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.


Here Come The Spartans

The Pioneers took care of business Friday night rolling past the Ipswich Tigers 35-0 to finish a perfect 7-0.

For their efforts, they earned the second seed in the Division Four North sectional playoffs and will host the Stoneham Spartans next Saturday at 2 pm at the Middle School Field. I'll have a full preview of the playoff game in the Villager on Wednesday and more on Thursday here in the Gridblog.

The Tigers certainly made it entertaining for a while and they played hard for a team with one win. They'll be matched up with some other division non playoff teams for the next few weeks and my guess is they'll be getting a few wins out of that.

That's it for now. Check back a little later for more.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Ipswich Game Preview: From the Wing to the Spread

by Tom Condardo

Death, taxes, and the Ipswich Delaware Wing T.

Those were always three absolutes. And while the first two aren't going anywhere, you can now scratch the Tiger Wing T off that list. Legendary Ipswich head coach Jack Welch ran the Wing T for 32 years and his successors kept up the tradition until now. The many Pioneer defenders who have been confounded over the past 40 years by the whirling dervish trickery will not mourn its demise

New Tiger head coach Greg Brotherton, a product of the Wing T who played on Welch's 1991 Ipswich championship team (the one that edged out a 9-1-1 Lynnfield team by a half game), took over as head coach this year and has burned up the wing. The Tigers are now running the Spread, one very similar to the Pioneer offense.

Brotherton was a defensive coordinator at Lynn English where they ran the spread and he brought that with him when he returned to his Alma Mater.

"I'm a wing T guy. I love it," Brotherton told Jean Deplacido in the Salem News season preview earlier this season. "If I thought I could run the Wing T now I probably would but we need a fresh start."

Installing a brand new offense, especially one as complicated as the Spread comes with growing pains as Pioneer head coach
Neal Weidman is well aware. He brought the Spread to Lynnfield as the Pioneers' offensive coordinator in 2006 under head coach Bill Adams and things were rocky at the start.

Lynnfield finished 1-10 that season and managed only 111 points for the year. They completed only 36% of their passes and threw 21 interceptions. Things improved a bit in 2007 when the Pioneers went 3-8 and scored 187 points. Now in the eighth year running the offense, things have worked out quite nicely as evidenced by three championships in the last five years. Last year, the Pioneers racked up 276 points in compiling their 9-3 record.

The Tigers are still in that learning phase and have only one win in their first six games with it, but they have shown improvement since the beginning of the year.

They managed only a touchdown in each of their first two lopsided losses to North Reading and Newburyport. They ramped it up to two touchdowns each in their next three games, a 28-14 loss to Hamilton-Wenham and a 35-14 defeat against Amesbury sandwiched around a 14-0 win over Georgetown. Last week they lost a 26-20 overtime heartbreaker to Manchester Essex.

Their offensive output has steadily increased with totals of 98, 122, 204, 296, 260, and 256 in consecutive weeks.

"They've gotten much better from the beginning of the year and even from last week to the week before," said Weidman. "And they're doing some different things too that I saw (Friday night) that I wasn't really psyched about because I thought I had (their offense down)."

Quarterback Kyle Blomster is at the controls of the Spread and has gotten more comfortable every week. He's tossed three touchdown passes, two of them to his favorite receiver Nate Glaster. The running game is led by Curtis Levasseur and Derek Chamberlain.

The Tigers came into the season with only one experienced lineman in Matt Carey, but now the rest of the line has had six games of experience and seem to be improving.

Ipswich Always Tough Venue
Despite their 1-5 record, the Pioneers would be wise not to overlook the Tigers. Despite winning the last six meetings between the schools, the games in Ipswich have been a struggle.

In 2007, the Pioneers trailed 14-6 midway in the third in a steady rain. Pat Lamusta tied it up with a 16 yard run late in the third and Jeff Milinazzo won it 20-14 with a two yard run in the final minute of the game.

The 2009 championship team went into the Tiger's den to face a team that had lost 29 straight but the Pioneers found themselves up only 14-3 at halftime. They needed a Gino Cohee to Ty Surette TD pass in the third to nail down a 21-3 win.

In 2011, the Tigers dominated the first two quarters but went into the half up only 6-0. Lynnfield got the lead early in the third on a 30 yard run by Mike Karavetsos and a PAT by Alex Roper. They gave themselves some breathing room when Karavetsos hit Nico Varano on a 52 yard bomb to account for the final score.

So despite the fact that the Pioneers will be toting the CAL Baker Division trophy into the game, no one should expect an easy night. You know the Tigers would love to tarnish up that trophy with an upset win.

And even though the Pioneers have nailed down the title and a place in the post season playoffs, the game still has major significance. Lynnfield needs to win if they hope to cement the second seed in Division Four North. By doing so, they ensure themselves two playoff home games should they advance that far.

Game time in Ipswich is 7 pm and the temperature is expected to be around 40 degrees. I suggest you wear your official Pioneer long underwear.

Harry Jameson
On a somber note, for those who may not have heard, the Lynnfield football community lost one of its founding fathers this week with the passing of long time coach and teacher Harry Jameson. Jameson was a member of the original Pioneer coaching staff in 1958 and was an assistant until the mid 1980's. He was also the long time head baseball coach and a teacher at the high school for 40 years before retiring in 1998.

He was my "go to" guy whenever I wanted to add some flesh and blood to the statistics I was digging up. Whether I needed information about the first ever Thanksgiving Day game, or the 1986 Super Bowl season, the epic Thanksgiving Day battle with North Reading in 1960, or the scoring exploits of Frank Berardino, Mr. Jameson was always happy to fill me in on the details. And you knew they were accurate since he was there.

Over the years he would write articles about the various football teams and players for the Villager or the Weekly News and was a font of historical information regarding Lynnfield High School Football. He will be missed and may he rest in peace. His full obituary can be found here.

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

Monday, October 21, 2013

Around the CAL Baker: Week 7

by Tom Condardo


CAL Baker?

Well you learn something new every day, and today I learned that the Pioneers are not in the CAL Small. Or the CAL 2. They're in the CAL Baker.

That's right, congrats to the Pioneers, the first ever CAL Baker champions!

Evidently at the beginning of the year, the CAL athletic directors voted to rename the league's divisions. The CAL Large or CAL 1 was renamed the CAL Kinney, in honor of Sherm Kinney, the longtime Hamilton Wenham AD who is now with the MIAA. Lynnfield's division, the CAL Small or CAL 2, was renamed the CAL Baker in honor of Dick Baker after the former Rockport and Swampscott AD and former CAL secretary/treasurer who is also now with the MIAA.

So that clears that up. So what happened in the Baker Division this week? Well as you know, the Pioneers whipped up another title with the help of three H-W turnovers, while Amesbury kept their playoff hopes cooking with their win over Georgetown. I'll review all the ingredients of this week's games and then I'll try to help sort out the Division Four North playoff scenarios.

