Thursday, September 29, 2016

Ipswich Game Preview: Young and Restless

by Tom Condardo

The Ipswich Tigers are out of the cage.

Since the creation of the Cape Ann League in 1973, Ipswich has been one of the smallest schools in the Cape Ann League. But for years under legendary coach Jack Welch, the Tigers ran the nefarious Delaware Wing T and routinely competed with - and beat up on - much larger schools. Welch led Ipswich to five state championships and eight CAL titles.

The Tigers struggled after Welch's retirement but as recently as 2006 captured the Division 3A Super Bowl with a 7-0 win over Cape Cod Tech. They crushed Manchester-Essex 34-0 in the semi-final to get there.

Then it all came unglued.

After that Super Bowl win, the Tigers lost 30 straight games, snapping the losing streak on Thanksgiving Day 2009 with a 14-13 win over Hamilton Wenham.

From 2007 to 20014 the Tigers suffered through eight straight losing seasons, posting a record of 14-71. Last year, under first year head coach Kevin Fessette, Ipswich broke through and battled their way to their first winning season in a decade. They finished 4-1 in the CAL Baker, their only loss coming to the Pioneers, and finished 6-5 overall.

Heading in to Year Two of the Fessette era, the Tigers are poised to continue their resurgence, and you know they put a giant red circle around tomorrow's night's game against the Pioneers. To be the best you have to beat the best, and the Pioneers have been the gold standard for the past four years. The Tigers will be sky high for this one.

The game has huge implications both for the Baker League title and for the Division 3A playoff race. Only eight teams make the playoffs and this game could have an effect on who makes it, and if they both earn berths, who would have the higher seed.

Plus there is also likely some frustration for the Tigers when it comes to their recent head to head matchups with the Pioneers. Lynnfield has won nine straight games between the schools, outscoring the Tigers 248-36 in the process. Ipswich hasn't scored on the Pioneers since 2012, losing the last three games 107-0.

But that is then and this is now.

Both teams come in 1-2, with Ipswich having the slightly tougher schedule. The Tigers opened with a tough  21-13 loss to a strong North Reading team. They bounced back and upset Newburyport 12-6, then fell to Pat Sheehan's Triton Vikings - probably the best team in the league - by a 28-0 count.

They graduated only four seniors and will come to Pioneer stadium as an experienced squad with 15 seniors leading the way.

The Tigers have been tough on defense but have struggled running the spread offense with the graduation of last year's outstanding QB Jake Long.

Coach's Corner
I asked Sheehan for his take on the Tigers:

"Ipswich is tough," he said. "They have a really good defense. They have a couple of defensive tackles (Charlie Koshivas and Kieran McCormack) that get after it. They are pains in the butt.

"(Captain Billy) Waiswilos at linebacker is tough and plays nasty," Sheehan went on. "And safety Matt Rugo is aggressive. As a unit they gang tackle and fly to the football."

The offense, on the other hand has struggled.

"They are new to the spread offense," Sheehan went on. "And as you know there are growing pains in installing a new offense, especially the read option game from the spread.

"(Running back) Charlie Gillis is very fast and obviously their go-to guy. They have a couple of receivers who can make plays, but they want to get the ball to Gillis."

Shutting down the running game will be job one for the Pioneers tomorrow night. They are coming off two straight games where they were gashed by the opponents star running back. Matt Andreas of Danvers and Zack Prentiss of Amesbury had big nights against the Pioneers, both rushing for over 150 yards. If the Pioneers can't contain Gillis, they could be in for a long night.

A key will be the health of the Pioneers. They were already without several key players against Amesbury and lost several more during the game. Captain Louis Ellis and Nick Kinnon are two of their top three offensive weapons and Ellis left the Amesbury game with an injury and Kinnon was operating at half strength for the entire game. Getting those back along with lineman Zach Huynh, running back Tyler Murphy, and linebacker/TE Cooper Marengi will be critical.

It should be a good one.

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

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Around the CAL Baker: Week 3

By Tom Condardo

With Georgetown dropping out of the CAL (they are 3-0 by the way playing an independent schedule so that appears to have been a pretty good decision by them), and with Thanksgiving rivals not playing in the regular season, there are more non-league games being played than in the past. In fact the Lynnfield-Amesbury game was the only Baker League game on the slate.

We'll take a look at the three non league games as well as a look at the Division 3A playoff race which is beginning to take shape as we near the halfway point of the regular season. But first, the updated Baker standings.

Hamilton-Wenham broke into the win column and both Robin Tiro-Kinnon and I are wearing our Red and Black armbands since the Generals first victory came over our old home town team the Chelsea Red Devils. H-W torched the Devils (see what I did there) 34-0 as Billy Whelan threw for a touchdown and ran for two more. Andrew Riccio and Phil Durgin also ran in touchdowns and Cam Peach caught four passes for 75 yards and a touchdown in head coach Jim Pugh's first win as General's coach.

