneers have tallied points this season led by captain Kyle McGah's 102. He needs 16 more to tie the school scoring record held by Frank Berardino who has 262. McGah is at 246 right now. Other leading Pioneer scorers are Jake Rourke (38), captain Matt Kramich (36), kicker Daniel Bronshvayg (25), and Jon Knee (24).

The Pioneers have scored in a number of different ways. They have 30 rushing TD's, 9 passing TD's (5 from Danny Sullivan), 3 kickoff return TD's, an interception return TD, a fumble recovery TD. They've kicked 29 PAT's, picked up 2 passing two point conversions and rushed for a two-pointer.

The two teams have scored a total of 578 points, or an average of 58 per game. The Pioneers have scored over 40 points three times, over 30 four times. They have been held to less than 21 points only once - the 14-7 playoff loss to Bedford. The Hornets have scored over 40 three times - their last three games and over 30 once. They've been held to a single score only once, by Newburyport.

So does that mean we can expect a shootout on the artificial turf in North Reading? History says no.

The Pioneers average 16 ppg against North Reading and have scored over 30 points only three times. Their largest output was in a 42-14 win in 1970.

The Hornets average 13 ppg against Lynnfield and have scored over 30 points 6 times. Their biggest scoring display came in 1994 in a 47-20 blowout.

Pioneer head coach Neal Weidman summed it up.

"If both sides execute, it comes down to who can stand up to it the most," the coach said. "It really comes down to the players."

Flip Side
I asked Hornet offensive coordinator Ed Melanson for his thoughts on the game.

"Going against the Lynnfield defense is scary," Melanson said. "They have two D-ends that are nine feet tall, a nose guard that looks like a brick wall, all of the linebackers are big and well coached and the D-backs are smart and cover well. I see no weak point."

I asked him about the last two meetings between the teams where in 2011 his offense rolled for 339 yards but last year was held to 145.

"I think it's a punch, counter punch kind of thing," the coach said. "I think in 2011, like a lot of teams, Lynnfield maybe was not completely sure on how to attack us. After all, you don't see the single wing every day. Also, if I remember correctly, there were some injuries to Lynnfield that year and we also got some nice breaks.

"Last year Lynnfield had a game under their belts against us," Melanson continued. "They adjusted their attack and did very well. As for an advantage or disadvantage to seeing the offense again, I think it's the same as with any fundamentally sound offense. As an example, there are spread teams that can't get out of their own way and spread teams that can't be stopped. A lot of it comes down to players in combination with a solid game plan. After coaching as long as I have, I can tell you that week in and week out coaches know what the other teams run, their tendencies, and build a game plan to stop it.

"Lynnfield will come into the game with a solid plan to stop us and we will try to do the same to them," he went on. "It's a great rivalry between Lynnfield and North Reading and I feel there is mutual respect, the kids know each other, the crowds are always great and I am looking forward to the game."

Both Sides Now
North Reading's Sanborn, the Hornet's second leading scorer, is the son of former LHS running back Mark Sanborn who played for the Pioneers from 1980-82. Sanborn the Father is tied for 44th on the all time LHS scoring list with 60 points. He scored 54 of those his senior year in 1982. So unless young Ryan comes up with a huge day on Thursday, Pater will have single season bragging rights at the Thanksgiving Day dinner table. Dad also had a pair of TD's against the Hornets in his senior year in a 26-6 Pioneer win.

The Pioneers hold a 33-22 edge in the series, but overall the matchup has proven to be one of streaks. The Pioneers won 7 of the first 8 and 15 of the first 19 games. Beginning in 1977, the Hornets rattled off five straight during which North Reading won three straight CAL championships. The Pioneers countered with five straight from 1982 to 1986. From 1987 to 2007, North Reading was 12-9 including four straight from 2004 to 2007. Lynnfield has turned that around in the Neal Weidman era, winning four of the past five games.

Turf's Up
After playing on grass surfaces for the first nine games of this year, the Pioneers finish up with their second straight game on artificial turf when they play in North Reading Thursday. According to my highly unofficial count (trying to remember who installed their turf when can be tricky), the Pioneers have played 15 games on the fake stuff in school history. The win last week in Watertown gives them a 8-7 record overall on turf. You can file that in the useless information folder.

Future Perfect
While we've been absorbed by the Varsity's 9-1 record and playoff run,
the Young Pioneer JV's have been under the radar quietly putting together an undefeated 9-0 campaign. Here is a recap of their season:
2013 Pioneer Junior Varsity
(Photo by Tracy Karavetsos)

Lynnfield 45 Chelsea 0
Lynnfield 22 Newburyport 0
Lynnfield 32 Winchester 0
Lynnfield 32 Amesbury 28
Lynnfield 24 Hamilton-Wenham 14
Lynnfield 44 Ipswich 12
Lynnfield 36 Masconomet 14
Lynnfield 21 Pentucket 2
Lynnfield 14 North Reading 8

Check out some of those opponents. Wins over Masco, Pentucket, Winchester (Divison 3), and nemesis Newburyport are nothing to sneeze at. Then topping it off with a 14-8 win over North Reading was particularly special.

The boys outscored their opponents 270-78 and posted three shutouts. The defense would tell you four since Pentucket only managed a safety against them.

The highly successful season bodes well for the Pioneers going forward. Congratulation to the boys and head coach Vinnie Calderone and his staff of Jeff Gannon, John Bossi, and Tom DiPaolo.

Final Bow
Twenty seniors from the LHS Class of 2014 will play their final game on Thursday morning. Heading in to the contest they have 23 wins in their three varsity seasons (2011-12-13). A win against North Reading would give them 24 and tie them with the Classes of 2012 and 1963 for second most wins by a senior class. The Class of 1988 tops the list with 25 wins against only six losses. The Pioneers won back to back CAL Championships in 1985 and 86, a feat that was matched by this year's seniors who followed up last season's CAL/NEC 4 title with the CAL Baker crown this year.

Suiting up for the last time as Pioneers will be captains Kyle McGah, Anthony Costa, Matt Kramich & Dom Costa along with Shyheim Cole, Franc Kalanderi, Austin Caswell, Ryan Battaglia, Kenny Grant, Ken Julian, Nick Bucci, Ryan Devoe, Efstratios Hios, Pierce James, Matt Connelly, Joe Dias, Alex Ganter, Anthony Vaccaro, Kevin Nunez, and Jacob Dalton.

That's it for now. Bundle up and enjoy the game (forecast calls for 31 degrees and a 28 mph wind roaring down Park St).

Happy Thanksgiving to all and check back after the game.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Watertown Leftovers

by Tom Condardo

The Lynnfield Pioneers just completed a two week seminar entitled "Football 101: Winning Is Hard." Shoulder-pad wearing instructors from Bedford and Watertown drove home the core message which is that despite mowing down eight straight opponents, any time you step on a gridiron, coming away with a win is tough business.

They certainly got a battle last week against Bedford. Last night in Watertown, the expected hangover kept them groggy for most of the first half. But the chirpy Raiders, whoopin' and hollerin' during and after every play, were the best medicine to get them straight. The 14-0 slap to the helmet shook them out of their doldrums and propelled them to a very impressive win over a dangerous team.

Not that there was any lack of effort on the part of the Pioneers in either game, but the simple fact is that racking up wins is not as easy as the Pioneers made it look for most of this season. It's actually a good lesson to learn and one which will help on Thanksgiving, and also going forward for the underclassmen.

As for the Watertown game, head coach Neal Weidman acknowledged a down week of practice, but he didn't attribute the first half performance strictly to a letdown.

