Sunday, July 5, 2015

Summer, Fall Schedules Set for Pioneers

by Tom Condardo

I'm baaaaaacckk.

So you thought I fell off the face of the earth, eh? Not really, just finally dug out of the six foot pile of snow in front of my house.

I caught up with Pioneer head coach and got the lowdown on the Pioneers' schedule from now until Thanksgiving Day. I know we're still recovering from burgers and hot dogs overload from the Fourth of July weekend, but's it's never too early to talk a little football right? We're less than two months away from the start of the 2015 season and while you're busy slathering on the sun tan oil, the Pioneers will be hard at work for the next seven weeks.

Before we start discussing the 2015 season, let's close the book on the 2014 year which came to an end with the 54th Agganis Football Classic played last Thursday night. Another large Pioneer contingent suited up as high schoolers for the final time as members of the North squad. Stephen White, selected as one of the team captains, Cam Rondeau, Jon Knee, and Danny Sullivan all played in the contest while David Adams was sidelined with an ankle injury suffered in practice. Assistant coach Gino Fodera helped out with the offense in the game as well.

You can get the details in my story in this week's Villager, but the four Pioneers all saw action and contributed to a 20-12 North win. It was the third straight year that Pioneers' team won the Agganis.

Adams and Sullivan both also played in the Shriners Classic on June 20th where their North team fell to the South 14-13. The Pioneer pair finished their season season having lost only twice in 14 games and both times the opposing quarterback was Nick Athy of Holliston. The first was the Lynnfield loss in the Division 4 state semifinal and the second was in the Shriners. Athy led the way for the South throwing two TD passes and winning game MVP honors. Triton head coach and former Pioneer assistant Pat Sheehan was one of the North coaches and had this to say about Sullivan and Adams.

"They played very well," Sheehan said. "The whole defense played well.  Dan played cornerback which he didn't do very much for Lynnfield, but he did a great job.  Just a good athlete. He plays with a lot of confidence.  David has quite the motor on him.  He made some great plays at outside LB and got in on some pass rushing downs at defensive end."

Sheehan's outstanding Triton lineman Ellsworth Rogers also played well.

"He had the unenviable task of trying to block the defensive MVP for the south who was an absolute beast," Sheehan said. "He did a nice job.  He also had a booming punt in the 3rd quarter to set up some good field position for us to help mount our 'almost comeback.'"

All in all, the post season honors was an appropriate cap to a special 2014 season.

On to 2015
The Pioneers' drive for a fourth straight league championship was set to begin Sunday June 28, but the St. Anselm's 7 v 7 tournament was postponed because of the torrential rain storm that hit the area. The Pioneers captured the tournament championship last year and were looking to defend their title.

Instead, the Pioneers began their summer season Tuesday night in the Bishop Fenwick 7 v 7 league. They'll be playing every Tuesday night from now until July 28.

On Saturday, July 25th, they'll be back at Bishop Fenwick again participating in the East Regional of the Underarmour 7 v 7 tournament. Forty teams will be participating for a chance to move on to the Northeast Championship on July 30th, also at Fenwick. The two regional finalists will move on as will a wild card team or two. The Pioneers have been placed in the Grey Division along with Sheehan's Triton Vikings, Haverhill, Ipswich, Pinegree, Lawrence, and Edward Little.

On August 8th and 9th, Pioneer Stadium will be the site of a Spread Offense Team Camp with squads from Reading, Melrose, Dracut, Billerica, and Triton. The St. Anselm College football staff will be running the camp.

Gentlemen, start your engines
The first official preseason practice kicks off on Monday, August 24 followed by single practices on the 25th and 26th. Dreaded double sessions come next on August 27th and 28th.

On Saturday, August 29, the Pioneers get to hit someone other than a teammate when they travel to Topsfield to take on Masco in a 9 am scrimmage. They'll host scrimmages against Salem on Tuesday, September 1 at 4:30 pm and Northeast Vocational on Friday September 4th at 4 pm. The Northeast practice game against the Knights has been going on for over 25 years and is traditionally played in Wakefield, but their field will be under construction so the scrimmage has been switched to Lynnfield.

