Monday, September 30, 2013

Around the CAL Small: Week 4

By Tom Condardo

It was Thanksgiving in September in the CAL Small this week in the non-Lynnfield games as two pairs of holiday rivals squared off in the first of two battles this season. I'll review both of them. Two teams are now tied with the Pioneers for first.

I'll also take another look at the power rankings, but I am going to present it a little differently than what you may be seeing online or in the paper. I'll explain when we get to it. First a look at the standings.

Hamilton-Wenham picked up their first win of the year beating Ipswich in an emotion filled game in Hamilton. By now, you've probably seen the reports that have been all over the local news of the tragedy in Hampton, NH where two bicyclists were struck and killed by a driver without a license. It turns out that one of the individuals who died, Pamela Wells, is the mother of General senior tight end Alex Rogers. The Generals dedicated the game to her and Rogers' family.

H-W scored three first half touchdowns, two by running back Ian Dickey and the other was fittingly a two yard pass to Rogers. The Generals went in up 21-7 at the half. Ipswich closed to 21-14 when Kyle Blomster hit Nate Glaster in the third quarter for the pair's second TD hookup. But Dickey closed it out for the Generals with another TD run in the closing minutes of the game.

Blomster was 14 for 22 for 142 yards for the Tigers as he begins to get more comfortable in new coach Greg Brotherton's spread offense.

On Friday night, H-W heads up to Amesbury while the Tigers host Georgetown.

In another Turkey Day preview, Manchester Essex won their second in a row and pulled into a first place tie with Lynnfield and H-W with their 28-12 win over Georgetown.

The Hornets broke on top early on a Chris Dumont eight yard run to give the home team an 8-0 lead. The Royals made it 8-6 a short time later when quarterback Colby Ingraham broke loose for a 55 yard TD run. Unfortunately for Georgetown, if they didn't have bad luck, they'd have no luck at all. On the following kickoff, Ingraham suffered a knee injury and was lost for the game. His return is not known.

M/E took advantage taking a 14-6 halftime lead on a Nate Riehl 30 yard run. They stretched that to 21-6 on 4 yard run by quarterback Craig Carter then put it away with a 32 yard Chris Carr run early in the fourth.

Without their starting QB, the Royal offense sputtered, but in the fourth quarter head coach Paul Sobolewski inserted running back Cooper Martens in at quarterback. That gave the offense some life and Martens scored on a five yard run to account for the final score.

M/E comes to Lynnfield this week with a share of first place on the line.

The Power Rankings
Things are starting to get interesting as far as the playoffs are concerned. Most news outlets are showing the PowerRankings list strictly by each team's rating score, but that is not how the final playoff slots are going to be determined. League standings is the first step in securing a playoff berth, regardless of Power Ranking. So I will be taking that into account in my standings since if the season ended today, this would be the playoff ranking. Let's take a look.

So here's the difference. Based just on the Power Ranking, Winthrop would be 8th and Hamilton Wenham would be 13th. But since they are currently tied for first in their leagues, they jump over Bedford, Triton and North Reading who are now tied for 4th place in their leagues. That's why finishing first or second in the league is crucial. This week we'll pass the halfway mark of the playoff qualifying season, so it should only get more interesting.

As for the Pioneers, they picked up another 3 points thanks to Newburyport's win over North Reading, but they didn't earn any points from Saugus who lost to Masco.

That's it for now. Check back Thursday for my Manchester-Essex game preview.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Amesbury Leftovers

by Tom Condardo

I've mentioned before that when you try to get a comment about an individual from Pioneer head coach Neal Weidman, he goes into Full Belichick Mode. The conversation immediately switches to other members of the team that contributed to any individual success. He is, and always has been, about the team. He reinforced that even further on Saturday after the Amesbury win when he was asked how important it was that he was able to get a number of non-starters into the game.

"First, you try to reward the kids that show up every day at practice and help out," the coach began. "People don't understand. It's not just the guys that are on the field playing. Without those other guys, we can't practice. We can't prepare for the game. It is impossible. I try to tell the kids that all the time and it's hard for them to understand that which I completely understand but it literally takes everybody to do it right.

"Second of all," Weidman continued, "there are some kids that are a play away from being in the game. (Getting them playing time) gets them some experience so when you do have to thrust them in there, it's not the first time they've been out there."

Being able to get varsity experience for backups and younger players is so valuable. I used to watch other teams like Masco and North Andover do that all the time when they were pounding undermanned Lynnfield teams. Getting your bench players into the game is such a great way to build a program while keeping everyone interested and engaged. You may not get many of those kinds of games that allow you to do it, but Weidman has taken advantage of almost every one.

Always Learning
Weidman also discussed captain Kyle McGah, who continues to run amok in his first three games. He's  rushed for 370 yards on 50 carries so far, an eye-popping 7.4 yard per carry average. He also has 7 touchdowns, or one every 7.1 carries. Channeling my inner-Weidman, I have to point out that the play of coach Gino Fodera's offensive line has a great deal to do with it. Captain Dom Costa, Alex Ganter, Anthony Vaccaro, Matt Connelly, Steven White, David Adams, and Cameron DeGeorge have done a tremendous job paving the way.

The Pioneers have gained 855 rushing yards on 114 carries, a 7.5 per carry average. Twelve of their 14 touchdowns this year have been on the ground.

But back to McGah. It wasn't the three TD's or the 147 yards that pleased Weidman the most. He was most encouraged by the improvements the senior continues to make.

"Kyle ripped off some nice runs," the coach told me. "He also did a nice job today with aiming points so he's learned over the last few weeks. It's great to see a senior captain who's gotten as much recognition as he has that he still wants to pay attention and learn and get better. Things we work on in practice, he took into the game."

Boffo Baptism
Sophomore quarterback Jake McHugh had himself quite a day in his first extended varsity action taking over for starter Danny Sullivan once the game got out of hand. McHugh was 3 for 4 for 51 yards and a touchdown passing and he also carried 7 times for 114 yards and a 69 yard TD run. Not a bad start.

"He never played high school football before and he's a sophomore," Weidman told me. "He came out this year. He's a basketball player, the type of kids we love to get. He said 'I'd like to give it a try. I'd like to play receiver."

Weidman, a record setting quarterback at Ithaca College, obviously knows a fellow signal caller when he sees one.

"I said, no maybe you'll play some quarterback," Weidman recalled. "He said, 'all right, I'll do it.' He did well (against Amesbury). It's good. They get out there and say, 'you know what? I can do this. It's not that big of a deal.' Although it really is."

One Dark Cloud
The only blotch on the big win for the Pioneers came in the penalty column. They were flagged seven times for 60 yards.

"Yea it got bad," Weidman agreed. "The second half was sloppy. We talked about it at halftime to not be sloppy and finishing strong and all those things. The third quarter was bad but the fourth was better. It doesn't matter what the reason is. We specifically talked about it."

The win was the sixth straight for the Pioneers over Amesbury including last season's playoff victory. That's the longest winning streak by either team in the series besting the five straight wins Amesbury  put together from 2004 to 2008. The 41 points is the most Lynnfield has ever scored against the Indians in the 42 meetings between the schools. The most points the Indians have ever scored was 47 in a 47-18 win in 1988. The Pioneers lead the series 26-15-1.

Crime Pays
Maybe the Pioneers should consider changing their mascot to the Pirates after a particularly strong run of pilferage in the first three games of the season. The Lynnfield defense has forced nine turnovers (6 interceptions and 3 fumble recoveries). More impressive, the Pioneers have made the opposition pay for coughing it up. Six of the nine led to scoring drives. One other led to a drive that ended a half and another led to a drive that ended the game. The Pioneers have committed four turnovers so far - three fumbles and one interception.