"I think we were trying to play hard," the coach told me after the game citing field position and turnovers as the biggest culprit to the poor first half.

"We turned the ball over twice so we had short drives there," he continued. "Then they held the ball for most of the half (16:39 to 7:21 time of possession advantage for Watertown). That was part of it. In any game though you can't turn the ball over like that."

"We didn't have good field possession in the first half and we were able to flip it on them in the second half," he went on. "Unfortunately, they flipped it back on us at the end. It would have been a little easier had we kept it but we didn't. That's why you have to battle."

The Pioneers' average starting field position in the first half was their own 24 including starts at their own 10 and 13.

The bottom line is that the Pioneers were able to regroup at halftime, take control of the game in the second half, then hold off a determined Watertown team to pick up a hard fought road win.

Only time will tell how successfully the Pioneers absorbed the lessons of the seminar, but based on the Watertown game, I would say they passed their first test.

Unsung Big Play
No doubt there were several huge plays in the win over the Raiders. The Danny Sullivan to Jon Knee touchdown at the end of the first half; the Jake Rourke to Knee option pass then the Dan Bronshvayg to Austin Caswell two point conversion for the lead; the Matt Kramich kickoff return; Cam Rondeau's pick in the fourth quarter; the great fourth down stop by Alex Ganter coming from the other side to catch Mike Petrillo from behind; and the huge 24 yard run by Kyle McGah on third down to seal the win with a big first down at the end.

All big plays.

But to me, an equally important play that may not get much press (although it will in the Villager!) came on the Pioneers' one minute scoring drive at the end of the first half. After a two yard run and an incomplete pass, the Pioneers were faced with a third and eight from their own 27 yard line.

On third down, Sullivan sprinted to the right and hit Knee coming back for the pass. Knee caught it at the 33 and need to get to the 35 for the first down. He made a sweet move on the Raider defensive back and slipped by him for a 20 yard gain and the first down. If the Pioneers don't pick up the first down there, they would have punted and likely gone in at the half down 14-0.

As it turned out, three plays later, Knee torched the same defender on a first and ten from the Raider 30. Knee blew by the defensive back, who grabbed him at the 20. Knee shook off the hold, got separation and gathered in a perfectly lofted Sullivan pass in the corner of the endzone.

That sequence obviously turned the game around.

Center of Attention
Watertown offered a buffet of offensive formations in this one sometimes coming out in the Power I, sometimes the spread, and a few times in the Wing. The one constant was quarterback Nick Giordano, who was clearly the best signal caller the Pioneers have faced all season.

The junior was 16 for 32 for 228 yards and two touchdowns (and two interceptions). He also carried/scrambled 15 times for 93 times. In all, Giordano was directly involved in 47 of the Raiders' 59 plays (80%). More impressively, he accounted either throwing or running for 321 of Watertown's 334 yards of offense (93%).

And he'll be back next year so pencil Watertown in as one of the Division Four North preseason favorites.

Time Is of the Essence
Extra strain was put on the coaches from both teams when the scoreboard, including the clock, took the second half off. The Pioneer coaches had to get verbal time updates from the officials on the field which was just another task in a close game.

This came into play particularly at the end of the game. After the Pioneers stopped Watertown on fourth down, they obviously hoped to bleed the clock and end the game. After two running plays gained five yards, the Pioneers were faced with a third and five with 54 seconds left. Since you can use 25 seconds per play, if the Pioneers took two knees, the Raiders would have gotten the ball back deep in Lynnfield territory with four seconds left. Not an option. If the Pioneers couldn't convert on third down they would have had to punt. Not ideal.

McGah made the point moot when he burst threw the line for 24 yards and a first down to ice it. It just goes to show that these games can come down to seconds. And not being able to see how many, makes it that much tougher on the coaches.

Closing In
And speaking of McGah, the senior captain was kept out of the end zone for the second time this year leaving him 16 points shy of the 51 year old LHS scoring record. He now has 246 career points and Frank Berardino tallied 262 from 1958-61. McGah has only the Thanksgiving Day game to catch the all time leader.

McGah wasn't the only running back not to make it into the endzone. In fact, no running backs from either team were able to break the plane. In an interesting oddity, none of the 41 total points scored in the game were the result of a run. There were five touchdown passes (three by Watertown and two by Lynnfield), a kickoff return, three total extra points, and a two point passing conversion.

Strength of Schedule
There have been rumblings about the Pioneers playing a softer schedule than some of the other playoff teams. However, interestingly, Lynnfield has now faced six playoff teams in their 10 games and have won five of them (Newburyport, Hamilton-Wenham, Stoneham, Watertown, and Manchester Essex.) Their only loss was to Bedford. The Pioneers finish up with a tough customer in North Reading so the skeptics may want to reevaluate the Pioneers strength of schedule.

The win gives the Pioneers nine wins on the season, the ninth LHS team to win at least that many. Three of them have come under Weidman in the last five years. The Pioneers have a chance to be only the second team to win 10 games in a season (only the 2009 10-2 team has been able to do it).

The 21 points also lifted the Pioneers over the 300 point mark for the year. Their 310 points this year makes them only the third team all-time to break that mark. The 2010 team scored 336 and the 1960 squad rolled for 410 in nine games.

The one point win was the first for the Pioneers since 2006 when they defeated Hull 8-7. Stephen Palladino hit Chris Costa for a touchdown and Daniel Canty threw a two point conversion pass to Pat Lamusta for the Pioneer points that day.

That's it for now. Check back next week for my North Reading game preview.

Saturday, November 16, 2013


After playing in a fog for most of the first half, the Pioneers flipped the switch and hung on for an electric (except for the scoreboard and the PA system) 21-20 win over Watertown last night.

(Note to Lynnfield Fields Committee: After spending millions of dollars on the upgrade, please make sure the scoreboard is plugged in and that the fans can hear the mellifluous tones of Voice of the Pioneers Tom Waisnor).

The win was a big one for the Pioneers who clearly needed a couple of quarters to shake off last week's disappointing loss to Bedford. But they finally realized what's done is done and put together 23 minutes of solid football to win their ninth game of the year. Lots of contributors in this one and you can get all the details in my Villager article Wednesday.

That should sweep away the remnants of the playoff loss and clear the deck for the Pioneers to prepare for the big Thanksgiving Day matchup against a resurgent North Reading team. The Hornets won their third straight blowout last night crushing Weston 48-17. They've scored over 40 points their last three games and will likely be looking at the game against the Pioneers as their Super Bowl.

That's it for now. Check back Sunday night for my Leftovers post.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Watertown Game Preview: Hangover or Bounceback?

by Tom Condardo

For the first time in 13 months, the Pioneers will be playing a game with nothing but pride on the line.
Last October 13, Lynnfield beat Pentucket 14-6 in their final 2012 non-league game. After that came the 2012 CAL/NEC 4 title chase, followed by a playoff and a Superbowl, and then into 2013 where every game had playoff implications.

So it's been 16 straight games that have had consequences. Now with the CAL Baker championship firmly in tow, and after last week's playoff exit at the hands of Bedford, the Pioneers travel to Watertown Friday night and will have to find other motivation to bounce back from their second loss in their last 18 games.

As Pioneer head coach Neal Weidman said after the game Saturday, both teams are in the same situation, trying to regroup after a tough playoff loss. Based on last weekend's results, higher seeds have had a difficult job maintaining their focus the week following their playoff exit. In the 27 games last weekend involving teams that were bounced from the first round of the playoffs, the higher seed won only 59% of them (16 of 27). In the Pioneers' Division Four North, both lower seeds won their first post playoff exit game. Stoneham (#7) cruised past hobbled Newburyport (#5) 48-27 while Hamilton Wenham (#8) shocked Triton (#4) 21-7.