Manchester-Essex lost for the first time as former Pioneer defensive coordinator Greg Haberland's Essex Tech Hawks ran them over 28-14 with a devastating double wing ground game. The Hawks ground out 255 rushing yards and wore down the Hornets' thin roster.

Essex Tech went up 13-0 in the second quarter but a Robbie Samarian's two yard blast cut the lead to 13-7 at the half. The Hornets took the lead on a Dan Rodier four yard run to make it 14-13. It was pretty much Essex Tech from there as took the lead back 21-14 heading into the final quarter and then added another score to ice it.

Hamilton-Wenham and Manchester will tangle on Friday night in the CAL Baker opener for both teams.

And speaking of Lynnfield connections, former Pioneer offensive coordinator and captain Pat Sheehan took his powerhouse Vikings into Ipswich and caged the Tigers 28-0. The Viking defense held Ipswich to one first down until late in the game when the decision was no longer in doubt. The Tigers had only 20 yards of offense in the first half and only three in the second half while Triton's first team was on the field.

The Vikings scored on the very first play and never looked back.

The Tigers come to town Friday night to take on the Pioneers.

Division 3A Power Rankings

The Pioneers' win over Amesbury was good for 12 points and they also picked up an unexpected point when Newburyport upset Masco. Danvers lost to Marblehead and Amesbury is winless so the Pioneers didn't get any points there. The victory vaulted them into a playoff position, tied with Hamilton-Wenham for the seventh seed. If the season ended today, the Pioneers would be playing one of the two division powerhouses in St. Mary's or Stoneham.

The game with Ipswich this week has double importance not only for the CAL Baker race but for the D3A standings as well. The win will be worth 13 points for the victor - 10 own points and three points for the victory each team currently has.

There could be some significant movement in the rankings after this week. There are two other intra-division games with Greater Lawrence taking on Northeast and Shawsheen facing Whittier. St. Mary's and Stoneham can continue to separate from the pack as they both play 12 point games again this week. Winless Winthrop and Boston Latin can get back in the race with wins this week as both face 12 point opponents.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Amesbury Leftovers

by Tom Condardo

You can forgive the folks in Amesbury if they woke up Saturday morning wondering how they didn't win the game Friday night.

They held advantages in rushing yards (209-71), total yards (278-218), first downs (15-7) time of possession (25:54 - 18:06), and had fewer penalty yards (25-70). They drove into the red zone four times.

So what happened? Two things. Turnovers and Big plays.

Most football experts will tell you the team that wins the turnover battle usually wins the game. The Pioneers didn't only win the turnover battle, they won it in a rout.

Two picks from Peter Look, a fumble recovery from Anthony Murphy, and recovered on side kick by Nathan Drislane gave the Pioneers four turnovers. They also held Amesbury on three fourth down plays which are often considered turnovers as well. That's a total of seven turnovers.

The Pioneers, on the other hand, turned it times. In a pouring rain with a slippery football that's a pretty solid performance. A 7-0 edge in takeaways will usually lead to victory most days.
And add in these four BIG PLAYS:

  • Captain Louis Ellis strip sack and Murphy fumble recovery on the second play of the game
  • The 27 yard Matt Mortellite to Jason Ndansi bubble pass for a touchdown
  • The 41 yard Mortellite to captain Kyle Hawes TD pass
  • Look's interception in the endzone to seal the win

So despite mounting injuries and Amesbury's churning running game in the second half, turnovers and big plays made the difference. It may have gotten ugly at times, but it was still a win, one the Pioneers desperately needed. And they came up big when they needed to in order to get it.

Flag Day Redux
There were definitely some red flags - and lots of yellow ones as well - in the win. The Pioneers were flagged seven times for 70 yards, returning to their Newburyport game ways. Lynnfield has now been called for 18 penalties for 172 yards in three games - a disturbing trend.

"We're still doing silly things," said Pioneer head coach Neal Weidman. "It's immaturity. We have to stop hurting ourselves. We're not good enough to come back from second and fifteen or second and twenty. And we're not good enough to give the other team's offense 15 free yards either."

Running Wild
And for the second week in a row, the Pioneers allowed a running back to gash them for big yardage. Running mostly up the gut, Amesbury's Zach Prentiss ripped off 161 yards on 25 carries. That follows the performance last week of Matt Andreas who had 162 yards on 23 carries.

The Pioneers have given up 688 rushing yards on 149 carries in three games, an average of 4.6 yards per carry.

"It's been a pretty common problem," Weidman told me of the defense's difficulty stopping the straight ahead run. "We have to get better and a little more stout."

It's Good
After a block and miss in the opening game against Newburyport, freshman placekicker Liam Fabbri has turned things around nicely. He has now hit five straight PAT's against Danvers and Amesbury, three of those in difficult conditions last Friday night at Landry Stadium. And all of them have been hit with authority. They're still looking for one he booted into the woods in Amesbury.