But first a look at the updated standings, or as I like to call them, the Baker's Half Dozen.

The Pioneers may have locked down the title, but second place and an automatic playoff berth is still very much up in the air thanks to the surge of the Amesbury Indians. After absorbing three consecutive losses by a 123-21 score to start the year, Thom Connors' Indian have reeled off three straight wins. Last week they blanked Georgetown 35-0 to take over undisputed possession of second place with a 3-1 mark. A win over Manchester Essex this week sews up second place and a spot in the playoffs.

The Indians started fast - as in the opening kickoff-fast. Ben Cullen returned it 85 yards to give Amesbury a quick 7-0 lead. They tacked on three more scores in the second to make it 28-0 at the half. Quarterback Mac Short ran for 110 yards and two touchdowns. Cullen rushed for 49 yards and added two other TD's.

Georgetown travels to Wenham to take on what should be an angry Generals' squad which still has an outside shot at second place and a playoff berth.

Amesbury can make that moot with a victory over the Hornets in Manchester on Friday night. Win and they're in.

The Hornets kept their Division Five playoff hopes alive with an exciting 26-20 overtime win last Friday night at home against Ipswich. M/E trailed 14-6 in the fourth quarter but scored when a scrambling Craig Carter found Liam Logue for a 19 yard TD on a fourth down play with less than four minutes left in the game. Chris Dumont plowed in for the two to tie the score and send it into overtime.

Carter hit Dumont for a score in the first overtime but the Tigers tied it 20-20 on a one yard run by Curtis Levasseur. In the second overtime, Ipswich missed a field goal but on M/E's possession, Carter snuck in from the one on fourth down for the win.

The Tigers, who are starting to get comfortable running the spread offense, took a 14-6 halftime lead on a Kyle Blomster to Nate Glaster touchdown pass with seconds left in the second quarter.

Ipswich finishes its regular season by hosting the Pioneers on Friday night. The Hornets welcome Amesbury.

Playoff Update

The committee that designed the new playoff format has to be thrilled with the results. Going into the final week of the new regular season, very little has been decided and hopes for many teams are still alive. That was the intent and it has come to fruition.

First a look at the updated Power Rankings.

I spent a lot more time than I probably should have on this and still haven't come up with all the permutations. First notice that I've changed the rankings a bit. I had thought that the seedings would be first place finishers first, followed by second place finishers, and then wildcard teams. But in rereading the Playoff Manifesto, I don't believe that is the way it will work.

First and second place finishers will get automatic bids, and the wild cards teams will be selected based on the power rankings to fill out the eight team field. However, once the eight teams are determined, I believe they will be seeded according to their power rankings, regardless of league finish. What that means is that even though the Pioneers are a league champion, and Pentucket is the only other team that will also be a title holder, Lynnfield will not be guaranteed the second seed. They will still have to finish with the second best power ranking.

Second place is the highest the Pioneers can finish in the rankings. Thanks to Pentucket's strength of schedule and six wins, even if the Sachems lose to North Reading this week, they are still guaranteed six points. That will give them 103 total divided by six for a ranking of 17.1.

If the Pioneers can beat Ipswich, and everything falls perfectly with the teams they've beaten, the maximum points they can get is 114/7 = 16.3. So they can't catch the Sachems. If the Pioneers lose to Ipswich, they could actually fall out of the top four seeds depending on what Bedford, Watertown, and Triton do.

Yes Pat Sheehan's Vikings have a shot to overtake the Pioneers should they stumble in Ipswich. Triton takes on Masco this week, which is a huge opportunity for them. Should they knock off the Chieftains, they could pick up as many as 36 points - 12 for beating a team in a higher division, 12 for Masco's four wins, and 12 more if things play out perfectly for the teams the Vikes defeated. That could give them 105 points. Should the Pioneers lose to Ipswich, they would end up with 101 and fall behind Triton in the seedings.

So here is what we know for sure. Pentucket and Lynnfield are in. If Amesbury beats M/E, they nail down second place in the CAL Baker and will be in.

Here's what we don't know yet. If M/E beats the Indians, and H/W defeats Georgetown, that would set up a three way tie for second between Amesbury, M/E and H/W. Each has one win in that round robin so it will probably come down to the points against tiebreaker.

Watertown and Stoneham are locked in a four way tie for second place in the Middlesex League Freedom. Only one of them can possibly get the second place automatic seed and there is a chance that neither gets it. However, both will be strong wild card candidates.

A Bedford win over 2-4 Boston Latin (good for 12 points) coupled with a Wayland loss to 6-0 Concord Carlisle nails down second place in the Dual County Small for the Buccaneers and an automatic berth. Wayland owns the tiebreaker thanks to an 8-7 win over Bedford so if they both finish in a tie for second, the Bucs become a strong wild card candidate.

If Masco defeats Triton, the Chieftains lock up second place in the CAL Kinney and throws the Vikes and Newburyport into the wild card pool. If Triton wins, it locks them, Masco, and Newburyport into a second place tie. Again all teams would have a win in that round robin so points against would come in to play there.

Winthrop can pick up a boatload of points with an upset win over Division Three Danvers (5-1) which would vault them into the wild card conversation.

Weston appears to be alive as well even though their regular season is over. They can pick up enough opponent points to put them in the hunt.

As for the seedings? No clue. We'll just have to play the games and let the committee sort it out on Sunday when they pairings will be announced.

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

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Hamilton-Wenham Leftovers

by Tom Condardo

It was interesting watching the Pioneers celebrating their championship following the 34-0 win Saturday. I wouldn't call it subdued, but it wasn't the wild, out-of-control frenzy that you might expect. The Pioneers were jubilant of course, but they acted like a team that's been there before, which of course they have. This is their second straight title. And they've already reached the bright lights of Gillette Stadium so they know winning the CAL Small was simply a first step, not a destination.

In many ways, they handled their title clinching victory in a more mature fashion than a certain major league baseball team that captured the pennant on Saturday as well and also has another step to the ultimate prize.

I believe the Pioneers' reaction says more about the maturation of the Lynnfield football program than anything else. In former days, victories were scarce and every one was to be cherished and enjoyed. As the program has developed under head coach Neal Weidman and his staff the goals have gotten more ambitious and the players are responding accordingly.

All good things.

"We have another league game and of course we want to play well and put ourselves in the best position possible going into the playoffs," the coach told me after the game. "We really just need to continue to improve. It's really good to play a team like (Hamilton-Wenham) just for the competitiveness sake where they stood up and punched you and you have to punch back to get it done. You need that in order to be prepared to play down the road."

The win Saturday not only clinched the tenth title in school history, it also ensured that there will be a
"down the road." They playoffs start the weekend of November 2 and it looks like the Pioneers will get at least one home game thanks to their first place finish. They are currently in second place in Division Four North. Catching Pentucket may not be possible because of the Sachems' strength of schedule, but the Pioneers still need to beat Ipswich to hold on to one of the top seeds.