Might that be a cautionary tale for the second seeded Pioneers as they take on #5 Watertown in only their third road game of the season?

Each team has incentive to play well. Raider coach John Cacace told Gatehouse Media that having a winning season was one of his team's primary goals. Watertown is 5-4 and can secure their fifth straight winning year with a victory over Lynnfield.

The Pioneers at 8-1 can become only the second team in school history to win ten games if they can beat Watertown and North Reading. Only the 2009 champs at 10-2 have been able to accomplish that feat. If the Pioneers can finish 10-1, their .909 winning percentage rank second just behind the undefeated 1960 team in LHS football history.

Rough Raiders
Pulling that off won't be easy beginning with a difficult matchup against a tough Watertown team. Like Stoneham, the Raiders play in the predominantly Division 3 Middlesex Freedom league. They posted a 2-3 league mark with wins over Stoneham (16-14) and Wakefield (17-14). Together with non-league wins over Medway (34-14) and Shawsheen (19-7) that was enought to earn them a wild card spot in the Division Four North playoffs. They went up to Byfield in the first round and knocked off Triton 31-22 to make it to the semi-finals where they were beaten by top-seeded Pentucket 23-13.

The Raiders will be a handful for the Pioneers as they feature a split personality offense. It's like playing Hamilton-Wenham and Lynnfield at the same time. Sometimes the Raiders line up in the Power I like the Generals, with quarterback Nick Giordano handing off to tailback Mike Petrillo (8 touchdowns).

Sometimes in mid series Watertown will switch to the Spread similar to the Pioneer offense and Giordano will show off his throwing skills. He has two dangerous targets in T. J. Hairston (9 TD's) and Austin Farry (3 TD's). Giordano has thrown 13 TD passes, tied for fourth best in the division. Their offense can put up points as they've topped 30 points four times and have never scored less than two TD's in a game. They average almost 24 points per game.

Defensively, they can be tough at times but have shown cracks allowing over 20 points per game.

Sheehan's Take
Triton head coach and former Pioneer captain and assistant coach Pat Sheehan faced the Raiders in the playoffs and knows the Pioneers well so I asked him for his take on the game.

"This is another tough team," Sheehan told me. "Mostly an I offense and they have a trips change up. They are a very scary offense. T. J. Hairston is the best receiver we faced all year. He can stretch the field and has great hands. He is a particular problem when you need to be tough against the run.

"Lynnfield's offense should get back on track this week since they have a very strong run game and Watertown's run defense is not nearly as good as their pass coverage," Sheehan continued. "Should be some points scored in this one. One thing Lynnfield may have an advantage on is if they can go up early. Watertown seems to be impatient if they are down and they can start pressing the issue and sometimes that can lead to mistakes."

This will be the first meeting ever between Lynnfield and Watertown and the Raiders become the 42nd team the Pioneers have ever played. Lynnfield is 24-16-1 in other games playing a team for the first time.

Game time at Victory Field in Watertown is 7 pm on Friday.

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

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Bedford Leftovers

by Tom Condardo

I received an envelope last night and it contained a report I've been asked to share with the Pioneer fans still feeling the sting of yesterday's tough playoff loss. So here it is.

To: Pioneer Football Nation
From: The Department of Perspective
Re: The State of Lynnfield Football

We here at the Department of Perspective pride ourselves on presenting the bigger picture when it comes to high school football. We usually get involved following a tough loss when coaches, players, parents, and fans are most emotionally down and out and need a way to move on. Since we know that many Pioneer fans follow you in your local paper, the Villager, and in your Gridblog, we thought this would be the appropriate forum to disseminate some helpful information in the wake of the Pioneers tough 14-7 loss to Bedford yesterday.

We understand that coaches, players, and parents invest countless hours of work into a football program. It becomes an all-consuming passion and when a team is hit by a loss like the one the Pioneers suffered yesterday, the letdown can be steep. That's all understandable. But we've found in our many years of research that in the aftermath of such a devastating loss, it helps to step away and take a wider point of view.

First of all, there are only so many things that are controllable. Everyone can put their heart, soul, and effort into the process, but they really can't control the outcome. If at the end of a tough game like yesterday, everyone involved can look back and say "we gave it everything we have," then that has to be enough, regardless of the result. From the reports we got here at the department, that was the case in yesterday's game. The result just didn't happen to go your way. It happens.

So with that in mind, we've combed through our files of Lynnfield football history here at the department and have come up with some information we think Pioneer Nation might want to take into consideration.

Our researchers were particularly impressed with the level of success your Pioneers have enjoyed over the past five years under head coach Neal Weidman and his staff. We feel safe in saying that this is clearly one of the Golden Age periods of the Lynnfield Football Program.

Since 2009, your Pioneers have a record of 41-14, a winning percentage of .745. Four of those five years were winning seasons, and the "down" year was an injury-riddled 2011 when your team went 5-6. In that five year span, you enjoyed three championship seasons and played in five playoff games including a trip to a Super Bowl at Gillette Stadium. Very impressive indeed.

The accomplishments of the past five years are even more stunning when looked at in the light of the 21 seasons prior to 2009. Now many of you may look at that history as having as much relevance to you as the Roman Punic Wars, but that's what we do here at the Department of Perspective. We like to place all events in context.

First some points of reference. The period from 1988 to 2008 was a tough one for Lynnfield football. But none of it was caused by a lack of effort from coaches or players of those teams. We understand that during that time, the enrollment at LHS plummeted but the Pioneers got little relief in the schedule. Year after year they battled much, MUCH, bigger schools and suffered their lumps. Many years, the Pioneers were fielding teams with 25-30 players facing the Mascos and North Andovers who double-bussed it to town with more than twice that many.

The coaches, players, and parents of those teams worked just as hard but in many ways the deck was stacked against them. And the results were not pretty.

Of those 21 seasons, the Pioneers won more games than they lost in only three of them - 1991, 1996, and 2003. During that span, there were two seasons in which the Pioneers did not win a single game. Three years they won just once and five years they managed only a pair of victories. The Pioneers' overall record during that period was 62-156-1, a .283 winning percentage.

Now obviously the sufferings of those gutsy 21 squads doesn't really have much to do with this year's team and it probably doesn't make yesterday's loss any easier to take. But it's our job here at the department to illustrate that there are much worse situations than having a team that's 8-1 and made it to the semi-finals of the division playoffs.

And if you're looking for a more recent example, we give you the 2013 Bishop Feehan squad. Our records show they defeated your Pioneers 21-7 in last year's aforementioned Super Bowl. Since Pioneer Nation has understandably been absorbed with the Pioneers winning streak and playoff run up to now, you may not have noticed how the Shamrocks have performed the year after their Division 3A championship.

Well the Shamrocks haven't fared that well. They ended the regular season 2-4 and finished 9th in the 12 team Division Three Southwest with a 7.17 power ranking and failed to make the playoffs. They then split their two non-qualifying games and sit at 3-5 for the year.

Again, their misfortune is presented simply as a comparison to the great success your Pioneers have had this season. And the year is not yet complete. Our records show that at 8-1 and with two more games to play, your Pioneers have a chance to become only the second team in LHS history to win 10 games. The 2009 team is the only squad to accomplish that feat in the 55 year history of the program.

So in closing, our condolences on your loss yesterday. I'll leave you and Pioneer Nation with something one of our favorites here at the Department of Perspective, Oscar Wilde, once said:

"The optimist sees the donut; the pessimist sees the hole."

