Sunday, October 30, 2016

Northeast Leftovers

by Tom Condardo

The tortoise and the hare is an appropriate analogy for Friday night's playoff game that saw the Pioneers advance to the D3A semi-finals.

Northeast was obviously the tortoise, staying in its shell, hoarding the ball, hoping the hare - the Pioneers - would get frustrated or make a mistake. It was a sound strategy against an increasingly explosive Lynnfield offense which has now scored more than 30 points in their last three games.

But according to Pioneer head coach Neal Weidman, the slow down, ground and pound, slow motion wing T attack was not developed specifically for this game.

"That's just what they do," the coach said. "And they're good at it."

You think?

Northeast had a four to one advantage in time of possession and first downs. The Pioneers had the ball for less than 10 minutes of game time - less than a quarter of the game. But playing keepaway was only part of the equation if the Knights hoped to win the game. The other part was stopping the Pioneers when they DID have the ball, and they never could do that.

Special teams played a key role in the win, with captain Kyle Hawes punt return for a score getting the Pioneers on the board early, and captain Mike Stellato's blocked punt leading to a 5 yard drive for the score that iced the game at 27-6.

In between, the Pioneers burned the Knights on quick strikes, scoring on four touchdown drives of less than a minute and a half - two of them less than 30 seconds.

Despite the lopsided final score, Weidman wasn't happy with the way the game began, with the Pioneers running only six plays in the first half.

"Exactly how it started was exactly how we didn't want it to start," Weidman said of Northeast's two long drives that resulted in one score. "We didn't have a ton of offensive plays and we knew they were going to try and control the ball and the clock and they were able to do that. But we kind of recovered from that after the first quarter and a half."

Northeast was able to cut the Pioneer lead to 7-6 on a long drive that saw the Knights gash the Lynnfield defense. But after that drive, the Pioneers shut out the Knights until the fourth quarter when Weidman emptied his bench. Northeast's first offense marched 70 yards against the Pioneers' second and third teams for their second score.

"We made some adjustments after that first drive," said Weidman. "Guys were getting themselves caught up in the wash by not playing sound technique defensively."

Weidman acknowledged the key in playing a team with a patient offense is to get ahead early.

"It's important," the coach said. "It they are able to control the ball and go right down and score and then they force you to punt or get a turnover and they control the ball again and score again, the next thing you know you're down two scores with no time left in the half. It's important to get on the board quickly.

The Pioneers did that and the reward is a date with St. Mary's Friday night. Gulp. But we talk more about them later in the week.

Well Rested
Weidman noted that with the lack of offensive plays, the Pioneers didn't have to use much of its arsenal.

"We were able to use a bunch of different guys which is nice because it makes it a little bit tougher to defend us," he said. "We didn't have the ball much so we really didn't throw it much but the one time we did we had the big play. We didn't use our outside receivers at all and they are some of our better players.

More from Mort
Quarterback Matt Mortellite only had to throw three times, but completed two for 76 yards including a beautiful pass to Nick Kinnon on the 66 yard TD strike. Mortellite also showed off his wheels scooting through the Knight defense on a nifty 15 yard TD run. Weidman is impressed with the progress his quarterback is making.

"He's getting more and more comfortable knowing what to do," the coach said. "That's half the battle. The beginning of the season we just had to get him up to speed. He started from zero. If you're a freshman or sophomore in the system you at least get some of it. To come in your junior year and never see any of it is not typical."

Milestone TD
Speaking of the quarterback, the Mortellite to Kinnon hookup was the 350th touchdown pass in the history of LHS football. 119 of them have come in the Weidman era - the past nine season since 2008. For perspective, in the first 30 years of the program - 1958 to 1987 - there were 122 touchdown passes.

Happy Returns
Hawes punt return for a score was the first since Jon Knee did the trick against Georgetown in 2014. It was the 32nd punt return TD in LHS history.

Coincidentally, Knee caught his second TD in as many game last weekend for Macalester College in a 48-36 win over Cornell. He collected his first collegiate TD the week before against Beloite. The sophomore has caught 20 passes for 296 yards this season for the 7-2 Scots. He's also returned 7 punts but as yet to break one.

Playoff Action
The win ups Lynnfield's playoff record in the Weidman Era to 6-5. This is the fifth straight year and sixth of the past nine seasons the Pioneers have made the playoffs.

Home Cooking
The victory improves Lynnfield's record at Pioneer Stadium to 12-2. The only two losses since the stadium opened in 2014 was the 25-17 loss to Watertown in the first round of the playoffs last year and the 30-14 loss to Danvers this year.

