Thursday, October 29, 2015

Watertown Playoff Game Preview: D(eon)-Day

by Tom Condardo

We all know football is a team game and you can't win without talented players working together on both sides of the ball. As we head into the playoffs, that's what you see from every opponent, and Watertown is no exception. And although the Raiders are talented across the board, one player stands out. Pioneer fans, meet Deon Smith.

The Raider's dynamic quarterback is the lynchpin of the Watertown offense and special teams, so you should plan on focusing on #7. The Raiders have scored 18 touchdowns this year and he has tallied 11 of them, ten on runs - many of the long distance variety - and one on a kickoff return. He's also thrown for a TD pass. That means he's been involved in 12 of Raiders' 18 scores. Suffice to say head coach Neal Weidman and his staff are making sure the Pioneers keep track of him Friday night.

"He is an unbelievable athlete," Weidman said of the junior who transferred back to Watertown from BB&N."

But as dangerous as Smith is, Weidman says there is another weapon the Pioneers have to prepare for
as well: fullback Zac Rimsa. The 5'11" 213 lb. bruiser was the Raiders's main weapon last year without Smith, scoring 15 touchdowns as a sophomore. He's found the endzone only four times this year, mostly because Smith is usually busy galloping free down the field.

"(Rimsa) is probably a little under rated," said Weidman. "He's fast but he runs really hard."

Rimsa also anchors a tough Watertown linebacking corp.

"He's tough, he's mean, and he gets after it," Weidman told me. "All their linebackers are really good."

Familiar Offense, New Look Defense
When the Pioneers beat Watertown 22-21 in 2013, the Raiders played a pro style offense to take advantage of quarterback Nick Giordano and a stable of outstanding receivers. With Smith at the helm this year, Watertown has transformed into a run-heavy attack to take advantage of Smith and Rimsa.

Weidman said the offense they run is similar to the triple option that Saugus ran in the opening playoff game last year. The Sachems featured quarterback Justin Winn and Dan Cacciola. The Pioneers were able to contain that duo in a 42-6 rout holding Winn to 48 yards and no TD's. Cacciola found more running room picking up 148 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries. Most of that came between the 20's and 34 of those yards came on one run on the Sachem's first drive.

"Watertown really runs what Saugus ran last year," Weidman told me. "The difference is Watertown has a little better passing game since their quarterback can throw it a little bit. (Cacciola) was super-athletic but this fullback (Rimsa) is super tough."

The defense the Raiders use is a bit different than what the Pioneers usually face.

"They play a hard press cover two which could cause some problems for us," Weidman told me. "They play a 4-3 and like to keep all seven in. When we play two tight end sets at least one of the safeties will also be down so they'll be seven plus in the box. They're pretty good."

Tough Schedule
The Raiders come in with a 4-3 record, but don't be fooled by that. They play in the Middlesex League Freedom division with every team but Stoneham being in Division 3. After starting the season with wins over D4 Arlington Catholic 38-35 (with Smith scoring four times in the second half to lead the way) and Mount Pleasant RI 31-0, the Raiders had to play four consecutive D3 schools.

They beat 2-5 Wakefield 20-14 then lost three straight to powerhouse Melrose (28-7), Burlington (21-17), and Wilmington (20-6), three teams with a combined record of 15-6. They needed a win against Stoneham to make the playoffs and upended the Spartans 21-14.

They played particular well against undefeated Melrose, the #1 seed in Divison 3 Northwest. It was only 14-7 until the fourth quarter when Melrose finally wore down the Raiders and put them away with a Pick-Six and a late touchdown.

That bring up an area where the Pioneers should have an advantage: depth. Where Lynnfield runs in a number of players on both sides of the ball, eight of the Raiders appear to be on the field all game - offense, defense, and special teams. In a tight, hard fought game, that could make a difference.

Kicking X Factor
With two evenly matched teams, it could come down to the kicking game and two of the best around will be going at it. Watertown has attempted five field goals and made four with sophomore Conor Kennel hitting three of them- one from 37 yards. The Pioneers counter with the best placekicker in LHS history in Dan Bronshvayg. he's 47 for 49 on PAT's and 2 for 3 on field goals, the longest from 36 yards.

Where the Raiders seem to love booting for three, Weidman is not quite so enamored of the play.

"I prefer to get seven personally," Weidman said. "but sometimes those 3's add up especially if you don't convert on fourth down. That's one of those things where you have to feel out if three is going to be enough or are you going to have only a few chances to get seven. Playing against a good team sometimes your chances of getting seven are few and far between. Sometimes you have to take them when you can get them depending on how the game is going."

New Level
"Now it gets tough, which is good," Weidman said about starting the playoffs. "The kids know when you go to the playoffs you're going to be playing good teams. They know you don't have a second chance now. You play as well as you can possibly play and you prepare as well as you possibly can and unfortunately it's one of those things when things can go your way or sometimes they don't. You have to do what you can to prepare yourself and not worry about the things you can't control."

Not to look too far ahead, but the winner of this game will likely be headed to North Reading next week for a semi-final matchup. The Hornets are heavy favorites to eliminate the Cinderella Ipswich Tigers on Saturday, so things could get interesting if the Pioneers can get past Watertown.

Online Preview
I wrote an in depth preview of the game for this week's Villager, but due to a technical glitch it didn't make it into the paper. It has been posted on line at the Villager site and you can access it here. Villager subscribers have free access and for those of you who don't subscribe why don't you? This would be a good time to get a subscription so you can follow my game stories and photos every week.

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

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Around the CAL Baker - Week 7

by Tom Condardo

So another Baker season is wrapped up and now it's on to the playoffs for two teams and into the post regular season games for the other four members of the league. I'll wrap up the final Baker League action and then take a look at the upcoming Division Four North playoffs which start Friday night.

First, the final Baker standings.

Amesbury pulled off the upset in Manchester, upending the Hornets in a slugfest 21-6. The loss knocked Manchester-Essex out of the Division Five playoffs.

The Indian defense was strong, holding the Hornets to a single touchdown and stopping them three times in the red zone. The teams battled through a scoreless first half but the Hornets took a 6-0 lead in the third when Charlie Otterbein hit Jake Rich for a 60 yard TD strike. That would be it for the M/E offense.

The Indians answered quickly to take a 7-6 lead on a Adam Incontri 15 yard run. Brandon Doucette and Brandon Kelleher added touchdowns to account for the final score.

The Ipswich defense took control to lead the Tigers to a 13-0 win over a stubborn Georgetown squad. The win lifted Ipswich into the seventh seed in the D4 playoffs and a rematch with North Reading.

Division Four North Playoffs

Here are the final results for the division.

The D4N playoffs have turned into a Cape Ann League jamboree with two teams from the Baker and three from the Kinney pulling down five of the eight playoff spots.

As usual, it was a mad scramble for playoff positioning with the final seedings not decided until Saturday afternoon. Pentucket, North Reading, Lynnfield, Stoneham, and Ipswich had locked up spots going into the weekend, but there were still four teams scrambling for the final three spots. Only one of the seeds was settled with Pentucket locked in the #1 slot.

Pat Sheehan's Triton Vikings made the biggest move, holding on for a huge 27-26 win over Masco, the second straight year the Vikes have beaten the Chieftains. A loss may have knocked Triton out of the playoffs, but the win vaulted them into the fourth seed and a home game for the first round. It's going to be Old Tyme Football up in Byfield as the Vikes will host Stoneham at their high school field on Friday night. There's no stands or pressbox - both condemned and torn down before the season - so the fans will have to ring the field to watch what is shaping up to be a hard fought battle.