Prime Time Players
The 2015 regular season schedule is set and because this is the first year of a new, two year cycle, there are a couple of unexpected changes. Also, for the first time in the history of the program, the first seven games of the season will all be played at night.

The Pioneers open the 2015 season on Friday night, September 11 in a non league tilt against Newburyport. The Clippers are always a tough matchup although Lynnfield has taken the last two meetings. Lynnfield is 3-4 against Newburyport in the Weidman era, the only team able to post a winning record against them during that span.

Lynnfield's second non-league opponent is changed from last year. After traveling to Pentucket in the withering heat last year there would normally be a return trip by the Sachems to Pioneers Stadium this year. Because Labor Day falls late, however year, the season is compressed and there's no bye week. Not having the extra week meant there was no way to include Pentucket this year.

Instead, in week two the Pioneers will be take on a recent familiar foe in Danvers. The Falcons and Pioneers faced off four times from 2009 through 2012 with Lynnfield winning three times. Taking on the Division Three Falcons actually represents an opportunity for the Pioneers since if they are able to come away with a win, they'll pick up 12 points instead of 10 for beating a team one division higher. A win over Division Four Pentucket would have been worth 10 points. Those extra points can be crucial when it comes to playoff seedings should the Pioneers be in that position at the end of the regular season.

"I was trying to get a Division Three team," Weidman told me. "I tried Melrose and they had just scheduled Waltham. Acton Boxboro said 'no thanks' and I thought about Foxboro but instead we get a Division Three team right next door. They're going to be good. They have a lot of kids coming back."

The Falcons finished 6-5 last season and earned a playoff berth in Division Three Northeast. They were defeated 34-6 by Tewksbury in the quarterfinals.

Danvers is without a field this year, so the game will actually be played at Bishop Fenwick on Saturday night, September 19.

The Pioneers open their CAL Baker title defense against Amesbury at home on Friday, September 25. They'll come into that game with a 15 game league unbeaten streak on the line. Lynnfield hasn't lost a league game since North Reading beat them 37-14 in the old CAL/NEC 4 in 2011. The Pioneers have beaten the Indians seven straight times including twice in 2012 when they defeated Amesbury in a playoff game to earn their Super Bowl berth.

Lynnfield will hit the road for their next two Baker League games, visiting Ipswich on Friday, October 2 and then Manchester Essex on Friday, October 9. The Pioneers take an eight game winning streak into the game with the Tigers and have beaten M/E three straight.

In another little quirk in the schedule, the Pioneers will be playing in Manchester for the second year in a row. The Pioneers gain that home game back when they host Georgetown on Friday, October 16. Again, the normal routine would have Lynnfield heading up north to play the Royals, but that won't be the case as Georgetown comes to town for the second year in a row.

The schedule makers certainly have a sense of drama as the Pioneers will host Hamilton-Wenham on Friday October 23 in the Baker League finale. If history is any guide, the game could have huge implication on the league standings and playoff seedings.

Since 2009, the winner of this matchup has gone on to win the league title. The Pioneers did the honors in 2009, 2012, 2013, 2014. The Generals captured the crown in 2010 and 2011. There's no reason to think the 2015 matchup will be any different. For the first time in that span, the Lynnfield/Ham-Wen game will be the final game of the league season, adding more drama to the contest.

"It's almost like they planned it," chuckled Weidman.

The two teams have been extremely close throughout their history. The Pioneers hold a 21-20-1 edge overall, having outscored the Generals 674-671. You can't get much closer than that.

The results of the first seven games will determine the Pioneers' final three post regular season games either in the playoffs or against other non qualifying teams.

The Pioneers will conclude their 58th season with the traditional Thanksgiving Day clash against North Reading on November 26.

That's it for now. Check back later in the summer for more news on the upcoming season.