That's it for now. Check back Thursday night for my preview of the St. Mary's game.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Northeast Playoff Game Preview: Knight Night

By Tom Condardo

Ever since I began covering the Pioneers in 1989 (yikes), the preseason would end with a Labor Day scrimmage against Northeast Metro Tech (or as it was known in the early days, Northeast Voke).

Playing the Golden Knights right before the season started always offered a good gauge of where the Pioneers stood in their preparation. Northeast was always a tough, hard nosed team and if Lynnfield was able to hold their own or dominate, they were usually in for a strong season. If the Knights pushed them around, the Pioneers were likely in for a long season.

For the first time in probably three decades, that scrimmage didn't take place this year. Northeast head coach Don Heres felt that since realignment placed the Pioneers and Knights in the same division, it might be better to skip the annual practice game. Pioneer head coach Neal Weidman agreed and the scrimmage was scratched.

"It was Donny more than me," Weidman told me. "He said if we're going to be in the same division, maybe we shouldn't scrimmage each other."

Well Friday night promises to be a little (a lot?) colder than the first weekend in September, but the
traditional rivalry will continue...just with a lot more at stake. And instead of wearing practice jerseys with no numbers (specifically to confound me I suspect), the Pioneers will be in full uniform since this is Round 1 of the Division 3A playoffs.

"This will be different," Weidman said. "We've always had a friendly relationship as far scrimmaging and trying to make each other better. We stay in contact throughout the year. It'll definitely be different playing them in a real game."

And other than a two month delay, not much else has changed. The Knights are still big and tough and come in to Pioneer stadium with a 5-2 mark.

All the years of scrimmaging doesn't necessarily give the Pioneers much of an advantage.

"Offensively they do some of the same things they've always done," said Weidman.

But defensively they have a different look thanks to their new defensive coordinator - LHS head lacrosse coach Joe Papagni. Papagni is a former Pioneer coordinator and was on the same staff with Weidman under Bill Adams. He'll be coaching against some of his lacrosse charges which should make for some interesting interplay.

The two teams finished in a near photo finish in the playoff rankings, with the Pioneers gaining the home field thanks to a single point out of the 83 they collected. You can thank Newburport for its upset of Masco earlier in the year for the one point that put the game here Friday night instead of in Wakefield on Saturday afternoon. Lynnfield finished with a 13.83 rating to a 13.71 rating for Northeast. It can't get any closer than that.

The game will feature a clash of styles when the wide open Pioneer offense faces off against the run-heavy, ground and pound, run game of the Knights.

The Knights run a wing T with some variations.

"They are probably more like an Amesbury than a Pentucket," Weidman said referring to a pair of CAL teams than run the Wing T. "They've got some big bruisers and try to keep pounding it. They're pretty big and their backs (Scott Peary and Austin Perrin) are big too. They have good sized linemen. Size wise probably similar to us."

"Tough to tell who they compare to just watching them on film," Weidman continued. "They'd be right there with Cape Ann Small teams."

The Knights opened the season with a 21-12 loss to Manchester Essex, a team the Pioneers beat 47-14. But don't let that score fool you. This is a different Northeast team than the one that played in that game.

"That was early in the year and they shot themselves in the foot a little fumbling inside the five once or twice," Weidman said. "They had a couple of opportunities that they missed out on."

Northeast bounced back with a huge 52-12 beating of Chelsea and followed that with wins over North Quincy 14-8 and Greater Lawrence 36-20. GL finished ahead of both Lynnfield and Northeast and come into the playoffs as the third seed in the division.

The Knights fell hard to Shawsheen, the second seed in the division, 34-8, but finished the year strong with wins over Whittier 42-8 and Lynn Tech 36-26.

"It's the playoffs now and we're going to have to step our game up," the coach summed up. "We have to be motivated to play and play with some emotion. That's what everyone is going to be doing now."

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

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Hamilton-Wenham Leftovers

By Tom Condardo

Six titles in nine seasons, the last five in a row. Pretty impressive performance by the Pioneers under head coach Neal Weidman and his outstanding staff. Weidman and his staff have built a powerhouse program over the past decade and they have done some of their best work this season, molding a young, talented group into another champion.

Weidman doesn't like to talk about year after year success, instead choosing to focus on the season at hand - the current group he is working with.

"This is another team," the coach told me after the HW clincher Saturday afternoon. "A lot of people thought that maybe this team wouldn't be able to do it so I'm happy and proud of them."

Drive for Five. Captains celebrate the Pioneers' fifth straight
league championsip. (l to r) Mike Stellato, Kyle Hawes
Alex Boustris, and Louis Ellis
"We definitely needed some experience," Weidman said about beginning this season's team. "We didn't have any to start the year. We had a lot of new guys playing. It takes time sometimes. We were patient and they were patient and now we're starting to come together."