Elite Eleven
There have been only 11 Lynnfield teams in the 56 year history of the program that have gotten off to 3-0 starts. The most recent before this year was in 2010 when the Pioneers went on to post a 9-2 mark. You have to go back 14 years to find the next one. The 1996 team started 3-0 then went on to finish 6-4.

The aggregate record of the 11 teams is 90-17-1. Of the 11 teams, six went on to win championships. Ironically, the two most recent Pioneer champs did not start 3-0. The 2009 CAL Small champs started with wins against Matignon and Georgetown before losing in Wilmington. Last year's squad lost to Newburyport in the opening game of the year, beat Amesbury and lost to Bishop Fenwick to start the season 1-2. They wouldn't lose again until the Division 3A Super Bowl against Bishop Feehan.

That's it for now. Check back tomorrow night when I'll take a look around the league and I'll review the latest playoff power rankings.


Saturday, September 28, 2013

Power to Spare

It was an impressive display of Pioneer offensive power and a rude re-entry into the CAL Small for Amesbury this afternoon.

The Pioneers cruised 41-7 and anyone who was there knows the score could have been virtually anything head coach Neal Weidman wanted it to be against a game but overmatched Indian squad.

Three more TD's for captain Kyle McGah, another for Jake Rourke, and a TD reception for captain Anthony Costa. It was also a sparkling debut for sophomore quarterback Jake McHugh who played most of the second half and threw for one TD and ran for another. Weidman was able to empty the bench early for some valuable varsity playing time for the backups.

The Pioneers move to 3-0 on the year and 1-0 in the league. Thanks to the win and another victory by Newburyport, Lynnfield now has 36 points and a power ranking of 12. That puts them in third place in Division 4.

You can get all the game details in my Villager article on Wednesday and check back Sunday night for some leftovers.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Amesbury Game Preview: Beware of a Desperate Foe

by Tom Condardo

Thom Connors of Amesbury and the Pioneers' Neal Weidman are two head coaches with a lot in common.

Connors, beginning his 11th season leading the Indians, took over an Amesbury program in 2003 that was coming off successive seasons of 1-9, 0-11, 0-10. That's 1-30 for those keeping score at home. The Indians tripled that three-year win total in Connors' first season going 3-8. He got them to a competitive level in 2004, 2005, and 2006 going 15-17.

In 2006, Connors and the Indians broke through, winning the CAL Large and making the playoffs with a 9-1 record. They lost in the playoff game, but came back in 2007 with a 12-1 mark including a Division 3A Super Bowl championship. They've been contenders ever since and captured the CAL/NEC 3 title last season before losing to the Pioneers in the playoff.

Weidman followed a similar path. He took over a Pioneer program that had gone 5-38 the four previous seasons before he took over. His success slope was a bit quicker, as Lynnfield went 3-8 in Weidman's initial campaign, then won a title and a post season berth in year two. They just missed in 2010, had a 5-6 year in 2011, then rebounded with another championship last year capped by a trip to Gillette Stadium for the Division 3A Super Bowl. His record through last week is 38-21.

Traveling that same coaching terrain may be the reason Weidman and Connors have bonded over the years.

"I really like Thom and his staff," Weidman told me. "They've been good to us. My first year he said some nice things to me when I was down and out a little bit. He said, 'just keep doing it. Keep going.'

"He said when he first took over he would actually say, today we want to get three first downs in the first half," Weidman continued. "That would be a goal. We have a nice friendly rivalry. Our kids get along pretty well. They've always been really appreciative of each other.

The closeness has translated to the field and some dramatic games over the past few years. Here's a recap of the tight contests played between the teams from 2007-2011. The winner of those five games all had to come from behind - twice in the third quarter and three times in the fourth.

The same pattern held for their first meeting last season when the Pioneers fell behind in Amesbury 21-0 and 27-12 only to roar back with two TD's in the third and two in the fourth to take a 31-27 decision. The two teams met in the playoffs last year and ironically that was the most lopsided game between the two in six years. The Indian hung tough trailing 14-7 at the half, but the Pioneers blew it open in the second half to win 35-14. That was Lynnfield's fifth straight win over Amesbury.

Indians Struggling Early
Which brings us to this week's CAL Small league opener. The Indians come into town battered and bruised after suffering big losses to Triton 40-7 and Pentucket 42-7. Connors said in all his preseason preview interviews that his main concern was lack of depth, and unfortunately for the Indians that has proven to be prophetic.

Amesbury graduated 16 seniors including four All Leaguers and two All League Honorable Mentions. This year's 35 man roster features only 19 upperclassmen (11 seniors and 8 juniors). More than half the varsity roster is made up of sophomores. The Indians are inexperienced on defense - Connors has said only two players on that side of the ball have experience - and that has shown up in their first two games.

The one place the Indians do have experience is on the line where they start five seniors. However, they are on the smaller side, averaging 6' 195 lbs. They'll be facing a Pioneer line that goes 6'2" 245.

Both Triton and Pentucket dominated the line of scrimmage against the Indians rushing for a combined 483 yards and holding Amesbury to a total of 136 yards on the ground in the two games. With such limited success on the ground, the Indians have gone to the air. Senior quarterback Mac Short, shifting from receiver where he played last year, has completed 13 of 31 for 189 yards, 1 TD and 3 interceptions. His favorite target is Pat Scanlon, who at 6'4"175 makes a nice, big target. The Pioneers will have to account for Scanlon when the Indians have the ball.

Short and running back Ben Cullen are similar backs - small and quick. Short is 5'8 190 lb and Cullen is 5'7" 165 lbs. But if they get into open space, they can be dangerous.

Indians Always Tough
Weidman is still expecting another battle with Amesbury, despite the numbers and the results of the Indians' first two games.

"We've had some great games with them," the coach said. "I don't know how they have room for another rivalry with Triton, Pentucket, and Newburyport, but we've become a non-river River Rival."

What makes the Indians so dangerous is that this is a must win game for them if they hope to earn one of the top eight spots in the 16 team Division Four North playoffs. With their two non-league losses, the chances of Amesbury snagging a wild card spot are slim, so their only way in is to finish first or second in the league. So despite being 0-2, they are still alive if they can do well in the league. Upsetting the Pioneers at home could propel them on one of the patented runs that Connors' coached Amesbury teams are known for.

CAL Preview
As for the league, I spoke to both Weidman and H-W coach Andrew Morency, and they both feel the CAL Small will be competitive.

"I think it's an even league," Morency said. "Lynnfield is always tough. We have a shot."

"There's quite a bit of parity," Weidman told me. "Amesbury and H-W have been good historically. They'll be tough games. I see Ipswich has had a couple of lopsided scores but we play them up there and that's always been a tussle for us. Georgetown seems to be playing well especially offensively -they're scoring a lot of points. I saw Manchester and they looked pretty good offensively as well."

We move from the theoretical to the actual starting this weekend. In addition to the Pioneers/Indians game, Ipswich travels to Hamilton Wenham and Georgetown visits Manchester-Essex in two Thanksgiving Preview games. We'll obviously know a lot more after those three contests.

That's it for now. Check back on Saturday for my first reaction to the Amesbury game.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Around the CAL Small: Week 3

by Tom Condardo

Well that's it. The non-league portion of the schedule is complete. Where in past years, league games wouldn't start until mid October, this year things are different. We jump right into the thick of the league schedule next week.

But before we go there, let's take a look at the updated standings and review last weekend's games. Georgetown had the week off, but everyone else was in action.

