Sunday, November 30, 2014

North Reading Leftovers

By Tom Condardo

It all began in West Newbury on a broiling gridiron set to 95 degrees and ended 12 weeks later and 60 degrees colder on the brand new snow-covered turf at LHS. In between we witnessed some of the most impressive high school football played in Lynnfield in over 50 years.

It's always tough to compare teams from different era's, but when the tally of all time great Pioneer teams is compiled, it will be tough not to have the 2014 edition right near the top. The litany of their accomplishments is long and illustrious: third straight league championship, three playoff wins, division title, 400 points scored while allowing only 73 including five shutouts. They scored 30 or more points in 10 of their 12 games, including three of four playoff games.

It was certainly a year to savor.

The frosting (pun intended) on the cake was a complete 35-0 blowout of North Reading on
Thanksgiving that cleansed the pallet of the disappointing loss to the "H" team last week. Check out the Villager this week for my game story and the details on all the records and notable team and individual achievements of this year's squad. For those who don't get the physical paper, you can view it online here.

Today, let's look back as some other tidbits from the holiday clash.

Yeoman's Work
Mike Karavetsos doing his part to
clear the field prior to the game
Kudos to the many parents and others who picked up shovels to help at least clear the yard lines and markers, and Pioneer logo for the game. Even Field Committee chairperson Arthur Bourque, who was instrumental in getting the field built, was out there driving the little truck used in the snow removal operation. Yes it was messy but the overnight snowfall was definitely more than what was expected and the snow added another exciting element to the game. It also made for some great pictures, said the selfish reporter/photographer.

Oh, Say!
The day got off to a spectacular start with a spine tingling rendition of the Star Spangled Banner by LHS's Janet Sokolow. It was the perfect kickoff to the festivities.

Rough Start
It was a tough day for Pioneer captain Cam Rondeau who was hit while recovering a fumble on the opening kick. He suffered a hip/back injury and couldn't play the rest of the game. He did make a ceremonial appearance at the end of the game so he could be recognized, but it was a disappointing way to end a stellar career. However, that should take nothing away from an outstanding career. Among is many accomplishments, one that really stands out is the number of interceptions he had. You can never say never, but it's hard to imagine anyone equalling the 15 picks he had over the past three years.

Flipping Coin
Despite all the success this year, there was one area this year where the Pioneers came up losers. They lost the coin toss to North Reading on Thursday, giving them a final record of 5-7 in the coin toss department for the season.

Hornet Future Bright
North Reading may have taken it on the chin Thursday, but they'll be back. They return their entire backfield of David Smith, Nic O'Connell, Matt McCarthy, and John Merullo. They also get back linemen Kevin Farrelly, Mike Quarantiello, and Robert O'Donnell. They should be in good shape for next season.

The big question is what head coach Jeff Wall will do with the offense. Even though Ed Melanson resigned after the second game, the Hornets continued to run his single wing. But without the guru behind an offense that is not widely used, will North Reading revert to a more conventional offense and if so, how will that effect them?

Ball Control
Amazingly, despite the conditions and the fact that the Hornets ran the ball 48 out of 49 snaps and the Pioneers ran it 35 times, there were no lost fumbles. The only turnover was a Hornet interception of a Danny Sullivan pass. Credit to both teams that they took care of the pigskin in adverse conditions.

Margin Call
A couple of notes on margin of victory. The Pioneers 35 point win was the largest in the history of the series. Both teams have had 30 point wins - the Hornets beating the Pioneers 30-0 in 1977 and Lynnfield winning 38-8 in 1972.

And the Pioneers finished the year with a 327 point overall margin of victory, the best in the state.

Broken Wing
The Pioneers controlled the wing much the way they did in 2012 when they held the Hornets to 145 yards rushing. They held them to 155 this year, only 129 until the backups came in to bulk up the numbers. They managed only five first downs in the first half and only one in the second half until the final JV drive.

Also, it was the first time the Pioneers have shut out the Hornets since Weidman's first season in 2008 when Lynnfield posted a 21-0 win. The last North Reading shutout came in 2006 when they blanked the Pioneers 22-0.

Passing Fancy
For those keeping score at home, the Hornets attempted one pass on the day - a Matt McCarthy aerial that fell incomplete.

Winner, Winner
Pioneer take their traditional final walk of
the field following the win
With the win, Weidman now sports a 5-2 mark against the Hornets. Overall, the Pioneers hold a 34-23 edge in the series.

Speaking of winning, the Pioneers' 11-1 mark gives them a winning percentage of .917, second best all time behind the undefeated 9-0 1960 team. Though only head coach for seven years, Weidman teams now hold four of the top 10 winning percentages all time. In addition to this year, his teams come in 7th (2009 10-2), T9th (2013 9-2), and T9th (2010 9-2).

Security Plan
The Pioneers finished the season with an unheard of turnover differential of 25-10. They picked off 14 interceptions and recovered 11 fumbles. Their opponents had only five interceptions and five fumble recoveries.

Dynamic Duo
Rondeau and Jon Knee formed the perfect set of receivers in helping Danny Sullivan set a new single season record of 21 TD passes. The pair had nearly identical final stats. Knee caught 30 passes for 704 yards and nine TD's. Rondeau had 31 catches, for 711 yards and eight TDs.

Different Era
This year's Pioneers also set the mark for most touchdowns in a season with 57 edging the 1960 powerhouse who tallied 55. But just to show the difference from then to now in how high school football is played, the 1960 team didn't kick a single PAT that year compared to the 47 Dan Bronshvayg booted this year. That team, however, did pound in 30 two-point conversions.

Finally thanks to everyone for reading and following along. I know there is a loyal base out there and it makes putting this together worthwhile.

I'll be back with my final post on the top plays of the year but until then enjoy the holiday season.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

North Reading Game Preview: 10 Reasons For Pioneers To Bounce Back

by Tom Condardo

Okay. It's been 72 hours. Times to shake it off. I won't even mention the "H" word in this post. To paraphrase Bill Belichick, we're on to North Reading!

And speaking of shaking it off, the Pioneers have to do that as well. It's been a hard slog the last four weeks playing tough teams and the natural tendency after a difficult loss is to come out a little flat. That was the case last year against Watertown following the tough 14-7 loss to Bedford in the division semi finals.

The Pioneers came out in a daze against the Raiders and played most of the first half in a funk. They fell behind 14-0 and managed only 57 yards of offense and gave up 148 on defense until the final minute of the half. Then they flipped the switch mounting a last minute drive capped by a Danny Sullivan to  Jon Knee 30 yard TD with four seconds left in the half.

They were more themselves in the second half and outscored Watertown 14-6 to take an exciting come from behind 21-20 win. They were hit by the injury bug after that and limped into North Reading where they lost a 42-35 shootout.

Which brings us to the archival Hornets. North Reading is back in gear after a mid season meltdown that saw them lose five straight. They come in 4-6 but have won two of their last three and their only loss was a 29-27 barnburner to Newburyport in their last game.

The Hornets will soon be swarming down Chestnut street, and if the Pioneers can't get their helmets on straight, they could easily get stung. So to provide a little incentive, here are 10 reasons they need to take care of business on Thanksgiving morning.

1. WIN 11 Games
With a win over the Hornets, the Pioneers will become the first and only Lynnfield team to win 11 games. They are already only the second team in LHS history to win 10 games, matching the 2009 10-2 team. One more puts them at the top of the heap.

2. Show Resiliency
Thanks to their overwhelming performances this year, the Pioneers have never had to bounce back from adversity. They trailed for less than a quarter all year and that was in the opening game against Pentucket. The loss Saturday to "the team that must not be named" was the first time they were behind all game and obviously their first loss. This would be a good time for them to show that they can overcome hardship and rise to the occasion.

3. Defend Their New Home
Head Coach Neal Weidman always emphasizes protecting the home field and this year there is an added incentive. The Pioneers have yet to lose at their new field, going a perfect 4-0 so far and they should not want their archrival to put the first black mark on LHS Stadium.

4. Score 400 points
Only one team in LHS history has scored more than 400 points and that was the amazing 1960 team that put up 410 in nine games. The Pioneers come in with 365 points and an outside shot at hitting the big 4-0-0. They currently are averaging 33.2 points per game and need at least a couple of touchdowns to beat last year's 31.4 which currently ranks second best all time in points per fame average.

5. Avenge 2011 and 2013
Injuries are part of the game, but the last two times the Pioneers travelled to North Reading, they have not been at full strength. The results have been two losses 42-35 last year and 37-18 in 2011. The 42 the Hornets hung on them last Thanksgiving is the most scored against Lynnfield in the last 39 games. And the 37 points in 2011 were the second most. The Pioneers have just run a brutal gauntlet with four straight playoff games and have the bumps and bruises to show for it, but they go into this game as healthy as they have been since the 2012 14-7 win.