After an 0-2 start with losses to Newburyport (4th seed in D3) and Danvers (3rd seed in D2A), the Pioneers ran the CAL Baker table and now at 4-2, and earned the fourth seed in D3A. The Pioneers have made the playoffs all four years of this new format, and begin their post season quest when they host Northeast Friday night.

The Pioneers have compiled a 68-29 mark in nine seasons under Weidman - a .701 winning percentage - the best of any football coach in LHS history. It's been an impressive run and should be recognized as such. The coaches and the 2016 edition are to be congratulated for a job well done.

Second Half Dominance
The Pioneers were in control for much of the game against HW except for the last half of the second quarter. Seemingly out of nowhere, the Generals began knifing through the Pioneer defense on their lone scoring drive. The marched 57 yards on 12 plays - collecting half of their total 113 yards of offense on the day.

I asked Weidman if the Generals were doing something different on that drive to allow them to have success all of a sudden.

"Not really," he replied. "They just grabbed the momentum and we didn't do a good job of grabbing it back right away. I was happy with our second half effort considering they had the momentum going into the half. Maybe it was one of those things where the half came at the right time. Just to slow it down a bit."

The second half was truly dominated by the Pioneers.

Nursing a 12-7 lead to start, they snuffed out the Generals' first drive of the third quarter and then marched 95 yards for a score. Quarterback Matt Mortellite had a 32 yard completion to captain Kyle Hawes to start the drive and Tyler Murphy chipped in with runs of 18 and five yards. Mortellite capped it with a swing pass to Nick Kinnon who scooted down the left sideline to make it 18-7.

Then captain Mike Stellato and the defense clamped down, holding the Generals to 15 total yards and one first down the rest of the way. The biggest play came on a fourth and half yard at Lynnfield 30. General Christos Meimeteas attacked the line looked for a hole to get the first down but instead found Harry Collins who wrapped him in a bear hug. Cooper Marengi quickly joined in to keep Meimeteas from reaching the first down marker.

Quick Thinking
That big stop led to what Weidman called the turning point of the game.

After the fourth down stop, the Pioneers were looking at a three and out to start the fourth quarter. Stellato went back into punt formation in a steady rain. I'll let him take it from there.

"It was a high snap and I managed to keep possession of it," the big lineman said. "I started to run for the first down and I dodged one kid and I saw (captain) Louis (Ellis) break into the flat so I decided to throw it off to him and we got lucky with the penalty."

Indeed the the Generals were flagged for pass interference giving the Pioneers a first down. Some chirping from the HW defense tacked on an additional 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct and the Pioneers were in business at the HW 45. Eight plays later Kinnon, lining up in the wildcat, took the snap, eluded General Jake Lanciani, and sprinted into the corner of the endzone for the touchdown to make it 25-7.

The heady play by Stellato was key to keeping the drive alive.

"He kept his head on that play," Weidman said. "It's always good to have a senior captain back there. He'll be talking about that one for a while."

Steady Improvement
Weidman talked the past few weeks about the continued improvement of his team. There's no question the team that played Saturday is very different from the one that opened the season in Newburyport. The numbers bear that out dramatically.

In the first three games against Newburyport, Danvers, and Ipswich, the Pioneers averaged 15.6 points and a total of 216 yards of offense. In the last three games against Amesbury, Manchester-Essex, and Hamilton-Wenham, they have doubled that output, amassing an average of 412 yards of offense good for 33 points per game. The Pioneers have exceed 300 yards of offense in the last three games.

The improvement has been even more dramatic on the defensive side of the ball. In the first three games the Pioneers allowed an average of 314 yards and 25.3 points per game. In the last three, they've tightened up considerably, allowing only 162 yards and 9 points per game. The first team defense is even better, allowing only two touchdowns in the last three games.

"We've come a long way from the first couple of week where we caught blocks and missed tackles," Weidman said of his defense. "They've made a conscious effort to eliminate those things by working at it in practice."

Mighty Mort
Mortellite is putting together quite a season in his first year as the Pioneers' quarterback. He was 11 for 17 for 240 yards and 2 touchdowns in the clincher against the Generals. His passer rating using the NFL formula was 147.3. A perfect rating is 158.3

For the season, the junior is 69 for 107 (64%) for 967 yards, 11 touchdowns - tops in D3A - and only 3 interceptions. His total passer rating is 116.3.

HW coach Jim Pugh, who left Masco at the end of the 2014 season, helped out at Malden Catholic last year and worked with Mortellite as a sophomore there. Following Saturday's game, Pugh told Phil Stacey of the Salem News that he saw the potential of the young quarterback.

"Matt's a great kid," Pugh told Stacey. "He's done a great job for them."