Toeing the line
And speaking of kicking in tough conditions, kudos to captain Mike Stellato who not only did yeoman's work on both sides of the line but also handled the punting duties Friday night. He and Cooper Marengi split the punting duties in preseason but Marengi has been the primary punter. But with Marengi sidelined, Stellato had to pick himself out of the muddy trenches five times to punt. He did an outstanding job, averaging over 28 yards per kick.

He saved his most impressive effort for last, pinning the Indians at their own five yard line with a 39 yard boomer with three minutes to play. They meant Amesbury had to travel 95 yards for the tying score. The way things worked out, the Pioneers needed every one of the yards gained on that punt.

Time Management
The Pioneers lost the time of possession battle by almost eight minutes, but some of that was due to their efficiency. Two of their touchdowns came on one play drives. The Mortelitte to Ndansi TD took nine seconds. The Mortellite to Hawes score took eight seconds.

Flip of the Coin
The Pioneers have now lost all three coin tosses so far this year, calling heads each time. Time to switch it up?

That's it for now. Check back Tuesday night when I'll take a look around the league and the division.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Amesbury Game Preview: Drive for Five

by Tom Condardo

It's been like jogging with ankle weights. Or swinging a weighted bat.

Pioneer head coach Neal Weidman knew coming in to the season that he had a young, inexperienced team. But instead of going easy on them, he threw some extra weight on the bar in the form of a rigorous preseason and opening schedule.

Let's start with the preseason scrimmages. He had his D3A Pioneers jump three divisions to face Masco (now 1-1 with their only loss to Melrose) a week after practice started. He followed that up with a matchup against D2A Salem (now 1-1) and D2A Melrose (now 1-1).

The Pioneers then began the regular season against D3 Newburyport and then jumped two divisions again to take on D2A Danvers.

If you notice a pattern, you are correct. In five contests, the Pioneers have yet to face an opponent from their own division. And that won't happen this week either since although Amesbury is in the CAL Baker, for post season play they are in D3.

But divisions don't matter this week for the Pioneers, since it will be the Baker League opener and the start of the Drive for Five: a fifth straight league championship. The labels have changed over the years, but a league championship by any name smells just as sweet.

In 2012 it was the CAL/NEC 4. In 2013, 2014, and 2015 it was the CAL Baker. It didn't matter. Twenty league games and a perfect 20-0 record. Impressive stuff.

No matter what, the Pioneers won't go 5-0 this season since there are only four league games. The sledding appears to be tougher this year thanks to the Pioneers' youth and the growing strength of the other teams in the league.

Ipswich appears to be the team to beat since they gave a tough North Reading team a battle and are coming off a win over the same Newburyport team that defeated the Pioneers on opening night. Manchester Essex is undefeated at 2-0 while Hamilton Wenham under new coach Jim Pugh is 0-2 but played two strong teams in Bishop Fenwick and North Reading.

Amesbury Awaits
Which brings us to this week's opener against Amesbury. The Indians also come into the game at 0-2 after losing big to Norwell (who by the way has won their first two games by the combined score of 81-6) and battling Pentucket before falling 27-12 last week.

The Indians were dealt a tough blow losing starting quarterback Garret Collins on the third play from scrimmage in their opening game. They've been scrambling to find a replacement and last week Zach Levarity and Blake Bennet split the signal calling duties. The Indians have scored only two offensive touchdowns so far. Their third score was on a returned fumbled punt.

Although the offense has sputtered, the defense improved last week against Pentucket. The run-first Sachems actually pulled away in the second half with two TD passes, so the Pioneers may be looking to the air to generate offense tomorrow night.

The Indians are strong up the middle with d-linemen Elijah Huynh and Charles Wright and linebackers Nolan Gouin and Scott Franco which had the Sachems looking to get to the edge. With the Pioneers' speed, they may employ the same type of attack.

In a familiar refrain, the Pioneers will be facing a much more experienced team as Amesbury will trot out almost 20 seniors.

History will be on Lynnfield's side as they carry an eight game win streak against the Indians into the game including beating them twice in 2012 - once in the regular season and again in the playoffs enroute to the Super Bowl. The last win for Amesbury in the series was a 13-12 nailbiter in 2008 when the current Pioneer seniors were prowling elementary school halls as fourth graders.

Of course none of that means anything when the teams kick it if off tomorrow night. Game time is at 7 pm at Landry Stadium, one of the best high school venues around.

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

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Around the CAL Baker: Week 2

by Tom Condardo

In the second week of non league play, a couple of teams made statements while three others, including the Pioneers, are still looking for that first win. I'll review all the games and take a look at the updated D3A playoff race. But first, the Baker standings.

Ipswich let it be known they are a title contender with a solid 12-6 win over Newburyport. The victory snapped an eight game Tiger losing streak against the Clippers. The Ipswich defense led the way shutting out the Clippers until midway in the third.

The Tigers led 3-0 at halftime and 10-0 until the last minute of the third when Rob Shay capped a long scoring drive with a four yard TD run to cut the lead to 10-6. Appropriately enough, it was the defense that nailed this one down, chasing Shay into the endzone following a bad snap for the safety.

