Friday, January 4, 2013

Happy New Year...and a Brief Commercial Message

Well we've turned the page on an exciting 2012 and are looking forward to what looks to be an intriguing 2013. With the CAL realignment, the revised schedule and the new playoff format, the upcoming season should definitely prove to be interesting.

As promised, I have put up my annual Top Plays post, but I wanted to share some exciting personal news first.

After years of planning, I have gone full time with my Freelance Commercial Writing business. As some of you might know, I earned my undergraduate degree in Journalism from Suffolk University and have been covering football and carrying out other writing assignments on a freelance basis for many years.

But with a family to support, I joined the corporate world, earned my MBA from Salem State and eventually became the VP of North American Operations for a global supply chain company. Along the way, I also continued writing, acting as the defacto Corporate Communications Director producing much of the company's sales, marketing and PR material.

Well as of 2013, I've left that all behind and will be devoting full attention to my writing business.

I'm focusing on white papers, case studies, ghost feature articles and newsletters, but I can also help with copy for websites, brochures, proposals, company histories, executive biographies, sell sheets, sales letters, quality documentation and virtually any other writing needs. Here is the link to my website.

*Shameless Plug Alert*

So if you have any writing needs or know someone who does, please pass along my contact info or let me know directly at

Remember, the Gridblog is a pro bono operation so I need something to pay the bills!

End of commercial.

Happy New Year to all and see below for my first post of 2013.

Top Plays of 2012

Now that we have rung in 2013, it's that time of year where everyone makes their lists of notable events of 2012. So for my first post of the new year, as I have done for the past three years, I will be reviewing the top plays of the past season.

By now, the story of the 2012 season is a familiar one. The Pioneers sputtered out of the gate then caught fire and rode a hot streak to a league championship and a Super Bowl appearance.

Pretty impressive.

So how did we get there?

During the course of the season, the Pioneers played 12 games and were involved in more and than 1300 plays. We know that all plays are not created equal. During the course of the year, some plays turn out to be simply more important than others for any number of reasons.

I must admit this is a purely subjective list and you may have other choices. These just stuck out for me as the plays that had the biggest impact - both positive and negative - on the Pioneers' season. My choices came down to the significance of the game, which is why plays from league and post season games rank higher. Or they just might be outstanding individual or team accomplishments that bear repeating.

Of the 15 plays I selected (actually 18 but I'm linking two of them as one and three of them as another one), seven were Pioneer offensive plays, seven were defensive and one was special teams.

So here it is, in reverse order: my Fourth Annual Plays of the Year, 2012 Edition.

#15. Soden Impact

The Pioneers came into the Georgetown game off of two impressive league wins - a 34-6 rout of Ipswich and an emotional 25-14 win over Hamilton-Wenham. There was the normal fear of a letdown facing a 1-7 Royals team that had lost seven straight.

The Royals stoked that fear when they took the opening kick and sliced through the Pioneer defense from their own 32 to the Lynnfield 16 in seven plays.

On third and two, Georgetown QB Jackson Fritz faked an inside handoff and headed left. Mike Soden however, who did not bite on the fake, had broken through the line and was waiting for him.  He immediately hauled Fritz down for a three yard loss. The big play forced a fourth and five which resulted in an incomplete pass halting the drive and giving the ball back to the Pioneers on downs.

The Pioneers would go on to rout the Royals 35-0, but Soden's play was huge at the time and prevented Georgetown from a possible go ahead touchdown and a dangerous shot of confidence.

Which brings us to...

#14. The Opening Bomb

The first offensive play from scrimmage in the Georgetown game.

Building on the momentum that resulted from stopping the Royals' opening drive, quarterback captain Mike Karavetsos took the snap and throwing from his own 13, fired a bomb to a streaking senior Tony Mancini who gathered it in at the 50 yard line and cruised in for the score.

One play from scrimmage and the Pioneers had rebounded from a potential 7-0 deficit to a 7-0 lead. You could almost feel the life drain out of the Royals after that 14 point swing.

Fears of a letdown dissolved from there.

#13. Pascucci Pick in Pentucket
Alex Pascucci

Nursing a 14-6 lead over Pentucket early in the fourth, the Pioneers were trying to halt a potential game tying drive by the Sachems. They had forced Pentucket into a fourth and eight from the Lynnfield 22. Sachem quarterback Ryan Kuchar took the snap and sprinted right looking to throw to Nick D'Agostino who was sprinting down the right sideline.

But the ball never got there as captain Alex Pascucci stepped in front of the would-be receiver at the eight yard line, intercepted the pass and returned it to the Lynnfield 28 yard line.

The play ended the last real Pentucket threat as the Sachems never got any deeper than the Lynnfield 38 yard line as the Pioneers held on for the 14-6 win.