6. Show They Can Stop the Wing
I don't know about you, but I'm sick and tired of double wings, single wings, Delaware Wing T's, pistol wings, Navy triple options, War Packages, and every other kind of wing you can think of. Time for the Pioneer defense to step up and stop the madness. And what would be a better way than to figure out a way to stop the single wing, which has tormented them since former Hornet offensive coordinator Ed Melanson installed it in 2011.

7. Finish On a Positive Note
Whatever happens in this one, the returning players will have to live with it all winter, spring, and summer. The juniors on this team should want to finish strong so they can start their 2015 senior season on a positive note.

8. Reward Their Coaches
As brutal as it has been for the Pioneers to play four tough games in a row, it's been just as rough for the Pioneer coaching staff to prepare for them. Three of the four playoff games came against teams Lynnfield hasn't played (or in the case of the "H" team, not since 1958). I can only imagine the time and effort that went into putting game plans together to put the Pioneers in the best possible position. And this team has been one of the most prepared teams in Lynnfield history. Time for the boys to step up and reward Weidman, John O'Brien, Gino Fodera, Chris Sakelakos, Fern Lavoie, Vin Calderone, Pat Lamusta, John Bossi, Jeff Gannon, and Tom DiPaolo for their endless hours of work.

9. Send the Seniors Off Right
The seniors on this team represent the winningest three year class of any team in Lynnfield history with 28 wins. They have proven to be great leaders and graduate with three league championships, a division title, a Super Bowl appearance, and eight playoff games. It would be fitting to send them off with a win.

10. It's Thanksgiving Day!
Any more questions?

Battle Zone - Lynnfield at North Reading 2007
(Guess who's about to make the tackle?)

Familiar Look
If you read my Villager preview (and if you haven't why not?), you know that Ed Melanson resigned early this year as Offensive Coordinator.  He was suspended for an alleged run in with another coach over field space, then subsequently resigned. The feeling was that a small group of parents were looking to push him out, not happy with his offense, despite all the success.

Despite his departure, the Hornets still run his defense, and after a mid season swoon, they appear to be hitting on all cylinders again. The run heavy attack is led by Matt McCarthy, brother of C. J. McCarthy who ran all over the Pioneers last year. John Merullo and David Smith also have had good years.

So they'll be no surprises on what they run. The only question is whether the Lynnfield defense can adjust and stop it.

Even Series
Although the Pioneers own a 33-23 edge in the series, the rivalry has been quite even in the recent past. In the last ten years, North Reading owns a 6-4 edge. In the last 20 years it's 11-9 Hornets. Going back 30 years the Pioneers lead 16-14.

The 10 game overall series advantage for Lynnfield really is a result of the early days of the rivalry. The Hornets won the first game which was played in late October of 1958. The Pioneers then reeled off the first seven games played on the holiday. The Pioneers would go on to win 15 of the first 20 games. But since then, it's been pretty much a dead heat.

The first game I covered was for the North Reading Transcript in 1976 a 6-0 Lynnfield win at the Middle School Field. My lasting memory of that game was the live Turkey that Hornet fans brought over. It was dyed yellow and green.

This will be my 39th Lynnfield/North Reading game, and it promises to be an exciting one.

Remember, the game time has been changed this year. Kick off has been moved up to 10 am so set your clocks accordingly.

Dress warm and enjoy the game.

Check back over the weekend for my Leftovers post.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Holliston Leftovers

By Tom Condardo

Did you ever have one of those dreams where you're trying to get somewhere and you're trying to run and you can't seem to move? Your legs feel like they are stuck in the mud and you never reach your destination.

The Pioneers had one of those Saturday. But it wasn't a dream, it was a nightmare.

Everything that had worked all year just didn't on Saturday. Head coach Neal Weidman always says that they will take what the defense gives them. If a team wants to load the box and stuff the run, he'll just unleash his Sullivan-Knee-Rondeau Flying Circus and torch them through the air.

Decide to cover the passing game? No problem he'll give them a piece of the Rourke and pound them inside. Maybe even sprinkle a little McCarthy on the side to keep them honest.

But on Saturday, none of it worked. Standing on the sidelines watching it unfold, it truly seemed like Holliston had 12 guys on defense. Every blue jersey had a white one attached to it, every play, all over the field.

"We were behind the sticks the whole time," a clearly frustrated Weidman told me after the game. "We were never in a favorable position to get any of our matches because they were so fast."

The Panthers' speed was clearly a problem for the Pioneers. Holliston stretched out the field and always seemed to be in position to make the tackle.

"They were good tacklers, but they were better at getting off their blocks," Weidman said. "They were off their blocks in a heartbeat. They got off blocks so fast it was crazy."

A flurry of flags didn't help. Although the Pioneers were only penalized 4 times for 33 yards, the yellow seemed to fly at the most inopportune times. A gain by Jake Rourke on the first drive was wiped out by a holding call, killing the drive and another holding call destroyed a second period Pioneer drive.

"Every time we picked up a couple of first downs we'd have a penalty move us back," Weidman said.

The Panthers smothered the passing game, putting pressure on Danny Sullivan and blanketing Jon Knee and Cam Rondeau. Pioneer fans used to seeing the dynamic duo roam free in the secondary might have been excused for thinking they were wearing white since the Holliston defenders were draped on them all afternoon.

"They were real physical with a lot of hands on and unfortunately it was allowed," Weidman said of the Panther defense. "Sometimes it is and sometimes it isn't and this time it was allowed and unfavorable for us. Sometimes it's allowed and favorable for us. It just wasn't favorable (Saturday)."

At some point, you just have to tip your helmet to a better team and move on. Holliston certainly was better Saturday. The Pioneers will just have to settle for a league championship, division title, 10 straight wins, and being one of the four best teams in D4 in the state.

All in all, pretty special. One loss in a state semi-final doesn't change that.

First and Down
Normally a key statistic is third and fourth down conversions. Holliston had the edge there converting 2 of 5 on third and one of one on fourth. The Pioneers, on the other hand, were 1 for 9 on third down and 1 for 1 on first.

But those weren't the key downs as it turned out. It was Holliston's first downs. They picked up 216 yards, 65% of their 332 total, on first down. When a team averages 9.3 yards on first down, chances are you're going to be in for a rough day.

Despite that, the defense did better than any team in terms of holding down the Panthers. They came in averaging 40 points a game so the Pioneers held them to two less scores than normal. That's better than any of Holliston's opponents other than Medfield who held them to the same score in a 26-14 Panther win.

The Pioneers eliminated the quick strike, making the Panthers work for their scores. Holliston mounted sustained drives of 65 yards in nine plays and 80 yards in nine plays. Nick Athy got loose for a 49 harder run to set up the third TD and a bad snap/1 yard punt gave the Panthers a 20 yard short field for their fourth score.

The Lynnfield defense also forced a turnover on downs, stopping Holliston at the 17 on their opening drive.

Turnover Battle
One of the Pioneer strengths all year has been their turnover advantage. They came into the game with a gaudy 24-7 (+17) edge in that category. But for the first time all year, they lost the turnover battle with two picks to one fumble for Holliston. Ironically one of the Pioneer interceptions and the Panther fumble came on the same play late in the first half. Athy picked off off Sullivan at the 43 and headed up field where he met Rondeau who stripped him and then recovered the fumble.

It was a fortuitous exchange for the Pioneers since it was a third down play and resulted in a new set of downs for Lynnfield.

Fast Start
The Pioneer offense actually got off to a fast start after stopping Holliston on their first drive. Rourke carried three times for 27 yards sandwiched around an incomplete pass and a Panther offside call to the get the ball to midfield. Rourke picked up three more yards but the play was flagged for holding cutting off the momentum. The Pioneers would rush for only 57 more yards the rest of the day.

The Pioneers were forced to punt six times in the game. Coming in, they had punted only 13 times in their previous 10 games. In five games they punted only once and in two games they never punted. The most kicks prior to this was four against Swampscott.

Day of Firsts
It was a game of first for the Pioneers, most of them not pleasant. In addition to their first loss, it was the first time they've been shut out this year and the first time they were held to less than 28 points. Holliston became the first team to score three times and four times against them.

Margin Call
The 26 point loss was the largest margin of victory against Lynnfield in the Weidman era. The last time the Pioneers lost by more than 26 points was in a 49-21 loss to North Andover in 2007.

That's it for now. It's now North Reading (half)week. Check back Tuesday for my preview of the Turkey Day game.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Holliston State Semi-Final Game Preview: Something's Gotta Give

by Tom Condardo

Less filling. Tastes great.

Those of a certain age remember those commercials where retired athletes would argue over what was the best feature of Miller Lite beer. Was it because it was less filling or because it tasted great.

We're faced with a similar question when debating the merits of this Pioneer football team. Have they run the table so far because of an explosive offense (36.5 points per game) or their stifling defense (4.7 ppg)?

The offense has clearly been flammable and the point total could have been even greater if they hadn't pulled off the accelerator for many of their early season games. But the defense has been truly impressive.

For those who want to resurrect the "schedule issue" again, let's just look at the playoffs.