B. Positive
Director, Department of Perspective

Muff v Fumble
Many of you at the game may have been perplexed on the ruling in the second quarter when Bedford's Michael Hayes fielded a punt than apparently attempted to lateral it to a teammate. Jonathan Knee happened to be right there and picked off the ball returning it for an apparent score. The officials huddled and then placed the ball back at the spot of the turnover and the Pioneers had to punch it in from there for their only score of the day.

According to Weidman, the officials ruled that Hayes did not catch the punt and then try to lateral it. They said Hayes attempted to catch it, never got a handle on it, and it popped from his grasp into Knee's hands. That actually makes more sense since it had to be clear to Hayes that Matthew Timperio, the potential recipient of the lateral, was in the act of blocking Knee and wasn't even looking at him.

That made it a muff, not a fumble. In high school football, you can advance a fumble but you can't advance a muff, hence the touchdown was called back.

Killer B's
The seven points the Pioneers' scored against Bedford represents only the third time in the past two years the Pioneers have been held to less than double digit scoring. The other two were in the 21-7 loss to Bishop Feehan and a 14-7 loss to Bishop Fenwick last season.

In the 66 games of the Weidman era, the Pioneers have been held to single digits only 10 times and three of those happened in the coach's first season in 2008.

40 Year Losing Streak
The Pioneers have now lost three in a row to Bedford. In their last two meetings in the Dual County League, the Bucs beat Lynnfield 14-0 in 1972 and 6-0 in 1971. They still hold an overall 8-5-1 edge.

Big Block
One of the best blocks of the year occurred in the final quarter. On a third and 14 from the Lynnfield 40, the Pioneers executed a perfect screen pass. Quarterback Danny Sullivan hit Adam Buchanan in the left flat with a platoon of blockers in front of him. Alex Ganter and captain Dom Costa combined to blow up Timperio who was rushing to make the tackle. The hit sent the sophomore sprawling cleats over hip pads and paved the way for a 15 yard gain and a... (let's hear it Mr. Waisnor) PIONEER FIRST DOWN.

Giving Ground
One of the more disconcerting things in the game was how totally Bedford contained the Pioneer offense. Lynnfield fans have become accustomed to watching the Pioneers move effortlessly down the field almost at will. That was certainly not the case on Saturday.

One of the biggest indicators was the Bucs' ability to create negative plays. Of the Pioneers' 50 plays, Bedford threw the Pioneers for a loss or no gain on 15 of them. When you do that to an offense on 30% of their plays, chances are you'll have success as a defense.

3rd and 4th Downs
Usually in a game like this, the team that is able to sustain drives with third and fourth down conversions usually wins out. Ironically, the Pioneers did well in those situations. Offensively, the Pioneers were 8/14 on third down (57%) with no fourth down attempts. Defensively, they were solid in those situations in the first three quarters holding Bedford to 2/8 on third down (25%) and 2/4 (50%) on fourth down.

The problem came in the fourth quarter. The Bucs were 2/3 (67%) on third down and 1/1 (100%) on fourth down.

Finishing up where we started, I asked Weidman what he would have said at the beginning of the year if someone had told him he would make it to the division semi-finals.

"I would have said we'd done well," the coach replied. "We lost a lot of players last year and we're playing some young guys. Obviously now I wouldn't say it but back then I would have."

So what did he tell his squad following the game?

"You have to tell them they have to keep their heads up," Weidman replied. "They've done a great job this year and we still have games to play so we're going to have to find a way to get it turned around and get back up and ready to play next week."

That's it for now. Check back Thursday for my Watertown preview.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Fight to the Finish

Many big games don't live up to the hype, but this one certainly did. In a boisterous, raucous atmosphere that validates what the designers of the new MIAA playoff system were hoping for, the Pioneers came up just short to an outstanding Bedford team 14-7.

The Bucs did what no other team this year even came close to doing - they shut down the high-octane Pioneer offense. The other way to look at it however, is that the Lynnfield defense played nearly as well today as the highly touted Bedford defense.

To get the winning score, the Bucs needed a great punt return and then 10 plays to travel 48 yards. They punched it in with 9 seconds left but amazingly the Pioneers used those nine ticks to get in position to toss a potential game tying TD into the end zone as time expired. They never quit.

The Pioneers shouldn't hang their heads. They've played great all year, including today, and have a chance to win as many games as any Pioneer team in LHS history. Two games left including the big Thanksgiving rivalry game with North Reading.

Plenty of football left. Let's enjoy the rest of the season.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Bedford Playoff Game Preview: A Classic Battle

by Tom Condardo

In this corner, the Immovable Object: The Bedford Buccaneer Defense.

And in this corner, the Irresistible Force: The Lynnfield Pioneer Offense.

Which will prevail?

In seven games, the Buccaneers (6-1) have allowed 37 points, a 5.3 point per game average. Peeling that back further, of the points Bedford has allowed, two have come on a safety, six came in the final quarter against Belmont when the score was 34-7, and another seven were scored in the fourth quarter against Boston Latin when it was 27-0. Even in their 8-7 loss to Concord-Carlisle, the Bucs allowed only a single score.

So in non-blow out situations, the Buccaneer defense has allowed 22 points. Total. In seven games. They have posted two shutouts (you could argue three since the safety came in a 14-2 win over Wayland) and allowed one touchdown in three other games. The only time an opponent has scored more than once was in the Belmont game and the second TD was meaningless.

Which brings us to the Lynnfield offense. The undefeated Pioneers (8-0) have scored 282 points in eight games, a 35.2 points per game average. They have scored 30 or more points in their last seven games and were held to less than 30 only once - by Newburyport in Lynnfield's 21-13 opening day win. Put another way, the Pioneers are averaging almost double the number of points the Buccaneers have allowed all year.

Something's gotta give on Saturday.

There's no question Bedford will be the Pioneers' toughest opponent yet.

"That's the playoffs," said Pioneer head coach Neal Weidman. "They're good. They're really good. We're going to have to play really well."

The Bedford defense is fast, aggressive, and hard-hitting. They came out flying against Newburyport, a fast team in their own right, and took the play to the Clippers early. They love to put on the pressure with lots of blitzing. Quarterback Danny Sullivan will be forced to make some quick decisions, something he has shown the ability to do. But the Bucs will take it to another level.

That style of play does come with some risks for Bedford. Their aggressiveness can be used against them, something that Newburyport was able to do at times last Friday. Also, the Bucs can wear themselves out physically, something that also happened against the Clippers. Bedford had noticeably less energy in the final quarter than they did at the start.

"Newburyport hung in there," said Weidman. "Bedford's a really good team and they were a little bit better than Newburyport (on Friday), but the Newburyport kids played them tough."

One thing to watch is how Bedford reacts to Pioneers' hurry-up offense. We've seen the debilitating effect that's had on many of Lynnfield's opponents. What could make it tougher for the Bucs is that like many of the Pioneer opponents, they are in the shallow end of the depth pool. Most of their players go both ways and they usually play about 18. Voice of the Pioneers Tom Waisnor points out that Lynnfield normally rolls out more than two dozen players. That could make a difference later in the game.

The X factor, and one that hasn't been brought up much, is the Pioneer defense. The Bedford defense
has rightly received widespread praise as one of the strongest in Division Four, but Lynnfield has been nearly as effective on that side of the ball.

The Pioneers have allowed only 60 points in eight games, a 7.5 point per game average. They've also posted three shutouts and have allowed only 26 points in their last six games.