Sophomore quarterback Ben Yanakakis tallied the lone Tiger score.

The Tigers travel to Byfield to take on Pat Sheehan's Triton Vikings in another non league encounter this week.

Manchester-Essex remained undefeated with an impressive 41-22 win over Saugus. The Hornets fell behind 6-0 but touchdowns from Robbie Sarmanian and Jake Athanas lifted them to a 14-6 halftime lead.

M/E capitalized on a Saugus fumble with another Sarmanian score to make it 21-6. The Sachems cut the lead to 21-14 but a Dan Rodier run upped the score to 28-14. Saugus climbed back to 28-22 midway in the fourth but Rodier quickly put this one away on a 51 yard run. Charlie Otterbein capped the scoring with a 19 yard run.

Manchester-Essex takes on Essex Tech in a non league contest this weekend.

Amesbury lost their second straight against a tough Pentucket team 27-12 as the Indian defense made things interesting for a while. Amesbury trailed 13-6 at the half but a long Pentucket score made it 20-6 in the third. A one yard blast by quarterback Zach Levarity cut the lead to 20-12 but Pentucket put it away on the next drive with a 26 yard TD pass.

The Indians host the Pioneers in a Baker League opener Friday night.

Hamilton-Wenham fell to 0-2 with a tight 21-12 loss to North Reading. The Hornets scored on the first play of the game when Michael Quaratiello returned a fumble for a score. The Generals answered with a Billy Whelan to Cam Peach 65 yard pass play but the extra point was no good and North Reading went into the half up 7-6.

Matt McCarthy scored a pair of TD's to stretch the Hornet lead to 21-6 and a Whelan one yard run with a minute to play accounted for the final score.

Hamilton-Wenham takes on Chelsea/Pope John this week in another non league game.

Division 3A Power Rankings
(Top Eight make playoffs)

Stoneham, Shawsheen, and St. Mary's continued to pull away from the pack in the D3A Playoff race as they all defeated opponents in a higher division for the second week in a row. The Pioneers picked up 2 points with their loss to Danvers because of the Falcons' two wins.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Danvers Leftovers

by Tom Condardo


That's all you look for when bringing a young team along early in the season. Pioneer head coach Neal Weidman has made it clear that getting his team up to speed will be a process and that means getting better every week.

If you watched Danvers dominate the line of scrimmage and control most of the action Friday night, you might not think the Pioneers made much progress in their second game of the year.

Think again.

"I think we competed much better tonight than we did last week (against Newburyport)," Weidman told me after the game. "I wish we would have competed last week like we did tonight. It would have been a little different."

And keep in mind that the Pioneers were stepping up in class when it comes to opponents. No disrespect to Newburyport, but Danvers is a scary good team that promises to do some damage in the Division 2A playoffs later in the season.

The Falcons are loaded with weapons starting with superback Matt Andreas who put on quite a display Friday night rushing for 162 yards and two TD's. Slippery quarterback Justin Mullaney (11 carries for 55 yards) ran the Falcon offense to perfection and lanky speedster Tahg Coakley (94 yards rushing, 1 catch for a TD receiving) looks like a touchdown waiting to happen every time he touches the ball.

The Danvers offensive line keyed a rushing attack that rolled for 347 yards and controlled the clock for 33 of of 44 minutes of the game. The Falcons were also 6/12 on third and fourth down, a 50% conversion rate.

"They definitely got some gashes at times," admitted Weidman. "We're still struggling a little bit getting stops and getting off the field and at the same time keeping the ball for longer periods of time."

Now all that said, in the end, this was a two touchdown defeat. The pair of two point conversions made it look worse than it was, but despite total domination by the Falcons, the Pioneers hung tough, trailing by only one TD until the middle of the fourth quarter.

Even at that point when Danvers made it 30-14, Nick Kinnon was one broken tackle away from making it a one score game again with what would have been a 100 kick return following the Falcon TD.

Weidman also pointed out that the Pioneers dramatically cut down on the mistakes they committed in the Newburyport game. They committed nine penalties for 87 yards last week but against Danvers, they were flagged only twice for 15 yards. There also appeared to be far fewer missed assignments.

A loss is still a loss, but the Pioneers have clearly come a long way and are showing steady improvement. They will need to continue to move in a positive direction as they begin CAL Baker League play this week in Amesbury.

Struggling Firsts
The Pioneers slow start has resulted in some things that haven't happened in a while such as:

  • First 0-2 start since 2007 when they lost to Georgetown 28-20 in the opener and then lost a heartbreaker in overtime to Manchester Essex 21-14 in a game they led 14-0 in the second half.
  • First time they've scored less than 20 points in two straight games in a single season since 2011 (losses to M/E 7-6 and North Reading 37-18).
  • First time allowing 30 points or more in two straight games in the same season since 2011 (40-16 to St. Mary's, 42-35 to Danvers)

Impressive Start
Nick Kinnon is off to an impressive start this season. The junior has scored all four Pioneer touchdowns - 2 receiving and 2 rushing - accounting for 24 of the team's 26 points. He's caught 10 passes for 157 yards and rushed 3 times for 32 yards. In addition, he's been a weapon on kick returns returning seven kicks for 171 yards- a 24.4 average.