Saugus came into the quarterfinals averaging 36.1 points per game. Pioneers held them to 6
Swampscott came into the semi-finals averaging 21.3. Pioneers held them to 7
Winthrop came into the finals averaging 27.1. Pioneers held them to 14.

Can they do the same thing to Holliston who come in averaging 39.8 ppg? No question this will be their toughest test of the year.

This is where the "tastes great" comes in. If the defense struggles against the high powered Panthers, the Pioneers have an offense that can keep up. That can turn this one into a shootout in a hurry. Weather is great so the fans could be in for a treat.

The Panthers come in undefeated, ranked number five in the Globe Top 20. The Pioneers come in undefeated at #12.

Something's gotta give.

Dynamic Duo
The scouting report for the Panthers is a fairly short one. Follow Nick Athy (#12) and Zach Elkinson (#3) and chances are you'll find the ball. Holliston is far from a two man team but those two are certainly always in the middle of the action.

The Panthers have scored 398 points. Athy is the leading scorer in Division 4 with 178 points. Elkinson comes in at #13 with 90 points. That 268 points is 67% of their scoring. They are both great athletes and the Pioneers need to find a way to slow them down if they hope to win this one.

Change of Pace
One thing to look for is Holliston's presto-chango act as far as their offense is concerned. They run a spread just like the Pioneers with Athy at the controls. But then at some point they morph into a double wing similar to Saugus or North Reading. When they go into that formation, Athy converts to running back. Regardless of the formation, the goal is to get the ball into Athy's hands.

For those of you who read my article in the Villager this week, you know that this isn't the first time the Pioneers and Panthers have met. Lynnfield travelled to Holliston in the fourth game of their young varsity career in 1958 and came away with a 22-16 win, the first win ever for LHS.

Co-captain Bill Burbank and Eddie Mintiens ran strong behind an aggressive Pioneer offensive line of Co-Captain Dan Connelly, Jerry DiPietro, Mike Melchionda, Bill English, and Dave Farrar to pace the win. Burbank scored a pair of touchdowns and a two point conversion while Mintiens scored a TD and a conversion to account for the Pioneer scoring.

Lynnfield led 14-2 at the half with Holliston's only points coming on a safety. Burbank's second TD in the third made it 22-2 and iced the game. Holistic scored twice more, but the game was never in doubt. Harry Hunt of the Wakefield Item reported that "as a climax to the afternoon, the band, cheerleaders, and majorettes led the team in a victory parade through the center of town."

Familiar Digs
Finally, the game will be played at Cawley Stadium, site of the Pioneers' playoff win in 2012. Kyle McGah scored four touchdowns as Lynnfield routed Amesbury 35-14 to advance to the Super Bowl at Gillette.

The Pioneers appear to be pulling on the underdog jerseys in this one. The ESPN Boston boys Brendan Hall and Scott Barboza are both predicting a Panther win. Hall has Holliston winning 24-14 while Barboza has the Panthers 33-27.

Hall feels Holliston "has too much speed to handle" and Barboza likes the Panthers "athletes on the perimeter" a little bit better.

Here's a link to the full discussion. Holliston-Lynnfield discussion goes from 3:50 to 5:13 of the broadcast.

On the other hand, Danny Ventura of the Boston Herald is going with the Pioneers. "Just a hunch that this Lynnfield team might be a tad better than people think."

That's it for now. Check back Sunday night and enjoy the game!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Winthrop Leftovers

by Tom Condardo

Figures lie. Opportunities knock. Looks can be deceiving.

Pick your cliche. They all apply when it comes to Friday night's D4 North clash at Miller Field in Winthrop. Yes the Pioneers captured the crown with what appeared to be a convincing three score win over a very good Viking team. But anyone who was there, knows that for a millimeter or two at the goal line, this one could have become a lot more interesting. And not in a good way for Pioneer fans.

The 14 point turnaround at the mid point of the final quarter was the deciding sequence and dropped a huge exclamation point on a Pioneer win that featured five big takeaways by the defense. This game was everything it was billed to be - hard hitting, fast (more on that later), and exciting. Two undefeated, well coached teams battling it out. It came down to the defense, and once again the Pioneer D came up big when it had to. As Sean Brennan wrote in the Boston Herald on Saturday, this game was proof that defenses still win championships.

The Pioneer defense will have to step it up further when they take on the flammable Holliston offense this Saturday, but we'll worry about that one later in the week. Today, let's wrap up the championship win.

Crowd Control
First of all, congrats to the hardy band of Pioneer fans who braved the cold to fill up the visitors stands Friday night. As everyone knew beforehand, going into Miller Field and winning is tough, but the Lynnfield contingent did their part, more than matching the rabid Viking fans on the home side of the field.

Echo Chamber
For those wondering about the flurry of motion penalties against the Pioneers early in the second quarter, rumor has it there may have been a reason other than a jittery offensive line. There's no hard evidence, but there was some discussion with the officials regarding a potential Danny Sullivan impersonator on the field - one not necessarily wearing a white jersey. Again no proof, but once the officials were alerted, Lynnfield was only flagged for illegal motion once more the rest of the way.

Holding the Line
Speaking of the offensive line, head coach Neal Weidman singled out that unit for their performance.

"The offensive line played really well," he said. "I was really happy how we were able to run the ball up the middle, especially in the first half."

Kudos to the men in the trenches: David Adams, Cam DeGeorge, Steven White, Brandon Troisi, Al Maclachlan, and tight end Drew Balestrieri.

The Stand
Since this was the key series in the game, I thought I'd spend a few minutes breaking down the big goal line stand in the fourth period. As you all know by know, Winthrop converted a fourth and six with a long bomb from Dylan Driscoll to Jon Gonzalez, getting them a first and goal at the Pioneer five yard line. Let's pick it up from there.

1st and goal from the five: Driscoll takes a direct snap and sprints to the left on a sweep. Chad Martin fights off two blocks to stand him up and hold him to a two yard gain.

2nd and goal from the three: Driscoll hands off to the dangerous Reise Turransky who heads for the right side. Eddie McIntosh - well schooled by assistant coach Gino Fodera - tunnels under and rolls up three Viking blockers giving Turransky no where to go. He's forced to stop dead in his tracks. Before he can get started again, Dan Bronshvayg comes in to finish the tackle stopping him for no gain.

3rd and goal from the three: The Vikings try the left side with Gonzalez but Adams gets him in a bear hug before he reaches the goal line. Bronshvayg comes in to assist and brings him down at the one millimeter line. All I can say is it's a good thing there's no replay in high school football.

Fourth and goal from the four inch line: Cam DeGeorge jumps on the Viking center as the ball pops up over Driscoll's hand and falls to the ground. 21 players do a giant pig pile trying to either a) push Driscoll into the end zone or b) keep him from crossing the line. It's apparent the Pioneers have held, but no one seems to notice the ball is loose. But wait...over to the side, one lone defender peers into the pile.

Cam Rondeau, who was holding the edge in case Driscoll decided to pull and go right, peers into the 4000 pounds of high school football players and notices a lonely pigskin lying on the ground. He calmly reaches in, picks it up and hightails it in the other direction. No whistles.

The pile is still writhing at the goal line, unaware that the object of their attention is heading for the other end zone. Finally Jon Knee notices what's going on and heads out to accompany his fellow captain. Turransky and a few Vikings finally realizes what's happening and start to light out after Rondeau, but he's already cruising past midfield and heading to the Division Four North championship. Game, set, match: Pioneers

Rip Tide
Rondeau's fumble recovery for the touchdown was the first this year and the first since Ryan Battaglia's rip and run score against Stoneham in the playoffs last season. It was the 19th in school history, and nearly half of those have come in the Weidman era. There's a good reason for that. Weidman and his staff have focused on the rip tackle and the numbers bear out it's success.

Leg Up
As the previous sequence shows, Bronshvayg has proven to be more than just a pretty leg. The junior banged home three more PAT's to extend his single season record to 42. But he has become a key cog in the Pioneer defense. In addition to those two huge tackles, Bronshvayg also recovered two fumbles, including the muffed punt that led to a Pioneer score.

General Lee
While on the topic of unsung heroes, I want to point out a key contribution from senior Kevin Lee. He's been another key member of the Pioneer defense, so much so that his offensive snaps have been reduced. During the early going he was backing up give Jake Rourke but more of those carries have gone to junior Drew McCarthy. Much of that is because if his importance on the defensive side of the ball.

After Bronshvayg recovered the muffed punt Friday night, the Pioneer offense came right back on the field. Wanting to give Rourke and McCarthy a blow, Weidman sent out Lee at running back. On first and goal from the ten, he burst up the middle for a four yard gain. On second down, he blew through the line again, this time to the half yard line picking up a first down.

The quarter ended and the teams switched sides. When the offense came back out, Lee came out with it. On first and goal from the one, Lee led the blocking for Sullivan who squeezed into the end zone for the touchdown. It was a brief cameo, but a crucial one at that point in the game.

The Pioneer defense had it's hands full dealing with the blitz-happy Vikings.