I got an up close view of Hamilton-Wenham Friday night as they tangled with North Reading, and the Generals looked solid. They were without the services of sophomore sensation Cam Macri who suffered an ankle injury in the opener last week. I spoke to coach Andrew Morency after the game and he expects to have Macri back in three or four weeks which would put him on schedule to face the Pioneers in what could be a big showdown game on October 19.

The Generals took the opening kick against North Reading and came out firing on all cylinders. Senior quarterback Jack Clay was short hitting six out of seven passes - three to Christian Ecker, and one each to Peter Duval, Jimmy Campbell, and Alex Rogers. H-W mixed in runs by Ian Dickey as they marched down the field picking up five first downs. They looked like were going to punch it in but the tough NR defense stiffened after yielding a first down at the 15. Dickey got it to the nine but two passes fell incomplete and the Generals attempted a field goal which sailed wide right.

After an exchange of punts, the Hornets turned the tables on the Generals, using their power single wing to drive to the General one yard line, but HW held on fourth and goal and got the ball back.

The Hornets put up all their scoring in the last two and a half minutes of the first half. C. J. McCarthy cruised in from the 16 for their first TD. The PAT was blocked but on their next possession, NR punched it in again with McCarthy plowing in from the one. Blake Tamlyn-Hayden scooted in for the two and the Hornets led 16-0.

That would be it for the scoring as the teams battled to a scoreless second half. The Generals threatened late in the third, getting down to the three yard line, but Ryan Sanborn picked off his third interception of the night to kill the threat.

Morency was particularly pleased with his team's ability to stop the Hornet attack, especially in the second half. NR had four three and outs and only one first down in the second half. The Generals held them to only 46 yards of offense in the final two quarters.

H-W opens their league schedule at home against Ipswich on Saturday afternoon.

The Tigers, struggling to install their new spread offense, ran into an angry Newburyport team still smarting from their loss to the Pioneers. The Clippers took it out on Ipswich in a 38-7 beating at World War Memorial Stadium.

Ipswich hung tough, playing the Clippers to a scoreless first quarter. Unfortunately the Tigers were undone by a couple of blocked punts in the second quarter that opened the floodgates and led to a 24-0 half time deficit.

The Tigers showed some positive signs as quarterback Kyle Blomster was 8 for 15 for 199 yards. Nate Glaster had four catches for 36 yards and Alex Kuljik had a pair for 64 yards. Ipswich will face H-W in the first of two contests this year. The two will meet up on Thanksgiving Day as well.

Amesbury got off on the wrong foot early against Pentucket as the Sachems scored on a 60 yard pass on the first play of the game and then added another on their next possession to jump out to an early 14-0 lead. The Indians righted the ship a bit and hung tough from there.

Ben Cullen's one yard run cut the lead to 14-7 but the Sachems added a backbreaking TD with ten seconds left in the second to make it 21-7 at the half. The teams battled through a scoreless third period but Pentucket blew it open with three fourth quarter scores.

Amesbury comes to town this weekend having been outscored 82-14 in their first two games.

Manchester-Essex became only the second team in the league to post a win as they upended Greater Lawrence 22-12 in a game that shouldn't have been that close. The Hornets shut down the Reggies, holding them to under 75 yards of total offense, only 20 in the first half. Linebacker Doug Rodier, Nate Riehl, Will Davis and Leo Gallo led a swarming Hornet defense that frustrated Greater Lawrence's spread offense all game.

Unfortunately, the Hornet offense couldn't get much separation. Riehl capped an impressive opening drive with a 6 yard TD run, but that was all the scoring M/E could do in the first two quarters. So despite a dominating edge in yardage, they led only 6-0 at the half. As is usually the case in games like that, the lack of offense came back to bite them as GL broke the second half kick for a 65 yard touchdown to tie the score.

Quarterback Craig Carter snuck it in, then hit Chris Dumont for the two point conversion to take the lead back at 14-6. The Reggies answered with their only scoring drive of the game topped by a 19 yard TD pass to cut the lead to 14-12. But the Hornets responded with another score. Carter again snuck in from the one and this time Dumont ran it in for the two to give the Hornets a 22-12 lead that would hold up.

In another Thanksgiving preview, the Hornets will host Georgeton Friday night in the league opener for both teams.

Power Rankings
With a couple of games now in the books, the power rankings are starting to take shape. Here is what they look like heading into the league season.

The Pioneers are tied for first based on the Power Rankings alone. They have a pair of 10 point wins for their own value and Newburyport's win over Ipswich gave them 3 opponent value points for a total of 23. Divide that by 2 to get their 11.5 rating. Things will start to get interesting the more games that are played. Every win by Saugus and Newburyport gives the Pioneers 3 more points each.

Also, next week the league standings start to come into play. First or second place in the league is the first determining factor in the rankings. Then the power ratings are used to break any ties.

It should be interesting.

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

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Saugus Leftovers

by Tom Condardo

They don't draw pictures on the scoreboard.

But although the Pioneers came away with a convincing 35-21 win over Saugus, head coach Neal Weidman was clearly not overjoyed with the performance of his squad Saturday. In particular, he felt the Pioneer defense was not up to par handling the sleight-of-hand Triple Option Offense of the Sachems.

"We couldn't get it done today," Weidman told me concerning the inability of his defense to play the same type of effective assignment football they executed against Newburyport last week. "I guess they thought they should do it their way for a little bit. In the second half, they did it our way a little bit better so hopefully they'll be able to continue  to do that.

The numbers show there was a difference. In the first half, Saugus knifed through the Pioneer defense for 197 rushing yards. The Sachems were thrown for a loss only once and held to no gain one other play. They gained positive yardage the other 25 times they ran the ball. In the second half, the Pioneers slowed down the Sachems, holding them to 119 yards. They never lost any yards, but were held for no gain four times, including the two biggest holds on third and fourth down in the third quarter stand that turned the game around.

Weidman was quick to acknowledge that Saugus is pretty good at running that style offense.

"They run a true triple," he explained. "Their quarterback (Justin Winn) did a nice job riding the dive back. He was reading the defensive tackle first and whoever has the quarterback next. Every time one of our guys who was supposed to take the quarterback decided to take the dive back is when he would pull it late and get those big runs. There were some times when the guys that were supposed to take the quarterback and took the dive back actually thought they tackled the man with the ball."

Weidman was also impressed with the tenacity of Saugus.

"Even at the end when we were up 35-13 they weren't ready to wave the white flag," Weidman said.

The game did give the coach some fodder for practice this week as the Pioneers prepare for the start of league play against Amesbury.

"There's always stuff to work on," he acknowledged.

Short Fields
The Pioneer defense wasn't helped by the Sachems' ability to create short fields after kickoffs. On six returns, Saugus was able to get their offense the ball on the 38, 38, 40, 39, 47, and 33. On average, that's starting at the Pioneer 39 yard line.

"We're going to have to figure something out as far as kickoffs go," Weidman said.

First Time
The win for the Pioneers was the first ever over Saugus. It was only the third meeting between the schools and the Sachems won the first two contests in 2007 and 2008.

Injury Bug Bites
The first key injury has bitten the Pioneers. They played against Saugus without sophomore LB/TE/Backup QB Adam Buchanan who is out with a broken foot. It's hoped he can return in a couple of weeks.

C. J. Finn jumped in and had a solid game at linebacker playing alongside David Adams and Jake Rourke in the middle.

Milestone Game
Saturday's contest was the 550th in the history of Lynnfield High. The Pioneers' all time record is now 277-262-11.