The Bedford offense will surely provide a test led by four year starting tailback Olan Abner. Abner has scored 13 touchdowns this season and has accounted for 82 of the Bucs' 149 points. His running mate is Bobby McDonald, a bruising runner who has four touchdowns. The Bucs are a run heavy offense, and come at you with a variety of formations including the Power I, split back, some wing T, and occasionally the spread.

Quarterback Joey Zampell is at the controls and could be the key to the game. If the Pioneers can contain the Bedford running game, Zampbell may have to come out and throw, similar to what Stoneham did last week. Zampell doesn't throw much, but he does have three TD passes, including one against Newburyport last week. A pitcher on the Bedford baseball team, Zampell likes to shoot long, usually looking for receiver Mike Hayes or Abner coming out of the backfield.

"The quarterback is good," said Weidman. "They didn't throw much but they could if they wanted to."

As I said in my Villager preview yesterday, the Clippers played a much better game than the 20-7 final score would indicate. Two big turnovers that turned into Bedford touchdowns did them in. The Pioneers will have to avoid turnovers and play their best game if they hope to win and move on.

To advance into the Division Four North Finals, the Pioneers are going to have to maintain their composure in what is sure to be an aggressive early onslaught by the Bucs. The question will be whether the Pioneer offense, so productive up to this point, can be effective against the Bedford defense.

"We got on the tough side of the (Division Four North) bracket," Weidman summed up.  "Not that the other side isn't tough but playing Stoneham and Bedford back to back is a tough draw. That's the way it is. We can either complain about it or play. I'd rather be playing Bedford than not."

A Coach's Take
I asked former Pioneer captain and offensive coordinator Pat Sheehan, head coach of Triton, for his take on the game and he had some interesting observations.

"I think it is going to be a very close, tough game for both teams," Sheehan said. "Lynnfield matches up size-wise. I think Bedford's speed in the backfield will be something Lynnfield hasn't seen this year since the Newburyport quarterback so that should be interesting.

"This will be a different game than most of Lynnfield's games this season," he continued. "Teams have had to really change their identities to compete with Lynnfield. They needed to pack the box to take away (captain Kyle) McGah and the run game which is a big reason their pass game has been so effective. On the other side of the ball, Lynnfield's size up front poses huge problems where the teams that they play change their play calling and philosophies to try to win.

"I don't think Bedford or Lynnfield thinks they have to change anything for this one," Sheehan summed up. "I think that both teams will do what they do and the most physical team will win. Should be fun."

Interesting Quirks
A couple of interesting things to look for from Bedford.

Although most of the players on the Bedford sideline don't get into the game, they do get involved by yelling the entire time the opposing team has the ball. They are joined in the serenade by their vocal fan base. We'll see if that has any effect on the Pioneer no-huddle offense.

Also, coming out of any stoppage in play, the Bucs will huddle at the sideline as the play clock ticks down. They they sprint onto the field and do a quick snap to try and catch the defense off guard or out of position.

Old Rivals
Bedford and Lynnfield are no strangers although they haven't met since 1972. The teams met 13 times from 1960 through 1972 as members of the Dual County League and the Pioneers hold an 8-4-1 edge. Lynnfield is 4-2-1 against the Bucs at Pioneer Field.

Game time at Pioneer Field is 11 am.

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

Monday, November 4, 2013

Around the Division Four North Playoffs: Quarterfinals

By Tom Condardo

We're into the first week of the MIAA playoffs and things went almost according to plan in Division Four North. Three of the top four seeds advanced with only the fourth seeded Triton Vikings not making it to the division semi finals.

Let's take a look at the three non-Pioneer games.

By now you know that Bedford, the number three seed, knocked off Newburyport (#6) 20-6 Friday night. We'll take a closer look at Bedford on Thursday but suffice to say they will be a tough test for the Pioneers.

That said, the Clippers hung tough for a long time and if not for two self inflicted wounds, Newburyport might have been able to pull off the upset. I was at that game and the Clippers were able to move the ball on the tough Buccaneer defense on the opening drive. Starting at their own 24 they picked up two first downs and got to the 41. However on the next play, the Clippers fumbled and Bobby McDonald recovered for the Bucs. Five plays later outstanding running back Olan Abner raced into the endzone from the 30 giving Bedford a 7-0 lead.

The big turning point came early in the second period. Bedford drove to the Clipper 22 but a determined Newburyport defense held Abner to net zero yards on three straight carries (-3, +3, no gain). On fourth down, quarterback Joe Zampell attempted the second of the five passes he would throw in the game and it fell incomplete turning the ball over on downs to Newburyport.

What should have been a lift for the Clippers quickly turned into a disaster when McDonald picked off a Mike Shay pass in the flat and returned it 31 yards for the pick six to increase the Bucs lead to 13-0.

The Clippers continued to battle, picking up three first downs on their next drive but a fourth down pass fell incomplete, giving the ball back to Bedford at their own 31.

The Newburyport defense again held Bedford on fourth down on the first drive of the second half and again moved the ball. They picked up three first downs to get to the Bedford 38, but again a fourth down pass fell incomplete.

The Bucs then iced it with an eight play drive that was capped, surprisingly, by a 25 yard touchdown pass from Zampell to Mike Hayes.

Hard nosed running back Trevor Bradbury (18 rushes, 82 yards) got the Clippers on the board with 3:43 left with a one yard TD run. He paid the price taking a wicked hit on the play which injured his shoulder.

The good news for the Pioneers is that the Clippers managed to move the ball, picking up 162 yards on the ground and 68 passing for 230 total yards. They also managed to get 12 first downs. If not for the two big turnovers and breakdowns on a couple of key fourth downs, the Clippers may have been prepping for a return visit to Pioneer Field.

Unfortunately for them, the Bucs also moved the ball. Abner finished with 148 yards on 23 carries. The Bucs managed 234 yards of offense on route to the quarterfinal win.

On a down note, the clock struck midnight for the Cinderella run of Pat Sheehan's Triton Vikings as they came up on the short end of a 31-22 loss to Watertown in Byfield. Four turnovers (2 picks, 2 fumbles) doomed the Vikings' first ever playoff appearance.

Justin Cashman's five yard run and Mark Boyle's conversion catch from Bradley Whitman in the first gave Triton an 8-0 first quarter lead. Watertown then scored to make it 8-7 at the half. Watertown scored first in the third period to put them up 14-8, but the Vikes retook the lead on a 15 yard Cashman run.

The teams headed into the final quarter with Triton up 15-14 but Watertown scored to take a 21-15 lead. The Vikes suffered a killer fumble on their next possession and Watertown quickly converted, extending their lead to 28-15. Triton closed to 28-22 on a 12 yard run by Whitman, but Watertown closed it out with a 22 yard field goal to account for the final score.

Pentucket, the division's top seed, had little trouble with Hamilton Wenham, scoring twice in the first quarter, taking an 18-0 halftime lead and rolling to a 32-0 win. The Sachems bulldozed to 300 yards on the ground led by D. J. Engelke's 195 yards and two TD's.

The Generals managed only 57 yards rushing while quarterback Jack Clay was 17 for 31 for 151 yards. Unfortunately he also threw three interceptions.

Pentucket will host Watertown Saturday at 1 pm in the division's other semi-final matchup.

That's it for now. Check back Thursday when I'll preview the Pioneer-Buccaneer matchup.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Stoneham Leftovers

By Tom Condardo

Those of us who watch the Pioneers on a regular basis take for granted one of their key weapons: the hurry up offense. This came to mind in particular this past week as the Pioneers prepared to play Stoneham. Or more accurately as Stoneham prepped for Lynnfield.