Watertown's 21-14 win over Stoneham allowed the Pioneers to hold on to their #3 seed and set up a Pioneer Stadium matchup with the Raiders on Friday night. Ipswich's win over Georgetown helped the Tigers squeak by Bedford by two points and avoid Pentucket in the first round. Instead Ipswich travels to North Reading for a rematch with the Hornets. Due to a conflict with Field Hockey Senior Night at Arthur Kenney Field on Friday, the game will be played Saturday afternoon. Bedford fell to Wayland Friday night and dropped to the #8 seed.

NR beat the Tigers 27-15 in Week One, and the Hornets have been rolling ever since - with the exception of their lone loss to Pentucket. The Tigers are the feel-good Cinderella story of the season, reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2006 under new head coach Kevin Fessette. Unfortunately the clock is likely to strike midnight in North Reading for the scrappy Tigers who appear to be decided underdogs.

Barring a monumental Ipswich upset, the winner of the Watertown/Lynnfield game will be heading to North Reading for a division semi-final game. Turkey dinner three weeks early perhaps? The Pioneers have to get by a tough Watertown team first and that will be no easy task. More on the matchup later in the week.

Pentucket hosts #8 seed Bedford Saturday afternoon in a rematch of the 2013 division final. The Buccaneers won that one in overtime but the Sachems are scary-good this year and will be tough to beat anywhere but especially at home.

The D4N playoffs features some new blood as this will be the maiden playoff voyage for both Ipswich and North Reading. Pentucket, Bedford, and Stoneham return after missing out last season. The Pioneers, Watertown, and Triton are the only returnees from last season. Interestingly, Hamilton-Wenham, Saugus, Weston, and Swampscott, four teams that made the playoffs last year, finished 12th, 14th, 15th, and 16th this year.

The only three teams to have made the playoffs all three seasons are the Pioneers, Watertown, and Triton. Arlington Catholic is the only school in the 16 team division to miss the playoffs all three years.

That's it for now. Check back Thursday for my preview of the Pioneer/Raider matchup.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Hamilton-Wenham Leftovers

By Tom Condardo

The Pioneers said their formal goodbyes to this year's senior class Friday night (although there is still more left to the season) and it was a well earned tribute. You couldn't ask for more from this group. The numbers are quite eye popping.

In the four years these seniors have been involved in the program, their overall record is 35-7, 5-3 in the playoffs, 30-4 in the regular season and 20-0 in league play. They won four league championships, a division title, and made a trip to the Super Bowl.

As impressive as those numbers are, I want to take a closer look at their undefeated league record in the past four years. Not only have they won every game, but they outscored their league opponents 735-82 - nearly a factor of ten for points scored vs allowed. They also posted shutouts in half (10) of those games.

One might question this dominance and ask 'who have they played?" Well they played their schedule. And if you think this is a case of the big, bad Pioneers beating up on smaller schools, think again. The Pioneers are the SECOND SMALLEST team in the league in terms of male enrollment - the number the MIAA uses to assign divisions. Here are the male enrollments 9-12 of the Baker League and the CAL/NEC 4 (the league Lynnfield was part of during the 2012 season). The numbers are enrollments as of last year according to Danny Ventura of the Boston Herald.

  • Manchester-Essex/Rockport - 376
  • North Reading - 342 (CAL/NEC 4 2012)
  • Amesbury - 328 (CAL Baker, 2013-15)
  • Ipswich - 314
  • Lynnfield - 305
  • Georgetown - 210

This isn't a case of a Masco, Wilmington, or North Andover with double the enrollment of Lynnfield beating up on the Pioneer teams of the mid 1990's. This is a case of Neal Weidman and his coaching staff putting together a superior program that has attracted the maximum number of possible players from their enrollment.

Do the math. There were nearly 70 kids out for football last year. That's almost a quarter of all male students playing football. That's incredible in this day and age and is tribute to the program Weidman has built. In addition to the numbers, the coaches put in an enormous number of hours to put the players in the best position to succeed and the kids have bought in.

Congrats to the players and coaches both. And farewell (after a few more games) to this talented group of seniors: Captains Drew McCarthy, CJ Finn, Drew Balestrieri, Spencer Balian, and Cam DeGeorge; Alex Soden, Esaie Philantrope, Jake McHugh, Max Robert, Evan Battaglia, Ricky Johnson, Patrick Garrity, Dan Bronshvayg  Steven Vaccaro, Trevor Caswell, Brenden Rothwell, Paul Foukas, Matt Giannasca, Nick Fiorentino, and Nathaniel Courtney-Sweeney.

The Pioneers were favorites heading into Friday night's game, but when Hamilton-Wenham showed up missing their starting quarterback, best lineman and several other starters, the dismantling of the Generals was fairly predictable. It wasn't what the Pioneers wanted as they looked to tune up for the playoffs against tough opposition.

But alas it wasn't to be and the Pioneers once again dominated on both sides of the ball. Defensively, Lynnfield shut down the General running game holding them to minus 11 yards on the ground until late in the fourth quarter when both JV squads were on the field.

Heading into the playoffs, the Pioneers have allowed only six TD's in their first seven games, and only three, all to Danvers, by the starting defense. Weidman will be hoping that trend continues as the skill level of the opposition ramps up considerably starting this week.

Passing Fancy
From the Department of Nitpicking, a few eyebrows may have been raised when the Generals seemed able to throw the ball with alarming success against the Pioneers. Sophomore quarterback Hunter Wilichoski, tossed into the breach, was quite competent completing 14 of 30 passes for 186 yards and a touchdown. He did throw a pair of interceptions.

Sophomore Cam Peach was particularly explosive, catching seven passes for 135 yards and a TD.

That was by far the most success any team has had against the Pioneers exceeding the 118 put up by Danvers. In fact the 186 is more than half of the total allowed in the first seven games.

"They were trying to throw it down the field, and they got a few." Weidman told me after the game. "The one on the sideline was good coverage but the ball was under thrown and the kid came back to make the catch. They hit a couple of posts. We went away from a few of our rules to try and stop one particular thing. Then we just went back to how we normally do it and that kind of fixed itself a little bit after we did that."

High Points
The 49 points the Pioneers put up were the most in a game since 1985 when the Pioneers whitewashed Masco 55-0. It was the 10th highest scoring game in LHS history and most ever scored against Hamilton-Wenham, topping the 35 scored in a 1998 shutout of the Generals.

It was the highest point total in the Weidman Era besting the 47 put up against Manchester-Essex in 2012.

Speaking of the numbers, through seven games, the Pioneers have posted remarkably similar statistics as the 2013 and 2014 teams. Offensive, the Pioneers have scored 243 points compared to 253 last year, and 248 in 2013.

On the defensive side, through seven games the Pioneers have allowed 43 points compared to 20 last season and 48 in 2013. They've allowed 671 rushing yards and 313 passing yards for a total of 984 this season. That compares to 673/462/1135 last year and 805/515/1320 in 2013.

Moving On Up
Congrats to Tom Waisnor, the Voice of Pioneer Stadium, who announced his first college game at Merrimack last Saturday. I asked him how many times he slipped and said "Pioneers" instead of "Warriors."

