Thursday, November 28, 2013


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Check back later in the weekend for my Leftovers post.

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

North Reading Game Preview: Rivalry Renewed

by Tom Condardo

So is anyone going to the game Thursday?

I didn't think so.

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

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

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

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

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


Okay, sarcasm switch flipped off.

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

It's time for the real second season.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pioneer head coach Neal Weidman summed it up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Thanksgiving to all and check back after the game.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Watertown Leftovers

by Tom Condardo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All big plays.

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

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

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

That sequence obviously turned the game around.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 16, 2013


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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Watertown Game Preview: Hangover or Bounceback?

by Tom Condardo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Bedford Leftovers

by Tom Condardo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

B. Positive
Director, Department of Perspective

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what did he tell his squad following the game?

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

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

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Fight to the Finish

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Bedford Playoff Game Preview: A Classic Battle

by Tom Condardo

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

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

Which will prevail?

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

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

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

Something's gotta give on Saturday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Game time at Pioneer Field is 11 am.

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

Monday, November 4, 2013

Around the Division Four North Playoffs: Quarterfinals

By Tom Condardo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Stoneham Leftovers

By Tom Condardo

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

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

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

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

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

What have they both done with that time?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That's making the most of your opportunities.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 2, 2013

One More Step

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

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

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

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

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