Regular CAL opponents know what they're in for when they face the Pioneers, but what about a team like the Spartans? They haven't faced Lynnfield in years so have no face to face experience. I'm sure they had game tape, but if any of you have ever seen those videos, you know that it's not like watching the NFL on Sunday. The tape shows one play, then cuts to the next. You couldn't tell from watching those tapes that the Pioneers have virtually no time between plays.

How much of a factor the hurry up was in Saturday's win is debatable, but it had to be disconcerting for the Spartans to realize there is no let up in the Pioneer attack.

I decided to go back find out exactly how much quicker the Pioneer offense is compared to their opponents.

Let's start with time of possession. In their eight games, the Pioneers have had the ball for 148 minutes and their opponents have had it for 204 minutes. That's an average of 18.5 minutes per game for Lynnfield and 25.5 minutes per game for their opponents. Looking at it another way, Pioneer opponents have had the ball for 38% more game time than Lynnfield.

What have they both done with that time?

Pioneer opponents have run 380 plays or an average of one play every 32 seconds (47 plays per game average). Lynnfield has run 369 plays - almost the same amount of plays in nearly 40% less time (46 plays per game average). The Pioneers are running a play every 24 seconds of game time.

Now what they both do with the time is the big difference. The Pioneer have scored 282 points so they're scoring a point every 32 seconds of game time. Their opponents have scored only 60 points, which is a point every 204 seconds. With those numbers in mind, the results have been predictable.

"It's tough to prepare for," Pioneer head coach Neal Weidman told me after the game. "It's just difficult to simulate in practice."

The Hurry-Up will be no surprise to Bedford when they meet in the division semi-finals. Bucs head coach Jack Belcher was up in the stands Saturday and got a first hand look of how lethal the Pioneer offense can be. However Belcher has been head man at Bedford for 10 years so will no doubt try to come up with something to slow down the Pioneers.

Passing Fancy
I mentioned last week how impressive quarterback Danny Sullivan's season has been. Well he took it to another level Saturday against Stoneham. With teams committing to controlling the running game (which they still haven't been able to do as Lynnfield's 244 rushing yards against Stoneham will attest) the Pioneers have begun to make defenses pay with the passing game.

Sullivan surpassed his season total of two TD passes by tossing three on Saturday. He was 8 for 11, for 133 yards. I again plugged those numbers into the NFL quarterback rating calculator and Sullivan posted an unheard of 152.7 rating. Putting it another way, if he had completed one more pass for five more yards, he would have registered a perfect 158.3 rating. He also continued to make the right reads in the running game and tossed in 68 yards rushing for good measure. The game raised his season QB rating to 115.4.

"He's got a lot of football savy," said Weidman. "He continues to improve."

The Future is Now
While on the passing game, it's interesting to note that the recipients of two of Sullivan's TD's are sophomores. C. J. Finn got the Pioneers on the board in the first quarter on a nifty 24 yard catch and run for his first ever varsity score. Then Adam Buchanan scored the next TD when Sullivan dropped one perfectly to him rumbling down the sideline for a 30 yard strike. Old timer captain Matt Kramich cracked the Kiddie Corps for the third TD reception.

Speaking of Buchanan, he continues to be Mr. Efficiency. Offensively, he touched the ball twice. The first on the TD reception and the second when he came in to run the Wildcat at the end of the half and barreled in from the four for a touchdown.

That's making the most of your opportunities.

The Discomfort Zone
Getting an opponent out of what they like to do best is the first step in beating them. The Pioneers did a great job of that Saturday. Despite spotting the Spartans a TD on their first drive, it became quickly apparent that the Pioneers were going to be able to put points on the board and that a methodical run heavy offense was probably not going to keep up.

The first hint that Stonehan realized this came on the first play of the second period after the Pioneers answered to go up 7-6. Spartan quarterback Dylan Owens threw an incomplete pass after featuring only one pass (another incompletion) in the first quarter.

After Ryan Battaglia scored on the fumble recovery to make it 21-6, the Spartans gave up any pretense of staying with the run-only offense and switched quarterbacks. Senior captain Matt Lowe came in at QB and Owens, a gifted athlete, moved to receiver. The Spartans ended up attempting eight passes, very unlike them, completing two (both by Lowe) for 14 yards.

"We thought that might happen," Weidman told me. "We were ready for that."

Equal Attention
The Pioneers showed no favoritism in slowing down the Stoneham three headed running game. Darius McPherson carried 18 times for 62 yards (3.4 yards per carry average), Aaron Louis was 15 for 55 (3.7) and Owens carried 4 times for 14 yards (3.5). Overall, Stoneham had 37 rushes for 148 yards.

Still Unbeaten
The Pioneer win keeps them undefeated in the series with Stoneham which was interrupted by half a century gap. Lynnfield is 3-0-1 in the four games. The first three were played in 1962, 63, 64.

Scoop and Score
Battaglia's fumble recovery and touchdown, caused by captain Anthony Costa and David Adams, was the Pioneers' first scoop and score since game two last year against Amesbury when Alex Pascucci did the honors. It was the 18th time in school history that the Pioneers have scored in that fashion.

Economy of Scale
I talked about the Hurry Up offense earlier, and it was in full evidence on the Pioneers four first half scoring drives. The first drive consumed 1:28, the second 50 seconds, the third 5 seconds (Battaglia's scoop and score), and the fourth 66 seconds.

The final drive in the fourth quarter that culminated with the Kramich catch took a leisurely 3:29. Of course that was by design as the Pioneers were trying to bleed the clock.

That's it for now. Check back tomorrow and I'll take a look around the Division Four playoffs.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

One More Step

The Pioneers took another step in the Division Four North playoffs with an impressive 34-12 win over Stoneham at the Middle School Field today.

After a slow start and then taking a 7-6 first period lead, the Pioneers had one of their typical explosive second quarters, scoring three times to take a 27-12 halftime lead. The defense did the rest throttling the run heavy Stoneham offense in the second half.

Quarterback Danny Sullivan had another outstanding game tossing three TD passes.

Things get even tougher this upcoming weekend when Bedford comes calling in a semi-final matchup. I watched the Bucs beat Newburyport Friday night and they are fast, aggressive, and hard hitting. It should be quite a matchup.

That's it for now. Check back tomorrow night for my Leftovers post.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Stoneham Playoff Game Preview: Well Grounded

by Tom Condardo

The Pioneers have seen a variety of offenses this year. They've faced the old school Triple Option of Saugus, the modified Wing of Amesbury, a version of the I option/Pistol from Newburyport, and the currently popular Spread from Manchester-Essex, Ipswich and Georgetown. The closest thing to a"traditional" offense the Pioneers have run into is the Hamilton-Wenham I. But the Generals spiced it up with a passing game as Jack Clay ended up attempting 22 passes.

When the Pioneers kick it off against Stoneham on Saturday in the first ever playoff game to be played in Lynnfield, they'll be stepping back in time to good old fashioned smash mouth football. The Spartans feature the tried and true power running game with two backs usually in an I formation and sometimes split. Five interior linemen and a tight end or two try to smash holes in the defense as a lonely, neglected wide out hangs out around the hash marks.

Former Pioneer head coaches Bill Rodan and Bill Adams would have no trouble recognizing the Spartan offense since it's a close cousin to the Pioneer power running teams of the 70's and 80's.

Stoneham runs the ball 95% of the time and with good reason. A solid offensive line opens holes for
two outstanding running backs in Darius McPherson and Aaron Louis. When quarterback Dylan Owens decides to keep it, he becomes another dangerous running threat. He is so elusive that he's the Spartans' primary kick returner.