Good Start Good Omen
The Pioneers' 2-0 start bodes well for the season if history is any indicator.

This is the 17th time Lynnfield has begun the season with two wins and the aggregate record of the previous 16 squads to do it is 128-27-3, an average season of 8-2. This is the first time the Pioneers have started 2-0 since 2010 and they have now done it 3 of the past 5 years. In the 21 seasons from 1988 to 2008, the Pioneers managed to start 2-0 only twice - 1991 and 1996.

Twin Powers
The Pioneers have been spelling captain Kyle McGah (5'9" 225) with junior Jake Rourke (5'10" 205) at running back. Both have similar running styles in that neither has ever met a defensive back or linebacker he didn't want to trample over.

McGah picked up 132 yards and 3 TD's against Saugus while Rourke had 87 yards and a score. It certainly doesn't give the defense a chance to catch their breath with the double threat.

"They are built the same and they run the same," agreed Weidman.

It appears they will give opponents similar headaches this season as well.

Making His Point(s)
Placekicker Dan Bronshvyag is off to a strong start going 5 for 5 in PAT's against Saugus after a 1 for 2 performance vs. Newburyport. The sophomore has two tough acts to follow in all time record holder Steve Ullian and Alex Roper who have held down the placekicking duties since 2008. In those five seasons, Ullian and Roper booted 126 PAT's out of the 463 kicked in the entire 55 year history of the program. That's 27% of all successful LHS PAT's.

Bronshvyag is off on the right foot (pun intended). It only took him two games to tie for third place for the Single Game PAT record with his performance against Saugus. Only four other Pioneers have ever accomplished that feat. Roper did it 4 times, Ullian twice, and Mark Owens (1978) and Kris Borkowski (1998) each did it once. Scott Milne holds the single game record with 7 against Masco in 1985 and Ullian is right behind him in second with 6 against Bishop Fenwick in 2010.

That's it for now. Check back Monday when I'll take a look around the CAL Small.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Overcoming Triple Trouble

A win is a win is a win.

The Pioneers overpowered the Saugus Sachems this morning to go 2-0 in the non league portion of the schedule. That's the perfect place to be heading into CAL Small league play next week. No one should complain about a two touchdown victory, but the Pioneers' play, especially on defense, was something less than perfect against the Saugus Triple Option attack.

The Sachems rolled for over 300 rushing yards but coughed up five turnovers which proved fatal as they fell to the Pioneers 35-21. You can get all the details in my game story in the Villager on Wednesday, but as head coach Neal Weidman noted after the game, there is lot to work on.

Great day for Kyle McGah who ran for 120 yards and three TD's.

That's it for now. Check back Sunday night for more on the win.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Saugus Game Preview: Option, Option, Option

By Tom Condardo

After last Saturday's game, I asked Pioneer head coach Neal Weidman which team in the CAL most reminded him of Saugus. He hesitated for a bit then finally pointed to Newburyport and said "they look a little like them."

The Clippers ran a power I option where the quarterback starts in the I and sprints out and has the option to pass. Weidman was quick to point out that Saugus was kind of like that but not exactly.

"It's a different kind of option," the coach explained. "They run a true Navy triple with the wings in motion and midline stuff. That'll be a challenge."

Ah, the ol' Navy Triple. That explains it.

Well thankfully we have Youtube. Below is a two minute example of the Navy Triple Option as run by....Navy! This'll give you a good idea of what to expect when the Sachems arrive at Pioneer Field Saturday morning.

Basically the Triple Option refers to the three options that Saugus junior quarterback Justin Winn has once he takes the snap from under center. 1) He can hand off to fullback Seth Roy on a dive up the middle. 2) He can toss it left or right to either Dan Cacciola or Marcus Atkins, the two wingbacks who will be lined up in back of the tackles or 3) He can keep it and run himself.

Defending the Triple Option
So how do you stop it? According to Weidman, it's another week of "assignment football" which means the Pioneer defenders have to know what gaps to defend and which players to hit. When someone doesn't carry out his assignment, option plays go for big gains.

Here's how Delaware head coach Dave Brock explained it to Matt Leon of CBS Philly prior to his Blue Hens taking on Navy this past weekend.

"You are really forced to play a style of defense that you don't play every week," Brock said. "The players have to be very, very disciplined and understand where they've been, who they have to tackle and really as strange as it sounds, you really have to put every single potential person on the ground. If you start looking for the ball, you're going to be in trouble, because you won't find it. You'll think it's inside and the ball will be pitched and you really have to be very, very disciplined and make sure that you play your responsibility."

Sounds like he really has a handle on how to stop it doesn't he?

Delaware was blown out 51-7.

To be fair, the Midshipmen turned the tables on them a little bit. They did a lot of their damage through the air as Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds threw for 233 yards and a couple of touchdowns.

"We were absolutely committed to try and stop the run," Brock told Delaware Online, "and I still feel like we should have been able to play the couple of outs they shot down the tube on us, but we missed a couple of keys and weren't able to do that. We had a chance to play the ball a couple of times and didn't play it very well."

So there's that.

Sachems More Grounded
However, it's unlikely that the Sachems will come out throwing against the Pioneers. In the 20-6 loss to Winthrop last week, Winn attempted only six passes, three of them on their last desperation series. Of the three other passes, one went for a 25 yard TD pass to Atkins, their only score of the game, one was intercepted and one was incomplete. Saugus' other 27 plays were runs.

The Sachem line which averages 6'1" 214 will be outweighed by the Pioneers front wall which comes in averaging 6"2" 244. The The Triple Option will negate a lot of that size advantage on defense since this will be a game of quickness and discipline rather than bulk.

Saugus is young, trying to replace 15 seniors lost to graduation from last season's 6-5 squad. Returning starting lineman Marco Leto and linebacker Ian Jefferson lead the defense.

The Sachems hung tough with a solid Winthrop squad last week, trailing only 13-6 at the half.

Revenge minded?
The Pioneers do owe the Sachems some payback. This will be the third meeting between the schools and Saugus handed the Pioneers convincing beatings in the first two. The Sachems romped 35-14 in 2007 and 49-28 in 2008, Weidman's first year as head coach.

That 49 points is the second most points ever given up in a single game by the Pioneers. The most they've given up was in a 54-8 loss to North Andover in 1996. Ironically, that game was a battle for first place as Lynnfield went into the game tied with NA at 4-0. The Pioneers also gave up 49 in 2007 in a 49-21 loss to North Andover.

Game time at Pioneer Field is 11 am.

OD's Run
Also, I wanted to remind all you runners and walkers about O'D's 10th annual 5K Run/Walk on this coming Sunday, September 22 at 10 at the high school. The event is held in memory of Johnny O'Donnell, a former Pioneer football player who also played baseball and wrestled for LHS. Proceeds from the event go to raise funds for scholarships. The event serves as a tribute to and celebration of Johnny's short life with us. For further information, contact Karen Mahon at 508-528-1286 or register at the web site at I will be running and hope to see you there!

That's it for now. Check back after the game on Saturday and remember I'll be providing in game tweets at @condardogrdblog (No "I" in team, or grdblog).

Monday, September 16, 2013

Around the CAL Small: Week 2

by Tom Condardo

Welcome to the week two roundup. Everyone now has at least one game under their belt so pretty soon we can start getting a handle on the rest of the league.

It was a bad start for the CAL Small with only the Pioneers able to notch a victory. The four other teams in action all lost their non league games. We'll take a look at all of them plus I have a surprise later on in the post. First, the updated standings.