"They blitz a lot but there's no rhyme or reason to it so we just had to be solid across the board," Weidman explained. "They do a great job of mixing up their blitzes and their coverages. Coverages for them were a little harder to disguise because we just go so they have to get lined up quicker. But the blitzes still came fast and furious. There were four different guys in on defense and five in the other that could have come at any time. At times it could have been all of them."

Speed Racer
Weidman was also stunned by the speed of the game.

"They started out no huddle and the pace at the beginning of the game was fast," the coach said. "Not that they were just running plays fast, but that they were playing fast. And it was both teams. It was the fastest most physical first few drives I've seen. It was like a blur. Just the speed of the game - both teams were coming off the ball. There was a lot of explosion."

Rourke Climbing
Rourke's first quarter TD gives him 86 points for the year and puts him in a tie for 10th place for all time single season scoring with Charlie Meeker (1960), Jason Caggiano (1996), and Jamie Solomon (2003). His 124 career points vaults him into tenth place in career scoring.

Points 'R Us
You hear all the time that time of possession is critical in football. That may be true, but you couldn't tell it from the Pioneers number this year. So far this season, the Pioneers have had the ball for 179 minutes and 20 seconds of game time. Their opponents, on the other hand, have had it for 260 minutes and 40 seconds.

Doing the math, you come up with this startling fact: the Pioneers are averaging one point for every 29 seconds of game time. Their opponents are averaging one point for every five and a half minutes of game time. So it's not so much how much time you hold the ball, it's what you do with it when you have it.

That's it for now. Check back later in the week for my Holliston preview.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Winthrop Championship Game Preview: Battle of the Unbeatens

by Tom Condardo

Well here we go.

As the season moved along, it seemed inevitable that some combination of Winthrop, Watertown, Triton and Lynnfield would make it to the Division 4 North Final. Swampscott took care of Watertown and Winthrop edged Triton leaving the two unbeaten giants to decide things on Friday night.

You couldn't ask for a better matchup. The Herald has Lynnfield ranked 13th and Winthrop comes in at 18. The Globe has the Pioneers ranked 20th in eastern mass.

As you read in my Villager preview this week, the championship game ironically features the two smallest schools in the division. The Pioneers at a 9-12 male enrollment of 305 is 15th out of the 16 teams in the division in terms of size. The Vikings at 241 are dead last. These two have thrived where the other larger schools in the division like Bedford (398), Triton (384), Pentucket (383), and Watertown (380) have fallen by the

These two teams are evenly matched in many ways. I'll get into some of the x's and o's in a bit, but first I wanted to compare the teams in terms of some intangibles in the hope of providing some insight into the contest.

The Pioneers played their first four games on the road this season before returning to their plush new stadium for four of their last five games. They have won five straight road games and 11 of their last 12 contests away from Lynnfield.

During that stretch they have won at Hamilton Wenham, Pentucket, Newburyport (finally), none of which are easy places to play. But suffice to say, they haven't seen anything like they will be facing when they trot onto the frozen natural grass at Miller Field Friday night.

I've never had the pleasure of covering a game there, but several folks have told me that it is one of the most difficult places for a visiting team to go into and win. Start with no visiting locker room near the field - think Middle School field - which is a huge factor considering what the conditions will be like Friday (more on that later) and a boisterous home crowd and you get the picture.

The Pioneers have shown a tough mindset all season and they will need to dig deep again to overcome the odds and hostile atmosphere they'll face at Miller Field in the championship game.

Advantage: Winthrop

The conditions were brutal last week in Winthrop and hurt the Triton spread offense (basically the same offense run by the Pioneers). Winds were howling and by now you've heard the tales of punts going up into the wind and coming back further back from where they were kicked.

Current game time forecast in Winthrop is for clear skies and a temperature of 38 degrees. The wind should only be around 10 mph, which is a far cry from what it was last week. Considering that the field basically juts into Boston Harbor, the game time temperature will feel like 32. By the end of the game it's expected to be a balmy 36 feeling like 28.

Both teams are predominantly run teams, but each has a solid passing game as well so whatever the weather, it will affect both teams.

Advantage: Even

This will be the first Viking playoff appearance in a while. The current senior class was part of teams that went 6-5, 6-5, and 5-6 the past three years before breaking out big time this season. They are led by talented group of 17 seniors. They have to rely on that leadership since there are only six juniors on the squad.

The Pioneers are on an unprecedented run of success, compiling a 32-11 mark since 2011 including three straight league championships. In terms of big games, it's tough to match the Pioneers' experience. Since 2012, the seniors on this Lynnfield squad have played six playoff games including a Super Bowl appearance at Gillette. You can almost add in the 2012 Thanksgiving Day game against North Reading since in those pre playoff days, only the league champ got in and that game was for all the marbles. The Pioneers record in those seven games is 5-2.

Advantage: Lynnfield

By now everyone has heard the bleatings over the Pioneers "weak" schedule, and although they could only play the games that were scheduled, building up a +297 point differential against anyone is impressive. That said, Lynnfield beat nine opponents with a combined record of 26-53. Only one team - Saugus - has a winning record.

The record of Winthrop's nine victims is not that much better at 36-45 and only three of them have winning records, but there is one big difference. Where Lynnfield played seven schools from D4 and two D5, Winthrop has beaten a team from D1 (Peabody), D2 (Lynn Classical), three from D3, and four from D4.

In games against common opponents, the Vikings beat Saugus 44-41 and the Pioneers defeated the Sachems 42-7. Winthrop beat Swampscott 28-13 and the Pioneers routed the Big Blue 35-7. The Vikings beat Hamilton-Wenham 26-6 and Lynnfield shut out the Generals 35-0.

Advantage: Winthrop

The Vikings rely heavily on their senior class. Of the 41 players listed, 18 are freshmen and sophomores. As a result, six players go both ways for Winthrop.

The Pioneers' 49 man roster consists of 19 seniors, 17 juniors, and 13 sophomores. Lynnfield is able to rotate in fresh, experienced bodies throughout a game, something their opponents with smaller rosters haven't been able to do.

Advantage: Lynnfield

You only have to go back to my opening to figure this one out. With the two smallest schools in the division making it to the championship game, you know both Pioneer head coach Neal Weidman and Winthrop head coach Sean Driscoll and their staffs have done a tremendous job. The Pioneers' performance since Weidman took over in 2008 is truly impressive: 54-23, four championships, seven playoff games and a Super Bowl appearance.

Driscoll may not have the gaudy numbers, but to keep a school the size of Winthrop competitive in a league dominated by larger schools is equally impressive. In reality, the Vikings should be in the Cape Ann League based on their size, although you probably couldn't drag them out of the Northeast Conference with the jaws of life.

Keep in mind that Winthrop's male enrollment of 241 is in the neighborhood of Manchester Essex (227) and Georgetown (210). The teams they face year after year have double, triple and quadruple the number of boys as the Vikings. Yet Winthrop remain competitive and some years - like this year - they have no trouble dispatching much larger schools like Peabody (925), Lynn Classical (685), and Revere (766).

Advantage Even

Bottom line? It's as even a matchup as you can get. The boys will just have to sort this one out on the field. For a comprehensive look at the game from someone who has seen both teams play, check out this preview article from Daily Item reporter Matt Roy.

Familiar Offense
Pioneer fans who travel to Winthrop will should recognize the Viking offense. It's a hybrid of sorts with elements of North Reading's single wing with lineman hoping left and right before the snap to overload the point of attack. However it has a passing component as well making it look more like the Wing T from Amesbury and Ipswich. The Pioneer defense has faced them all so it will just come down to execution.

Tale of the Tape
Here are a few comparison numbers between the teams

Point Differential
Lynnfield: 330-33 (+297)
Winthrop: 244-110 (+134)

Lynnfield: 1982 yards, 27 TD's
Winthrop: 2000 yards, 24 TD's

Leading Rushers
Reise Turransky (#26) 111/694 5 TD's
Jake Chuidina (#30) 87/548 5 TD's
Dylan Driscoll (#10) 75/345 10 TD's
Jon Gonzalez (#21) 40/236 3 TD's

Jake Rourke 113/723 13 TD's
Drew McCarthy 43/450 5 TD's
Danny Sullivan 48/348 3 TD's
Kevin Lee 17/114 2 TD's

Danny Sullivan, Lynnfield: 1285 yards, 17 TD's, 1 interception
Dylan Driscoll, Winthrop: 755 yards, 8 TD's, 5 interceptions

Leading Receivers
Zach Deeb (#18) 15/264 3 TD's
Jake Chuidina (#30) 9/200 3 TD's

Cam Rondeau 20/573 7 TD's
Jon Knee 18/502 7 TD's

Coaches Corner
Finally, let's hear what my expert coaching panel has to say. I reached out to Joe Papagni, Saugus defensive coordinator and Lynnfield High lacrosse coach. He faced both teams so has a good perspective.

"Lynnfield has a combination of strength and athleticism needed to stop Winthrop's potent offense," Papagni said. "Additionally I think Lynnfield will capitalize on Winthrop's defense."