As you read in my Villager preview, McPherson (9 TD's) and Louis (8 TD's) have accounted for nearly all the points scored by the Spartans. And the offensive line doesn't need to give them much room as they both can break to daylight quickly.

The Pioneer opponent they most resemble is the Bishop Feehan team Lynnfield faced in the Division 3A Super Bowl last December. The Spartans line up, say this is what we plan to do, now try to stop us. BF was very similar. In the Super Bowl, of their 46 plays, 44 were runs. Unless Stoneham installs some surprising, last minute wrinkles, expect the same this Saturday.

The Spartans have only scored 146 points (compared to the Pioneers' 248) and 136 have come on the ground. Owens has one passing touchdown and one passing two point conversion. And speaking of conversions, don't look for many PAT tries. After the 20 Stoneham touchdowns, they've attempted a kick for the point only four times. The other 16 times they went for two, converting 12 times.

Needless to say, the key for the Pioneers will be stopping the run. If they do, the Spartans won't have many options. If they don't, the home team could be in for a long afternoon.

Pioneers Stout Run Defense
So far, the Pioneers have done a good job stopping the run with the glaring exception of the Saugus Triple Option. The Sachems rolled over the Pioneers for 316 rushing yards. The other six Lynnfield opponents have managed a total of 489 yards, an 81.5 yard per game average. H-W had the the second most succesful day running the football against the Pioneers, picking up 161 yards on 30 carries, a 5.3 yard per carry average.

That's a bit disconcerting since they were the only opponent that ran from a similar I formation as Stoneham. The difference is the Pioneers also had to defend the Generals passing game with four solid receiving threats. It doesn't appear the Spartans will be able to match that component of the General offense, so the Pioneers should be able to focus on stopping the run.

Defensively, the Spartans run a similar defense to the Pioneers, with a nose guard and two tackles as down linemen and two ends/outside linebackers and two middle backers. They've been effective, allowing only 129 points, or 18.4 per game (compared to the Pioneers' 48 total points, a 6.9 per game average). With the Pioneers coming in averaging over 35 per game and never having been held to less than 21, something will have to give on Saturday.

"They will pose a challenge," Pioneer head coach Neal Weidman said of the Spartan defense.

Stoneham comes into the game with a 3-4 record and is ranked 96th in the Boston Globe Top 100. The Pioneers are ranked 27th.

"Their record is absolutely deceptive," Weidman told me. "They beat some good teams like Wakefield and Burlington. And they lost a couple of close games to some other good teams."

Home Cooking
By virtue of their number two seed, the Pioneers get to play a home game, and they've been particularly tough at Pioneer Field. They've won nine straight at home and are 23-3 on their home field since the start of the 2009 season. Their only losses were 27-14 to Newburyport in 2011 and back to back losses in 2012 to Manchester-Essex 7-6 and H-W 22-14 in overtime.

"It's nice to have a home game," said Weidman. "Hopefully it will be somewhat of an advantage."

The Pioneers have a few other advantages including team depth, something they've enjoyed in every game this year. They will trot out 57 seniors, juniors, and sophomores, and Weidman has the luxury of running people in and out to keep everyone fresh. The Spartans have only 33 players in that category and 12 of them are sophomores. They have 12 seniors on the squad.

Lynnfield also has an edge in big game experience. The Pioneers played two post season games last season, so they shouldn't be affected by the bigger stage of the playoffs.

There is no question this should be the toughest test of the season for the Pioneers this year. If they should get past the Spartans, they'll be hosting a division semi-final game next weekend. The Spartans will certainly have something to say about that.

Stoneham fans plan on arriving by bus, so the joint should be jumping by kickoff.

Game time for this Division Four North quarterfinal is 2:30.

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

Monday, October 28, 2013

Around the CAL Baker: Week 8

By Tom Condardo

Well it was an eventful final weekend in the Bakery as all three games ended up having playoff implications. The Pioneers needed the win to maintain the second seed in the Division Four North playoffs, Hamilton Wenham was able to nail down second place in the Baker thanks to its win over Georgetown and Amesbury's stunning loss to Manchester Essex. I'll review those last two games and take a first look at the playoff pairings. First, a look at the final standings of the Baker's Half Dozen.

The Pioneers went into their game with Ipswich having already sewn up a playoff berth and it was just a question whether they would finish second or third in the division. That wasn't the case for Amesbury and Hamilton Wenham. The Indians had their fate in their own hands needing only a win over Manchester-Essex to nail down second place and an automatic playoff bid. The Generals were on the outside looking in, rooting for the Hornets to knock off Amesbury.

The Indians jumped out to a 12-0 lead at Hyland Field in Manchester on a Mac Short to Pat Scanlon pass and another TD on a tipped pass that Jack Fortin turned into a 24 yard touchdown. Chris Dumont punched one in for the Hornets from three yards out to cut Amesbury's halftime lead to 12-6. They nearly tied it on the final play of the half when Seth Cohen was stopped at the one yard line after an 18 yard reception as time ran out.

A long drive capped by another short Dumont touchdown and two point conversion gave the Hornets a 14-12 lead in the third. A Ben Cullen score with just under seven minutes to play in the gain gave the Indians the lead back at 18-14, but the Hornets weren't done.

With under three minutes to play, the Indians faced a fourth and inches at the M/E 35 yard line, but the Hornets came up with the play of their season and held. The Hornets took control and marched right down the field. Dumont then gave the Hornets the win with his third TD of the night, this one from a yard out with 47 seconds to play.

The win gives M/E a 4-3 record and vaulted them into the playoffs in Division Five where they will be the sixth seed. The loss meant the Indians needed Georgetown to beat Hamilton Wenham on Saturday and hope to win the points-against tiebreaker among the three teams.

That didn't happen as the Generals did not squander their opportunity. The Royals jumped on top 6-0 when Pat Bjork hit Sean Swanton on a 15 yard TD pass. The Generals tied it at the end of the first quarter on an Ian Dickey run.

It was all H-W from there as Dickey added another score in the third quarter followed by TD runs from Christian Ecker and Jimmy Littlefield to account for the final 27-6 score. The Generals secured a spot in the playoffs with the win.

Final Power Rankings
With the first part of the season now complete, it's on to the playoffs for six of the 12 CAL teams. The Pioneers, H/W, Pentucket, Triton, and Newburyport are all in the Division Four North bracket and M/E will represent the Baker in the Division Five playoffs.

Here's a look at the final Division Four North Power Rankings

Despite the win, the Pioneers had to sweat out one final Saturday game when winless Belmont took on a one win Winchester team. The Sachems ultimately prevailed, but if Belmont had won, that would have giving Bedford three more opponent points and would have lifted them to a 16.5 ranking. That would have edged out the Pioneers for the second seed by .21 of a point.

The best story of the weekend came on Friday night when Lynnfield's own Pat Sheehan's Triton Vikings crushed Masco 33-6 in Topsfield. That not only catapulted the Vikes into the playoff picture but earned them the fourth seed and a home game this Friday. The Vikes picked up the most points in the division for the week leaping from 69 to 97 points with the big win. Congrats to Pat and the rest of the Lynnfield North coaching staff and the Viking players.

Tough break for North Reading who finished with a big 28-14 win over Kinney Champion Pentucket but still finds itself on the outside looking in. The Hornets have been hobbled by injuries all season and they finally put it together against the Sachems. They finished with a Power Ranking of 10.14 which is higher than H-W's 8.71, but the Generals came in second place in the Baker which comes with an automatic bid. Making it tougher to swallow for the Hornets is that they beat the Generals 16-0 earlier in the season.