Weidman has also spoken about Mortellite's ability to come up to speed in a very different - and difficult - system than the one he operated in at MC. The performance on the field has proven both Weidman and Pugh to be correct in their assessment.

Stormy Weather
Saturday was the third game out of six that the Pioneers have had to splash to victory - Ipswich and Amesbury being the other two. The early forecast for Friday's playoff game? 90% chance of showers. Good omen?

The win was the fifth straight over HW. The Pioneers have outscored the Generals 175-29 in that stretch.

Playoff Patter
Some interesting tidbits that came out of the playoff seedings announced Sunday morning.

North Reading, which wasn't happy about being elevated to Division 2A, ended up with the second seed and will host Bedford Friday night. They finished their pre-playoff schedule with a 6-1 mark, their only loss coming to Masco.

Triton, coached by former Pioneer offensive coordinator and captain Pat Sheehan finished with a 5-2 mark, good enough for the second seed in Division 2. They will host Swampscott Friday night.

And in an interesting twist, Newburyport, who finished with a 2-4 record, actually earned a home playoff game finishing as the fourth seed. The reason for their high point total was their tough schedule. They earned 27 opponent points for wins against the four-win Pioneers and five-win Masco. They piled up the points even in their losses to Ipswich (4 points), North Reading (6), Triton (5), and Pentucket (3). Their 45 opponent points allowed them to leap Pentucket and be able to host them even though the Sachems beat Newburyport 21-19 earlier this year. The combined record of the Clippers' opponents was 27-14.

That's it for now. Check back Thursday night for me Northeast game preview.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Hamilton-Wenham Game Preview: Aerial Circus

by Tom Condardo

When you put the division's top two leading passers and top receiver on the field, chances are you're going to see a lot of footballs in the air. That promises to be the case on Saturday afternoon when the Pioneers and the Generals tangle in Hamilton.

HW's Billy Whelan and the Pioneers' Matt Mortellite sit tied atop Division 3A with nine touchdown passes each. (Although the Globe missed a couple of Mortellite's and have him listed with only seven).

The Generals' Cam Peach is the division's leading TD pass receiver with six. Peach has also thrown a couple of TD passes to Whelan. The Pioneers' TD receptions are spread out a bit more with captain Louis Ellis and Nick Kinnon having three apiece and Kyle Hawes with 2.

Needless to say, both teams like to get some air under the ball. You've heard of Deflategate? This will be more like Inflategate.

As is usual in big games, it will come down to which defense is able to shut down the other's offense and in this case it means getting pressure on the quarterback and covering some talented receivers. Whichever team is able to do that will clearly have the upper hand.

The game is huge for both teams. For the Pioneers, a win gives them their fifth straight league championship and a shot at a home playoff game. For the Generals, a victory keeps their title hopes alive. A loss and they could fall out of the playoffs entirely.

The Generals started slow with losses to Bishop Fenwick and North Reading, two powerhouses who have a combined 10-2 record. HW then reeled off three consecutive wins against Chelsea, Man-Essex, and Georgetown, three teams with a combined 6-11 record. They stumbled last week against Amesbury as the Indians picked up their first win of the year despite a late flurry by the Generals.

"They have a group of really good athletes with a real good passing game," head coach Neal Weidman told me when assessing the Generals. "They have four or five guys that can do things with the ball. They rely a lot on the pass."

The Generals showed some different looks this year under new coach Jim Pugh who returns to the sidelines after a year off. He coached Masco for 26 years amassing 178 wins, seven CAL championships and making two trips to the Super Bowl. Instead of the straight power I HW ran under former coach Andrew Morency, they feature more multiple-I sets.

"Jim and his staff have done a nice job of using their talent and finding ways to get them the ball," Weidman continued. "They are completely different on both sides of the ball."

The Generals made it to the Super Bowl in 2011 but have hovered around .500 since combining for a 20-23 mark over the past four seasons including a disappointing 3-8 last year. Pugh is trying to bring his winning ways from Masco and reenergize the program and it seems to be working.

With playoff and title hopes on the line, they should present a formidable foe for the Pioneers on Saturday.

The Pioneers have won four straight over the Generals by a combined score of 143-22. Overall, the rivalry is about as even as it can get with Lynnfield holding a 22-10-1 edge since the teams began playing in 1973.

Lynnfield didn't fare quite as well against Pugh when he was a Masco. From 1989 to 2005, the Pioneers faced the Pugh-coached Chieftains 17 times with Masco holding a 13-4 advantage including the last nine times the schools met.

The Pioneers and Generals are the only two teams to hold the CAL Small title since 2009. Lynnfield won it in 2009, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015. HW captured the championship in 2010 and 2011. One of them will make keep the stranglehold going for an eighth straight year.