Triton head coach Pat Sheehan has a fresh view of the Vikings, having lost a tough 14-0 contest to them in the semi-finals last week. I asked him for his thoughts on the matchup.

"Winthrop is a scrappy bunch," Sheehan said. "They have found ways to win all year. They are just a good team. They haven't relied on one side of the ball or the other. Their defense has won them some games (Triton) and their offense has won them games (Saugus). Their special teams are solid and difficult to prepare for as they do a lot of different things in the kicking game.

"Offensively they run the double wing out of the gun," he continued. "Their base offense is super power where they pull a backside guard and tackle up the hole and kick out the edge of the defense with their fullback. They have a very effective counter off this. They have really opened up the offense this year with quarterback Dylan Driscoll. They run a lot of quarterback counters, jet sweeps, jet counters, and are dangerous with the deep ball. They run a lot of formations and shift/motion a lot which makes preparing for them defensively very important.

"Defensively they are the most aggressive 3-4 defense I've seen," he went on. "They blitz almost every play and play mostly a cover three over the top defense. They void underneath zones with the blitz, but they're able to get to the quarterback in a variety of ways. (Jeff Collignon #74) is a big, effective nose tackle and their defense is FAST. They can recover very quickly if they guess wrong on a blitz.

"I think Lynnfield'd double tight end formations will be a problem for Winthrop as their line twists and linebacker blitzes will lost some gap integrity with the eight gaps that a double TE formation presents."

Well I certainly can't get any more detailed than that. Dress warm and enjoy what should be one of the best games of the year.

The winner will take on the Division 4 South champ (Middlesborough or Holliston) for the right to play for a state championship at Gillette. The loser starts planning for the Thanksgiving Day rivalry game.

Game time at Miller Field is 7 pm.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Swampscott Leftovers

by Tom Condardo

There are two kinds of big plays in football: the ones that go for huge chunks of yardage and those that come at important times in the game. The Pioneers featured both in another impressive playoff win Friday night. And make no mistake, despite the apparent blow out score, there were several key points in the game where the Pioneers needed to make a big play and they came through nearly every time.

Let's start with the big plays as in long yardage plays. Three of the Pioneer TD's came from long distance with Danny Sullivan connecting on bombs of 49 yards (to Cam Rondeau) and 57 and 65 yards (to Jon Knee). Those certainly qualify as "big" plays.

There were several other big - as in important - plays in this one.

We can begin with one late in the first half. Leading 7-0, the Pioneers were pinned on their own 20, facing a 3rd and 10 into a stiff wind. Failure to convert there likely gives Swampscott the ball back in good field position with an opportunity to drive in for the tying score. Instead, Sullivan rifled one 40 yards in the air through the wind into the arms of a streaking Knee. Knee was brought down at the 27 and the Pioneers didn't score on the drive, but the play got Lynnfield out of the hole and flipped field position.

Another big play occured early in the second period when Rondeau picked off Devin Conroy at midfield and ran it back to the Big Blue 19. Sullivan scored four plays later to give the Pioneers some breathing room at 14-0.

A couple of minutes later, the Pioneers faced a third and six from midfield and Sullivan responded by throwing another strike to Rondeau for the 49 yard TD to put the Pioneers up by three TD's.

Starting the second half up 28-0 you would think there were no more key plays to be had, but that's not the case. The Zombie Big Blue, refusing to die, rolled right down the field to open the second half to get on the board at 28-7. The Pioneers went three and out and Swampscott went on the march again.

They obviously figured something out and were finding holes in the Pioneer defense. They quickly moved to the Pioneer 19 and the Lynnfield crowd definitely got a little fidgety.

"They did a few different things in the second half," said Pioneer head coach Neal Weidman. "They were attacking different areas and did a good job with that. They were also trying to come out quick and take advantage of the wind in that third period."

Then came a series of big plays by the Pioneers that prevented this one from turning into a ball game.

On second and three, Cam DeGeorge blew up an inside handoff by tackling both running back Mike Faia and quarterback Conroy (who actually had the ball) for a three yard loss. On third and six, a heavy pass rush - led by DeGeorge - forced an incomplete pass. On fourth and six, DeGeorge came up big again by hauling down Conroy after a two yard gain short of the first down.

"Cam has played great all year," said Weidman. "He's been a good player for us for three years."

The Pioneers took over and four plays later Sullivan hit Knee with a 65 yarder to put this out of reach. The sequence was a 14 point swing and turned what could have been a 28-14 game into a 35-7 rout.

If you classify third and fourth down plays as "big," the Pioneers clearly won that battle. The Big Blue was 1 for 13 on third down and 3 for 6 on fourth down for a combined 4 for 19 or 21% success. The Pioneers were 5 for 10 on third down and 0 for 1 on fourth down for a 5/11 success rate or 45% conversion. That was a key factor in the game.

Passing Fancy
I talked last week about how the Pioneers were gaining about 35% of their yardage in the passing game. And although the opening drive featured a nine play Jake Rourke-fest on the ground, the Pioneers ended up gaining 221 of their 322 yards (69%) through the air. That reason was the Pioneers' "we'll take what you give us" approach.

"That first drive we had some success with the run," said Weidman. "So I think they decided they wanted to stop that so once they did that we got some favorable matchup in the passing game."

You might say that. Sullivan ended up 7 for 12 for 221 net yards and three TD's. His NFL passer rating was 142.4. His season passer rating is now 145.7.

On the other side of the ball, Swampscott wasn't shy about going to the air. Conroy threw on 38 of 60 Big Blue offensive plays, connecting on 18 of them for 209 yards and a TD. He also had the one interception. His passer rating for the game was 62.3.

Unfamiliar Territory
Writers covering a team for the first time can sometimes make statements that really don't make sense to those who know the teams well. You always have to be careful making judgements based on statistics or on one viewing of a team.

Mike Grenier, the long time, outstanding reporter for the Salem News kind of fell into one of those traps in his writeup of the Lynnfield/Swampscott game. He obviously did his research and found that the Pioneers were primarily a running team. However, not being familiar with the Pioneers, he really didn't have a full sense of what the Lynnfield offense has done all year. That led to these statements in his game story.

"The Pioneers dictated every aspect of the game, showing off a crushing ground game in the first quarter and then, surprisingly, whipping the Big Blue through the air at key junctures the rest of the way."


And this:

"Senior Dan Sullivan has proven to be a very capable quarterback for Lynnfield, but did anybody really expect him to throw a 49 yard scoring pass to Cam Rondeau in the second quarter, then follow it up with a 57 yard TD pass to Jon Knee before the half ended?"

Well I guess anyone who has seen Sullivan complete 53 of 77 passes for 1279 yards and 17 touchdowns might have expected it. Or anyone who has seen seven of those TD's go for 35+ yards might realize that he has thrown TD bombs in six of their first eight games. So long distance TD passes are an integral part of this Pioneer offense.

I realize you can't know everything about every team in the area, especially when you have never seen a team play. But in this case, what Sullivan and the Pioneer passing game accomplished was no surprise.

Opening Statement
The early score has become a staple for this Pioneer team. They have now scored the first time they touched the ball in seven of their nine games. And they have done it in almost every way possible.

- Newburyport: 27 yard Dan Bronshvayg field goal on opening drive
- Manchester/Essex: 81 yard opening kickoff return by Rondeau
- Georgetown: 45 yard punt return by Knee
- Hamilton-Wenham: 29 yard pass from Sullivan to Knee on opening drive
- Ipswich: 74 yard pass from Sullivan to Knee on opening drive
- Saugus: 9 yard run by Rourke on opening drive
- Swampscott: 9 yard run by Rourke on opening drive

Top of the Heap
This Pioneer team is placing itself among the best LHS teams in history. Here are some measures of their success so far.

- The 297 point differential of this year's team (330-33) is second only to the 1960 team that posted a 346 point differential. No one else is even close. the 2010 team is third best at +232, then comes 2013 at +209 and the 1961 team at +208
- The 33 points allowed through nine games is second best to the 1962 team which allowed 32 in their nine game season. The two squads' 3.6 ppg allowed is nearly two points per game stingier than the next best performance, the 1985 team at 5.2 points per game.
- They have now scored 30 or more points in eight straight games. That is the only time it's been done in the history of the school. The 2013 team did it in seven straight games.
- They are only the second team to win their first nine games. The only other LHS team to do it was the undefeated 1960 team who finished 9-0.

First Timers
Swampscott became the 43rd different opponent the Pioneers have played since the beginning of the program in 1958. Their record in first games against new opponents is 25-17-1. Since Lynnfield has never met Winthrop, the Vikings will become opponent number 44 next week.

That's it for now.

Check back later in the week for my preview of the Championship Game.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Swampscott Playoff Game Preview: Mirror, Mirror

by Tom Condardo

So if you've been reading any of the daily papers you are being led to believe that Lynnfield is on Mars and Swampscott is on Pluto as far as football is concerned with no connections at all. It's true this will be the first official meeting between the schools, but if you read my game preview in this week's Villager, you know they are far from strangers.