"Points are important," Weidman said to me, "though I'm not big on that. The biggest thing is every game. It really has to be about getting better. So in order to get better we need to play the game and we have to play well."

All in all, a great position for them. And they worked hard to get there.

"The kids have been great," the coach said. "They worked at it. Lifting weights in the offseason and all the other things they do. They made the committment to do it and that's why they're being rewarded for it.

"I've said all along we have really good players. Not only are they good players but they worked at it. You need both."

So the Pioneers deserve congratulations on a job well done and we all wish them continued success as they move on to the next stage of this exciting season.

Extra Homework
I've always preferred covering the games from the sideline and not just because I need to be there to take pictures for my Villager stories. You just get a better feel for the game there rather than from up in the press box.

It's also fascinating to watch and listen to the Pioneer staff as they work their tails off during the games. You always hear it's the job of a coach to put the players in position to win and Weidman and his staff do that as well as anyone I've ever seen.

That skill was clearly evident on Saturday during the game. As the Generals broke the huddle and came to the line of scrimmage, someone on the Pioneer sideline (usually Weidman or defensive coordinator John O'Brien) would yell out to the Pioneer defense exactly what play H-W was going to run. They then would instruct certain players what they needed to do to stop it. And they were spot on almost every single time.

I'm sure the coaches went over all this during practice and the shout outs were reminders to do what they had practiced, but it was still impressive. It also had to be a little unnerving to the Generals when they realized the Pioneer defense knew exactly what was coming.

I asked the coach about preparation time for a game like this.

"We always put a lot of time into preparing for all the games," he told me. Then he paused for a second. "I spent a couple of extra hours on it this week."

It certainly paid off.

Danny Boy
It was obvious that the Generals were keying on captain Kyle McGah, which was a smart thing to do. They obviously didn't stop him but they did "limit" him to 75 yards rushing and "only" two touchdowns.

The Pioneers, took advantage of that plan by putting more of the offense into the hands of quarterback Danny Sullivan. He played one of his best games against the Generals completing 12 of 14 passes for 140 yards and no interceptions. Using the NFL quarterback rating formula, Sullivan ended the game with a 115.17 rating.

He also worked the spread read option nearly to perfection, pulling at the last second as most of the General defense converged on McGah. As a result, Sullivan picked up 54 yards rushing including a two point conversion run.

His continued development bodes well for the Pioneers as they move into the second half of the season.

Championship Tally
As I mentioned earlier, this was the 10th title for Lynnfield. The championship breakdown is as follows: Cape Ann League (4), Dual County (3), CAL Small (2) and CAL/NEC (1). The only other time the Pioneers have won three titles in five years or less was in the early days when they won back to back to back championships in 1960-61-62.

Even Steven
The win evens the all time series with Hamilton Wenham at 20-20-1 with the Pioneers being outscored 671-639. It was the fifth time the Pioneers have shut out the Generals, the last coming in a 35-0 blowout under head coach Scott Brennan in 1998. Lynnfield is 3-3 against the H-W in the Weidman Era.

Lucky 13
Triskadaphobia is the fear of the number 13 but there was nothing scary about the number Saturday.

The win was the 13th straight regular season win for the Pioneers. Ryan Battaglia's game changing kickoff return made him the 13th Lynnfield player to register a point this season. And don't forget the year is 2013.

Before the game, Tom Waisnor, Voice of the Pioneers, asked for a moment of silence for Pamela Wells, the mother of Alex Rogers, General tight end who lost her life in a tragic accident during a charity bike race in September.

The Generals are all wearing patches with the word "PAM" on their helmets for the rest of the season in memory of Ms. Wells.

Senior Day
Saturday was the day when the graduating class for both the football team and the cheerleaders were honored before the game. Parents were presented with flowers as each player and cheerleader was announced.

Here is the full list of seniors from both squads.

Cheerleaders: Vanessa Caraffa, Jen Caruso, Logan Colby-Nunziato, Sloan Colby-Nunziato, Alexis Finn, Jill Lee, Maddison O'Leary, Samantha Sieger, Aris Valdez

Football players: Shyheim Cole, Franc Kalenderi, captain Kyle McGah, captain Anthony Costa, captain Matt Kramich, 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, captain Dom Costa, and Jacob Dalton.

Congrats to all the seniors.

Kibarian Shines
From the alumni files, Stonehill College freshman defensive end and former Pioneer captain Andrew Kibarian was named Rookie of the Week for his play in a 23-21 win over Southern Connecticut State University last week.

Kibarian matched his previous high of eight tackles (six solo) and got him named to the New England Football Weekly Honor Roll. He leads all Stonehill freshmen and is fifth on the team in tackles with 36 (17 solo). He leads the team in tackles for losses with 4.5 for a total of 13 yards and 1.5 sacks for six yards, a forced fumble and a quarterback hurry in six games.

None of that comes as a shock to Pioneer fans who watched A. K. terrorize CAL opponents for the past four years.

That's it for now. Check back tomorrow when I'll review the league action from the weekend and take a look at the updated Power Rankings.

Saturday, October 19, 2013


This could get habit-forming.

For the second year in a row, the Lynnfield Pioneers are league champions. The Pioneers captured the CAL Small crown with a convincing 34-0 blanking of Hamilton-Wenham Saturday afternoon.

The Generals came in prepared to pull off the upset and they hung tough in the first half trailing only 13-0 at the break. But senior Ryan Battaglia celebrated Senior Day with a back-breaking 86 yard return on the opening kick of the third quarter. The sound of deflating hopes from the General sideline was nearly palpable.

The Pioneers piled on two more scores to remain perfect on the season and lock up a berth in the state football playoffs.

You can get all the details and photos in my Villager story on Wednesday and check back here tomorrow night for my leftovers post.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Hamilton-Wenham Game Preview: Deja Vu All Over Again

By Tom Condardo

For the past four years, the Hamilton Wenham Generals and the Lynnfield Pioneers have hoarded the championship trophy in whatever league they've been in. Along the way, they've had to get by each other to reach the promised land.
In 2009, the Pioneers clinched the CAL Small championship at the Middle School Field with a 21-3 victory.

In 2010, the Generals returned the favor by capturing the CAL Small title with a 16-15 come from behind win on a last minute field goal.

In 2011, H-W again came from behind, this time in Lynnfield, to tie the game in the final minute and win it 22-14 in overtime. It didn't clinch the CAL/NEC 4, but everyone knew the Pioneers were the only real obstacle for the Generals that year. H-W went on to win their final three league games by a score of 102-34 enroute to the championship and a second straight trip to the playoffs, and a berth in the Division 3A Superbowl. Only a first half injury to quarterback Trevor Lyons prevented them from winning it all.