It's Good!
Freshman kicker Liam Fabbri got off the schneid Friday night booting two PATs with authority to get in the scoring column. Not to put any pressure on the youngster, but he only has 111 to go to catch all time Pioneer PAT leader Dan Bronshvayg who nailed 113 of them from 2013-2015.

Solo Shot
Pioneer quarterback Matt Mortellite and Patriot quarterback Jimmy Garopollo now have something in common. Last week against the Cardinals, Garopollo had a pass batted up in the air and he caught and moved forward for a couple of yards. Mortellite pulled off the same trick against Danvers when his third down pass was blocked. He caught it and surged forward for a four yard gain and a first down. That's taking matters into your own hands.

Captain Louis Ellis had a solid game on defense for the Pioneers, coming up with a sack and a fumble recovery against the Falcons. The big receiver was quiet on offense, however, catching only one first quarter pass for six yards. There was a very specific reason Ellis never got untracked.

"They took Louis out of the game," Weidman said of the Danvers defense. "Either (Andreas) or (Coakley) were on him the whole time. They are normally safeties not cornerbacks but they decided to take him out. That did give us some other good matchups and opened a few other things up."

Banged Up
The Pioneers did suffer a couple of significant injuries. Running back/linebacker Anthony Murphy was shaken up in the third but returned to the game. Tight end/linebacker Cooper Marengi appeared to suffer a twisted ankle on one of the final plays and was hobbling after the game. His availability for next week isn't yet known.

That's it for now. Check back Tuesday night for my Around the League post.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Danvers Game Preview: Home Invasion

by Tom Condardo

In the 1990's and most of the 2000's, it was a regular occurrence for the Pioneers to go into a game as decided underdogs. A lack of numbers and a tough CAL schedule against the Masco's, North Andover's, and Wilmington's of the world combined to put the Pioneers at a distinct disadvantage.

In more recent years, it's been the Lynnfield opponents that were fighting uphill against the powerhouse Pioneers. That won't quite be the case tomorrow night when the talented Danvers Falcons soar into town to help Lynnfield kick off their 59th home opener, the third at Pioneer Stadium.

The Falcons are coming off the best season in the history of their program, going 8-4, winning the Division 3N championship and making it to the state semi finals before losing to Melrose 24-7. They come back determined to make it to the D2A Super Bowl, and they just might have the horses to do it.

They opened the season last week with a 27-7 win over Winthrop in a game that was tied 7-7 early in the fourth quarter. The Falcons scored three straight times to pull out the win on a night when many of their players were suffering from a stomach bug according to the game story in the Salem News.

Senior Laden
As was the case last week, the young Pioneers will face a much more experienced squad as Danvers
features 20 seniors on its 52 man roster. Leading the way is all-everything Matt Andreas who at various times will be at quarterback, running back, and wide receiver. Last season Andreas ran for over 800 yards and 10 touchdowns, threw for over 300 yards and four TD's, and caught 10 passes.
Andreas helped key the turnaround against Winthrop, rushing for nearly 150 of his 175 yards in the second half.

The Falcons started junior Justin Mullaney at quarterback in place of injured senior Dean Borders who is expected back for tomorrow night's game. Another explosive weapon for Danvers is junior speedster Tahg Coakley who scored on runs of 47 and 24 yards in the fourth quarter against Winthrop.

The Pioneers will also be giving away some size as the Falcons line is anchored by 5'11 260 lb Bruno Abbatessa and 6'1 235 lb Brad Anderson.

The Pioneers played Newburyport evenly at times before being tripped up with costly penalties and miscues, but they will have to step it up significantly if they hope to upset Danvers.

Lynnfield is 10-1 at Pioneer Stadium since it opened in 2014 with their only loss coming last year in the playoffs against Watertown. The Pioneers have won four straight home openers and six of their last seven.

Time Warp
Danvers put together a tremendous season last year but were nearly tripped up by the Pioneers in the second game of the season. Lynnfield was leading 15-0 late in the second quarter when a bizarre sequence of events turned the tide.

With the line of scrimmage at the Lynnfield 33 yard line, Danvers snapped the ball with five seconds left in the second quarter and the Pioneers broke up a pass at the Lynnfield 11 yard line, appearing to end the half. The game clock showed 0:00 and we all know the game clock is never official. However, before the play, head coach Neal Weidman confirmed that five seconds was indeed official.

Despite all zeroes staring the officials in the face, they ruled there was still one second left on the clock. Which meant that the play - snap, fade back, let receiver run 22 yards down field, break up pass - took only four seconds.

You knew what was going to happen on the bonus play and it did. Borders heaved a Hail Mary into the endzone and Mike Nestor came down with it for a 33 yard TD. The Pioneers went into the half leading 15-7 and momentum shifted to the Falcons.

