Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Top Plays of 2013

by Tom Condardo

'Tis the season where pundits from politics, sports, and entertainment note the top achievements of the last year. Well, I've joined the parade with my annual list of top plays from the Pioneers' exciting 2013 championship season.

As I've mentioned before when putting out these lists, the top plays can be positive or negative but in my opinion had the most impact on a particular game or on the season as a whole. So maybe this should be called The Most Impactful Plays of 2013. In any event, I tend to rate plays from league and post season games higher because of their increased significance but I have chosen at least one play from each game. The number varies from year to year and this season I happened to come up with a tidy little Top 20.

Again this is HIGHLY subjective so feel free to agree or disagree. So here we go. In reverse order, my Fifth Annual Top Pioneer Plays of the year.

#20. The Sweep 1.0

In the second game of the season, the Pioneers were struggling against the pesky Saugus Sachems and their tricky Navy triple option offense. Saugus jumped out 7-0 and the Pioneers tied it up on their next possession. The first quarter ended with a Jon Knee interception giving the ball back to the Pioneers.

This first play of the second quarter was a second and eight from the Saugus 21 yard line. Captain Matt Kramich lined up on the right side, sprinted left, took the handoff from Danny Sullivan and headed around the left end. Blocks by captains Kyle McGah and Dom Costa sprung him lose and Kramich did the rest accelerating down the sideline for a 79 yard touchdown run. That gave the Pioneers a 14-7 lead and they would never trail again enroute to a 35-21 non league win.

#19. Costa and Rourke to the Rescue

Although it ended up being a two touchdown win, the Saugus game could have gotten away from the Pioneers early if not for this play. As mentioned, the Sachems went up 7-0 and on the following Lynnfield possession, Saugus recovered a Pioneer fumble at the Lynnfield 32 yard line. The way the Triple Option was slicing through the Pioneer defense, there was a real danger that Saugus was about to go up 14-0.

However on Saugus' first play from scrimmage, Dom Costa stripped Sachem running back Dan Cacciola as he burst through the line and Jake Rourke pounced on the loose ball. The Pioneers made Saugus pay for the turnover, marching 71 yards in five plays with McGah rolling the final 22 yards to tie the score at 7-7. The fumble recovery resulted in a possible 14 point swing.

#17 & #18. Trickery Treat

Suffering from a post playoff hangover, the Pioneers labored against a talented Watertown Raider team, especially in the early going. They fell behind 14-0 and scratched their way back. They finally took a lead late in the third period and needed a little sleight of hand on these two plays to do it.

Facing a third and 11 from the Watertown 30, Rourke took a handoff from Sullivan and headed left. But the southpaw running back pulled up and lofted a bomb to a wide open and patiently waiting Knee who finally gathered it in and cruised into the end zone to make it 14-13.

The Magic Show wasn't over yet. The Pioneers lined up for the extra point but Matt Connelly's snap went directly to placekicker Daniel Bronshvayg who tossed it to a wide open Austin Caswell. That gave the Pioneers a 15-14 lead. But there were more fireworks to come.

#16.  Clutch Conversion

The Pioneers might not have been in that position in the Watertown game if not for this key play late in the first half. Trailing by two touchdowns with just over a minute to play in the second quarter, the Pioneers faced a third and eight from the Raider 27 yard line. Failure to convert here would likely have meant a Lynnfield punt and a 14-0 halftime deficit for the dazed Pioneers.

Sullivan took the snap, rolled right and hit Knee at the 33 - short of the first down - with Raider Erik Antonellis bearing down on him. Knee made a nifty shift to the right to shed Antonellis and then sprinted down the right sideline to the Lynnfield 47 giving the Pioneers a crucial first down. Three more Sullivan completions got the ball to the Watertown 30. Fittingly, Sullivan and Knee hooked up for a 30 yard score to get the Pioneers on the board with four seconds left in the half. The tally woke up the Pioneers who would go on to play an inspired second half for the win. But it might never have happened if not for this key conversion.

#15. Watertown Back Breaker

Despite the previous plays, the Pioneers fell behind in Watertown one more time when the Raiders made it 20-15 midway in the final period. Their lead lasted all of 13 seconds, or the time it took Kramich to collect the following kickoff at the eight yard line and motor 92 yards for the winning score on this Top Play #15.  It was Kramich's second kickoff return for a score for the season and he would notch a record tying third against North Reading on Thanksgiving Day.