"None!" he told me. "It was easy for me. I'm a former Wakefield Warrior."

It was Senior Day there Saturday, so he had two ceremonies in a row. As an added bonus, he got to announce Warrior senior and former Pioneer Jon Roberto who plays for Merrimack.

That's it for now. Check back Tuesday night when I'll wrap up the Baker League regular season and talk about the upcoming Division Four North Playoffs. The Pioneers will be hosting Watertown Friday night in a first round game. Much more on that later in the week.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Hamilton-Wenham Game Preview: General Alert

by Tom Condardo

Something odd will be happening Friday night at Pioneer Stadium. Lynnfield and Hamilton Wenham will be playing in the final regular season game and the league title won't be on the line. Since 2009, the Pioneers/Generals matchup has always had championship implications and the two teams have finished one, two in the standings for each of those seasons.

The Pioneers won it in 2009, 2012, 2013, 2014, and the Generals took the crown in 2010 and 2011. But not this year. Lynnfield has clinched first place and HW can finish no higher than third. They come in 2-2 in the league (2-4) overall, but Ipswich is 3-1 and beat the Generals so they hold the tiebreaker and clinched second place.

But that doesn't mean there isn't a lot on the line.

The Pioneers need a win to ensure a home playoff game and an outside shot at the second seed. And believe it or not, the Generals, despite losing their first four games, are still mathematically alive. Lots of things have to happen such as: Georgetown has to beat Ipswich; Triton, Bedford, Watertown, and Winthrop all have to lose and some other out of town games have to fall the right way. But it is possible.

Oh and of course they have to beat the Pioneers.

Head coach Neal Weidman has called Hamilton-Wenham the Pioneers' second rivalry after North Reading and both teams certainly will approach it that way. Weidman expects the Generals to come out hard and the Pioneers will have to match that intensity if they hope to finish the regular season 6-1.

"We have another game to play with valuable points," Weidman said following the Georgetown game. "(Hamilton-Wenham) has always been a rival game for us. They are going to come ready to rock and roll. It'll be good for us. We'll have to strap it up and play which is great."

The Generals come in riding a two game winning streak, having beaten Georgetown 34-7 two weeks ago and then erasing a 16-0 lead to stun Amesbury 21-16 last week. They won that one in the last minute of play when quarterback CJ Cooper hit sophomore receiver Cam Peach in the endzone.

The Generals started the season using a unique two quarterback system with both Thomas Rostad and Cooper in the backfield of the spread at the same time. They would each take snaps so the defense never knew who was in control. Rostad was lost to injury and Cooper is now the full time signal caller and he appears to be getting better by the week. The General offense is following suit.

The are predominantly a passing team with Cooper - at 6'2" 200 lbs. the same size as Pioneer QB Jake McHugh - the most effective runner. If he's not contained he can do some damage on the ground. The passing attack continues to improve as Cooper has two solid receivers in Peach - his primary target - and captain Hunter Ascolillo a shifty, sure handed option.

It's a typical agressive, swarming H/W defense with blitzes coming from everywhere on nearly every play. The Pioneer offensive line will have to be ready when the Generals try to shoot the gaps.

Even Rivalry
This will be the 43rd meeting between the schools who have met every year since 1973. The overall results couldn't be much closer with the Pioneers holding a 21-20-1 lead record-wise and a 674-671 edge in points. The Pioneers have held the upper hand lately winning the last three straight. The Generals haven't scored on the Lynnfield defense since 2012 as the Pioneers have posted two consecutive shutouts 34-0 and 35-0 the past two years.

Senior Night
It will be another celebration at Pioneer Stadium Friday night as the team honors the squad's 20 graduating 12th graders on Senior Night. The festivities begin at 6:40. Kick off is 7 pm.

That's it for now. Check back Sunday night for some leftovers.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Around the CAL Baker: Week 6

by Tom Condardo

The Pioneers and Ipswich have taken all the drama out of the Baker race with their wins last week, but the playoff participants and seedings are still very up in the air. We'll take a look at last week's league action and review the D4 North Playoff standings heading into the final week of the regular season. First, the Baker Standings.

The Pioneers clinched the Baker title with their win over Georgetown, and Ipswich continued its resurgence by beating Manchester Essex and clinching second place. Second place comes with an automatic bid into the playoffs - which will be eliminated next year - so Ipswich gets into the post season for the first time since 2006.

The Hornets carried the play early but couldn't put points on the board and that usually comes back to haunt and it did for M/E. Ipswich couldn't get anything going on offense either and the teams went in at the break in a scoreless tie. M/E finally drew blood early in the third on a 49 yard TD run to make it 6-0. The Tigers' Alex Morris answered with a long distance strike of his own, cruising 63 yards to tie the score at 6-6.

Ipswich pulled ahead early in the fourth on a one yard blast from Jake Long to make it 12-6. The Tigers put up an insurance score to make it 18-6 midway in the final quarter on a halfback option pass from Morris to Tom Ginolfi from 37 yards out. They needed the cushion when the Hornets struck with less than two minutes to play on a six yard run by Carr to cut the lead to 18-13.

The Hornet defense held and got the ball back, but the Tigers sacked M/E quarterback Charlie Otterbein three times to end the final threat.

Ipswich will try to improve their playoff seeding when the travel to Georgetown Friday night. The Hornets will host Amesbury.

Meanwhile, in Amesbury, Hamilton Wenham kept their faint hopes of a playoff spot alive with a come from behind 21-16 win. The Indians jumped out to an early lead when they converted a fourth and long on their opening drive with a 23 yard reverse pass from Levi Burrill to Dan Welch. Adam Incontri found Ryan Foley with the two point conversion to give Amesbury an 8-0 lead.

The Indian defense put Amesbury on the board again with a sack of of C. J. Cooper causing a fumble. Elijah Huynh recovered in the endzone for the TD. Holder Connor Skane turned a bad snap on the PAT into a two-pointer when he ran it in to give Amesbury a 16-0.

The dangerous passing combination of Cooper and sophomore Cam Peach who had seven catches for 123 yards. He also scored the Generals' first TD on a one yard run in the second quarter. Right before halftime, Cooper and Peach connected for a five yard TD pass to cut the lead to 16-14.

The two teams battled throughout the second half until the final minute when Cooper hit Hunter Ascolillo with a 17 yard TD pass. Ascolillo made a great catch to stay in bounds and give the Generals the win.

HW has a very outside shot at a playoff spot if a lot of the teams above them lose and they manage the upset of the Pioneers. Amesbury will be looking for their second win of the year when they travel to Manchester to take on the Hornets

Division Four North Playoff Rankings

With one week to go in the regular season, only a few things have been decided in D4N: Pentucket has clinched the top seed and will take on seed number 8 in two weeks. The Sachems are off this week so they'll have couple of weeks to prepare for that game.

The Pioneers, North Reading, and Ipswich have clinched spots so there are still four openings available. Projecting the final seedings is nearly impossible with so many permutations. For example, Pat Sheehan's Triton squad can finish with 22 different point totals depending on what they and their opponents do this weekend.

A couple of things are somewhat clearer. If North Reading can beat Newburyport, they will likely get the #2 seed. However there is one scenario where Stoneham can sneak ahead of them by beating Watertown and all five of their previous opponents win. A Pioneer win gives them the second, third or fourth seed and guarantees them at least one playoff home game.