Last year, the Pioneers downed the Generals 25-14 on the way to sweeping the CAL/NEC 4 and earning a post season trip and a visit to Foxboro. H-W finished in third behind North Reading.

2009: 21-3 Title Celebration

2010: 16-15 James Brao's 25 yard heartbreaking Field Goal
2011: 22-14 OT Shocker
2012: 25-14 On the road to another championship
Saturday at Pioneer Field can be another title clincher, but only for the Pioneers. Lynnfield is 3-0 with H-W and Amesbury a game behind at 2-1. A Pioneer win puts the Generals two games down with one to play which would eliminate them from title contention. With a win, Lynnfield could finish no worse than 4-1 and they own the head to head tiebreaker against the Indians should they run the table and finish with the same record.

The path to the title is more difficult for H-W. First they must beat Lynnfield. Then they have to root for either Manchester Essex or Georgetown to knock off Amesbury since the Indians own the head to head tiebreaker thanks to their 20-13 win two weeks ago. The only other chance for H-W would be some multiple
team tie that would bring forth the "points against" tiebreaker. One thing is clear. For the Generals it all has to start with a win over the Pioneers.

So needless to say, the stakes are high for both teams.

"We've had a lot of these games with them," Pioneer coach Neal Weidman told me. "We'll have to be ready to play."

Sluggish Start
The Generals have sputtered so far this year, coming in to the game with an uncharacteristic 2-3 overall record. Returning 13 seniors and losing only seven to graduation, more was expected. Unfortunately, one of the graduates was All League quarterback Trevor Lyons.

H-W was crushed by Bishop Fenwick 54-27 which is nothing to be ashamed of since the Crusaders might be the best team on the North Shore. The Generals suffered a blow in that game losing sophomore running back Cam Macri. He's been out since then but is expected back for the Pioneers.

The Generals were shut out by North Reading 16-0 in game two but were able to contain the Hornets' single wing offense. They also moved the ball offensively but couldn't cash in on their opportunities. H-W broke into the win column with a 28-14 win over Ipswich in a Thanksgiving Preview game in Week three.

The stunner came in Week Four when they traveled to Amesbury to take on an Indian team that was 0-3 and had been giving up 40 points a game. Amesbury upset the Generals 20-13 to put them in the predicament in which they now find themselves. They righted the ship last week with a 14-6 win over Manchester Essex, but every game is now a must win if they hope to make the playoffs.

"With Macri back they'll have all their weapons and will be ready to go," Weidman said.

The Generals defeated M/E using a ground game led by Ian Dickey who has scored six touchdowns in Macri's absence. The running game should be improved, but they also have a dangerous passing game as well with a bevy of outside and inside receivers.

Quarterback Jack Clay can throw to Christian Ecker (last year's leading receiver with 400 yards and nine TD's), James Campbell, Pete Duval, as well as a couple of big tight ends in Alex Rogers and Nolan Wilson. The Pioneers are going to have to put pressure on Clay so he doesn't have time to find his targets.

"(Clay) is getting better," said Weidman. "From what I understand, he was a little shaky early in the year but when I saw him, he threw the ball quite well. They have a really good sized line and definitely some guys they can go to."

Eye on the "I"
The General offense is no mystery to the Pioneers' coach.

"Typical Hamilton-Wenham stuff," Weidman said. "They're in the "I" a lot under center with the "I" pass game. They're going to try to run the ball right at you and they're going to throw the ball. They'll run a lot of screens. That's the "I."

It'll be interesting to see where the Generals attack the Pioneers. Except for the Saugus option which clearly confused the Pioneers and went for 316 yards, Lynnfield has been tough to run on. In their other five games, they've allowed only 259 yards or 65 yards per game. In the passing game, the Pioneers have held opponents to 38% completion rate (23/60) for 307 yards. The Generals can go either way and the Pioneers will have to be ready.

Duval and Nathan Rawlins lead the solid General defense.

The championship title isn't the only thing that Weidman is concerned about.

"We really need to focus on not only that the game is for a championship, but on getting better," he said. "It's going to be emotional."

Game time is 2 pm but it's also Senior Day which is an exciting time for the team's outgoing class so make sure to get to the field early to enjoy the festivities.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Around the CAL Small: Week 6

by Tom Condardo

Well we're into the home stretch of the CAL Small title race with only two weeks to go and one thing is clear: if the Pioneers can beat Hamilton-Wenham Saturday, they'll nail down their second consecutive league championship and clinch a spot in the Division Four North Playoffs. Only Georgetown at 0-3 in the league has been mathematically eliminated. Everyone else is still alive for both first and second place in the league. This week will sort out most of that.

I'll review last week's games and take a look at the updated division Power Rankings, but first, a look at the league standings.

Amesbury continues to surge after their loss to the Pioneers. They won their second straight this week with a convincing 35-14 victory over Ipswich. They sport the same 2-1 league mark as H-W, but their 20-13 win over the Generals gives them the edge in the head to head tiebreaker for second place.

Ben Cullen scored three touchdowns to lead the Indians in their final home game of the regular season. Quarterback Mac Short threw for over 100 yards in the game as Amesbury built a 29-7 halftime lead and never looked back. Short booted a couple of field goals in the second half.

The Indians will travel to Georgetown this weekend in what might be a more interesting match than the standings would indicate. Amesbury is on a roll and needs their third win in a row to stay alive in the playoff hunt. However, if the Royals come out with the same intensity they showed against the Pioneers, they could make some noise. They will have a huge size advantage over the Indians so it remains to be seen if they can capitalize on that. They will also have to corral the speed of Cullen and Short, no easy task.

Hamilton-Wenham kept their title hopes alive with a hard fought 14-6 win over Manchester Essex. General running back Ian Dickey scored the first of his two TD's to open the first period scoring. The Hornets' Chris Dumont matched that to pull the Hornets to 7-6 after one quarter. The General defense stifled M-E from that point on.

Dickey, who carried 27 times for 125 yards, scored from 34 yards out in the fourth to account for the final score. The Generals were obviously intent on running the ball since H-W quarterback Jack Clay attempted only nine passes, connecting on five for 42 yards.

Sophomore running back Cam Macri did not play but H-W coach Andrew Morency told me several weeks ago he was hoping to get him back for the M/E or the Lynnfield game so the Pioneers might seem him this week. He will surely help a General offense that has sputtered managing only a pair of scores in their last two games.

The Hornets travel to M-E Friday night and barring a tie, one of those squads will go to 2-2 to stay alive. The loser will drop from the race.

Power Rankings

The Pioneers picked up 17 points this week - 8 points for the win over Georgetown and 3 points each for wins by Newburyport, Amesbury, and Saugus. They still rank third however, behind Pentucket and Watertown, mostly because of strength of schedule.