#14. Lighting the Fuse

In the crucial CAL Baker league opener, the Pioneers found themselves trailing Amesbury 7-6 midway in the first quarter. The Pioneers had scored first, but the feisty Indians answered with a 60 yard TD bomb to take the lead.

On the following possession, the Pioneers marched 76 yards and found them selves with a second and goal at the Amesbury one. Dom Costa and Alex Ganter destroyed the left side of the Indian line and Rourke waltzed in for the score. Sullivan hit captain Anthony Costa for the two point conversion and the rout was on. This key touchdown provided the spark the Pioneers would need. They went on to score three more times in the first half on the way to a 41-7 win.

#13. The Sweep 2.0

The annual Thanksgiving Day game was a wide open back and forth affair and the Pioneers set the tone on this first play of the game. In a near carbon copy of the Kramich run against Saugus, Knee took a handoff from Sullivan and sprinted around left end for a 64 yard touchdown run. It was Knee's first carry of the year - he would have another one for 25 more yards later in the game - and kick started the Pioneers to a quick 7-0 lead.

And as an aside, bonus points if you even remember carbon copies. I think I need a new analogy.

#12. Breaking Serve

The Pioneers and Hornets traded haymakers all morning with neither team able to get more than a touchdown ahead. The Hornets made it 35-28 early in the fourth quarter on the fourth running touchdown from the unstoppable C. J. McCarthy (271 yards rushing on the day).

The Pioneers attempted to answer once again, but on this key play - a third and eight from the North Reading 32 - Sullivan was forced to throw into the teeth of a howling wind. McCarthy was able to slip in and pick off the pass and cruise into the end zone for what turned out to be the winning score.

#11. Hold That Tiger

With the CAL Baker already clinched, the Pioneers went into Ipswich looking to pad their seeding points in the upcoming Division 4 North playoffs and looking to finish their league season undefeated for the second year in a row. The Tigers were not cooperating.

With quarterback Kyle Blomster doing a fair imitation of Doug Flutie, Ipswich was hanging with the Pioneers who led 7-0 early in the second quarter. The scrambling Blomster got the Tigers to the Lynnfield 34 yard line and appeared ready to march Ipswich in for the tying score.

But on this play - a third and eight - a blitzing David Adams broke through and finally corralled the elusive Blomster for an eight yard sack. The Tigers were forced to punt and the threat was ended. The Pioneers would go on to shut out Ipswich 35-0.

#10. Screen Shot

With starting quarterback Sullivan banged up and unable to play against Manchester-Essex, sophomore Adam Buchanan was called into the fray. He threw only five passes, completing three, but the biggest one was Top Play #10.

In the first quarter of a scoreless game, Buchanan and the Pioneers faced a 3rd and 16 from the Hornet 39 yard line. On a perfectly executed screen, Buchanan hit Caswell in the left flat with Ganter, Dom Costa and Adams out in front. Caswell took it all the way to the M/E nine yard line for a first down. McGah completed the drive on the next play to give the Pioneers a 7-0 lead. They would go on to build a 35-0 halftime lead on the way to a 42-0 win.

#9. Saved by the Flag

Heavily favored coming in, the 4-0 Pioneers flashed their disturbing tendency to start slow against a gutsy Georgetown team. Playing on the road for the first time all season, Lynnfield fell behind 7-0 on a Pat Bjork one yard run. The Pioneers would go on to fumble on their first play from scrimmage and the Royals were back in business at the Lynnfield 27 yard line.

On this next play, it appeared that the Royals had gone up by two touchdowns when Bjork connected with Nick DePasquale for an apparent 27 yard score. However the official flagged DePasquale for offensive pass interference nullifying the TD. The Royals returned the turnover favor by fumbling on the next play and the Pioneers recovered. They then marched 59 yards for the tying score and would go on to wear down Georgetown in a 40-7 win.

#8. Broadside

The Pioneers opened the season against what turned out to be one of their toughest opponents of the year - Newburyport. The Clippers are always a tough match for Lynnfield and it turned out to be the case again this year. The Pioneers managed to punch in a late first half score to take a 6-0 lead at the break. The Clippers opened the second half with an impressive 63 yard drive to take a 7-6 lead and momentum clearly was shifting.

Kramich ended that on the following kickoff by firing one across the Clippers bow with an 85 yard kickoff return to put the Pioneers back on top 14-7 following the two point conversion from Sullivan to Cam Rondeau. The Clippers never recovered as the Pioneers stretched the lead to 21-7 midway in the fourth and held on for a 21-13 win over playoff bound Newburyport.