Stoneham appears to be in regardless of the outcome of their game and Bedford, Watertown, Triton, and Winthrop look to be battling for the final three slots. H/W and Newburyport are lurking if they win and several of those teams fall.

This won't be sorted out until all the results are in and the committee meets on Sunday. Fasten your seat belts, we're in for a bumpy ride.

That's it for now. Check back Thursday night for my Hamilton Wenham game preview

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Georgetown Leftovers

by Tom Condardo

Enjoy it. Savor it. Cherish it.

The Pioneers clinched their fourth straight league title Friday night, something that has never been done in the history of LHS football, continuing the amazing streak of success for the Lynnfield football program under head coach Neal Weidman.

From 1960-62 the Pioneers captured three straight Dual County title but they weren't able to get that fourth crown. The seniors on this team have never known anything but winning championships since they entered high school. That's unheard of.

"I don't think (the kids) realize it," Weidman said when asked if he thought his players knew how special the continued winning is. "They were never a part of it when they weren't winning."

Unfortunately, I was. And it was tough times. Which is why a part of me empathizes with the Georgetown players and staff who obviously had no chance against the bigger, more experienced, more talented Pioneers.

For many years, Lynnfield WAS that Georgetown team. I've covered two winless seasons, three one-win seasons, and four two-win seasons. There were many games going in I knew the Pioneers had no chance - especially going against CAL behemoths like Masco, North Andover, and Wilmington.

I spent many nights trying to pull a few positives out of another rout. That final touchdown the Royals put up with no time remaining would have been the lead in my story if I was covering that game for Georgetown. Those kids never quit and desperately wanted to score. They could have easily packed it in but they didn't and they deserve credit for it.

Which is why these good old days of Lynnfield football are so enjoyable for those of us who remember when things weren't so rosy. And that included head coach Neal Weidman, who was on the staff of some of those outgunned teams of the late 1990's and early 2000's.

I asked him if he ever thought he'd see a day when a league title wasn't enough for a Lynnfield team. That it was just a stepping stone to bigger and better things and more important playoff games ahead.

"No I didn't," he replied. "We've been very fortunate. We've had a whole bunch of good groups of kids come through. We've been fortunate picking up auxiliary kids along the way. Kids that weren't necessarily football players that were good athletes that decided to play. Seniors who came out to play for their only year that panned out. We've had a couple of transfers that came back that worked out."

He also pointed out the importance of the continuity of the same coaching staff, something the Pioneers have enjoyed over this long stretch of success.

"We've been together for a long time," Weidman said. "And it's not just the actual football piece but the fact that the kids show up every day and know that it's going to be the same guys out there that they can count on - whether it's football or outside of football. It's just a good thing that they know it's the same group of people going to be there every day."

Big Goals
The fourth title is important and worthy of celebration but Weidman was quick to point out that it's only the beginning and the team has bigger goals in mind.

"Each season is different," Weidman said. "If all we were capable of was winning the league then you would look at it differently. Or if you weren't sure you were capable of winning the league and you won it, then that's something you hang your hat on.

"With this particular team this year, they would like to do more than just win the league," he continued. "That's good to have those goals because it's not going to be easy. The (Divison Four) North is going to be very tough. It reminds me of 2013 when almost all eight teams could have won it. 2013 was ridiculously competitive. I think this year will be pretty similar."

The Pioneers currently sit with the third seed and if the season ended today, they would be taking on Pat Sheenan's Triton team in the first round with the winner of that round likely travelling to North Reading for a round two game.

Sound interesting?

Making It Count
The Pioneer defense was outstanding again, regardless of who they put on the field. They were particularly strong with their pass defense. The Royals had 15 consecutive incomplete passes throughout the game. Their only completion came on the last play of the game when Jimmy Sherman found Nick Calvani in the endzone for the lone Georgetown score.

The TD snapped a 15 quarter scoreless streak for the Lynnfield defense. It was the fourth touchdown the Royals have scored against the Pioneers in the past seven games.

Milking the Clock
One way to try to beat a high scoring team like the Pioneers is to keep the ball away from them. That means winning the time of possession battle. That was one area Georgetown excelled. They had the TOP edge over the Pioneers 31:56 to 12:04.

I had to go back three times to make sure that was correct. Lynnfield had the ball for only 12 minutes, meaning they scored a point every 17 seconds of game time they had the ball. They had scoring "drives" of nine and ten seconds. In the second half, the Pioneers ran off only nine plays and had the ball for less than five minutes of game time.

The Royals put together an epic drive that bridged the third and fourth quarters, taking 18 plays to march from their own 16 to the Lynnfield nine where they stalled. They attempted a 33 yard field goal that fell short. The drive consumed 12:24.

Last week I gave you some stats on the Pioneers scoring over 30 points. Their over 40 performances are even more impressive. With their 42 point outburst Friday night, The Pioneers have now score 40 or more points 14 times in the 63 games and 5 1/2 seasons since 2010. In the 503 games and 52 seasons from 1958 to 2009 Lynnfield scored 40 or more points...14 times.

Dan Bronshvayg nailed six extra points against Georgetown and it was the 4th time he's done it. He did it against Manchester Essex in 2013 and 2014, and again against Georgetown last year. The record for most PAT's in a game in seven, held by Scott Milne who did it against Masco in a 55-0 win in 1985.

The Lynnfield 300
Lost in the ceremony and celebration Friday night was the fact that the victory was the 300th in the history of the school. The Pioneers now sit with a 300-266-11 record. It took LHS only 155 games to get to their first 100 wins. They reached that with a win over Wayland in 1976. They needed 168 more games to get to their 200th win which came in 1992 with a Thanksgiving Day win over North Reading.  It took 23 more years and 243 games to get the third 100 wins, with 60 of them coming in the last eight years of the Weidman Era.

Military Tribute
The tribute to the military was an outstanding experience for those in attendance and kudos to Kathy Balestrieri and the Lynnfield Pioneer Football Club for putting it together. I asked Weidman how he came up with the idea.

"I’d heard about the uniforms before and I realized one day last year that Al MacLachlan, Kevin Lee and Chris O’Neil from last year's team were going into the military," Weidman said. "Plus Rob Debonis went to Mass Maritime and I started thinking about other former players in the military like Dan Ashwell, Steve Ullian, and Joe and George Hennessey going into the Green Berets and I said 'wow we’ve had quite a few kids in it.' I sent a letter to the guy at Riddell and found out it would cost a total of $400 and we could use the uniforms once a year for five years. I asked the parents and they said that was something that they would definitely like to contribute to.

"I told the players before the game that as much as they complain about going to school that they have to go to school but there are kids across the world that aren't allowed to go to school," he said. "It was special."

Celebrating Sonny
There was also a nice tribute to Lynnfield Youth Football player Benjamin "Sonny" Tropeano before the game. The ten year old tragically and suddenly passed away this past July. The team presented the Tropeano family with the special camo jersey number 55, the number Sonny wore in youth football. His brothers Nick, Joe, and Tony - all former Pioneer football players - were on hand as part of the ceremony.

The Pioneers all wore stickers on their helmets with the number 55 in blue on a orange background. Orange - Sonny's favorite color - was on full display throughout Pioneer Stadium.

"Joe, Tony, and Nick all played," said Weidman. "I really empathize with Mr. and Mrs. Tropeano. I can't imagine what they're going through."