They have more Own Points due to their five wins while Pentucket has only played four games and won them all while Watertown is 4-1. However, two of the Pioneer wins have come against Division 5 schools - Man-Essex and Georgetown - so they only received 16 Own Points there. Pentucket meanwhile has three wins against Division Four opponents (10 points each) and a big win over Masco, a Division Three team which gave them 12 points.

The Pioneers only have 24 opponent points - nine from Newburyport, six each from Amesbury and M-E, and three from Saugus. They have no opponent points from winless Georgetown.

Again note that the above standings are not strictly by the Power Rating which is the way they are being published everywhere else. The first and second place teams in each league automatically get playoff spots which is why Winthrop and Amesbury jump over Triton and Bedford. Amesbury and H-W have the same 2-1 league record, but as we mentioned, they own the head to head tiebreaker so are in second place as of this week.

So if these were the final standings, six teams would automatically qualify due to finishing first or second in their league. Bedford and Triton would get the two wild card berths to fill out the bracket.

Interestingly, if this were the final division standings, guess who the Pioneers would be playing in week one of the playoffs? That's right, Amesbury. What a shock.

If they got past the Indians, they'd take on the winner of the Watertown/Bedford game.

But. There's still two big weeks to go and these standings can still be scrambled quite a bit. But it is interesting to start talking about possibilities.

Senior Day
Also a reminder that Saturday is Senior Day when the Pioneers will honor their outgoing class.

That's it for now. Check back on Thursday night for my preview of the Pioneer-H/W battle.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Georgetown Leftovers

by Tom Condardo

It's tough to quibble about a 5-0 start, but there is a disturbing trend that has emerged so far this season.

Sluggish starts.

It reared its ugly head again this week when Georgetown took the early momentum with a quick 7-0 lead. If not for the offensive pass interference penalty, it could have been a 14-0 hole.

"That would have been a real wake up call," head coach Neal Weidman told me after the game. "That might have made it a different game."

And this week isn't the first time. Despite outscoring their five opponents 179-48, the Pioneers have actually trailed at some point in three of those games. At the end of the first quarter in their five games, Lynnfield has been tied three times and led by a touchdown in two others.

Here's another way to look at it: They have led their opponents 35-21 total after the first quarter. That means they have outscored the opposition 144-27 in the other three periods. Still another view: Opponents have scored almost as many points in the first quarter (21) as they have in the rest of the game (27).

There is no question the Pioneers have a load of talent this season as seen by their lopsided domination. And once they get their motor revved up, they are nearly unstoppable. However, if they're not careful, these false starts could come back to haunt them as the competition improves.

"It doesn't work," Weidman told me about coming out not really ready to play. "Every time we've tried to do it, it fails every single time.

"We have to fix the mistakes first," the coach went on when asked what you get out of a game like the Georgetown contest. "You can say what you want to the kids, but until it happens to them they don't get it. Hopefully that's a wake up call. You can tell them that they have to be ready to play all the time, but until you get smacked in the face a little bit, they don't always see it."

"At halftime we talked about it," Weidman said specifically about the game against the Royals. "There was no screaming or yelling. We just talked about what it means to be ready to play all the time. What it means to prepare properly and play with emotion - not just today but moving forward. It wasn't really a ton of X's and O's adjustments. They weren't trying to do it. It's just the way it is.

"Then we just came out for the kickoff return and they were ready to play."

Penalty Kills
Before we get on to the good stuff, one more downer. Lots of yellow flags for the Pioneers in the game against the Royals. The Pioneers were hit with eight penalties for 75 yards. That was actually four more yards than Georgetown's total offensive output for the day (71).

Worthy Opponents
You have to admire the Royals for their effort Saturday. Coming into the game against an undefeated opponent, having lost 14 games in a row and staring across at a sideline with twice as many players as you have, it might have been easy to pack it in. But they didn't. They came out snarling and punched the Pioneers right in the mouth.

Eventually, they just didn't have enough horsepower to contain a very talented Pioneer team, but they certainly gave it their best shot and never quit, right until the end.

"They did a good job," Weidman said after the game. "They outplayed us the whole first quarter. They're not bad, they're just thin. They have a couple of big kids and they have some skill guys too. Plus they're physical. It's just tough to be physical for four quarters without many guys. This particular year we outman them. They outplayed us early but we were lucky to be up in the score."

The Royals have 37 players listed on their roster and that includes 13 freshmen and an 8th grader. That makes it tough to compete when the Pioneers come in with 57 sophomores, juniors, and seniors.

The win is the fifth straight over Georgetown and gives Lynnfield a 5-3 edge over the Royals all time. The Royals won the first three meetings between the schools from 2006-2008 by a combined score of 49-26.

Slinging Sully
Quarterback Danny Sullivan, back in action after sitting out last week's game, was red hot in the first half. His first pass was picked off on a nice play by Coopers Marten, but after that, Sullivan was perfect.

Following the pick, he went 9 for 9 for 89 yards, a touchdown and a two point conversion.  He was particular masterful in the final drive of the first half marching the Pioneers 74 yards in nine plays completing seven straight passes.

McGah in Charge
Simple game plan. Give the ball to McGah. That's what it seemed like on the Pioneers' first scoring drive. They started on their own 41 and scored nine plays later when McGah bulldozed in from the one. He carried seven times for 59 yards, essentially accounting for the whole drive on his own. The other two carries were a one yard gain by Sullivan and a one yard loss by Jake Rourke.

In addition to his 12 rushing touchdowns so far this year, McGah has 609 yards on 74 carries - an impressive 8.2 yard per carry average.

Three for 40
The Pioneers scored 40 or more points for the third straight week. That's only been done twice before in Lynnfield High history.

In 2010, the Pioneers did it with wins over Bishop Fenwick (42-21), Cathedral (40-0), and Danvers (40-18). The juggernaut 1960 team had a five game 40+ point streak with consecutive wins over Wayland (60-0), Lynn Trade (60-6), Bedford (50-6), Westford (50-0) and Ashland (60-0).

Five for Five Club
With their 5-0 start, the Pioneers matched a feat accomplished by only nine other Lynnfield teams. The 2010 team was the only team in the past 20 years to pull it off. Before that, the 1991 Pioneers were the last team to turn the trick. The combined record of those teams was 77-11-1 and included five league champions.

Odd and Ends
- The Pioneers have now won eight straight league games. They are 20-9 in league games since 2008.
- The win was the Pioneers fourth straight road win

That's it for now. Check back tomorrow when I'll take a look around the CAL Small and have a Division Four North Power Ranking update.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Foggy in the Mist

The Pioneers brushed off some early cobwebs and a opening possession Georgetown score to post their fifth straight victory this afternoon.

The Pioneers got their wake up call at around 2:15 this afternoon after Georgetown took the opening kick and marched down the field to take a 7-0 lead. A Royal fumble recover on the Pioneers' opening possession gave Georgetown additional life, and if not for an offensive pass interference call, the shaky visitors would have fallen behind 14-0.