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

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Around the CAL Baker: Week 6

By Tom Condardo

With the Pioneers enjoying their bye week, only two games took place in the CAL Baker this week. And despite have the week off, the Pioneer enjoyed a bump in the Division 3A playoff race. I'll get to the two Baker games and a look at the playoff battle but first, the updated CAL Baker standings.

The big story this week was Amesbury's upset win over Hamilton Wenham last Saturday. The Indians came in with an 0-5 record and the Generals had won three straight, but Amesbury took to a punishing ground game to hand H/W their first Baker loss.

Amesbury rumbled for almost 250 rushing yards and built a 24-6 lead with two and a half minutes left in the third. But the Generals unleashed their potent aerial attack to get back in it. A 59 yard TD from quarterback Billy Whelan to Jake Lanciani cut the lead to 24-12 and Whelan hit Cam Peach for the two to make it 24-14 heading into the final quarter.

On a fourth and goal from the 15, the Generals took the trickeration route when Peach threw to Whelan for the score. It was the second week in a row H/W has used that play so you can bet the Pioneers will be ready for it. Lanciani booted the PAT and the lead was down to 24-21 with just under four minutes to play. The Indians held on from there for the win.

Ironically, the HW loss hurt Ipswich more than the Generals since it eliminated the Tigers from title contention. Ipswich is 2-1 in league play and HW is 1-1. If the Generals beat the Pioneers this week, both teams will be 2-1 heading into their Thanksgiving Day game. However, an Ipswich win eliminates HW and the Pioneers will beat the Tigers thanks to their head to head win. The Tigers' only hope was an HW win and a possible three way tie with Lynnfield and HW.

The Tigers won again by holding off Manchester Essex to pick up their second league win. They built a big lead but then had to withstand a furious Hornet finish.

Amesbury hosts Manchester Essex in a Baker game Friday while the Tigers welcome Georgetown in a non league contest.

Division 3A Power Ratings

It all comes down to this week for final playoff seeding and there's still quite a bit to be decided.

The Pioneers had a good week even though they didn't play. Ipswich's win over Man-Essex and Amesbury's upset win over H/W gave the Pioneers six additional points. They also picked up a point with Danvers' win over Beverly. That lifted them to sixth place.

St. Mary's and Shawsheen look to be headed for the top two seeds although both have tough games this week. St. Mary's plays Austin Prep and Shawsheen has an intradivision showdown with Greater Lawrence.

Stoneham can also tumble as they have now lost two straight and face a 5-1 Watertown team this week.

Greater Lawrence will likely finish third even with a loss to Shawsheen since most of the teams they defeated have a good shot at winning this week. They will pile up the opponent points there. Should Stoneham lose and the Pioneers take care of business against H/W, the Pioneers could be looking at a 4 or 5 seed. Northeast would be close and if they beat Lynn Tech they could finish fourth as well.

Ipswich faces Georgetown and a win there should cement their playoff position and Winthrop could squeeze past HW with a 12 point win over Swampscott and the Generals fall to the Pioneers.

Lots to sort out but it likely won't be decided until the Saturday afternoon games are complete.

That's it for now. Check back Thursday for my Ham-Wen game preview.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Around the CAL Baker: Week 5

by Tom Condardo

Two down and three remaining in the 2016 Baker race. There was one other league game in addition to the Lynnfield/M-E contest and also a non league contest. I'll review those games and check out the tightening battle for playoff spots in
Division 3A. But first, a look at the updated Baker standings.

The Pioneer victory over the Hornets gives them a 2 1/2 game lead over M/E and Amesbury who only have two league games to play thus eliminating them from contention. Lynnfield, Hamilton-Wenham, and Ipswich are the only teams who can still take this year's league championship.

Ipswich stayed alive with a 28-20 over Amesbury, keeping them a game and a half behind the Pioneers. They have to win their final two games against Manchester Essex and Hamilton Wenham on Thanksgiving Day and hope H-W knocks off the Pioneers next week to force a three way tie and let the tiebreakers take over.

The Tigers took the lead with just over five minutes to play on a Ben Yanakakis to Tommy Herron 25 yard TD pass on fourth and 11. Ipswich then held off the Indians who had the ball in their own territory with five minutes to go in the game but shot themselves in the foot with penalties to end the threat.

The Tigers Charlie Gillis, bottled up by the Pioneers last week, got lose against Amesbury for 85 yards and three touchdowns. Amesbury hung with them on two touchdowns by Zach Levarity and one by Nolan Gouin.

Ipswich travels to M/E this week and needs a win to keep their title and playoff hopes alive. Amesbury visits Hamilton-Wenham in a league game.