I made the trip to Landry Field to take in the Triton/Amesbury game on Friday night to get a look at the Indians, one of the preseason league favorites. It was a rough night for the home team but a quite a birthday present for Triton head coach and former Pioneer captain and offensive coordinator Pat Sheehan. His Vikings dominated both sides of the ball and rolled to a 40-7 win to go 2-0 on the season after opening the season with a 33-7 blowout of Swampscott. Triton looks poised to make a run in the CAL Large, which is loaded this season.

The Indians fell behind 14-0 after the first quarter and 21-7 at the half. Triton blew it open with three second half touchdowns. The Viking line outweighed the smallish Indian front and was able to match the quickness of the Indian backs. Viking running back Justin Spillane ran for 99 yards and three touchdowns to lead the attack.

It was the first game for Amesbury and that was a factor. The Vikes had a chance to work some kinks out last week, but the Indians suffered some of the normal first game jitters.

Head coach Thom Connors will no doubt get the Indians back on track and they will be a formidable opponent for the Pioneers when the two clash in the league opener in two weeks. Amesbury has speed to burn in the backfield, very similar to Newburyport, and if they aren't corralled, they can break some long ones in a hurry.

Mac Short, a wide receiver last year, played his first game at quarterback for the Indians and was 7/18 for 121 yards, a touchdown and two picks. His running mate Ben Cullen had 61 yards rushing.

But the big story was the local birthday boy who is not totally surprised by the turnaround of the squad which went 1-10 last season.

"I've been excited for this season since Thanksgiving of last year," Sheehan told me. "We have a lot of guys coming back and they were tired of losing. They made the commitment in the offseason. I don't know if I expected it to go as well as it's gone so far."

Amesbury will try to get into the win column when they host Pentucket Friday night.

Hamilton-Wenham, the other consensus favorite in the CAL Small, opened their season Saturday afternoon and ran into a stacked Bishop Fenwick team. The Generals played a good first half and led 20-17 at the break, but the Crusaders unleashed their devastating rushing attack in the second half to run over H-W 54-27.

The Pioneers are familiar with this BF team, led by standout running back Rufus Rushins who rolled for 184 yards to lead a 400 yard Crusader running barrage. BF is a veteran team with many offensive weapons and will be a force in the Division Five playoffs.

The Generals were hurt badly early in the game when they lost Cam Macri, their outstanding sophomore running back to an ankle injury. Without their main rushing weapon, the Generals tried to throw with first year quarterback senior Jack Clay. Clay did a nice job trying to fill the unfillable shoes of Trevor Lyons, completing12 of 19 for 208 yards and four touchdowns.

He had a couple of veteran targets in Pete Duval and Christian Ecker which helped ease him into the starting role. H-W hung with the potent Crusaders most of the way and trailed by four at the end of three quarters. BF exploded for 23 unanswered fourth quarter points to pull away for the win.

The Generals travel to North Reading Friday night for another non-league game as they try to regroup against the Hornets.

Ipswich and new head coach Greg Brotherton, former Tiger standout, opened their season Friday night by hosting the Hornets. The visitors were unkind in Brotherton's debut caging the Tigers 33-7. C.J. McCarthy ran for three touchdowns and threw for another to lead the NR attack. McCarthy has taken over the feature back role from Carl Lipani in the potent Hornet single wing and appears to be catching on quite nicely thank you. Whether he can match Lipani's 138 points last year - good enough for fifth place in Division 3A scoring - is another story.

Brotherton is installing a new spread offense for the Tigers and there will be growing pains. The tenacious Hornet defense limited Ipswich to only two first downs on the night. They managed only 13 yards on the ground and 89 in the air.

Things could get rough for the Tigers this week as they travel to Newburyport to face a Clipper team aching to make up for the loss to the Pioneers last week.

Georgetown became the first team in the league to play two games, but unfortunately for the Royals, they have both been losses. They found their offense this week however, but came up on the short end of a 32-25 loss to Greater Lawrence.

The Royals looked like they might get blown out at the start, but they fought back to get in the game. They fell behind 8-0 but roared back to take the lead on a 35 yard field goal by Pat Bjork and an eight yard touchdown run by Robert Dimento.  Trailing 16-11 mid way through the second quarter, Georgetown had the ball at mid field but GL tipped a pass, intercepted and returned it 56 yards for the TD. 

On their next possession, the Royals fumbled and the Reggies converted again to make it 30-11 at the half.  Turnovers (3 interceptions, 2 fumbles) killed the Royals for the second week in a row.

Georgetown didn't quit and their defense got them back in the game, picking off four interceptions - three by Colby Ingraham.  Ingraham then paced the offense with two fourth quarter touchdowns, the second one set up by a 38 yard pass to Bjork down to the two yard line. That was as close as they would get as Greater Lawrence held on for the win. 

The 0-2 Royals get this week off to prepare for their league opener against Manchester Essex in two weeks.

After having last weekend off, M/E will visit Greater Lawrence Saturday morning for their second game of the season.  

A Look at the Power Rankings

Okay I promised you a surprise, so here goes. As you know, I've been spending a fair amount of time figuring out the new power ratings. So me and my friend Exel, have put together a spreadsheet that I think will let me calculate the ratings. There's more manual work to it than I'd like, but I'll try to keep up with it and see where it takes us.

Remember, this is totally unofficial, but I think I have it right. We'll see how close I am once they start posting official ratings. Here goes nothing. Top eight teams make the playoffs.

So now that we have some real data, we can start to try and put some meaning around this thing. First of all, since no one has played any league games, the rankings are purely by the power ratings. Once we get into the league schedules, first and second place teams automatically go to the top of the list, regardless of Power Rating.

Stoneham currently ranks number one because they played one game and beat Belmont, a team in Division Three, so they earned 12 points. 12 divided by 1 = 12.

Triton has won two games, both in their own division, giving them a total of 20 points. 20 divided by 2 = 10. The Vikes don't have any opponent points since they beat Amesbury who has only played one game and lost, and the other team they defeated, Swampscott, lost again this week so Triton gets no points from them. Note that Swampscott has 3 opponent points although they are 0-2. How? Because they get a point for every Triton win - that's 2 - and one from St. Mary's who has one win for beating them this week. 3 divided by 2 = 1.5

Weston has a power rating of 5.5. They beat Randolph, a team in their own division to get 10 points last week. Then Weston lost to Dover Sherborne this week and since Randolph didn't play, Weston gets only 1 opponent point for D/S's win over them. That gives them 11 points divided by 2 equals 5.5.

As we get into the season, opponent points are going to come into play even more.

The Pioneers' 10 points for their win Saturday puts them in a tie for second place in the division with five other teams. That logjam will quickly be broken as more games are played. There should be even more separation after next week's games. We'll take another look then.

That's it for now. Check back Thursday for my preview of the Pioneers' game against Saugus.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Newburyport Leftovers

by Tom Condardo

So's how's it feel to beat Newburyport?

"It's good," Pioneer head coach Neal Weidman said following Saturday's hard fought opening day victory over the Clippers. "It's been awhile - 2009. Now we have to beat them up there one of these times."

That can wait until next season. For now, the Pioneers can bask in the glow of a deserving victory over a good team, especially defensively.

"We're kind of young and semi-inexperienced so to play a good team like Newburyport was good for us," Weidman said.

You can get all the game details in my Villager story on Wednesday, but here are a few bits and pieces from the game.

The win snaps a three game Clipper winning streak against the Pioneers and ups Lynnfield's overall record against Newburyport to 9-32.  They are 2-4 in the Weidman Era with a 2-1 record at home.