That's it for now. Check back Tuesday night when I'll take a look at action around the Baker League review the Division Four North playoff race.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Georgetown Game Preview: Heroes Welcome

by Tom Condardo

We often talk about heroes in connection with great performance during sporting events, but Friday night the Lynnfield home crowd will get to see real heroes on the Pioneer Stadium field. In a pregame ceremony beginning at 6:40 pm, head coach Neal Weidman and the Pioneers will be honoring all of the town's military personnel, especially those who played football for the Pioneers.

Kathy Balestrieri, event organizer from the Lynnfield Pioneer Football Club, and Jason Kimball, 1994 LHS captain and the town's Veterans Affairs agent, are trying to round up as many of the town's veterans or active military as possible. If you know of any, please reach out and invite them. In honor of their service, all personnel with proper identification will be admitted to the game free of charge.

The Pioneers will be wearing special camouflage uniforms for the game against Georgetown.

In addition, the Pioneers will also be honoring Benjamin "Sonny" Tropeano, a dedicated player in the Lynnfield Youth Football program who passed away suddenly this past July. His older bothers Tony and Nick were both varsity players for the Pioneers and brother Joe played as a freshman. Nick was a captain on the 2007 team.

Growing Pains
In the game that follows, the Pioneers will take on winless Georgetown with a chance to clinch their fourth straight league crown, unprecedented in LHS football history. The Royals have struggled under new head coach Eric McCarthy who has remained upbeat through a very difficult stretch. Georgetown has scored only three touchdowns all season and has allowed 173 points.

"We're doing this for each other and as long as everybody has each others' back and keeps that in mind we'll be able to move forward," McCarthy told Nick Giannino of the Newburyport Daily News after the Royals 34-7 loss to Hamilton Wenham last week.

The Royals key players are Ryan and Jimmy Sherman and they've also had some strong two way performances from Nick Calvani. Matt Mansfield has shown flashes from the running back slot.

With a roster of around 26 and only six seniors on the squad, the Royals will be at a serious disadvantage against the bigger and deeper Pioneers.

After losing the first three matchups against Georgetown in 2006-2008, the Pioneers have won six straight against the Royals, outscoring them 219-20.

Game time is 7 pm, but get there early to get a good seat for the ceremony before the game.

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

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Around the CAL Baker: Week 5

by Tom Condardo

The Pioneers sit alone atop the Baker League standings thanks to their win over Manchester-Essex last week and they have a chance to clinch their fourth straight league title with a victory over Georgetown this Friday. The Division Four Playoff race is also coming into focus and we'll review that along with last week's Baker action. First, the updated standings.

The Pioneers need a win in one of their last two games to clinch the league title since they now own the head to head tiebreaker with both Ipswich and Man-Essex - the only remaining one loss teams in the league.

There is also a battle for second place - and an automatic bid in the playoffs - and Ipswich took a big step forward in that one with a 10-7 win over Amesbury last week. The Tigers jumped out to a 7-0 lead on a 10 yard TD run by Jake Long. They added a 22 yard field goal from Adam Fyrer to make it 10-0 at the half.

That would be it for the Tiger offense who turned it over to the defense to seal the win.  Alex Morris intercepted an Adam Incontri pass to snuff out one Indian drive that led to the field goal. The Indians made a game of it by blocking a Tiger punt in the fourth quarter and recovering at the Ipswich 21. Incontri hit Dan Welch for a TD pass that cut the lead to 10-7.

The Tigers ended a last minute Amesbury drive with another interception to nail down the win.

The Tiger win sets up a big game with Manchester-Essex this Friday night in Ipswich. Both teams are 2-1 in league play and the winner would have the inside track on second place and the automatic playoff bid should the Pioneers clinch first place.

Amesbury will try to bounce back when they host Hamilton Wenham on Friday night.

Hamilton-Wenham picked up their first win by rolling over winless Georgetown 34-7. The Generals rushed for 280 yards and four TD's against an undermanned Royals squad. CJ Cooper led H/W with 116 yards and two TD's. The Generals led 7-0 after one quarter and 20-0 at the half. The Royals scored their only TD on a 65 yard fumble recovery return by Ryan Sherman.

The Generals will try to make it two in a row when they travel to Amesbury Friday night while Georgetown comes to town Friday night to take on the Pioneers.

Division Four North

Pentucket cemented its hold on the top seed with an impressive 28-6 win over North Reading on Saturday. I was at the game and the Sachems are the real deal. They shut down the Hornets' running game and forced North Reading to pass - something they're not comfortable doing. This is the biggest Pentucket team - sizewise - I've seen in years with a large, active defensive line and a two dangerous running backs in Liam Sheehy and Kiernan Haley.

The Sachems have a big game with D3 Masco this week. It's Pentucket's last game of the regular season since they are only playing a six game schedule this year. A win over the Chieftains might very well nail down the top seed for Pentucket.

Losses by three of the top four teams in the division last week coupled with the Pioneers' win over three-win Manchester Essex vaulted the Pioneers into the number two seed this week. Stoneham, North Reading and Watertown all lost which provided the opening for the Pioneers.

Things could change significantly this weekend since Stoneham has an opportunity to pick up 27 points if they can upset D3 Melrose (5-0). Watertown can earn 18 points with a win over D3 Wilmington (2-3). North Reading can get 19 points with a victory over 3-2 Triton, but the Vikings can scoop up 22 points with a victory over the four-win Hornets. The Pioneers, meanwhile, would only get 10 points for a victory over winless Georgetown and Bedford can only pick up 12 points by beating winless Medford.

We'll know a lot more after this week as we head down the home stretch.

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

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Manchester-Essex Leftovers

by Tom Condardo

Talking to Pioneer head coach Neal Weidman before the season, he commented on the importance of having a big senior class like he has this year (19) and had last year (18).

"It's a senior game," he said.

The more I cover high school football, the more I see how true that is. Look at any successful team and you're likely to find a preponderance of seniors on the roster. It's not necessarily a mystery why this is so. Any parent knows there is a huge difference in physical size and emotional maturity between a 14-15 year old sophomore and a 17-18 year old senior. Add in the fact that the senior has played for two or three years and understands the system and also that they realize that for many of them, their senior year will be the last time they every play organized football. So a large number of seniors working together provides a powerful force for a football team.

The impact of senior leadership was on full display Friday night in Manchester in the game between the Pioneers and the Hornets. Let's start with the home team.

The Hornets (3-2) are enjoying a resurgence under new head coach Jeff Dutton and came into this game tied with the Pioneers with a chance to take over first place in the CAL Baker. Glancing at the two teams in warmups, you saw a 30 man M/E squad on one side and the 54 man Pioneers on the other. It would be easy to dismiss the game to come as a mismatch.

But anyone who thought that would be overlooking the "senior factor." The Hornets may have only suited up 30 players, but 12 of them were seniors, and that made a difference.

Compare Friday night's game to the previous week against an Ipswich team that had only seven seniors. In both games, the Pioneers stuffed the opponents' offense out of the gate then came down and scored twice. In the Ipswich game, the Pioneers powered from there with two more first half touchdowns essentially ending the contest by halftime.

That wasn't the case against the Hornets. Despite the two early scores, M/E - led by their seniors, were determined to make a game out of it. They started when senior Jake Rich blocked Dan Bronshvayg's PAT try on the first TD and then sacked Jake McHugh on the the two point try after the second. Instead of trailing 14-0 the score was 12-0 and the Hornets were able to celebrate a couple of small successes.