Andreas scored on a one yard plunge in the third to cut the lead to 15-14 and then scored a short TD in the fourth for the game winner. It was a bitter 22-15 loss in a game that was well in hand.

Spirited Rivalry
This will be only the sixth meeting between the schools, but they have managed to squeeze a lot of exciting football into the previous five meetings.

The Pioneers upset the Falcons in 2009 in a steady rain in Danvers in a statement game that you could point to as a turning point in the program. Quarterback Gino Cohee carried 25 times for 193 yards and a touchdown to pace the victory.

Lynnfield was just beginning to pull things together and a solid win over a good opponent was the shot of confidence the Pioneers needed. The win lifted them to 4-1 and they ran the table from there finishing the regular season 10-1 and earning their first playoff appearance in 23 years. The Cinderella season ended in Reading when the Pioneers were upended in the playoff game by Austin Prep 26-20 in overtime.

The Falcons and Pioneers collided in a explosive fireworks display in 2011 when Danvers outlasted the Pioneers 42-35 in a back and forth affair. The teams combined for nearly 900 yards of offense. Lynnfield fell behind 14-0, then roared ahead 21-14, trailed 28-21 and 35-21 before closing to 35-28. Danvers put it away with their sixth touchdown of the night and the Pioneers fifth TD wasn't enough to close the gap.

Quarterback Mike Karavetsos was immense in the game, completing 13 of 19 for 240 yards and two touchdowns and rushing for 105 and a touchdown and a two point conversion.

Let's hope for another exciting one tomorrow night.

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


Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Around the CAL Baker: Week 1

by Tom Condardo

It was a rough week for the CAL Baker teams as four of the five teams, including the Pioneers, suffered defeat in opening week non-league contests.

We'll take a quick look at the three non-Lynnfield games and I'll also review the division ratings and provide a brief explanation on how they are calculated.  But first the new standings.

Man-Essex was the only Baker squad to post a win in week 1, holding off the Northeast Knights 21-12 in Manchester. Robbie Sarmanian led the way for the Hornets rushing for 168 yards and two scores. Dan Rodier picked up 93 yards as the Hornet running game was operating in full force.

The Hornets scored first on a 2 yard Sarmanian run but the Knights roared back with a six yard run to cut the lead to 7-6. Rodier scored on a one yard blast to put M/E up 14-6 and then stretched it to 21-6 on Sarmanian's eight yard run. Northeast added a late score but it was too little too late.

The Hornets host Saugus Friday night.

Ipswich came up with an impressive performance in a losing effort against a tough North Reading team Friday night. The Tigers hung with the Hornets for a while going in at the break down only 7-0. NR pulled away to a 21-6 lead before the Tigers scored late to account for the final score.

Ipswich hosts Newburyport Friday night.

North Reading is loaded this year with all-everything running back Matt McCarthy leading the way. If the Tigers can play with them, they promise to be a tough matchup once CAL Baker play begins.

Amesbury got hammered by Norwell 44-6 and added injury to insult when they lost senior captain/quarterback Garret Collins early in the game. It is not known when or if Collins will return from the leg injury. Things don't get any easier this week when the Indians host Pentucket.

Hamilton-Wenham struggled in their debut under new coach Jim Pugh, getting whitewashed by Bishop Fenwick 22-0. The Crusaders scored on their first two possessions of the game and the first time they touched the ball after the half in a dominating performance. The Generals managed under 100 of offense and only six first downs. H/W will host North Reading on Saturday.

Division 3A North
While league play doesn't begin for two weeks, the post season playoff battle has already begun. Only three division teams won this week so the Pioneers can take some solace in that. Here is a look at the playoff standings after the first week of play.

The class of the division is powerhouse St. Mary's which is rated #19 in the Globe's EMass Top 20, an impressive ranking for a D3A team. Stoneham can pile up the points quickly since they play in the Middlesex League which is made up of mostly D3 and D2A teams. Same for Winthrop which is in the Northeast Conference, again comprised of mostly D3 and D2A teams.

The Pioneers' next two games - Danvers and Amesbury - are against teams in a higher division so a win in either one will get them 12 points.

The top eight teams advance to the playoffs. In the first round it's 1v8, 2v6, 3v6, and 4v5 with the team with the higher rating getting the home field. Winners move on to the next round. Losers will be matched up against teams that have either been eliminated from the playoffs or who didn't make it to fill out their final two games. Those matchups are set by a committee based on competitiveness and geography.

Here is a quick primer on how the points are calculated:

You earn "own points" for a win - 10 points for a win in your division, 12 points for a win over a higher division.

You earn "opponent points" as follows: 3 points for a win by teams you have beaten and 1 point for teams that have defeated you. For example, the Pioneers' only point comes from Newburyport's one win. For every game the Clippers win from here on out, the Pioneers pick up a point.

Take the point total and divide by the number of games played to come up with a final power rating.