Meanwhile, the Generals needed a Billy Whelan to Jake Lanciani TD pass with two minutes left to hold off the feisty Georgetown Royals 28-21. The Royals, playing a non-Baker schedule (which basically means they are not playing Lynnfield and Amesbury) came into the game 3-1 and led the Generals 21-14 at halftime. They had a first and goal on the H/W one yard line in the second quarter with a chance to go up 28-14 but fumbled it away. The Generals went on to score twice in the second half for the win.

The Generals air attack was humming as Whelan threw a pair of TD's and caught another. Andrew Riccio also had a TD. If the Generals can handle Amesbury this week, they will tie the Pioneers at 3-0 in the league heading into a virtual league championship game in two weeks.

Division 3A Power Rankings


Things are starting to get interesting with only two weeks left to settle playoff positioning.
Shawsheen and St. Mary's remain undefeated and atop the rankings with Stoneham right behind. Greater Lawrence moved up a notch into fourth place thanks to their win over Northeast, who fell to sixth. Hamilton Wenham picked up 19 points for their win over Georgetown which lifted them one spot into fifth. The Pioneer win over M/E kept them in seventh place with a slight lead over Ipswich who remained in eighth. If the playoffs started this week, the Pioneers would be traveling to Manning Field to take on powerhouse St. Mary's, something they would just as soon avoid.

Winthrop has an opportunity to move into playoff contention since they have two 12 point games to finish their regular season - both winnable games against Saugus and Swampscott.

Stoneham has two tough risk reward games left against 3-2 Melrose and 4-1 Watertown - both 12 point games against teams with a lot of wins. If they can beat either or both of those teams, they will challenge for the top spot. If they lose both, they could fall several notches in the rankings.

A couple of intra division games over the next few weeks will be huge in determining the final seeding. Greater Lawrence and Shawsheen play in two weeks as does Lynnfield and Hamilton Wenham. Both have large implications for who finishes in what position.

Even though they are not playing this weekend, the Pioneers are guaranteed three points since Ipswich plays Manchester Essex. They could pick up three more if Amesbury beats H/W and one more if Danvers defeats Beverly.

That's it for now. Check back next week for all the weekend results.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Manchester-Essex Leftovers

by Tom Condardo

You never know how things are going to go on Senior Night with all the pregame hoopla. But instead of being a distraction, the going away party for the graduating seniors turned out to be a boon. The junior parents who organized the event did a tremendous job, decorating the home half of the Pioneer Stadium field with blue and gold balloons and even creating a triumphant archway of balloons where the honorees and their parents could be mobbed by a horde of paparazzi capturing the digital moment for posterity.

"It was a nice night," said Pioneer head coach Neal Weidman. "We hopefully got all the seniors in. "The parents did a great job putting it together. One of the parents who helped put it on came up to me and said they were sorry for the distraction but I said no worries. This is important"

"You do worry about the distractions and as a coach you worry about how they'll come out and play but it's still important," he continued.

The coach has good recent for trepidation since he still carries the scars from the debacle on Senior Day 2011 at the Middle School Field against the same Manchester-Essex team. The Pioneers came out after the ceremonies and played a forgettable game, never pulling it together, committing three turnovers which led to a frustrating 7-6 loss. The Pioneers had six three and outs and made it into M/E territory only twice. It was the Hornets' first league win that year.

It was the exact opposite Friday night when the Pioneers came out fired up and rolled to their third straight win to put them in position to take their fifth straight league title if they can beat Hamilton-Wenham in two weeks.

The 47 points the Pioneers scored was a massive release for the offense who had scored only 67 total points coming into the game. In previous games, they haven't been able to capitalize on good field position but Friday night they cashed in on every opportunity, scoring the first seven times they had the ball.

And the offense needed to click in this one because despite what the final score says, M/E was definitely a threat even with only 22 players suited up for the game. They showed what they could do on their first drive when they methodically drove down the field to take a 7-0 lead. The big offensive line was opening up holes for Robbie Sarmanian, Charlie Otterbein, Jake Athanas, and Bobby Beardsley.

"We were concerned about them watching film," Weidman told me after the game. "I told our kids, 'Look, they're good. They don't have a lot of guys but the guys that play are good. We have to weather the storm early and then hopefully we can wear them down.' They are just some depth short. They have some good players and they run their offense really well."

The Pioneer defense adjusted and kept them out of the end zone until the JV teams were playing, but the Hornets never quit.

"We didn't make any major adjustments," Weidman said of slowing down the Hornet attack after that first drive. "Just some technique things. We were going under their blocks and they do a real good job with their down blocks. Instead of ripping through over the top of the blocks we were going under the blocks and by the time you get under, the back is gone."

"They're a pretty good offense," Weidman concluded. "They're good up front and they have some athletes to carry the ball."