The Pioneers smothered the Hornet offense for the rest of the first half, but the M/E defense scrapped and battled and held the Pioneers scoreless the rest of the half. This was a ball game at half time with the Pioneers holding a 12-0 lead. Sophomore Nick Kinnon's second half TD kickoff return gave Lynnfield some breathing room, and eventually the deeper Pioneers wore down the Hornets, scoring two more times to account for the deceptive-looking lopsided score.

Weidman admitted after the game that the Hornets' aggressive play - and some self inflicted Pioneer mistakes - flustered his squad. "We lost our composure there for a bit and it took us a while to get it back," he said.

And the seniors realized it. After the handshake line following the game, the seniors gathered for an impromptu meeting right on the field. I asked Weidman what that was about.

"They wanted to talk about composing themselves better," the coach told me. "We got an unsportsmanlike penalty at the end for taunting according to the official. They know stuff like that can't happen. so they wanted to talk about that. They talked about no finger pointing and handling things better."

I commented that it must be great to have such senior leadership.

"Absolutely," the coach responded.

Lesson Learned
While we're on the theme, there was a perfect example of senior leadership late in the game. The Hornets faced a third and 12 from their own 33. The snap from center sailed over quarterback Charlie Otterbein's head and he raced back and covered it at the eight yard line. As several Pioneer lineman approached the prone quarterback, captain Cam DeGeorge was waving his arms and screaming "Don't touch him!" The Pioneers dutifully pulled off and the officials blew the play dead.

The Hornet were forced to punt and Ricky Johnson returned the short kick to the M/E 26. Four plays later captain Drew Balestrieri plowed in for the score to make it 25-0.

DeGeorge no doubt learned a valuable lesson from a similar situation in the Danvers game. A snap eluded Falcon quarterback Matt Andreas and he covered it at his own one yard line. Unfortunately he was hit by a Pioneer lineman who felt the ball was still loose. The officials didn't agree and the roughing penalty turned what should have been a third and 19 from the one into a first and 10 at the 16 and a lost golden opportunity for the Pioneers.

DeGeorge made sure that didn't happen again. Perfect illustration of senior leadership.

Anger Management
Speaking of that turn of events, the drive that followed that series was a furious four straight plays of Balestrieri ferociously blowing through the Hornet line - the final one for the score. The Pioneers ran the exact same play and were not going to be denied. It was clearly a message drive for the Pioneers who had been struggling somewhat against the pesky Hornet defense.

"That was out of a little frustration," Weidman said when asked about the play selection. "(Balestrieri) gives us a little different look out of the backfield."

Suffice to say, the Hornets didn't enjoy it.

McCarthy Still Out
Captain Drew McCarthy missed his second straight game with a balky ankle and the void was once again filled by senior Alex Soden and sophomores Andrew DePalma and Kinnon. Soden had 51 yards and a pair of TD's on 8 carries. Kinnon had 44 yards and a score on five carries while DePalma continued his tough running with 35 yards on six carries. Even without McCarthy, the Pioneers averaged 6.6 yards per carry rushing a total of 179 yards.

Even still, Weidman is looking forward to getting his captain back as soon as possible.

"He's a different type of runner," Weidman said.

Different Look
Everyone knows about the proficiency of Bronshvayg's kicking - obvious since he now holds every placekicking record in Pioneer history. But Friday night he showed off another talent. The senior was the Pioneers' leading receiver with five catches for 44 yards. He is now the team's second leading receiver for the year with 10 receptions for 88 yards. Louise Ellis leads all receivers with 16 catches for 264 yards.

No Rush
The Pioneer defense has continued to impress, notching its third straight shutout. Lynnfield has been particularly difficult to run against as evidenced again Friday night. Of the Hornets 39 rushing attempts, they were thrown for a loss or held to no gain on 12 of them. In all they managed only 92 yards on the ground, a 2.4 per carry average.

After losing three of the first four meetings with the Hornets, the Pioneers have now reeled off four straight wins to take a 5-3 edge in the series. Lynnfield has outscored M/E 163-20 in that stretch.

The Pioneer scoring machine has been in full force for several years now but the numbers are truly staggering. In the 28 games since the start of the 2013 season including playoffs, the Pioneers have topped the 30 point mark in 23 of them. Putting that into perspective, in the 20 year period between 1988 and 2008 the Pioneers played 219 game. They scored 30 or more points only six times.

That's it for now. Check back Tuesday when I'll take a look at Baker League action and a review of the D4 North playoff race.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Manchester-Essex Game Preview: Something's Abuzz

by Tom Condardo

Memories are often short in high school football. With only a three year window, players cycle through programs pretty quickly so team fortunes rise and fall over relatively short periods of time.

Manchester-Essex falls into that category. The Pioneers and Hornets will battle for undisputed possession of first place in the CAL Baker Friday night, and that puts M/E in a position they haven't enjoyed in recent years. But it wasn't that long ago that the Hornets were a powerhouse program on Cape Ann, and the Pioneers felt their stinger more than once.

M/E was a force in the Commonwealth Athletic Conference in the 2000's with their glory days coming from 2006-2008 when they reeled off three straight CAC titles capped by a 13-0 season and a Division 4 Super Bowl title in 2008.

The Pioneers faced the Hornets twice in that stretch, falling in 2007 and 2008 in a pair of non league games. In 2007, Bill Adams took his Lynnfield squad to Newell Stadium in Gloucester to face M/E when the Hornet's new home field was under construction. The Pioneers stunned the Hornets for three and a half quarters, building a 14-0 lead. But the three time champs scored two touchdowns in the final six minutes to tie the score and another in overtime to escape with a 21-14 win.

In 2008, the Hornets and Pioneers engaged in an old fashioned shootout in Pioneer head coach Neal Weidman's inaugural campaign. M/E out gunned the Pioneers 35-21 enroute to their undefeated season, but head coach Mike Athanas, who stepped down this year, told Weidman the Pioneers gave them the toughest test they had up to that time.

It was a portent of things to come for the Pioneers who reeled off league championships in four of the next six season. Unfortunately, things went in the opposite direction for the Hornets following their Super Bowl title.

The Pioneers and Hornets met in 2010 in a non league game and came away with a 37-6 win. M/E joined the CAL in 2011 and have managed an 8-12 league record (16-28 overall) in their first
four years in the league. Despite their struggles, they weren't  yet finished tweaking the Pioneers as they ruined a perfectly good Senior Day in 2011 with a 7-6 upset win at the old Middle School Field.

That would be the last time the Pioneers looked past the Hornets. They have made short work of M/E in the three games since with three lopsided wins outscoring the Hornets 131-20. You can bet the Pioneers won't be looking past them this year either as the Hornets come in with the same record: 2-0 in the CAL Baker, 3-1 overall.

Dawn of the Dutton Era
New head coach Jeff Dutton, a former Beverly assistant, has ditched the spread offense the Hornets had been running and switched to the Panthers Wing T. The Pioneers have been seeing a lot of that offense lately as Newburyport and Amesbury both both threw a version of it at Lynnfield earlier this year.

The Hornets graduated only three players from last season's 2-9 squad and have a dozen seniors on their 30 man squad. Depth is a problem as most players are going both ways. The Hornets nearly ran out of gas against Hamilton-Wenham last week. After building a 16-0 lead heading into the fourth quarter, the Generals roared back with two unanswered TD's but couldn't get a third and fell 16-12.