But as they say, if "ifs and buts were candy and nuts what a wonderful Christmas it would be." The Pioneers shook off the cobwebs to overcome the gutsy Royals and tallied 40 unanswered points to take the 40-7 win, go to 5-0 overall and 3-0 in the CAL Small.

The win, coupled with Hamilton-Wenham's 14-6 victory over Manchester-Essex, means the Pioneers can capture the CAL Small title with a win over the Generals next Saturday. Easier said then done, but we'll talk more about that game and its consequences later in the week.

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

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Georgetown Game Preview: On The Road Again...Finally

by Tom Condardo

There's no place like home, and the Pioneers have enjoyed their extended staycation at Pioneer Field. They've now played five straight, and six of their last seven regular season games at home. And they've taken advantage, winning all six. The last Lynnfield regular season road game was in Manchester- Essex last November.

Of course the Pioneers did travel to Lowell and Foxboro for two postseason games last year but no one is complaining about that.

The home cooking ends this weekend as the Pioneers will finally hit the road. Instead of boarding the bus for the short trip from the High School to the Middle School, the 4-0 first place Pioneers will head north to Georgetown.

Royals Hurting
They'll be taking on an undermanned Royals team that was thin to begin with and has been hobbled further by injuries. For the second straight year, Georgetown has lost their starting quarterback, a blow they've been unable to overcome so far.

Last year the dynamic Niko Edwards led the Royals to a 41-14 opening week win over West Bridgewater. They lost their next two but still were putting up points losing 32-12 to Revere and 52-48 to Whittier. Once Edwards went down, Georgetown managed only 78 points in their next eight games and were shut out twice. One of those was a 35-0 loss to the Pioneers.

The Royals were hopeful coming into this year with a solid group of returnees led by 6'6" 220 lb all league tight end/defensive end Pat Bjork. The plan was for him to be the main target for Colby Ingraham, converted from running back to quarterback.

That plan went down the drain when Ingraham suffered a knee injury early in the Manchester-Essex game and was lost for the season.

"He was the fastest kid on the field every time he was out there," Pioneer head coach Neal Weidman said of Ingraham. "It's unfortunate. You hate to see that happen to any kid. He was their best player."

Royal coach Paul Sobolewski has attempted to pick up the pieces by putting Bjork in to run Georgetown's spread offense. The Royals struggled last week, falling to Ipswich, but another week of practice can only help Bjork and the offense.

Rough Stretch
The run of bad luck has hit Georgetown hard. They are 0-4 this year and have now lost 14 in a row and 23 of their last 24.

That hasn't always been the case for Georgetown, a perennial Commonwealth Conference contender before entering the Cape Ann League. The Royals joined the CAL in football in 2008 and finished 8-2 overall, 5-1 in the league and missed out on the title by a tiebreaker. Unfortunately it's been downhill for them since then. In the following four and a half seasons, the Royals are 5-41.

With the smallest enrollment in the league (200 boys vs 305 for Lynnfield, the next smallest school), the Royals always face a numbers crunch and this year is no different.

Despite their struggles, Georgetown has some quality athletes. They run a spread offense similar to M/E with a lot of two back sets. Flanking Bjork in the backfield will be two solid running backs in Matt Prescot and Cooper Martens. Ben Prescott is solid on the defensive side of the ball.

"They run a lot of gap stuff, pulls and traps," Weidman said.

Royal Linemen Jacob Myers (66),  Jordan Flynn (62)
and Jack Denley (58)  
Big Boy Football
It may be worth watching the battle in the trenches. The Royals returned most of their offensive line and actually matchup size-wise with the Pioneers. Brandon Willis is 6'4" 280, Jacob Myers is 5'10 220, and Jordan Flynn is 6'3" 230. The line averages 6'1" 245 which is pretty close to the Pioneers' 6'2" 245.

Don't expect the Pioneers to take them for granted.

"It's another league game and we want to keep improving," said Weidman. "We want to keep getting better. We're still playing some kids that are first year varsity players and they're still first year varsity players."

Game time in Georgetown is 2 pm.

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

Monday, October 7, 2013

Around the CAL Small: Week 5

by Tom Condardo

One big upset and the league has been tossed into a turmoil. Because of their convincing win over Manchester Essex, for now the Pioneers are above it all with a 2-0 league mark which puts them in sole possession of first place. But with three weeks to go, everything is still in play. Let's take a look at the updated standings.

The shocker this week occurred up at Landry Stadium in Amesbury where the reeling Indians pulled things together to stun Hamilton-Wenham 20-13. Outscored by over 100 points in their first three games, the Indians put together the upset special to join in on the four-way second place tie.

The Generals opened the scoring at the end of the first quarter on a seven yard Christian Ecker run. Amesbury answered on the next series when Mac Short connected with Jack Fortin for a 59 yard TD. The try for two failed and H-W led 7-6 at the half.

H-W took a 13-6 lead on a one yard plunge by Ian Dickey in the third. The Indians tied it on a three yard Ben Cullen run early in the fourth. Cullen notched the winning score when he picked off a pass with just over five minutes to play and returned it 60 yards for the score. They they held on for the 20-13 win.

Pioneer head coach Neal Weidman was in attendance and was impressed with the Amesbury effort.

"They had a nice little scheme going," he said. "They kept (H-W) off balance. They ran the ball well, they threw when they needed to and they looked good. They played tough. They were physical and they played with emotion."

Hamilton-Wenham hosts Manchester-Essex this weekend in the Hyphen Bowl.

Meanwhile over in Ipswich, the Tigers did their part to create a four way tie for second with a 14-0 win over Georgetown. It was Greg Brotherton's first win as head coach. Quarterback Kyle Blomster is beginning to settle in at the controls of the Tigers' new spread offense as he completed 13 of 17 for 120 yards and he ran for 79 more.

Blomster started things off with a 47 yard TD run in the first quarter to give the Tigers a 7-0 lead over the winless Royals. He then tossed a 20 yard scoring strike to Aleks Kuljik in the third to account for the final score. Kuljik had 3 catches for 42 yards.

The Tigers, led by Ed Flaherty, held Georgetown to  only 113 yards total offense, all on the ground. With starting quarterback Colby Ingraham out for the season, the Royals were 0 for 10 passing with three interceptions.

This week, Ipswich travels to Amesbury while the Royals will host the Pioneers.

Power Rankings

So now with three weeks left the playoff race is starting to get interesting. You need to pay attention to the above ratings instead of the ones you are seeing in the papers. Those have everyone ranked 1-16 based on Power Ranking, but as I've said before, that's not the way the post season berths are going to be determined.