Magic Matt
It was a big night for junior quarterback Matt Mortellite who completed 11 of 14 passes for 170 yards and four TD passes. His NFL passer rating was 156.8, which is just shy of a perfect rating of 158.3. He also accomplished something pretty special in the game but I'm only going to tease you as to what it was. To find out, you're going to have to pick up the Villager later in the week and check out my game story.

The young quarterback also has the benefit of a solid offensive line of captain Mike Stellato, Nick Condardo, Ken Babine, Zack Huynh, and Harry Collins who gives him enough time to get off his throws and a terrific corps of receivers who can catch the ball and knows what to do when they get it.

Captain Louis Ellis (257 yards, 3 TD's),  captain Kyle Hawes (111 yards, 2 TD's), and Nick Kinnon (175 yards, 2 TD's) have been reliable targets who can make the tough catch and are threats to break the long one every time they get their hands on the ball.

On the year, Mortellite is 58 for 90 (64.4%) for 727 yards and 9 touchdowns and has been improving every week.

Third Time's a Charm
Interesting sequence at the end of the half when the Pioneers got into the end zone three times before actually getting credit for the touchdown. With a second and goal from the 11, Mortellite completed a bubble screen to Hawes who was immediately hit by an M/E defender. The ball popped into the end zone where Contardo fell on it for an apparent Lynnfield score. Unfortunately the rule is a team can't recover it's own advanced fumble so the ball went back to the point of the fumble at the five yard line.

So this time Mortellite found Kinnon in the left corner of the end zone for the score. Nope. Pass interference on the Pioneers. Second and goal from the 20.

This time Mortellite threw a beautiful teardrop pass to Ellis in the left side of the end zone. Another flag but this one was pass interference on M/E which was declined and the Pioneers finally had their six points.

Running Rack Roulette
The Pioneers have started to get some solid production from the running game thanks to the Murphy boys - Anthony and Tyler (no relation). Anthony has become a bruising runner - a pocket version in the style of Kyle McGah/Jake Rourke. He has 226 yards, a touchdown, and is averaging 6.3 yards per carry. Tyler has come on in recent weeks and picked up 81 yards and a TD against M/E. He also caught a pass for a second score. And in perfect symmetry, both were good for 23 yards.

The running game has been productive, averaging 6.6 yards per carry with 8 touchdown. That's pretty amazing especially considering the turmoil the position has gone through.

The Pioneers started the season with only Anthony Murphy and Andrew DePalma having any varsity experience and DePalma was lost when he suffered a season-ending concussion in the third scrimmage. I'll let Weidman take the story from there.

"After Depalma's injury, we had to move Tyler Murphy from receiver to running back. It took him a couple of weeks which is to be expected since he had never played there. He's starting to pick it up really well and making good cuts and he plays hard.

"We have to be careful about using Anthony (Murphy) too much because he plays the whole game on defense. We needed to have some second options. Nathan Drislane was a running back but we shifted him to offensive line then we made him a fullback/tight end/defensive lineman a couple of weeks ago. Then Tyler (Murphy) dislocated his knee in practice and he couldn't play against Amesbury so we shifted Justin Ysalguez to running back as well. It's been a work in progress."

You think?

Freshman Five
Ninth grade placekicker Liam Fabbri booted five PAT's against M/E and is gaining confidence week by week. This was the first game he has picked up five of them. He is now 10 for 13 on the season.

Speaking of kickers, following the Hornet's final TD Friday night they trotted out female kicker sophomore Anna Zerilli, who promptly booted it through for the successful PAT.

Five Spot
The win was the fifth straight for the Pioneers over Manchester-Essex having outscored the Hornets 210-34 over the stretch. Lynnfield is 6-3 all time against M/E.

That's it for now. Check back Tuesday night when I'll take a look around the CAL Baker and review the D3A playoff race.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Manchester-Essex Game Preview: A Few Good Men

by Tom Condardo

The scene could be a little jarring Friday night at Pioneer Stadium when Manchester-Essex comes calling for the game against the Pioneers. When the teams line up for the National Anthem, the Pioneers will have almost three times as many players on the home side as the Hornets will on the visitors side. In last week's 43-20 loss to Hamilton-Wenham, M/E suited up 21 players. The week before against Essex Tech, they had 20 players in uniform.

The Hornets knew they would be undermanned from a numbers standpoint this year as they started with a roster of 25 including two ninth graders.

Fortunately for the Hornets, each team can only put 11 on the field at a time. Unfortunately for the Hornets, the 11 they trot out will rarely leave the field, having to play both ways.

But don't be fooled by the lack of depth. The Hornets could be a tough team to handle.

"They're playing well and scoring a lot of points," Pioneer head coach Neal Weidman told me. "They don't have a lot of kids, but the kids they do have are good players."