#7 and #6. Plundering the Buccaneers

The battle against Bedford in the Division 4 North semifinals was expected to be a defensive struggle and that turned out to be the case. The Pioneer "D" made their share of big plays and these two made the top ten.

Late in the first quarter of a scoreless game, Bedford drove to the Lynnfield 14 yard line. On a fourth and four, Bucs quarterback Joey Zampell took a shot into the end zone but Kramich was there to pick it off and end the threat.

Late in the third quarter, with the Pioneers nursing a 7-0 lead, the Bucs again looked for a score on a fourth and five from the Lynnfield 25.  This time it was Olan Abner on a halfback option pass but Rondeau was there to pick off another one in the end zone to snuff out the drive.

#5. Fumbled Muff?

This one was clearly the most bizarre play of the season. In the playoff against Bedford, the Pioneers were forced to punt from their own 38 late in the first half. C. J. Finn's punt looked to be caught by Bedford's Mike Hayes at the Bucs 27 yard line. He then inexplicably appeared to attempt a lateral to a blocker who was engaged with Knee. Knee picked it off and returned it all the way for an apparent Lynnfield touchdown.

After conferencing, the officials ruled that Hayes never caught the ball and instead had muffed the punt. In high school football, a fumble can be advanced but a muff cannot so instead of a touchdown, the Pioneers gained possession at the Bedford 25. It was irrelevant in the final analysis since the Pioneers scored four plays later on a McGah 11 yard run to take a 7-0 lead.

#4. Stoned

In their opening playoff game, the Pioneers found themselves down 6-0 and in danger of going down by a pair of scores. The Spartans scored on their opening drive and after recovering a Pioneer fumble, they moved quickly to the Lynnfield 35 and faced a fourth and nine. It was crucial for the Pioneers to hold them and get the ball back.

A predominantly running team, the Spartans predictably stayed on the ground. Quarterback Dylan Owens pitched to the dangerous Darious McPherson who attempted to get the first down around the left side. Adams broke into the backfield but couldn't catch McPherson from behind. Meanwhile, Knee came up from the defensive backfield to turn in the play giving Adams enough time to get back into the play and  haul down McPherson one yard shy of the first down.

The Pioneers took over on downs and marched 74 yards for the go ahead score. Sullivan capped the drive with a 24 yard strike to Finn. The Pioneers would go on to score 21 unanswered points.

#3. Scoop and Score

The Pioneers were slowly taking control of the game against Stoneham in the first half but this play completely flipped the switch Lynnfield's way. The Pioneers had just taken a 14-6 lead on a 31 yard Sullivan to Buchanan pass and the Spartans faced a second and 19  from their own 23 after a holding call.

The Spartans' other dynamic back Aaron Louis took the handoff and was met by Adams who spun him completely around. Anthony Costa popped Louis as he was being swung like a rag doll jarring the ball loose. Ryan Battaglia scooped it up at the 18 and rambled in for the score to make ti 21-6.

#2. The Clincher

The clash with Hamilton Wenham was a battle as expected. The Pioneers were looking to clinch the league title for the second year in a row while the Generals were hoping to keep their playoff hopes alive. The Generals played one of their better games of the year and the Pioneers struggled to pull away. They scored late in the first quarter to make it 7-0 and another score before halftime extended the lead to 13-0, but the Pioneers were less than comfy at halftime.

They felt much better 13 seconds into the second half after Top Play #2. Battaglia gathered in the third quarter kickoff at the 16 yard line and immediately cut to the middle where he found a crease. He was spun around at the 40 but kept on pumping all the way to a 84 yard kickoff return. That made it 21-0 and the way the Pioneer defense was playing, effectively clinched the game and the CAL Baker title.

#1. The Dagger

For the Pioneers, the biggest play of the year was the one that ended their playoff run and their hopes for a return trip to the Super Bowl.

The Pioneers led Bedford until early in the fourth quarter when the Bucs tied it up at 7-7. Bedford then mounted their clock draining, winning drive late in the fourth quarter. They moved relentlessly to the Pioneer two yard line where they faced a fourth and one for a first down and two for the touchdown. On this biggest play of the year, the Pioneers held Abner out of the end zone, but he was able to get the first down, giving Bedford another try for the win from the one yard line. Abner blasted in for the winning score on the following play.

There you have it. You may have other choices, and if so, I'd be happy to share them.

All in all it was another exciting, productive, championship year. Happy New Year to all and remember, only about 33 weeks until the start of the 2014 season!