The well-coached Clippers gave the Pioneer offense all it could handle, breaking but not bending in the first half. They stopped Lynnfield on a fourth and sixth from the 11 yard line on the Pioneers' opening drive. They forced a fumble inside the five yard line on Lynnfield's second drive. Instead of being down by a couple of scores, the Clippers found themselves in a 0-0 game.

Deep Depth
The Pioneers finally broke through, lost the lead then regained it on captain Matt Kramich's kickoff return, then put the game away with a long drive in the fourth quarter. That last "nail-in-the-coffin" march began after the defense held the Clippers on fourth down from the Lynnfield 33.

"We showed some character there," Weidman said. "Stopped them on fourth down and then be able to put a drive together and get downhill on them. I felt like we were able to wear them down a little bit. We were running some guys in and out. I felt like our depth helped us."

The Pioneers will likely be able to do that to a lot of teams this year. The seven man offensive line corps of captain Dom Costa, David Adams, Cameron DeGeorge, Alex Ganter, Anthony Vaccaro, Steve White and Matt Connelly averages 6'1" 246 lbs. Not many teams in Division Four are going to be able to match up with that.

Stout Up Front
Defensively, the Pioneers did a solid job against the revised Newburyport Power I option offense. The Clipper offense showed flashes in their first outing with new quarterback Michael Shay. Shay, Chance Carpenter, and Trevor Bradbury are dangerous backs capable of breaking it on any play. They are only going to get better as the year goes on.

Lynnfield was able to hold them to 103 yards rushing on 32 carries with 29 of those coming on one Bradbury carry. Take that out and the Pioneers held the Clippers to 74 yards on 31 carries - a stingy 2.4 yards per carry.

"We practiced against it," Weidman said of the retooled Clipper offense. " We knew they were going to be more of an I team this year. We knew they'd be running typical I plays off the power, but we thought they would give us more dives and dive options. They ran a little bit of it last year out of the single back using the slot guys, but we knew it was going to be more of a staple for them this year. It took us a while to prepare for it. It's assignment football. We had extra time to prepare so that was helpful for getting ready for the option."

The front seven did a solid job, not allowing the Clippers any running room up the middle. Any gains they were able to pick up came more from using their speed to the outside.

"We were pretty stout," agreed Weidman. "The effort was great."

As expected, there were some things the coach wasn't happy about.

"The disappointing things were the 15 yard penalties on both of their scoring drives and two really good offensive drives with no points," said Weidman. "Then their one long kickoff return on special teams."

Another Opening
The victory snaps a two year opening day losing streak - both to Newburyport. In the Weidman Era the Pioneers are 4-2 in first games. Overall, Lynnfield is 31-25 on opening day.

Picking Right Up
Junior Cam Rondeau picked right up where he left off last year with his first interception of the year on Saturday. He was co leader in that category last year with four.

Happy Returns
Kramich's kickoff return for the touchdown was the first for the Pioneers since Ricky Berardino ripped off a 93 yarder on the opening kick against Bishop Fenwick in 2010. That led the way to a 42-21 romp over the Crusaders. There have been only 22 kickoff returns for touchdowns in the history of LHS football or an average of one every two and a half years. Sounds like this one came right on schedule.

Just prior to returning the kick, Kramich saw that the score was 7-6 in favor of the Clippers. He told me at that moment he remembered that was the final score last year. It took him 17 seconds to make sure that history didn't repeat itself.

Random Stats
- After holding an almost seven minute edge in time of possession in the first half, the Pioneers had the ball for only 58 seconds in the third period. But they outscored the Clippers 8-7.
- The Pioneers were at 50% on third down conversions (5 for 10) but they were much better on fourth down converting on 4 of 6 (67%). The Clippers were 6 of 11 on third down, but only 1 of 3 on fourth.

Resourceful Cheerleaders
The Pioneer cheerleaders showed some quick thinking resourcefulness before the game. As the Pioneers were gathering under the goal posts to enter the field, the big welcoming "Lynnfield" banner snapped right down the middle.

Pioneer Cheerleaders with an Emergency Banner Repair
The girls didn't panic and instead were able to make quick repairs tying the two pieces together as 52 screaming players were jumping up and down in anticipation of running through it. Great job under pressure.

The Pioneers unveiled new uniforms on Saturday and the home uni's feature a navy blue theme from head to foot with a white stripe at the shoulders and "Lynnfield" in white above the number on the chest. The while "L" on the matte, navy blue helmet is gone, replaced by each player's number in white.

Sophomore Alex Soden models the new Pioneer Uniforms
That is similar to the early days of the Lynnfield program when the Pioneers featured white helmets, with a royal blue stripe down the middle with only a blue number on the side.

Traditionalists may lament the loss of gold, the other half of "Blue and Gold" anywhere on the uniform. The last vestige was a small outline of gold around that "L" on the helmet the last few years. The only appearance of "the other school color" shows up with some of the players sporting gold undershirts. I did notice a couple of players wearing gold belts.

The numbers are also different, with the main number the same navy blue as the shirts, outlined in white.

Tom Waisnor, the Voice of the Pioneers, reports that the new look is not PA Announcer-friendly but I'm sure he'll figure out a way to adjust.

Blast From The Past
I ran into former Pioneer head coach Scott Brennan in Amesbury at the Triton-Indian game Friday night. He is now the assistant principal at Triton. He coached the Pioneers from 1995-99 in a time when numbers and participation was down and Lynnfield was still playing a full bore CAL schedule.

I told him that the Pioneers had a turnout of 70 this year and we discussed about how in 1995 he normally suited up around 20 players including one game when he had only 13. In typical Scott Brennan fashion, he didn't lament his bad luck but instead was genuinely happy for Weidman and the Lynnfield program. "That's the way it should be," he told me.

He coached my son through his junior year and is one of the most positive, classiest people around. For many reasons beyond his control, his teams didn't enjoy a lot of winning (although he did have a great 6-4 season in 1996 as part of his overall 15-37 mark). However, I couldn't have asked for a better coach - and person- to teach my son the lessons in life that are more important than wins and losses.

Brennan is now coaching youth football in West Newbury and they couldn't have a better man working with their kids.

That's it for now, check back tomorrow when I'll take a look at the weekend action around the league.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Clippers Capsized

by Tom Condardo

Great way to kick off the season for the Pioneers today in an impressive 21-13 win at Pioneer Field. That Clipper defense is one of the best Lynnfield will face all year but they found a way to squeeze out a couple of rushing TD's by Danny Sullivan and Kyle McGah and an outstanding two point conversion catch by Cam Rondeau. Matt Kramich's scintillating - and timely- kickoff return for the go ahead score was huge.

You can get all the details in my Villager game story this Wednesday but the Pioneers are 1-0 and have 10 points to deposit in their Playoff Power Ranking Pouch! Now the Pioneers will get three more points for every game Newburyport wins, and I believe there will be more than a few of those.

Great job by the returning vets and the newcomers getting their first taste of varsity battle.

Check back tomorrow night and I'll have more on the game.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Newburyport Game Preview: Clippers On The Horizon

by Tom Condardo

Some things are best done quickly just to get them over with. Ripping off a bandage, eating your brussels sprouts, visiting the in-laws. You know, just do them and move on.

Opening the 2013 football season against Newburyport kind of feels like that for the Pioneers. Not that this won't be a competitive game - it should be - it's just that things don't seem to go well for the local eleven when these two squads meet.

Lynnfield and Newburyport entered the Cape Ann League together in 1973 and have met 40 times. The Pioneers' record in those games is 8-32, a .200 "winning" percentage, by far the worst record against any of their long time CAL rivals. And it's not even close.