Defense has been the calling card for the Hornets so far as two of their wins have been shutouts. They whitewashed Northeast Metro Tech 13-0 and blanked Georgetown 34-0. Their only loss was also a defensive struggle, as they fell to Greater Lowell 18-13. They come in allowing only 8 points per game while the Pioneers are scoring an average of 30 per game. Something has to give Friday night at Hyland Field.

Running back Chris Carr is the Hornets main weapon, having scored four of M/E's 11 touchdowns. Quarterback Charlie Otterbein has thrown two TD passes. Nick DiPietro and Jack Hennigan also get carries in the Hornet Wing T. Sophomore Robbie Sarmanian has a pair of TD runs.

In their three wins, the Hornet offensive and defensive lines have been able to overpower smaller opponents on both sides of the ball. That's unlikely to be the case against the massive front of the Pioneers. However that doesn't necessarily mean they can't be effective since the core of the Wing T is more about blocking schemes and deception rather than pure size. Defensively they are quick and swarm - pun intended - to the ball.

The key for the Hornets is going to be solving a stout Pioneer defense that is allowing only seven points per game. The starting defense has allowed only three TD's in four games, all against D3 Danvers.

It should be interesting. Game time in Manchester is 7 pm.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Around the CAL Baker: Week 4

By Tom Condardo

And then there were two. The Pioneers and the Hornets of Manchester-Essex stand alone atop the CAL Baker with identical records - 2-0 in the league, 3-1 overall. After their showdown in Manchester Friday night, one will have undisputed possession of first and an inside track to the title.

We'll take a look at the two non-Lynnfield Baker games and review the Division Three North Playoff race, but first a look at the updated Baker standings.

The Hornets earned their piece of first place with a 16-12 win over Hamilton-Wenham, their second straight Baker win. Man-Essex appeared to be rolling to an easy win after touchdowns by quarterback Charlie Otterbein (one yard sneak) in the second quarter and Chris Carr (9 yard run) in the third. A General punt snap that went out of the endzone gave the Hornets a 16-0 lead early in the fourth and Man-Essex was firmly in control

Then the Generals happened. H-W scored with 2:43 left in the game but quarterback CJ Cooper fumbled and came up short on the two point try to keep the score at 16-6. The Hornets took over, moved to midfield and strangely went for it on fourth down. The Generals held and then moved down the field. Cooper hit Cameron Pech three times to get to the one yard line with 49 seconds to play. Cooper punched it in to make it 16-12 and a two point pass attempt was incomplete to account for the final score.

H-W hosts Georgetown on Saturday in a battle of two winless squads.

Amesbury got off the schneid with a dominating win over Georgetown last week for their first win. The Indians scored on their first three possession to take the drama out of this one early. The Amesbury defense stifled Georgetown, holding them to 20 yards in the first half.

The Indians get a visit from Ipswich on Friday night in a matchup of two 1-3 teams.

Division Four North Playoff

Things got a little tighter in the division playoff race as five of the top eight teams from last week went down to defeat. Stoneham, Watertown, Triton, Arlington Catholic, and Swampscott (by forfeit) all lost which shook up the standings a bit.

Despite the loss, Stoneham retained the first seed largely on the strength of their schedule. They play in the Middlesex Freedom division, with four of the six teams being in Division Three. That gives them 12 points per win so even though they only have three wins, they still have 36 own points only four less than current number two seed Pentucket who has four wins against D4 teams which are only wortht 10 points each. Stoneham also has 20 opponent points, the most in the division.

North Reading moved into the three seed with their win over D3 Masco which was good for 12 points. They also earned 12 points the previous week with a win over D3 Somerville. Their 44 own points are the most in the division. The weak play of their opponents is what is keeping the Hornets out of first. The combined record of their four defeated opponents is 2-14 giving them only six opponent points.

It's a battle of the unbeatens in West Newbury Saturday when Pentucket and North Reading clash for first place in the CAL Kinney and a major leg up in the D4 standings. The winner of this one will get 22 points, 10 for the win and 12 for the four wins of the loser. That could vault the victor into the top seed depending on what Stoneham does against winless Wakefield. That will be another 12 point win if the Spartans can drop the Warriors.

Watertown takes on 2-2 Burlington in a 18 point game for them.

There's a lot on the line in the Pioneers' matchup with 3-1 Manchester Essex. The win would be worth 19 points for the Pioneers and 21 points for the Hornets since Lynnfield is D4 and M/E is D5.

Triton takes on Newburyport this week and a Clipper win gives the Pioneers three more points.

You'll notice that my standings are slightly different to what you might see in the Globe or Herald. That's because I'm taking into account the automatic qualifier for first and second place. So Winthrop, which according to their rating should fall into 11th place actually vaults into an automatic bid at eight because they are currently in second place in the Northeastern South division. In that scenario, Saugus would be bumped out despite having a higher rating because they are currently in third place in the Northeastern South.

Three more weeks to go so a lot can still happen.

That's it for now. Check back Thursday night for my Manchester-Essex preview.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Ipswich Leftovers

by Tom Condardo

As the Pioneers wrap up their pregame warmups, they go through a familiar ritual. They alternate two defensive teams and rotate through a quick last minute drill. As soon as one finishes, it sprints off to one side to huddle around assistant coach Jeff Gannon. The other team then hustles on to the field, goes through the drill and dashes off to the other side to a huddle around assistant coach Pat Lamusta. They go through some primal screaming to get pumped for the game and each one finishes the same way. The coaches lead the huddle break by yelling one-two-three DOMINATE and the players follow suit.

It's a good way for the team to get ready for the game, but the Pioneers really took the call to heart Friday night since there was no better word to describe what they did to the Ipswich Tigers than domination. The offense was efficient, scoring on four of their first five possessions to leave no doubt in this one early. But the defense was even more dominant - scary dominant.

The Pioneer defense blew up the Tiger triple option at every turn, not allowing any breathing room. Ipswich ran 16 first half plays broken down as follows. Four for losses, one for no gain, three for a one yard gain, two incomplete passes, two interceptions, and four for positive yardage. The net first half yardage for the Tigers? Three yards. As in one-two-three.

The third quarter was even stronger for the Pioneers. Thanks to a pair of long drives, Ipswich ran only three plays in the quarter: a gain of three, loss of three, and a incomplete pass for net zero yards. At the end of three quarters, the Pioneers owned a 408-3 edge in yardage without allowing a first down. The Tigers punted five times, more than the total net yards (3) and first downs (0) combined.

If that's not dominating, I'm not sure what is.

"I hope it's starting to come together," head coach Neal Weidman on his squad's performance through the first four games. "We really do have a lot of things to work on including getting back to basics. It all starts with great kids. If you have a group of great kids that want to work and improve and on top of that have some guys that can play, that gives you a really good combination."

Red Flags?
If you really want to reach for something to worry about, you can look at the number of penalties the Pioneers have been hit with. They were flagged six times for 60 yards Friday night with two of them nullifying touchdowns. On the year, the Pioneers have been assessed 21 penalties for 200 yards. That's almost equal to half the total yardage the Lynnfield defense has allowed in the four games (516).

But Weidman felt the situation was a bit different Friday night when it came to penalties.