#12. The Response TD in Manchester

Their lurked another potential letdown game when the Pioneers travelled north to take on the Hornets in a game that had no bearing on the standings. The championship date with North Reading was already set regardless of the outcome of the game with M/E.

However head coach Neal Weidman wanted the Pioneers to play well for several reasons, not the least of which was to atone for the 7-6 disheartening loss to the Hornets on Senior Day in 2011.

The Pioneers came out strong, scoring on their first two possessions against the injury riddled Hornets to take a 14-0 lead. But M/E would not go down without a fight and parlayed a 48 yard punt return into a one play, 36 yard TD pass to cut the lead to 14-6 late in the first quarter.

But Lynnfield answered quickly on Top Play #12. After Alex Roper easily caught an attempted onside kick at midfield, the Pioneers drove to the M/E 28 yard line as the first period ended. On the first play of the second quarter, Karavetsos found A. J. Gallo rocketing down the right sideline. Gallo gathered the pass in just inbounds in the end zone for the score. Roper added the PAT and the Pioneers again led by two scores, 20-6.

"That was big," Weidman said of that touchdown. "Had we gone three and out and gave them the ball back, then they do some things offensively."

The Pioneers would go on to post three unanswered scores to make it 41-6 before the Hornets scored again. The final was 47-13.

#11. The Playoff Gut Punch

Just about everything worked for the Pioneers in their playoff win over Amesbury including Top Play #11.

In the grand scheme of things, the play didn't figure prominently in the final outcome, since the Pioneers led 28-7 at the time. However, it did show the determined mind set of the Pioneers and showed that there would be no let up for the Pioneers as they rolled to the Super Bowl.

Leading by three scores in the fourth quarter, Anthony Costa picked off a Matt Talbot pass giving the Pioneers the ball at the Lynnfield 39 yard line. But the Indians, fighting to the end, held the Pioneers to three yards on three running plays, forcing an apparent punt on a third and seven from their own 42 yard line with just under eight minutes left in the game.

Showing that the Pioneers were still in full attack mode, Weidman called for the fake punt.

The snap went directly to up man Roper who calmly floated a pass to captain Tyler Palumbo who motored all the way to the Amesbury18 yard line for the first down. Four Kyle McGah carries later, the Pioneers punched in their final score to take a 35-7 lead and put an emphatic exclamation point on their impressive playoff win.

#10. The Goal Line Stand

Andrew Kibarian (64)
Top Play #10 is really three plays - the goal line stand at the end of the first Amesbury game.

With the Pioneers clinging to a 31-27 lead, the Indians drove from their own 14 to the Lynnfield five in a little over five minutes. Matt Talbot scrambled for a first down with just under a minute to play. He spiked on first down to kill the clock. The Indians were hit with a motion penalty on second down moving the ball back to the ten yard line.

Then came the three play series that make up Top Play #10.

On second down, the coverage was solid and captain Andrew Kibarian and Anthony Costa nearly nailed Talbot. He tossed it away at the last minute to avoid the sack.

On third down, Kibarian had Talbot in his grasp again and the quarterback threw long as a result.

On fourth down, Talbot had time, but Gallo tipped the ball away from receiver Tommy Connors in the end zone at the last minute to preserve the win.

#9. The Double Pick

Top Play #9 is another multiple-play selection. Early in the second period of a scoreless game against Danvers, the Pioneers picked off passes on consecutive attempts by two different Falcon quarterbacks.

The first pick was off Falcon quarterback Nick Andreas by Pascucci who caught it at midfield and ran it back to the Danvers 14 yard line.

The second was by captain Tyler Palumbo who caught a Ryan Chasse pass on the rebound from Anthony Costa at the Danvers 44 and returned it to the 21.

Both interceptions led to scores that gave the Pioneers a 14-0 lead and they never looked back shutting out Danvers 21-0.

#8. The Breakout Pass

In the CAL/NEC 4 league opener against Ipswich, the Pioneers were being stifled by an aggressive, gambling Tiger defense that was selling out against the Lynnfield running game. The result was only 79 yards rushing for the Pioneers in the first half and a tenuous 14-0 lead.

That all changed on the second play of the second half. On a second and ten from the Lynnfield 36, Karavetsos faded back and threw a perfect pass over the middle to Gallo who had gotten behind the overcommitted Ipswich run defense. Gallo sprinted all the way to the two yard line and McGah took it in from there to give the Pioneers a 21-0 lead.

The play served to loosen up the Tiger defense and the Pioneer running game took over from there rolling for 158 yards from that point enroute to a 34-6 rout.

#7. The Lordan Interception
Connor Lordan

In the key league matchup against Hamilton-Wenham, the Pioneers had just gone ahead 18-6 early in the fourth quarter. The Generals went on a march from their own 14 to the Pioneer 30 and appeared to be heading for a touchdown that would have made it a one score game.