The next worst winning percentage against a long time Pioneer opponent is .389 (14-22) against North Andover which has more to do with the relative sizes of the schools than anything else. Next is Ipswich at .409 (18-26).

The Pioneers are 5-15 at home against the Clippers and 3-17 in Newburyport. They've lost three in a row to the Clippers, eight of their last nine, and 19 of their last 21. On the brighter side, they are 2-3 in the last five home games, and home is where we'll be for this opening game Saturday.

Expect a typical big, fast Clipper team to sail onto Pioneer Field for this one.

"One of these years I'd like to go scout them and say, 'hey, they're not that good,'" said Pioneer head coach Neal Weidman.

This doesn't appear to be that year.

Newburyport is coming off a 6-5 mark last year and will be looking to make some noise in the newly configured CAL Large. They are in the same Division 4 North as the Pioneers so although this is a non-league game, it could have huge ramifications when it comes to power ratings and wild card berths for the playoffs.

New Look
The Clippers will have a different look this year as head coach Ed Gaudiano will be without his two long time coordinators. On offense, former Clipper Ryan McCarthy has moved on to Triton. That paid immediate dividends for former Pioneer Pat Sheehan who saw his Viking offense explode in a 33-7 win over Swampscott last week.

So for the first time in a while, Gaudiano will be calling his own plays. He has also tweaked the offense a bit moving from a pro style pass first offense to more of an option attack. Weidman doesn't see the difference as being too dramatic.

"The offense that they ran before had the same concepts," Weidman said. "They're just doing it out of different formations. They're in the I more instead of the pistol. But the schemes are the same."

Prolific passer Connor Wile has moved on and sophomore Michael Shay and junior J. J. Bajko were in a battle for the starting quarterback spot.

Defensively, Gaudiano's other right hand man Bob Clark has moved from his defensive coordinator post to being the Athletic Director at Newburyport High. Former Clipper Mike Smolski has taken over DC role and plans on keeping the same philosophy as Clark. As always, look for the Clippers to be aggressive and quick to the ball.

Opposites Attract?
Interestingly enough, the Pioneers and Clippers seem to be directly opposite when it comes to their development so far this year. Gaudiano is concerned about his offense and will be looking for his defense to keep the Clippers afloat early in the season.

During the scrimmages, the Pioneer offense seemed to be ahead of the defense, so Weidman might be looking for his offense to lead the way while the defense gets sorted out. It could end up being strength on strength when the teams collide on Saturday morning.

In any event, Weidman is anxious for the season to get started.

"I'm ready to get going and I think the kids are too," he said, referring to the extra week to the start of the season. "The extra week is good for us. We kind of had time to hit all the little things to make sure we don't miss anything which is good. But it's longer than I expected it to be. It's time."

If you haven't seen it yet, my full preview of the 2013 Pioneers is in this week's Villager.

And don't forget, I'll be tweeting in-game updates so you can follow me at @condardogrdblog (there's no "I" in team or in @condardogrdblog).

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

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Around the CAL Small: Week 1

by Tom Condardo

There was limited action in all of high school football last weekend but a pair of CAL Small teams did kick off their seasons with a couple of non league contests. I'll take a look at both of them but before that, a look at our first standings of the year.

Manchester-Essex traveled to Wakefield Friday night to face Northeast Metro. The Hornets built a 16-0 first half lead and held a 16-6 edge after two periods. But in the second half, the Knights, who the Pioneers defeated 21-12 in a three period scrimmage last week, exploded for 36 points to take the 36-28 victory.

The Knights scored on a long TD pass, then converted a Hornet fumble for another score to take a 22-16 lead. M/E tied it up at 22-22 on a 37 yard TD pass from Craig Carter to Liam Logue. From there, Northeast went into ground and pound mode and wore down the Hornets with three unanswered scores.

M/E got rushing touchdowns from Carter, Chris Dumont and Nate Riehl. They have the week off to regroup before facing Greater Lawrence in two weeks.

Georgetown was also on the road at Madison Park High School in Boston to take on Cathedral to start their season. Unfortunately the Royals couldn't hold on to the ball and five turnovers made the score seem more lopsided than it really was.

Georgetown took a 6-0 lead in the second quarter on a Colby Ingraham run, and held that at the break. The Panthers quickly took an 8-6 lead with an 85 yard kickoff return to start the second half. They stretched that to 14-6 with another third quarter score and then broke it open with two fourth quarter TD's to win 26-6.

The Royals had a shot to get back into the game in the fourth. Down 20-6, Ingraham hit big tight end Pat Bjork for a long bomb to the ten yard line. But on the next play Georgetown fumbled, Cathedral scooped it up and returned it 90 yards for the backbreaking touchdown.

The Royals host Greater Lawrence this Saturday in their second non-league game.

The rest of the league gets under way this week with all non league games. In Friday night action, Amesbury travels to Byfield to take on Pat Sheehan's Triton Vikings fresh off an impressive 33-7 win over Swampscott, Hamilton Wenham will be in Peabody to face a strong Bishop Fenwick team and Ipswich hosts North Reading.

That's it for now. Check back Thursday for my preview of the Pioneer-Clipper game.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Postseason Playoff Primer from a Pioneer Perspective

by Tom Condardo

So now that the focus is finally on football, everyone is beginning to take a look at the new playoff format. You've no doubt seen an explanation of how it will work in any number of newspapers. (Mine will be in the Villager on Wednesday). However, most of the explanations have been generic in nature. It's time someone (okay me) let you know how the proposal specifically affects the Pioneers. That time is right now.

The more I look at the plan, the better I like it for two main reasons.

1) The games all count beginning from week one.
2) Teams have more than one opportunity to make the post season.

The only real downside is the fact that the Thanksgiving Day game has absolutely no impact on league championships or post season play. By the time the turkeys are roasting, the playoffs will be over and only two teams in each division will remain standing for the six state Super Bowls to be played the first week in December. We'll have to rely on the emotion of long standing rivalries and the final game for seniors to spice up those holiday contests. You know what? That will be enough.

Yes last year was awesome where the game meant the the league championship and a trip to the playoffs.But let's be realistic. The last time the Lynnfield/North Reading Thanksgiving Day game was a winner take all affair before last season was 1978. Since then, the outcome of the game has had an impact on a league crown for either team only a handful of times. In 1979 and 1980 the Hornets needed to beat the Pioneers to take league titles (and they did). The Pioneers needed wins over the Hornets in 1983, 1985, and 1986 to capture their championships which they also did. In 1991 the Pioneers needed a win to keep their slim title hopes alive. They beat North Reading but the other games didn't fall their way and they came up short.

So in 36 years, the game was played for more than just pride exactly seven times, including last year. I think we can agree that not having a title on the line didn't take away from the other 29 games. As Triton head coach and former Pioneer Pat Sheehan was quoted as saying, the game is still the final one for seniors and will still be important.  

That said, there is now a road to an expanded playoffs and I spent some time analyzing how tough a path it will be for the Pioneers. Grab a drink or a snack and settle in. This could get lengthy. Let's get to it.