However as I've been saying all year, league standing is the MOST IMPORTANT qualifier for getting into the playoffs. Each league is guaranteed two qualifiers. The Generals finished second in their league and the Hornets finished sixth in the Kinney. It doesn't necessarily look fair, but that's the way the system is right now.

The seedings, matchups, times and locations are now all set and the full bracket can be found here at the MIAA Tournament site. Be patient. It takes a few minutes to load.

As you must know by now, the Pioneers will host Stoneham on Saturday at 2:30 pm (that's a change from the original schedule) at the Middle School field. Stoneham is one of 11 teams that made the playoffs from the 12 team Middlesex League. The winner of that game will face the winner of the Bedford/Newburyport game which will take place in Bedford on Friday night.

On the other side of the bracket, Triton will host Watertown on Friday night and Hamilton-Wenham will travel to Pentucket on Saturday.

I'll have a full preview of the Pioneer game in the Villager on Wednesday and more here on Thursday night. Check back then.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Ipswich Leftovers

by Tom Condardo

There's been a lot of discussion (okay by the ink stained wretches) over the past weeks about the slower starts by the Pioneers. It obviously hasn't hurt them since no one has been able to parlay those slow beginnings into anything more than a brief annoyances.

Part of the reason for that has been Lynnfield's play in the middle parts of games. As sluggish as they have been at the start, they've been absolutely combustible in the middle quarters, particularly in the second. 

Overall the Pioneers have outscored their opponents 248-48, but in the first quarter they have managed only a 49-21 edge. However in the second and third quarters, they've outscored their opponents 172-13. The second quarter has been particularly explosive as the Pioneers sport a 109-6 edge. You read that correctly. Lynnfield has allowed only one touchdown each in the second and third quarters. Saugus managed one in the second and Newburyport has one in the third. Other than that, it's been goose eggs for the opposition in those two period.

The Pioneers' slimmest margin has been in the fourth period when they have a 27-14 edge. Again only Saugus (6) and Newburyport (8) have managed fourth period scores. It also should be noted that most of those fourth periods were played by the Pioneer reserves who have done quite well.

So to quote the bard, all's well that ends well, and those uninspiring starts aren't as concerning when they're followed by step-on-your-throat middle periods. 

I should also point out that in the games that featured the toughest opposition - Newburyport, Hamilton Wenham, and Manchester-Essex (who by the way finished 4-3 and is the sixth seed in the Division Five playoffs) - the Pioneers did not suffer first quarter letdowns.

Against Newburyport, the score was 0-0 after one. The Pioneers led H-W and M-E 7-0 after one. Similar focus will be required against Stoneham this weekend since the Spartans should provide the stiffest opposition the Pioneers have yet faced.

Quiet Efficiency
There has justifiably been plenty of coverage surrounding captain Kyle McGah and his climb up the Pioneer scoring chart and the Lynnfield ground game in particular. The Pioneers have done most of their damage on the ground, rushing for 1693 yards to only 913 passing. Twenty-eight of their 33 touchdowns have been on the ground.

What has been lost in the shuffle however, is the quietly spectacular season quarterback Danny Sullivan has been putting together. You've seen some of it the last two weeks as teams are starting to load up on the ground game. In head coach Neal Weidman's offense, when teams do that, you must make them pay in the passing game. In games against Hamilton Wenham and Ipswich, Sullivan has done just that.

In the two games, won by the Pioneers by a combined 69-0 count, Sullivan was 19/25 for 379 yards,  one touchdown and no interceptions. That's an amazing 76% completion rate. He's also carried 19 times for 86 yards, a touchdown and a two point conversion. 

For the season, Sullivan is 50 for 70 - a 71% completion rate - for 710 yards, two touchdowns, three two point conversions, and two interceptions. He's rushed for 163 yards and a 4 yards per carry average. 

Looking at the numbers, I dusted off my NFL quarterback rating calculator to see how Sullivan stacks up against some former Pioneer quarterbacks. The NFL rating is complicated but basically accounts for completions per attempt, yards per attempt, touchdowns per attempt, and penalizes heavily for interceptions. The highest score you can get is 158.3 Don't ask me why. Ask the NFL.

So to start, Sullivan's performance in the past two games was an astounding 141.9. For the season so far, his rating is 101.5. How does that rank next to the best Pioneer QB performances? Only at the top.

Here is the list of the top Pioneer quarterback ratings of all time:

  • Gino Cohee, 2010: 99.1
  • Michael Karavetsos, 2011: 92.5
  • Gino Cohee, 2009: 84.5
  • Jason Caggiano, 1996: 69.9

Pretty heady company for the junior who is in his first full year running the offense. For those of us old timers, Sullivan has the look of a Bart Starr or Bob Griese: always under control, always in command and can always be counted on to make the right play at the right time.

The other half of the equation is the bevy of outstanding receivers Sullivan is throwing to. Captains Matt Kramich and Anthony Costa, along with Jon Knee all have double digit receptions. McGah and Adam Buchanan have also make key catches throughout the season.

That kind of quarterbacking and passing attack will be key as the Pioneers start to face tougher competition in the playoffs.

Kickin' Update
Speaking of Dannys, the one with the kicking foot is having himself quite a season as well. Daniel Bronshvayg, following in the cleatsteps of two of the best kickers in Pioneer history in Steve Ullian and Alex Roper, is keeping right up with them.

Bronshvayg had another 5 for 5 night against Ipswich, the third time this season he has kicked for five or more PAT's. Only Ullian and Roper can match that in LHS history. Overall the sophomore placekicker is 19/22. His 19 points already ranks him as 6th best for a single season and slots him 8th best all time. 

That's an impressive start especially considering he had to miss two of the Pioneers' seven games. 

Goose Eggs
The Pioneers have not allowed a point in 11 quarters. The last time the defense was scored on was the first period of the Georgetown game. The two straight shutouts gives Lynnfield three on the year. The most since the 2010 team posted four. The record for shutouts is held by the 1962 team which incredibly had six shutouts in nine games. They allowed only 32 points all year, the fewest by any Pioneer team.

Making Their Points
The Pioneers are averaging 35.4 points per game which places them third all time behind the 1960 team that AVERAGED 45.5 ppg and the 2010 team that averaged 36 points a game.

Flutie Impersonation
Ipswich Tiger quarterback Kyle Blomster was only missing the number 22 to complete his dead-on impression of iconic BC quarterback Doug Flutie. The elusive Blomster ran the spread offense as best he could under tough conditions. Those included almost every snap nearly going over his head - a number of them did - and fleeing from the carnivorous Pioneer linemen. 

He escaped a number of times and made plays when there were none to be made in a valiant losing effort.

"He played great," Weidman told me after the game. "He's got a great arm and he can obviously move around. He's a good athlete."

Ipswich Game Notables
- The Pioneers had the ball for only 17:23 in the 44 minute game. They means they averaged a point for every 30 seconds of possession time. 
- Lynnfield was flagged six times for 70 yards while the Tigers were called for two penalties for 20. One of those was a 15 yarder as part of offsetting penalties late in the game.
- The Tigers went all out with the pass in an effort to move the ball against the Pioneers. They attempted 30 passes (completing 13 for 172 yards). They ran the ball only 20 times for 69 yards, a 3.45 yard average.
- The Pioneers' win was the seventh straight over the Tigers. They still trail the series 19-26.

That's it for now. Check back Monday when I'll take a final look at the CAL Baker and a rundown of the Division Four North playoff pairings.