"The penalties (Friday night) were better because the kids were playing hard and aggressive blocking downfield," he told me. "One was a cut block coming back which was probably a good block but he knows he can't do that. The hold on this side I happened to be watching the kid and he was going full speed and was trying to be aggressive and the third one was just playing hard and getting upfield on the play. He held him but it was from getting after it. It was not good that we got the penalty but when it's from playing hard and hustling you can roll with it more."

The Real Thing
It was unfortunate the first persistent rain arrived on the night the Pioneers were playing their only game on real grass in their first seven games. Luckily the field at Jack Welch Stadium was in great shape and there were very few incidents of slipping and sliding.

The win was the ninth straight for the Pioneers over the Tigers, tying their longest winning streak against any opponent. Lynnfield won nine in a row over Masco from 1983-1991.

Jumbo Package
Without a true bulldozing running back like Kyle McGah or Jake Rourke, Weidman has added a wrinkle to the offense by putting tight end captain Drew Balestrieri in the backfield with Alex Soden as the up man in short yardage situations. They unveiled it last week against Amesbury and Balestrieri scored his first TD. The Pioneers trotted it out again against Ipswich on first and goal from the four and the senior blasted in again for the Pioneers' third TD of the game.

There was a pretty big hole and an Ipswich linebacker tried an arm tackle at the two yard line but the 6'0" 210 lb. Balestrieri barely broke stride as he barreled into the endzone.

"He's a big, strong kid," Weidman said of Balestrieri. "It's a package we've started using in short yardage situations."

Double Trouble
Speaking of Balestrieri, we spoke earlier in the year about the challenge opponents face when the Pioneers line up in double tight end formation with Balestrieri and fellow captain CJ Finn. Almost every opposing coach mentions the difficulty that poses since the Pioneers can launch a strong rushing attack from that formation but can also go with an effective passing game since both can catch and run. Finn has five catches for 59 yards and a TD on the year and Balestrieri has five catches for 50 yards.

"They're both big and physical, strong and smart and they understand football," Weidman said of the pair. "When we can stretch the line out a little bit with them it's helpful.

Dynamic Duo
And while we're on the topic of twosomes, it's time to talk about the stellar play of quarterback Jake McHugh and his favorite target Louis Ellis.

McHugh has been outstanding in his first four games, completing 39 of 60 (65%) for 603 yards, seven touchdowns, and no interceptions. His NFL quarterback passing rating is 137.0. For reference, Danny Sullivan, one of the best QB's to play for the Pioneers, finished his career with a 122.7 rating. The top score in the scale is 158.3.

"He's played well," Weidman said. "He asks the right questions and he's working at it."

Ellis, a junior seeing his first extended action at receiver, has been superb as well. He has 12 catches for 233 yards and four touchdowns, scoring in every game so far this season.

"As a sophomore (Jake) was switching between receiver and quarterback and last year he and Louis were going back and forth," Weidman said. "A quarter of the way through last season I said that's it - Louis is a receiver and Jake is the quarterback. I was going back and forth and they weren't necessarily getting better at either one because they were splitting so much time. We just went with it and Louis is a pretty good receiver and Jake's been playing well too, so it's worked out."

Kiddie Corps
And finally, for our last daily double, we have to mention the play of sophomores Nick Kinnon and Andrew DePalma. Kinnon is the backup quarterback but Weidman has been working to get the ball in his hands more. DePalma saw extended action last week in the blowout over Amesbury and got another opportunity against Ipswich with captain Drew McCarthy out with an ankle injury.

Kinnon led the Pioneers in rushing Friday night with 104 yards on six carries including a scintillating 63 yard TD run. He is the team's second leading rushier with 197 yards on 13 carries, a sparkling 15.2 yard per carry average.

DePalma is fourth on the team in rushing with 115 yards on 16 carries, an impressive 7.2 yards per carry average.

"They both run hard," Weidman said of his two sophomores. "Kinnon is fast and we're trying to find ways to get him touches but it's tough when you play quarterback. You can't have him rep at everything."

That's it for now. Check back Tuesday night when I'll take a look around the Baker and at the Division Four North playoff race.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Ipswich Game Preview: Changing Stripes

by Tom Condardo

You've often heard me moan about the Pioneers' struggles against Newburyport, but a lesser known pain in the tailbone pad for Lynnfield has been Ipswich. The Pioneers have beaten the Tigers eight straight times going back to 2007, but it wasn't always so. In fact, Ipswich is the only other Cape Ann
League team who holds a winning record against the Pioneers, going 26-20 in the 46 meetings between the schools.

When legendary Ipswich coach Jack Welch, the namesake of the field on which the Pioneers and Tigers will tangle on Friday night, was in charge, life was much different for the Lynnfield gridders. Welch was on the opposite sideline for all 26 of those Tiger wins and the neither Ted Flaherty or Greg Brotheron, the coaches that followed Welch as Ipswich head man, have been able to notch a win against the Pioneers. New Tiger coach Kevin Fessette will try to snap that string Friday night.

Lynnfield wasn't alone when it came to losing to Welch who compiled a 224-132-6 record in his 47 years as Tiger head coach. Despite almost always leading the school with the smallest enrollment, his teams earned eight league titles and five state championships. He was named coach of the year six times.

Welch's squads enjoyed particular success against Lynnfield from 1965-1977 when they took seven of the nine meetings and from 1988 to 2006 when they won 11 of 12 games between the schools. Winning at Ipswich had also been a chore for the Pioneers prior to this latest streak. They'd won only six times in Ipswich in 19 trips North prior to 2007.

Regardless of where they played, one thing you could be sure of: Welch would trot out his Delware
Wing T offense which the Tigers ran with the precision of a Marine Corps drill team. Inside handoffs, misdirection, and reverses would give opponents fits and their undersized linemen would always befuddle bigger defensive opponents.

When Flaherty took over in 2011, he continued to run the Wing T, but in 2013 Brotherton switched the Tigers offense to a spread. Fessette has brought Ipswich back closer to its roots by installing a triple option, flexbone offense that once again focuses on the ground game. The wrinkle is that they're not afraid to throw out of it, so you can't just pack the box and forget about the pass.

Jake Long is at the controls and the quarterback scored both Tiger touchdowns in their 14-12 win over Hamilton-Wenham last week. With his first victory under his belt, Fessette finds his team tied with the Pioneers for first place in the Baker division, and a chance to knock off the three time defending league champs.

One of the Tigers' key weapons,  running back Charlie Gillis, left the H-W game after sustaining an injury on defense. His availability for Friday night isn't known. Alex Morris is a favorite target for Long.

The Tigers fell to North Reading 27-14 in the opener with the Hornets gashing the Ipswich defense for nearly 300 yards on the ground. The Tigers hung with Newburyport before falling 21-7 in their second game of the year.

Coach's Take
I spoke with Generals' assistant coach Ed Melanson for his take on the Tigers.

"They've improved each week which is all a coach can ask for," Melanson told me. "They like to run behind (senior lineman Jared Perley). They have some nice backs in (Long) and (Gillis). The rest of their line is very young but good sized and will be very good in time.

"They run some unusual formations like eight men on the line, some unbalanced things so I'm sure Lynnfield will be looking for that," he concluded.

The forecast calls for windy conditions with temps in the 40"s and a 25% chance of rain. Bundle up. Game time in Ipswich is 7 pm.

That't it for now. Check back Sunday night for my Leftovers post.