But on first and ten from the 30, Lyons tried to complete a post pattern but Connor Lordan leaped in front of it making the interception at the 20 yard line and returning it to the 26. Eight plays later, the Pioneers iced the win with a 34 yard McGah run that made it 25-6 with less than five minutes to play.

#6. Pick Six

In that same Hamilton-Wenham game, the Pioneers and Generals were tied 6-6 late in the first half when Lyons floated one into the flat. Palumbo was waiting and gathered it in at the 37 and returned it all the way back for the touchdown that gave the Pioneers a 12-6 halftime lead.

The play seemed to calm the Pioneers down as they went on to score two second half touchdowns to pull away from the Generals and nail down the win.

#5. Just Missed

Trailing 14-7 in the Super Bowl against Bishop Feehan, the Pioneers got the ball back to start the second half. Matt Kramich gave them great field position by returning the kick from the 10 to the Lynnfield 45 yard line. On the first play of the second half, Weidman tried to take advantage of the Shamrocks' over aggressiveness and called a halfback option pass.

McGah took the handoff for what appeared to be sweep right and BF's Matt Allen bit on the fake big time. McGah pulled up and fired downfield to Gallo who was 10 yards behind Allen at the BF 15 yard line.

Unfortunately the pass was long and fell incomplete.

As former Patriot Jermaine Wiggins said on the telecast of the game, "a fullback is just not used to throwing the ball" which made it tough for McGah to make the completion.

Weidman lamented the lost opportunity after the game saying the play "would have turned the thing around." 

#4. The Clutch Kramich Catch

Despite the lopsided final score in the playoff win over Amesbury, there was a critical point in the game that turned on Top Play #4.

Matt Kramich
Leading 14-7 at halftime, the Pioneers got the ball to start the second half. They marched smartly to the Amesbury 20 yard line on a 20 yard carry by McGah followed by a 27 yard Karavetsos run. The Pioneers were slicing through the Amesbury defense enroute to an apparent two score lead.

But the Indian defense stiffened.

They held McGah to a three yard gain, then threw Karavetsos for a one yard loss. An incomplete pass forced a fourth and eight from the Amesbury 18 yard line. If the Pioneers failed to convert, they would have handed the ball to the Indians who would have been in position to drive for the game tying score.

However, Karavetsos fired a bullet to Kramich who basically ripped it away from Amesbury defensive back Connors at the ten yard line. Kramich then fought to the six for a huge first down to keep the drive alive. Two plays later McGah plowed in to make it 21-7, but if not for that catch, this could have been a very different game.

#3. Second Effort

In the CAL/NEC 4 Championship Game against North Reading, the Pioneers were leading 14-7 in the fourth quarter. Cam Rondeau had intercepted a desperation Jackson Kellogg pass with 3:45 left and the Pioneers went into their four minute offense to take home the win.

They marched from their own 38 to the NR 43 and were faced with a  third and two. If they failed to convert they would have to decide whether to go for it and risk giving the Hornet offense another try or having to punt and hope North Reading couldn't drive the length of the field to tie it.

The discussion was rendered moot thanks to Top Play #3.

McGah took the handoff and plowed into the center of the line and appeared to be stopped at the line of scrimmage. He never stopped pumping his legs however and somehow he burrowed his way forward to get the first down by a couple of links of the chain.

The Pioneers would run out the clock from there to take home the win and capture the championship.

#2. The Stop
Anthony Costa

Trailing the Pioneers 14-7 on Thanksgiving Day, the Hornets mounted one of their patented clock eating drives that bridged the third and fourth quarters. With eight minutes to play in the game, NR faced a fourth and three from the Lynnfield 32.

To no one's surprise, the Hornets went with their bread and butter super back Carl Lipani. He took the direct snap and faked a sweep right then cut up inside. He appeared to have some running room but Anthony Costa knifed under the pile and tripped up Lipani who was then finished off by Palumbo, two yards short of the first down.

The Hornets would  never make it into Lynnfield territory again.

#1. The Run

And now for the biggest play of the season. Drum roll please.......

Early in the second half of the North Reading game, the Pioneers found themselves tied 7-7 despite having a statistical advantage over the Hornets.

Mike Karavetsos
After an exchange of punts to open the third period, the Pioneers had a second and eight from their own 27.  Karavetsos faked a handoff to McGah heading to the right, then kept the ball and headed around the left side. The offensive line opened a small crack in the left side of the Hornet line and Karavetsos shot through it at the 30 and took off down field.

He sprinted all the way to the ten before being run down by NR's Evan Wade. Three plays later, Karavetsos swept the right side from the five for the winning score that gave the Pioneers the championship and propelled them to their post season Super Bowl run.

So there you have it. Again it's one man's opinion. Feel free to chime in with your own choices.

That's it for now. Check back on February 1 for my next post.