For example, looking at it strictly by the ranking numbers, you would say Ipswich with a 3.25 has no chance to make it. However, unless Manchester Essex finishes second, either Amesbury, H-W, or Ipswich will do so and make the playoffs - regardless of their number. Winthrop jumps up to fourth place because they are currently tied for first in their league.

The Pioneers picked up only eight "own points" for beating M/E since they are in Division 5, but they did get six points for the Hornet's two wins giving them 14 for the week.

Each week sorts things out a little bit more so stay tuned.

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

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Manchester-Essex Leftovers

By Tom Condardo

Having done this for awhile, I know what it's like to walk up to a coach after a bad loss and ask him about the game. He's just spent most of his waking hours - probably some of his sleeping ones too - trying to get his team ready to play a game, and they end up getting beaten badly. The last thing he wants to see is a group of ink-stained wretches looking for quotes.

Almost universally the high school coaches I've worked with have handled that situation well, even though you know they are dying inside.

Believe it or not, there is some difficulty for coaches on the other side of that equation - the team that wins in a romp. Although every coach would rather be in that spot, it's still tricky for the coach when it comes to post game quotes.

First, they all want to show respect for the losing team and its coach since they all end up in that same situation at one point or another. Secondly, they don't want to say anything that their own players will read to make them think they are invincible. This is still high school football. No one is immune to getting beaten by anyone on any given week.

I thought about this as I listened to Pioneer head coach Neal Weidman following the 42-0 win over Manchester Essex Saturday. The Pioneers were almost frightening in their dominance. Lynnfield was much the better team that day. Not only was the talent on the field better, but Weidman had the luxury of sending in wave after wave of players to join the fray. Hornet coach Mike Athanas had only 33 players (including 9 freshmen) at his disposal compared to the nearly 60 for the home team.

Really what was Weidman to say?

"They have some nice athletic kids," the coach began. "They really get the ball to a lot of guys. We watched them and those guys did a lot of nice things when they got the ball."

Weidman was asked if the Pioneers were just that good. He acknowledged the size advantage both in bulk and in roster size.

"There's no doubt about that. Just looking at the number of kids on the sideline you can see that," he said. "They are pretty thin and they get young real fast. They have some big linemen but sometimes it's tough to maintain four quarters when you're that thin."

It was a very respectful analysis and true to a point. That point being the Pioneers didn't need four quarters to wear the Hornets down - they needed less than two. They are just a better team this year or at least on Saturday they were. However, it doesn't guarantee anything going forward.

Just ask Hamilton-Wenham. They beat Ipswich 28-14 two weeks ago and were probably licking their chops heading into the game against winless Amesbury this past weekend. The struggling Indians had lost three games by an average score of 41-7.

Guess what? Amesbury beat them 20-13.

"It was a different team out there," said Weidman who was at the game and watched the same Indian team his squad had beaten 41-7 the week before upset the Generals.

This is high school football. Anything can happen and usually does. There's a lesson there for the Pioneers who are riding high heading into a game this week against winless Georgetown. But that's a story for another day.

Bad Omen
The Hornets may have gotten a sense that Saturday wasn't going to be their day on the Pioneers' third play from scrimmage. Sophomore quarterback Adam Buchanan rolled out left and was hit as he attempted to pitch to captain Kyle McGah. The ball squirted loose but McGah calmly stopped, picked it up and barreled forward for a 12 yard gain and a first down. Not much went wrong for the Pioneers.

Think Pink
In honor of October being Breast Cancer Awareness month, the Pioneers were dutifully decked out in
all manner of pink accoutrements. I saw pink socks, shoelaces, armbands, wristbands, towels, gloves and at least one pink mouth guard.

Great job guys.

QB Depth
One of the more impressive components of this year's Pioneer squad is its depth. With nearly 60 sophomores, juniors, and seniors you'd expect that the depth chart would be rather full. But numbers by themselves don't guarantee talent. The Pioneers luckily appear to have both.

Nowhere is that more evident than at quarterback.

Junior starter Danny Sullivan has been solid as shown by his work in big wins over Newburyport and Saugus, the Pioneers' toughest opponents to date. Sullivan has completed 63% of his passes (22 for 35) for 242 yards. More importantly, he's been a steady hand running the spread.

Sophomore Adam Buchanan, who played tight end against Newburyport, is his backup but missed the Saugus and Amesbury games with a broken foot. So when the Pioneers needed to go deeper into the depth chart the last two weeks, they pulled out sophomore Jake McHugh who has sparkled in appearances against Amesbury and Manchester Essex.

McHugh has 192 yards and a pair of TD's on 13 carries and is actually the Pioneers' second leading rusher behind who has 418 yards on 58 carries.

Sullivan was dealing with some lower back issues this week, so with Buchanan back, he was inserted into the starting lineup and led the high octane Pioneer offense to five TD's in the first half. He carried six times for 54 yards and was 3 for 5 passing for 97 yards and a touchdown.

"It was literally a game time decision," Weidman said of the choice to start Buchanan. "We were going back and forth right before the game and I said if we start Adam and he does well, then it gives Danny some more time. Danny was dealing (with the sore back) during the Amesbury game and Adam still had the boot on, so we had to put McHugh in and he did a great job. I didn't want to (start him today) just experience-wise. Adam just has a lot more varsity experience. It's great to have Adam and Jake who can both come in and do the job. You have three athletic kids there. It's a good luxury to have."

Adding to the embarrassment of riches, the Pioneers were also able to play their fourth string freshman quarterback Louis Ellis the last two weeks.

The quarterback position appears to be in good hands for the foreseeable future.

If you pick up the Villager this week, you'll find a sidebar on McGah's breaking the record for the most all time rushing touchdowns. In talking to Weidman after the game, he acknowledged the importance of  the offensive lines McGah has run behind contributing to the record.

"He knows that too," the coach said.

So understanding the importance of the guys up front (and being the father of a former center) I thought I'd give some pub to the linemen that opened the holes for Kyle over the past three years.

In 2011, the primary offensive line was Andrew Kibarian, Jon Roberto, D. J. DeGeorge, John Gaff, and Connor Lordan with Matt Connelly filling in. In 2012, Gaff had graduated and freshman Cameron DeGeorge stepped in to join the rest of the returnees. Dom Costa, Nick O'Brien and Anthony Vaccaro also saw action.

This year there were holes to fill but the group of Costa, Vaccaro, DeGeorge, Alex Ganter, Connelly, David Adams and Steven White have been impressive. The group has ripped apart opposing defenses leading to 1063 yards on 142 carries for an average of nearly 7.5 yards per carry.

So kudos to McGah for all his accomplishments but also a tip of the helmet to the men in the trenches who do a lot of the heavy lifting.

Toeing the Line
Sophomore placekicker Daniel Bronshvayg is off to a torrid start. In three games, he is 12 for 13 including last week's 6 for 6 effort which ties him for second for the single game PAT record. Scott Milne holds the mark with 7 against Masco in 1985. Steve Ullian, the all time leading Pioneer kicker, also had 6 against Bishop Fenwick in 2010.