The teams will begin to separate as the season moves on so it will definitely get more interesting.

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

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Newburyport Leftovers

by Tom Condardo

Mark Twain once said there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.

Bill Belichick often says statistics are for losers.

Well with all due respect to Mr. Twain and Mr. Belichick, I happen to like statistics. And I agree that in football, ultimately it's the final score that matters, but you can often glean some interesting nuggets from the numbers within the game.

So let's delve into some of those numbers from the Newburyport game to see if we can find some silver linings from the disappointing 32-12 loss.

First let's look at the overall yardage. The Clippers had a 287-240 edge. However 155 yards came on just three plays - the double pass, the TD run by Rob Shay, and the long pass down the seam in the fourth quarter. Unfortunately, those three plays led to three of the Clipper TDs.

Now let's look at the Clipper rushing game. With a bevy of athletic skill position players, the Clippers are often difficult to slow down in the run game. The Pioneers actually did a pretty good job of containing the Newburyport running attack. The Clippers ran the ball 37 times and on 26 of those, the Pioneers held them to three yards or less. On eleven of those, or one third of their runs, the Pioneers threw them for negative yardage. If you take out the 58 yard Shay run, the Clippers averaged 2.1 yards per carry.

This ability to contain the Clipper offense was evident on extra point tries. Newburyport missed the PAT kick on their first touchdown. The Pioneers than denied two point tries after three of the next four Clipper TD's - two rushes and a pass attempt.

Bottom line results are what matters, but there are some encouraging signs coming out of a losing effort. Head coach Neal Weidman and his staff have brought this group a long way from the first scrimmage against Masco, so there is every reason to expect continued improvement going forward. If that happens, positive results will follow.

Key Conversions
Another key to the Clipper win was their success in third and fourth down situations. Newburyport was 7 for 11 on third down and 2 for 2 on fourth down for an impressive 69% success rate. Now understand that three of those conversions were gifted wrapped by Pioneer penalties, something that is very concerning to Weidman.

"We had some really undisciplined penalties," the coach told me after the game.

When I asked how to correct that problem, Weidman was blunt.

"That has to come from them. They're going to have to fix that," he said. "If it doesn't stop from certain people, then they just won't be able to play anymore that's all."

The Pioneers' weren't nearly as successful on third and fourth down picking up only 2 of 7 on third, and 0 for 4 on fourth for a total of 2 for 11 or 18%.

Flag Day
Both teams had issues with penalties as the officials threw 18 flags that cost the teams a combined 157 yards. The Pioneer's most frequent call was face mask - three of them, while the Clippers had the most trouble with pre-snap penalties - four illegal motions and a delay of game.

Feeling Chippy?
The experienced Clippers with 16 seniors definitely tried to intimidate the younger Pioneers but the Lynnfield contingent was having none of it. They stood up to the Clippers and dished out as much as they got in the physicality department. The game looked a bit chippy, but Weidman didn't necessarily agree with that assessment.

"It wasn't too chippy," he told me after the game. "There's a mutual respect between the two teams. We play hard at each other and have had some great games with them over the years. I think while the game was going on there was some emotion but after I think it wasn't an issue."

Clippers Avoid Getting Nicked
For the first few kickoffs, the Clippers went straight at junior Nick Kinnon and held him in check except for a 32 yard return in the second period. But after Kinnon showed off his speed on the 36 yard TD run, they changed their strategy a bit. By the final couple of kickoffs, they were pooch kicking to the up men. That could be a strategy future Pioneer opponents may adopt to negate Kinnon's explosiveness.

Time Stands Still
One of the favored tactics to diffuse the Pioneer up-tempo offense is to slow things down when the opponent has the ball. Newburyport uses this strategy better than most and it was on full display Friday night.

Here is the official MIAA rule for time between plays.

"The play clock will always be 25 seconds. The 25-second clock is any device under the direction of the appropriate official used to time the 25 seconds between the ready-for-play signal and the ball being put in play."

The problem comes in the time it takes the official to give the "ready for play" signal from the end of the prior play. Weidman was not happy with the delay - and extra time - being given to the Clippers between plays.

At perfect example occurred at the end of the game. The Clippers took over with 1:53 remaining. They ran two plays including a final kneel down. That's almost 57 seconds per play. Now granted, this was the end of a lopsided game so some discretion is to be expected there, but the urgency to get the ball ready for play wasn't much better throughout the game.

Over exuberance
The Clippers were obviously pumped to win their opening game under new coach Mike Levine after struggling through a 3-7 season last year. However, the Clippers reacted as if they had won the Super Bowl, whooping and hollering all over the field, running over to their boisterous fans and generally carrying on.

It appeared to be a bit over the top but on further review, you have to look at it from their point of view. The Pioneers have been the big dog on the block for several years. The Clipper seniors had lost three straight to Lynnfield by a combined 86-19 score so it was a pretty big deal for them to finally knock off the Pioneers.