The fact is that the two programs have quite a lot in common.

Let's start with the fact that the head coach Neal Weidman's high-octane spread offense was the result of the close ties between the Pioneers and Big Blue.

The original connection is obviously former Lynnfield head coach and AD Bill Adams who terrorized opponents as a two way lineman for Swampscott under legendary coach Stan Bondelevich in the late 1960's. Adams went on to have a stellar career at Holy Cross and moved into the NFL where he played for the Buffalo Bills with O. J. Simpson.

It was Adams, along with Weidman, who decided to switch from the Pioneers' traditional Power I offense in 2006. To help make the transition, he dug back into his Big Blue roots and sought the advice of Swampscott coach Steve Dembowksi, one of the few teams running the spread at the time.

"I'm old fashioned, but I know when I have to change," Adams told me that preseason. "We scrimmaged Swampscott last year and I began talking to their coaching staff. They are one of the smaller teams in their league (Northeast Conference) and they have been competitive using this offense. It makes the game exciting and fun for the kids. (The Swampscott staff) convinced me this is a way for small schools to compete. It was getting harder and harder to get back to the line of scrimmage with the I."

Making the decision easier for Adams was the fact that he had the perfect assistant coach to run the spread in Weidman. The former Division III standout quarterback set 17 school records at Ithaca College including the mark for career passing yards (4,129).

The rest, as they say, is history. Below is a chart of the Pioneers' points per game average since 2000.

That tells the tale. The freshmen class that first year would go on to win the first Pioneer championship in 22 years when they took the CAL Small crown in 2009.

It's hard to imagine the Pioneers keeping up their current torrid scoring streak, but their 36.9 ppt would be second only to the legendary 1960 team that averaged 45.6 points per game. Last's year's squad checked in at 31.4 ppg.

Helping to launch the spread in Lynnfield was only the beginning of the relationship between the Pioneers and Big Blue. Weidman and Dembowski have stayed close. For a number of years they ran the 7 v 7 Tournament that was eventually absorbed into the now gigantic Under Armour 7 v 7 tournament held all over Eastern Mass.

Still Close
The two coaches still stay in touch.

"We have a long history with them," Weidman told me after last week's game. "Not so much this year and last year, but prior to that he and I would talk after every game about what worked, what didn't work, and what we each liked. We would discuss things like 'when you played so and so I saw this, what were you doing there?"

I asked him if the two would talk this week prior to the game.

"Probably not," he chuckled. "We'll talk, but not about football."

So when the two teams meet on Friday, it will be the next generation of Adams' on the field - Pioneer captain David Adams - but he won't be wearing Big Blue. Instead he'll be wearing Blue and (some) Gold trying to disrupt the offense he knows so well.

Little Connection
One final connection and not a football one.

Lynnfield and Swampscott have had an intense rivalry in District 16 Little League over the past 15 years, and the seniors on both teams can harken back to 2009 when the squads met in the District Final.

Tom Waisnor, the Voice of the Pioneers, reminded me that captain Danny Sullivan, Jake Rourke, and Al McLachlan played on that team against Swampscott which had current football team members quarterback Devin Conroy and Ryan Cresta.

Lynnfield won that game and the District Championship 6-1.

Timely Contrast
Despite the similarities, there is a least one distinct difference between the teams. The Big Blue has been dubbed "The Cardiac Kids" for their four straight come from behind wins, including last week's upset of Watertown. They trailed 21-10 going into the final quarter and roared back to take an impressive 24-21 win.

Daily Item reporter Kevin Doyle tells me that during their four game winning streak, the Big Blue has led for about a total of four minutes.

By contrast, the Pioneers have had a virtual hand ride all season. In fact in their eight games totaling 352 minutes, they have trailed for 7 minutes and 7 seconds. The only time they were behind all season was in the second quarter of the opener against Pentucket when Pat Freiermuth hit Jeff Porter with a 35 yard TD pass. That gave the Sachems a 7-0 lead with 10:51 left in the half. The Pioneers tied it up at the 3:44 mark of the quarter on a nine yard run by Rourke and Dan Bronshvayg's first PAT of the season. The Pioneers have never trailed again this season - a total of 30 quarters of football.

Dangerous Foe
Despite the records, Swampscott will be a dangerous team Friday night. They are peaking at the right time and at this point have to feel invincible. No lead has been safe with them and the Pioneers will have their hands full.

Conroy is a good runner but he can also hurt you through the air. He has passed for over 800 yards and 10 TDs. Cresta is the leading receiver with 19 catches for just over 200 yards and four TD's. Frank DiLisio has a pair of touchdown catches.

Mike Faia, a Rourke-like bull runner, leads the Swampscott rushing attack with 525 yards. Jordan James has chipped in with 350.

Coach's Corner
Once again I reached out to Triton head coach Pat Sheehan for his scouting report since his Vikings beat Swampscott 15-0 on opening day back in September.

"Swampscott has gotten much better since we saw them in week one. I saw them live against Beverly for their third out of fourth come from behind win. They are very well coached. Their defense is very aggressive and well prepared by Tom Tone (former North Reading Offensive Coordinator and quarterback). They are a base 4-3 team but use multiple pressures, coverages, and fronts.

"Offensively they can score points. They have the best screen game in the state throwing wide receiver screens, running back screens, fake screens, etc. That is difficult to defend alone and now they have a new identity and commitment to the running attack. Between the quarterback Conroy and a big, bruising running back in Faia, head coach Steve Dembowski has stayed very patient with the run game recently. It has paid dividends as the passing game has opened up for Conroy and his receivers when it's crunch time.

"They will struggle with Lynnfield's size, speed, and physicality but they will be prepared. If it's a close game in the fourth quarter, Swampscott will be right where they want to be."

Scribbler's Corner
I also asked Doyle for his take on the Big Blue.

"Having seen them four times, I can tell you this. Conroy is a focal point. Very elusive, extends plays with his feet and is a dangerous runner and good passer. Faia is a straight ahead guy with very good open field speed. He's a key at linebacker.

"Cresta is the top receiver, more of a control guy rather than big play. Also a good return guy and plays defensive back.

"Jordan James is the second running back and stud at linebacker. Mark Rittibon anchors the offensive line and is a key on the defensive line. Dante Ceccarelli is the second receiver and a standout at defensive end.

"They are primarily a senior team and not very deep. But they are patient and have great resilience. They are very good at onside kicks, having executed them late in each of their past two games to trigger game-winning drives."

All The Little Birdies
According to my Social Media Editor Tom Waisnor, there appears to be a fair amount of chirping coming from the north surrounding the game. Here are a few of the tweets wafting down.

This one resurrects the refrain questioning the Pioneers' schedule:

Here's one from a Big Blue rooter predicting that Swampscott will score more points in this game than the Pioneers have allowed all year and will take a 28-21 win.

Here's one warning of a Swampscott upset.

And finally, expect a big crowd from the visitors. Rumor has it they delivered four busloads of fans to Watertown last week. Here's a tweet reminding people about signups. Note the hashtag.

That's it for now. Nothing left but to play the game. Check back Sunday for my Leftovers post.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Saugus Leftovers

by Tom Condardo

Oh the weather outside was frightful, but the game was so delightful.

I know, we are barely past Halloween, so what's with the Christmas reference? Well everyone else is doing it, and the nip in the air Saturday night certainly made it feel like we were already in the holiday season.

Those of you who braved the elements were rewarded with an impressive performance by the undefeated Pioneers. They did the same thing to a very good Saugus team (make no mistake) that they've done to every other team they faced this season: a offense that scored at will and a defense that suffocated the opposing offense. The only difference was that the starters got to play the whole game.

For those questioning the Pioneers' bona fides because of their less-than-taxing schedule, this game proved to be an answer. It doesn't guarantee anything since the games only get tougher from here, but the way the Pioneers shut down a highly flammable Sachem offense and basically had their way with the Saugus defense certainly bodes well for the future.

The concern going in was obviously the weather. Not so much the rain, but the wind. As I mentioned in my preview, there was some trepidation getting into a run game battle with a team that is almost 100% run oriented and having half the Pioneer offense taken away.

As it turns out, the wind wasn't as bad as predicted and the Pioneer offense operated pretty much as it has all year. For the season the Pioneers have attempted 65 passes in 334 plays (19%). Against Saugus, they threw eight times in 47 plays (17%). The output was pretty much the same as well. For the season 1,059 out of 2,947 yards (35%) have come via the pass. Saturday night it was 87 out of 294 yards (30%). The missing component was the bomb. Danny Sullivan's longest completion was the 23 yard TD pass to Cam Rondeau.

Sullivan Shines
Speaking of the quarterback, everyone knew there was going to be a dangerous running quarterback on the field wearing number 2. But most expected it to be the Sachem's Justin Winn who has had a remarkable season running the Triple Option.