The Basics:

  1. The Pioneers are in Division 4 North with 15 other teams. (We'll talk about them shortly)
  2. Eight of those 16 teams will qualify for the post season
  3. The results of the first seven games of the season determines the playoff teams
  4. All league games must be included in those seven games
  5. First and second place finishers in each league earn automatic playoff berths (Kind of. More on that later).
  6. If more spots are available, the balance of the eight team field will be filled with wild card teams based on a power rating.
  7. Non league games figure into the power ratings so those are no longer just "tuneups."
  8. Teams that don't make the playoffs will be put in a pool from which their final three games will be scheduled against teams with similar records.
  9. Teams that are eliminated from the playoffs in week one or two will go into the pool for their final game or ga  mes. 
The Power Ratings:
  1. A team gets 12 points for beating a team in a higher division (none of the Pioneers' opponents fall into that category this year).
  2. A team gets 10 points for beating a team in the same division (the Pioneers have five of those games).
  3. A team gets 8 points for beating a team in a lower division (the Pioneers have two of these games. Manchester-Essex and Georgetown are in the CAL Small, but they are both in Division 5 North for post season purposes).
  4. The above gives a team their "Own Value." For the Pioneers, their maximum "Own Value" for going 7-0 would be 66 points. (5 x 10) + (2 x 8) = 66.
  5. A team earns 3 points for every win by an opponent that they have beaten. (1.5 points for a tie)
  6. A team earns 1 point for every win by an opponent that has beaten them. (.5 points for a tie) 
  7. A team earns 1 point for an open date for any opponent. (This is not a factor. All of the Pioneers' opponents are scheduled for seven games.)
  8. The above will determine a team's "Opponent Value." (I could probably calculate the theoretical value of the Pioneers' "Opponent Value" but I won't)
  9. "Own Value" + "Opponent Value" divided by the number of games played equals a team's Power Rating.
Okay got that? I know, they promised there would be no math. Sorry.

Now on to some specifics.

The Division:

The 16 teams that make up Division 4 North come from seven leagues. Since finishing first or second (maybe) in your league automatically gets you into the playoffs, the fact that seven leagues are involved is significant. 

I'll go through the Division 4 North teams in each league and note the maximum number of automatic berths, the minimum number of automatic berths and the most likely number for this year. I actually gave up predicting high school football a long time ago, but I will make some educated guesses based on recent past history. The caveat is that this IS high school football, and teams that may have struggled recently can turn it around in a hurry and vice versa so keep that in mind.

Cape Ann League Large (5 teams)
This league has the most representatives in the division with North Reading, Triton, Pentucket, Newburyport, and Saugus. The only non Division 4 team is Masconomet. Yes, that's right Masco. 

The Chieftains, with nearly twice the enrollment of the other five squads, are in Division Three for post season purposes but will battle for the CAL Large crown in the regular season. Not ideal, but with the demise of the CAL/NEC Super Conference, Masco couldn't find another league that would accept them (although they tried). For this year at least, this is their league.

Barring something cataclysmic, it's highly unlikely that Masco won't finish either first or second so realistically the other five teams will be battling for the second place automatic berth. If something completely out of the ordinary happens and Masco finishes third in the league, two of the other five would nail down automatic spots.

By the way, Sheehan's Vikings got off to a roaring start Saturday with an impressive 33-7 win over Swampscott in their opener.

Maximum Automatic Spots: 2
Minimum Automatic Spots: 1
Likely Automatic Spots: 1

Cape Ann League Small (4 teams)
The Pioneers, Hamilton-Wenham, Amesbury, and Ipswich make up the four Division 4 teams here. As I mentioned before, M/E and Georgetown are placed in Division 5 for purposes of post season play. While the Hornets and Royals have had championship teams in the past, they've had their troubles the last few years. M/E is 4-6 in the league the past two years and Georgetown is 0-10. The Hornets were hit hard by graduation. The Royals have some talent coming back so you never know. Either team finishing first or second takes away an automatic berth coming from this league.

Maximum Automatic Spots: 2
Minimum Automatic Spots: 0 (If M/E and Georgetown finish one, two, they would qualify for Division 5, but no one would qualify for Division 4).
Likely Automatic Spots: 2

Middlesex Freedom League (2 teams)
Stoneham and Watertown are D4 for the playoffs despite the other four teams in that league being Division 3. Both teams are 2-8 in league play over the past two years and either one knocking off Burlington, Melrose, Wakefield, or Wilmington would be tough.  

Maximum Automatic Spots: 2
Minimum Automatic Spots: 0
Likely Automatic Spots: 0

Dual County League Small (2 teams)
Bedford and Weston come into the division from the five team DCL. Bedford is always a contender and is 6-2 and finished in second place the past two years. Weston has struggled and is 0-8 the past two seasons. Wayland (Division 3) is usually the league favorite.

Maximum Automatic Spots: 2
Minimum Automatic Spots: 0
Likely Automatic Spots: 1

Northeast Conference North (1 team)
Swampscott is the only one of this five team league in Division 4. Beverly (ranked tenth in EMass in the preseason ranking) is sure to finish either first or second. That means the Big Blue will have to beat out Gloucester, Marblehead (Both D3) and Lynn English (D2) to snag an automatic berth. They finished in second place with a 4-1 mark in the CAL/NEC last year, but were hit hard by graduation. The Big Blue loss to Triton could come back to haunt them in the wild card hunt should they fail to finish first or second.

Maximum Automatic Spots: 1
Minimum Automatic Spots: 0
Likely Automatic Spots:0

Northeast Conference South (1 Team)
Again only one team from this six team league. Winthrop is in with Peabody (D1), Lynn Classical (D2), Danvers, Revere and Salem (All D3). Despite being the smallest school in the NEC, the Vikings are always competitive. They've been 6-4 over the last two seasons in the CAL/NEC 3 and have a good shot to contend for one of the top two spots here.

Maximum Automatic Spots: 1
Minimum Automatic Spots: 0
Likely Automatic Spots:1

Catholic Central Large (1 Team)
One of the last changes the proposal committee made was shifting Arlington Catholic down from being the smallest school in D3 to the largest in D4. They finished in second place in the CCL last season rebounding from a 1-4 mark in 2011 so they look to be a contender in the six team league.

Maximum Automatic Spots: 1
Minimum Automatic Spots: 0
Likely Automatic Spots: 1

So let's total that up.

Maximum Automatic Spots: 11
Minimum Automatic Spots: 1
Likely Automatic Spots: 5

Now comes the caveat on automatic berths for second place finishers. Technically you could have 11 teams finish first or second in their leagues in the division. If that should happen, the second place finishers would be ranked by the power ratings to fill out the top 8 playoff field. More likely, based on recent history, we're looking at five automatic bids. Should Manchester-Essex or Georgetown put it together and finish in first or second in the CAL Small, that would open up another wild card slot. If Winthrop struggles with the larger teams in their league, that would add another wild card spot.  But realistically, there appears to be only two or three wild card spots ultimately available.

When it comes to the power rankings, teams like Swampscott and Winthrop would have an advantage even if they finish third in their leagues because they'll be getting 12 points for every league win. And even if the CAL Large teams lose to Masco, they are still likely to get a ton of additional points if the Chieftains run off a 7-0 season. Should one of those teams knock off Masco, they would pick up a bonanza of points.

What this means for the Pioneers is that they virtually have to come in first or second in the CAL Small to make the playoffs. Even if they win their two non league games, but finish 3-2 and in third place in the league, it's unlikely that their 5-2 mark would be enough to snag a wildcard spot based on the power ratings.

Just keep in mind that this is all pure speculation. The math guarantees only one automatic playoff berth in Division 4. SOMEONE has to finish first or second of the five teams in the CAL Large. But that's it. It's technically possible for everyone else in the division to finish lower than second in their respective leagues. That's not likely, but it's theoretically possible.

To eliminate the math problem for all of us, the Pioneers would be wise to take the advice of the late Al Davis: Just win, baby.

Now, let's play some football. Check out the Villager on Wednesday for my preseason preview of the Pioneer lineup that will be facing Newburyport in the season opener. Check back here on Thursday for my preview of the game with the Clippers.