So although this is a different season and a different Lynnfield team, the Pioneers will still carry the bullseye on their backs and will be major target for teams they have roughed up in recent years.

That's it for now. Check back Tuesday when I'll take a look around the league and the division.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Newburyport Game Preview: Full Speed Ahead

by Tom Condardo

"They grow up so fast, don't they?"

Typical parental quote when talking about their kids of any age. Pioneer head coach Neal Weidman wishes he could make it so on Friday night when his peach-fuzzed band of Pioneers take the field in Newburyport for the 2016 season opener.

The Pioneers are young. How young? Very. Thirteen of the 20 players Weidman has identified as the players who will likely see the most action are juniors. And nearly all of them will be seeing significant varsity action for the first time under the lights at refurbished World War Memorial Stadium.

Not exactly dipping the toe in the water. This is a big toss into the deep end.

For the first time in many years, the Pioneers will not enjoy their usual advantages: size and experience. Much of both graduated over the last few years so this young group will have to make up for it with hard work, enthusiasm, and smart football.

They have shown the willingness to do that in their brief pre-season activity. They held their own against a much larger Masco squad and outscored Salem in a performance that Weidman labelled "lackluster." They were shut out by Division 2A Melrose but made significant strides against the top-ranked Red Raiders, playing them evenly for stretches of the game-like scrimmage.

The key will be how they perform under the bright lights in Newburyport.

Time to get this show on the road.

New Look Clippers
The Pioneers will be facing a familiar foe Friday night. Very familiar, in fact, since it's basically the same team they defeated 33-6 last season. The Clippers graduated only four seniors from that team that went 3-7 and features 16 seniors on this year's team.

There are two significant subtractions from last year's squad. Head coach Ed Gaudiano, who patrolled the Clipper sideline for the last 28 seasons has retired, replaced by New Jersey native Mike Levine. Levine played at Williams College and for the past nine years has been coaching in Texas. He promises to bring some fire and enthusiasm to the Clipper program and he has some of the horses to begin that process this year.

Levine will be missing one key piece, however, as last year's leading rusher Quinn Stott has transferred to Governor's. Stott is an explosive runner and was capable of breaking it every time he touched the ball. He will be missed, but the Clippers certainly have some other playmakers that will have to pick up the load this year.

They are led by senior captains Rob Shay (quarterback), Nick Toolan (fullback and linebacker), Brian Toolan (offensive line and linebacker), and Ryan Tamayoshi (offensive line and linebacker). They also feature experienced seniors on the offensive and defensive lines, linebacker, receiver and running back.

They don't have enormous size, but in the typical Newburyport tradition, they are fast and athletic. The linebacking corps of the Toolans and Tamayoshi are particularly active and will likely pose problems for the Pioneer offense.

The Clippers feature a speedy defensive backfield which will help negate the Pioneer's biggest strength - its speed.

In their final scrimmage, Newburyport contained the Watertown team that ousted the Pioneers from the playoffs and return many of the same players.

Shay returns for his second year running the Clipper offense that features a little bit different look this year. They line up in the spread with two running backs and can throw the ball as well as run some variations of the option with it. Shay is shifty and will share the offensive load with running back Ronnie Mwai, Donte Harmon, and Myles Maloof.

The Heat is On
It could come down to a conditioning battle tomorrow night as temperatures are forecast to be hovering in the mid eighties at kickoff. It's been a hot summer so both teams should be used to it, but the team that's in better shape will have a significant advantage, especially in the final quarter.

Unfriendly Confines
It's no secret that the Clippers have been the thorniest of all Pioneer opponents. Lynnfield has won only 11 of the 43 match ups between the schools, and three of those wins have come in the last three years. Things have been particularly tough in Newburyport where the Pioneers snapped a 13 game losing streak that stretched back to 1986 with a 32-0 win two years ago. They've won only four games in Newburyport since the series began in 1973.

Opening Acts
The Pioneers have won three straight opening day games and are 6-2 in openers in the Weidman era (2008-present). The only two losses? Um...7-6 in 2012 and 27-14 in 2011 - both to the Clippers.

Opportunity Knocks
Since the CAL will not be crowning champions until Thanksgiving Day, there are no automatic playoff berths for CAL teams. The only way for the Pioneers to earn a spot is to finish in the top eight in their 12 team Division 3A. I'll be doing a primer soon explaining how the point values are determined, but suffice to say the more points you earn, the better.

With the realignment of teams this past offseason, the Pioneers have an opportunity to capitalize early in their schedule. You earn points for your wins, 10 for beating teams in your own division and 12 for wins against teams in higher division.

Lynnfield's first three games are all 12 point opportunities since Newburyport and Amesbury (third opponent) are one division up in D3, and Danvers (second opponent) is in D2A. However all three teams are much improved and will be formidable opponents. Winning any of those three will position the Pioneers nicely in the playoff race.

What is it that Herb Brooks said before the miracle win over the Russian hockey team in 1980?

"Great moments are born from great opportunity."

Game time in Newburyport is Friday night at 7 pm.

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