However it was the number two in navy blue who stole the show as Sullivan erupted for 180 yards on 11 carries (16 yards per carry average). He scored one touchdown running and threw for two more giving him 14 on the season. He even channelled his inner Gino Cohee, running the famous quarterback draw that former Pioneer QB ran with great success from 2007-2010.

Sullivan's NFL passer rating in the game was an amazing 156.25, just shy of a perfect 158.3. If he had thrown for three more yards he would have had a perfect score. For the season, his rating is an incredible 143.6.

View From the Booth
As for the weather, the biggest problem was that it forced me into the dry, heated press box. I
Photo by Jack Schnelle
NEVER do games from there. I much prefer being on the sideline where I can get a feel for the action up close and personal. But until someone invents water resistant pen and paper, I will have to duck into the booth on those occasions when weather dictates.

It's actually more the wind. I've done games under an umbrella on the sideline, but I was fearful I might take off, Mary Poppins style, with some of the wind gusts whipping around.

I have to admit it was warm and toasty in there though.

Second Verse Same As The First
This was the second year in a row the Pioneers have played Saugus. The Sachems returned nearly the same players, a year older and better, but the stats were similar.

Last year, the Sachems rushed for 316 yards - 166 from Dan Cacciola and 61 from Winn. Winn was 1 for 8 for 13 yards. Saturday night, the Sachems ran for 249 yards - 148 from Cacciola and 42 from Winn. Winn was 1 for 3 for -6 yards passing.

In last year's game, the Pioneers ran for 376 yards and threw for 67. Kyle McGah carried 16 times for 132 yards and 3 TD's. Jake Rourke had 87, Matt Kramich had 85, and Sullivan had 58.

This year, the Pioneers picked up 294 yards on the ground and threw for 87. Rourke had 106 yards and 3 TDs. The biggest difference was Sullivan. He ran for 180 and a score and threw for two more.

Diminishing Returns
Pioneer fans were a bit concerned when the Sachems came out and moved the ball fairly easily on their first two drives. The Lynnfield D stiffened and forced a turnover on downs twice, which was the turning point in the game.

It also turned out to be the Sachems best offensive shot. Their yardage by quarter: 100-74-22-39. First downs by quarter: 5-4-1-1.

Life Begins at 40
This was the fourth game this year the Pioneers have score 40 or more points. You can take that for granted until you start to realize how hard it is to do. To put it in perspective, it's only been done 27 times in the history of LHS football. Amazingly, 12 of those have happened since 2010.

The first of the 12 came in a 42-21 win over Bishop Fenwick in 2010. Prior to that, the Pioneers hadn't done the trick since a 55-0 win over Masco in 1985. That's 25 years between 40+ point game. Prior to that 1985 game, it hadn't been done since 1978. So in the 31 seasons from 1979 to 2009, the Pioneers scored 40 or more points a grand total of...once.

The only other team to score over 40 in four or more games was the 1960 squad which did it six times. All six games were actually over 50 points. And three of those were 60+ points.

Leading Men
The incredible 295-26 scoring advantage puts the Pioneers at the top of a couple of lists, which shouldn't be a shock.

The 295 points scored through eight games is second only to that 1960 team which had 388 after the first eight. Defensively, the Pioneers stand alone. The 26 points is the fewest allowed in the first eight games in LHS history. The 1962 is second with 32 points allowed.

Maiden Voyage
You knew it had to end eventually, but it took nearly two and a half games for an opponent to score at new LHS stadium. Cacciola's 19 yard run  early in the second quarter was the first score in the visitor end zone. The Pioneers have now outscored their opponents 125-6 in their new home.

Even Steven
The win evens the Pioneers' all time series with the Sachems at 2-2.

That's it for now. Check back later in the week when I'll take a look at the division playoffs.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Saugus Playoff Game Preview: Exam Time

by Tom Condardo

I'm sure the Pioneers have had it up to their chinstraps hearing about their weak schedule. Every comment you read comes with the caveat, "but who have they played."

Well they had no choice. They played the schedule they were handed. The five league games were predetermined. They scheduled their two non league games against last year's first and second place finishers in the CAL Kinney (Large). Both went to the playoffs and one (Pentucket) went into overtime in the Division Championship game before falling to Bedford 22-14.

Head coach Neal Weidman tried to schedule a couple of Division Three teams - Belmont and Concord Carlisle. Belmont never called back and CC basically wanted no part of the Pioneers since they had nothing to gain and everything to lose. This from a team that would go on to have a 6-0 season and earn the top seed in Division 3NW.

Yes you can question the opposition, but it's tough to question the dominance of going undefeated and outscoring seven teams 253-20. I don't care who you're playing, that's impressive. I guess they could have prevented those three touchdowns they allowed. Or played their starters more than a half in their blowouts and scored 350 points. But none of that would have mattered. The doubters would still be out there.

The third seeded Pioneers finally have a chance to answer them all Saturday night when they take on the number six seed Saugus Sachems, unquestionably their toughest foe of the year. The Sachems were nearly shut out of the playoffs when it looked like there were eight first and second place league finishers all earning automatic bids. Saugus left the CAL after one year and played an independent schedule this season so they had to make the playoffs as a wild card. As it turned out, Arlington Catholic got smote by St. Mary's on Saturday dropping them out of second place in the Catholic Central Large and opening a spot for the 5-2 Sachems.

That's really the way it should be. They've had a tremendous year scoring the exact same number of points as the Pioneers - 253. They lost a game they probably should have won against top seeded Winthop on the opening week in searing heat. They had taken a lead late in that game and were understandably exuberant, but were flagged for excess celebration. That ended up giving the Vikings great field position and Winthrop marched down the field to win a wild 44-41 game. Saugus' only other loss came against Division 3 Lynn English in another high scoring affair 44-31.

So therein lies the tale. The Sachems can score. In bunches. The Pioneers have allowed only 20 points all season. That's been about a half's worth of offense for Saugus this year. The question is, can they do it against this Pioneer defense.

The twist here is the Saugus offense. They run the traditional Navy Triple Option which is almost exclusively a running attack. They return nearly the same team that ran over the Pioneers for 316 yards in last season's 35-21 Lynnfield win. Their two main weapons, quarterback Justin Winn and running back Dan Cacciola, are back, a year older, bigger, and better.

But so is the Pioneer defense. Something's gotta give.

Coaches' Corner
To get some answers I reached out to Pat Sheehan, Triton head coach and former Pioneer offensive coordinator and captain in his playing days. Sheehan's Vikings, who run a nearly duplicate offense of the Pioneer attack, fell to the Sachems 36-22 in September. I asked him for some insight on the game.

"Saugus is good," Sheehan told me. "They are a senior heavy team and this will be the first time this season, besides the scrimmage against Masco, that Lynnfield doesn't have a complete size advantage. While I believe they are still bigger, it won't be as noticeable from the stands.

"Saugus runs the flex bone triple option and they run it by the book," Sheehan continued. "They
basically run four plays and they run them well. You first need to take away Cacciola. He's fast and he's a beast. Unfortunately if you take him away there is equally as effective quarterback Winn. He killed us for 160 yards and two scores. Then finally you have a couple of good wing backs that can churn up yards on the outside.

"Their passing game is not great," he went on, "but can kill you if you are all honked up on the run. They have scored a lot of points this year and they control the ball. My guess is that they have more third and fourth down conversions than anyone. They are very comfortable in third and four, or fourth and one or two.

"Defensively for the Pioneers this will be the toughest test of the year," he said. "I do think they'll be able to move the ball and score some points. The key will be getting the Saugus offense off the field.

"On the defensive side of the ball, Saugus has the great Joe Papagni influence over there this year, " Sheehan concluded. "They are stout against the run but not great against the pass."

Return of the Native
For those not familiar, Papagni is a Lynnfield resident and current Pioneer head lacrosse coach. He was also the Pioneers' defensive coordinator from 2000-2004 and put together the third best defense in the past 24 years of Lynnfield High football. The 2003 squad allowed only 11 points per game. That team posted a 6-4 record, the only the second winning season for the Pioneers from 1992 to 2008.

I caught up with Papagni to get his take on the game.

"It's going to be fun," he said. "(Lynnfield) has so many weapons. You have to stop the run and the pass. It's just about preparing."

He said he was looking forward to facing some of his laxmen on the other sideline. I tried to find out how he planned to defense the Pioneers but he wouldn't oblige.

"I should be watching film, not talking to you," he said.

So no help there. We'll have to see what he cooks up Saturday night.

Storm Clouds
Unfortunately for the Pioneers, another factor has creeped into the equation - the weather. The game was originally scheduled for Friday night when it's supposed to be cloudy with temps around 48 with a 7 mph wind. Understandably, the game was moved because of Halloween and the forecast for Saturday night now calls for steady rain, with a temperature of 43 (feels like 35) and a howling wind of 20-30 mph. Not good.