To put Bronshvayg's start in perspective, in the history of Lynnfield High football, 39 players have kicked at least one extra  point. With the 12 that Bronshvayg has in three games, he moves into a tie for 11th place all time. Ullian heads that list with 75 career PAT's.

Squib Kicking
The Pioneers had been allowing opponents great field position on their kickoffs, with teams starting between the 35 and 45 on many occasions. On Saturday, they tried a different tack, with Dan Bronshvayg kicking the ball laying flat on the tee and squibbing it through the opposition's return team.

The results were good as the average starting position for M/E in the first half was their own 34.

Random Notes
- The Pioneers have now won two straight over the Hornets. They stand 3-3 all time with M/E.
- Jake Rourke's interception return for a touchdown was the first pick six since Tyler Palumbo did it against Hamilton-Wenham last year.
- The Pioneer offense has been growing steadily. In consecutive weeks they've now scored 21, 35, 41, and 42 points. Defensively they've allowed 13, 21, 7, and 0.
- M/E didn't get a first down until late in the first half and it came on a face mask penalty. Those 15 yards were double the seven total yards the Hornets were able to manage up to that time.

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

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Top of the Heap

Another dominating performance for the Pioneers today as they rolled over Manchester Essex 42-0 to go 2-0 in the CAL Small and take over sole possession of first place. The offense took care of business but the defense was stifling holding Manchester Essex to 35 yards of offense in the first half. The Hornets couldn't deal with the size mismatch as the Pioneers won their fourth straight home game this year.

The big news of the day was Kyle McGah opening the scoring with a nine yard TD run, the 32nd rushing touchdown of his career. That breaks the 52 year old record held by Frank Berardino who had 31 from 1958-61. Congrats to Kyle and the many offensive linemen over the past four years who helped him achieve this impressive milestone.

You can read all the details of the game in my Villager game article on Wednesday and check back here tomorrow night for more on the big win.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Manchester-Essex Game Preview: Battle for First Place I

By Tom Condardo

Okay kids. Gather round for another chapter of Lynnfield Football History. Today we're only going back five years to take a look at the Pioneers' performance at home in the Neal Weidman era.

From 2008 through last week, the Pioneers are 23-7 at home (21-3 since 2009). During that span, they have played 15 teams at Pioneer Field. They have a winning record against 11 of them, a .500 record against two of them, and a losing record against two others.

Quickly, name the two teams against whom the Pioneers have a losing record at home during that time?

(Insert Jeopardy music here)

So how many of you said Newburyport?

(Lots of hands being raised)

Sorry, you lose. Weidman-coached teams actually have a 2-1 record against the Clippers at home. It was probably the 0-3 mark up in Newburyport that threw you off.

Who said Hamilton-Wenham?

(Good number of hands in the air)

Wrong again. In the the two home meetings since 2008, the Pioneers are 1-1 against the Generals. (1.5-.5 really if you want to count the overtime loss in 2011 as a half a win).

So who are these two teams that have defied the Pioneer Field dominance?

Give up?

Well, one is Wilmington who came to town in Weidman's first year undefeated and escaped with a 14-7 come from behind win.

The other is....

...this week's guest, Manchester-Essex.

That's right folks, the only other team that Weidman's Pioneers haven't beaten at home are the Hornets. Of the seven losses at home in the past six years, two were at the hands of "the other" Hornets.

Ironically, the Pioneers have beaten the Hornets twice in Manchester in the Weidman era but a combined score of 84-19. It's only at home where they haven't been able to get off the schneid.

M/E came in as a non-league opponent late in 2008 and handled Lynnfield 35-21. The Hornets were a wagon that year headed for a Super Bowl win and looked the part that day. Although their head coach did say that the Pioneers gave them their toughest battle of the year up to then.

Bad Memories
M/E's second visit came in 2011 and the result was the infamous Senior Day Siesta when nothing went right for the home team. Even the PA system malfunctioned, silencing the dulcet tones of Tom Waisnor, Voice of the Pioneers. So there in the silence, the Pioneers came out as flat as Roseanne Barr singing the National Anthem and were upset by the Hornets 7-6.

After that game, Weidman told me, "Manchester wanted it more right from the beginning. We just never got anything going."

The Pioneers committed three turnovers, had six three and outs and made it into Hornet territory only twice. Lynnfield led 6-0 (the way the day went naturally the PAT was blocked) and M/E's Joe Burgess returned an interception for a TD late in the first half to take a 7-6 lead. The scoreless second half was just as dismal for the Pioneers as they ran off only 19 plays and the Hornets celebrated their first league win of the year.

I don't want to say that game still bugs the coach, but he has mentioned it several times since, as recently as last week after the Amesbury game when we talked about this week's matchup with the Hornets.

"They're pretty good," he said of M/E, then without missing a beat. "Hopefully we won't show up like we did a couple of years ago when we didn't have our best game. Although I have to give them credit, they just outplayed us that day."

Although Weidman is usually a "looking forward" kind of coach, my guess is that the Siesta of 2011 will be mentioned in the pre-game talk.

As tough as that game was to take, it was only a battle between two teams with nothing but pride on the line. The Pioneers would go on to lose on Thanksgiving Day to end the year 5-6. The Hornets beat Georgetown on the holiday to finish with the same record.

First Place On The Line This Time
The stakes will be much higher on Saturday. M/E comes in 1-0 in league play off of a 28-12 win over Georgetown last week. The winner of this week's game will be 2-0 and will grab at least a share of first place in the CAL Small.

The Hornets are 2-1 overall having won two in a row after losing 42-28 against Northeast Metro in their opener. They beat Greater Lawrence 22-12 in their second game.

The Pioneer defense will be playing a familiar offense since the Hornets run the same spread scheme as Lynnfield. Graduation took 13 seniors, so M/E has been breaking in new people this year with good results so far.

Senior running back Chris Dumont is the only experience in the backfield and is the Hornets' leading scorer with 22 points. Junior quarterback Craig Carter is right behind him with 18. Fullback Nate Riehl is also a scoring threat.

M/E is more experienced on defense returning linemen Mike and Will David and middle linebacker Doug Rodier who has been a mainstay in the middle.

The Pioneers will enjoy a size advantage as they will against most teams they play, but it won't be as dramatic as it was against Amesbury. The Hornets should be able to hold their own in the trenches.

As far as Power Rankings go, M/E has plenty of incentive to knock off the Pioneers other than the battle for first place. The Hornets are in Division 5 for playoff purposes, so a win against Lynnfield will earn them 12 points. Since the Pioneers are playing an opponent in a lower division, they would only get 8 points for a win.

We'll leave that one to the mathematicians for now. This is an SAT Saturday, so game time is an unusual 3 pm.

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