The weather won't affect Saugus. They run 95% of the time and the footing at the new LHS Stadium figures to be fine. The Pioneers, on the other hand, have been balanced this season, rushing for 1587 yards and 21 TD's and throwing for 972 yards and 12 touchdowns. They have had the luxury of letting their opponents pick their poison. Load up on the run and watch Danny Sullivan toss bombs to Jon Knee and Cam Rondeau. Try and cover the pass and let Jake Rourke, Sullivan, Rondeau, Knee, and Drew McCarthy gash you on the ground.

If the weather turns out to be as bad as they say, the Sachems might be able to overcommit to the Pioneer run game forcing Sullivan to throw into a gale half the game and with it the other half. They will essentially be playing with one hand tied behind their back.

But as Mr. Belichick says, it is what it is.

Triple Option Primer
I ran this piece last year before the Saugus game and it's still appropriate so I figured I'd drag it out again.

How do you explain the triple option?

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

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

Defending the Triple Option
So how do you stop it? According to Weidman, it's "assignment football" which means the Pioneer defenders have to know what gaps to defend and which players to hit. When someone doesn't carry out his assignment, option plays go for big gains. The coach said that you have to be able to tackle on your own since there will be times when you won't get help bringing down a runner.

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

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

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

Delaware was blown out 51-7.

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

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

So there's that.

That's if for now. Stay dry and enjoy the game.

Game time at LHS Stadium is 6 pm.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Ipswich Leftovers

by Tom Condardo

First off, sorry for the delay. I'm sure you've all been waiting patiently for the post, but I've been kinda busy - sorting out the playoffs and all. I also had to write a couple of stories for this week's Villager - one on the game and another previewing the upcoming battle with Saugus.

Which reminds me, for those of you out of towners who've been yearning to read my Villager articles, your wait is over! The Villager is now on line. Check it out at and catch all the local news and sports and me.

Back to the task at hand.

So it was a successful Senior Night enjoyed by players and their parents and all the fans who got to see another dominating performance by the Pioneers. We'll get into the Ipswich game in a bit but first I want to talk a little about the power rankings.

First of all, let me say I think the new playoff system is awesome. The Twittersphere was going nuts Saturday and I personally spent WAY too much time calculating playoff matchup possibilities. The only real flaw in the playoff system, and one that can be easily corrected, is the automatic bid for second place teams. That almost kept a quality team like Saugus out, but ultimately it all worked out for the best.

And even for those complaining about Swampscott and Hamilton Wenham, the seventh and eighth seeds, not being worthy, take a look at the ratings. The only team higher is Arlington Catholic, whose 82 points were only slightly higher than Swampscott at 77 and HW at 74. And AC was only 4-3, the same as the Generals and only a game better than the Big Blue at 3-4. For the most part, the right teams are in.

But the question of the day is, how could the Pioneers at 7-0 be so far off from a top two seed? Their 115 points were 21 less than Watertown and 31 less than Winthrop. The obvious answer is the futility of the Pioneer opponents, which is partly true, but it's actually more than that. For a deeper look, let's look at the math (because that's what I do.)

It turns out there are ways that scheduling can work in your favor. It's probably not worth it for schools to spend a lot of time on it, but there are ramifications to the way games are scheduled.

As an example, let's compare the Pioneers to Winthrop, the top seed in Division 4. It turns out that it  would have been nearly impossible for Lynnfield to overtake the Vikings for the number one spot. The reason is that they started with a 22 point deficit even before the first kickoff. Let me explain.

As you all know by now, there are two ways to get points. One is by a team's own performance and the other is by the performance of the opponents a team has beaten. Let's look at own points first.

Winthrop plays in the Northeast Conference which is a predominantly a Division Three league. The only other team in Division 4 is Swampscott. All the teams in the South Division are Division 3 teams. The rule is you get 10 points for wins against teams in your own division, 12 for teams in a higher division and 8 for wins in a lower division (unless they are in your league).

The Vikings ran the table in their league going 5-0 against all Division 3 teams, thus they picked up 60 points in their league. They beat two Division 4 teams in Saugus and Swampscott so their own point value was 80 points.

On to the opponents.

Since they swept a 6 team league, the Vikings were guaranteed 3 points for every game played between league teams. That's 20 games, 10 winners equals 30 more potential points.

Taking it another step, none of the Vikings opponents played each other giving Winthrop the opportunity to cash in on every win by one of their opponents. That turned out to be 22 games or a potential point total of 66. So that gave Winthrop a potential maximum point total of 176 points.

The Pioneers on the other hand played a full Division 4 schedule, so their 7 wins gave them 70 points. So right off the bat the Pioneers were 10 points behind.

They earned the same number of league points since they also swept their 6 team league giving them 30 points there.

But here is where  the big difference comes in. The Pioneer opponents played a total of 21 games (Newburyport played only 6 games costing the Pioneers another potential 3 points.) Added to that was that there were three games between teams the Pioneers beat, preventing them from picking up  another 9 points.

Bottom line is that the maximum potential point total for Lynnfield was 154 (70+30+54). So before they even began they were behind the eight ball in points.

Well it turns out Winthrop's opponents went 12-10 giving them 36 points on top of the 110 they earned for their own wins and their automatic league wins giving them a total of 146.

The Pioneers picked up all their 70 points, the 30 interleague points, and the 9 points from the three games between beaten opponents for a total of 109. So there were only 15 other games by opponents that the Pioneers could have picked up points. Unfortunately, Lynnfield foes went 2-13 in those games giving them only 6 more points and a total of 115. Their opponents would have had to go 13-2 in those games for the Pioneers to catch Winthrop, something that they didn't come close to doing.

Got that?

Bottom line, to maximize their point total, teams should play teams in a higher division (providing they think they can beat them), play teams that play a full 7 game schedule, and schedule non league opponents that don't play each other.

I'm done. That's more information than you wanted but at least you have it.

On to the Ipswich game.

Impressed Opponent
Speaking of opponents, I spoke to Ipswich head coach Greg Brotherton after the game and he was effusive in his praise of the Pioneers.

"That's a special team," he told me. "(Weidman) should be proud of his team. The line play was absolutely amazing. When you have a center (David Adams) pulling out in front on a sweep you know you have some unbelievable talent."

"Outside of Marblehead," Brotherton went on, "They'd beat any team in the Northeast Conference."

To be fair to Ipswich, Brotherton was without starting quarterback Jake Long who hurt his hand against Manchester Essex. He also had seven players going both ways, a death knell for a team playing the Pioneers who unleash waves upon waves of talent against opponents.

Brotherton appears to have turned the Tigers around, and they will return as a force in the league in years to come.

Speed Kills
Kudos to junior Drew McCarthy who picked up a Star of the Week award from the Boston Herald for his 148 yard, two touchdown performance against the Tigers. He could have been 200+ yards with three scores but he had a 62 yarder called back.

He showed amazing acceleration and speed on all three runs. On the second one, assistant coach Gino Fodera turned to me and said "he was gone so fast my line didn't have a chance to block."

Don't Need No Stinkin' First Downs
Despite the blowout, the Pioneers picked up only 5 first downs, only one in the second half. Touchdowns of 74, 62, 51, 51 and 68 yards will do that.

Lucky 13
Cam Rondeau's 13th interception turned out to be the first pick six of his career. It was also the first interception return for a score this year. The last one was by Jake Rourke who did the trick against Manchester Essex last season. It was the 27th pick six in the history of the school.

Sophomore Workload
Thanks to all the blowout wins, sophomore running back Nick Contardo has accumulated quite a workload this year. He tied for the most carries against Ipswich with nine and his 22 carries is the fourth most on the team for the season behind Rourke (71), McCarthy (39) and Danny Sullivan (31). He's picked up 96 yards for a solid 4.4 per carry average.

No Dropoff on D
Speaking of the reserves, the second and third team defenses showed no drop off against Ipswich. They held the first string Tiger offense to 25 yards and no first downs on the final two series of the game.

Goose Eggs
The Pioneers' fourth shutout of the year was the 95th in school history. It ties them with the 2010, 2003, 1983, 1964, and 1959 teams who also posted four shutouts. The record is held by the 1962 team who held opponents scoreless in five of nine games.

The Pioneers have now allowed only 20 points through their first seven games but the '62 team still has them beat allowing only 12 through their first 7.

Familiar Foe
The game with the Tigers was the 46th between the schools and the Pioneers are on the short end of a 20-26 record. Ipswich is the second most faced Lynnfield opponent topped only by North Reading's 56 meetings.

Senior Salute
Finally a tip of the helmet to the 19 seniors who were honored Friday night. They've had a tremendous career and they're not done yet. Congrats to Captains Danny Sullivan, Jon Knee, David Adams, and Cam Rondeau and the rest of the seniors Rob Debonis, Jake Rourke, Marc Budd, Chad Martin, Kevin Lee, Lucas Pascucci, Nick Wilkinson, Steve Kinnon, Matt Albano, Dylan Shaffer, Al McLachlan, Brando Troisi, Edison McIntosh, Steven White and Chris O'Neill.

That's it for now. Check back Thursday for my preview of Saturday night's big playoff game.