M/E runs a wing T offense and they have three quality weapons. Running backs junior Robbie Sarmanian (6 TD's) and sophomore Dan Rodier (5 TD's) have done the most damage but quarterback Charlie Otterbein ( 2 TD's) is also dangerous.

The Hornets also have some size with TE/DE Evan Pennoyer and OT/DT Andrew Hantzopoulos anchoring the line. Noah Rawson, Jackson Rice, Evan Williams, and Nick Barnett add size and experience to a physical line that has been opening up holes for the backs.

M/E had a small roster last year as well and many of these year's starters saw significant action last season.

Defensively the Hornets are solid on the front seven but have an entirely new defensive secondary.

Quick Start
The Hornets came out of the gate fast dropping a tough Northeast team 21-12 and then jumping up two divisions to take down Saugus 41-22. They've stalled the last two weeks falling to a strong Essex Tech team 28-14 and last week to Hamilton-Wenham 43-20.

Northeast, Saugus, and Essex Tech are all primarily running teams, but the Generals exploited the young Hornet secondary through the air with three passing TD's, and at the edges with speed.

That bodes well for the Pioneers since both of those are their strengths. Look for the home team to play up tempo to try and wear down the Hornets as the game progresses.

The Pioneer defense needs to shut down the wing-T and play with the same intensity they displayed last week against Ipswich.

Game time at Pioneer Stadium is 7 pm and the current forecast calls for clear skies, a pleasant change from the past two weeks.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Around the CAL Baker: Week 4

By Tom Condardo

There was one other Baker League game this week and the teams are beginning to separate. We'll take a look at last week's action and also review the Division 3A playoff race. But first, the updated Baker Standings.

Hamilton-Wenham won its second straight overall and first Baker League game with a convincing 43-20 win over Manchester-Essex, who has now lost two in a row after a fast start. The game was tight for the first quarter but the Generals blew it open in the second to take a 28-7 halftime lead and never looked back.

Quarterback Billy Whelan continues to impress as he threw three TD passes and ran for two more to pace the General attack. Cam Peach caught a pair of touchdown passes and Jake Lanciani had one. Christos Meimeteas rushed for another score.

Robbie Sarmanian, Charlie Otterbein, and Dan Rodier tallied rushing touchdowns for the Hornets.

M/E comes to Lynnfield Friday night to face the Pioneers while Hamilton Wenham travels to Georgetown to take on the Royals.

Amesbury remained winless as they fell to the Triton buzzsaw 35-14 Friday night. The undefeated Vikes jumped out to leads of 14-0 and 21-7 but the Indians clawed back on a touchdown pass from Blake Bennet to Logan Burrill and a Nolan Gouin 13 yard run to make it 21-14 in the third. Triton then scored twice to put the game away.

Amesbury comes back to the Baker this week when they travel to Ipswich to take on the Tigers.

Division 3A Playoff Race

The Pioneers remained in seventh place in the D3A power rankings and would travel to Stoneham or Shawsheen if the playoffs started this week. St. Mary's, Stoneham, and Shawsheen all won again to cement their hold on the top three spots. Northeast and Greater Lawrence exchanged position four and five thanks to the Knights 36-26 win over GL last week. Ipswich fell from sixth to eighth as a result of their loss to the Pioneers, but Hamilton Wenham leapfrogged into sixth past Lynnfield after their victory over two-win Manchester Essex. Winthrop creeped into the race with a win over Salem, picking up 12 points for beating a team in a higher division. Whittier, Matignon/St. Joe's, and Boston Latin all remained winless.

The Pioneers have a 16 point game coming up this Friday against the Hornets and they are guaranteed at least three opponent points since Amesbury plays Ipswich and the Pioneers have beaten both. St. Mary's and Stoneham both have 12 point games this week.

Hamilton Wenham can pick up 19 points this week when they face Georgetown who is 3-1 playing a non-CAL schedule. Northeast and Greater Lawrence have tough games this weekend with GL facing Essex Tech and Northeast taking on Shawsheen. Winthrop has a 12 point game against Gloucester.

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

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Ipswich Leftovers

by Tom Condardo

During the course of every football season there comes a time - a game or even a play - where a team reaches a turning point. And it can go either way - turning for the worse when a team realizes it just doesn't have the horses and they're in for a long season. Or it can turn for the better, where the things the coaches have been ramming into their heads for weeks finally takes root and shows results.

Not to get too far ahead of ourselves, but that point may have come for the Pioneers in Friday night's dominating 20-6 win over Ipswich. Don't be fooled, the Tigers are a better team then they showed and the Pioneers performance had a lot to do with that.

Yes Ipswich is definitely offensively-challenged, as evidenced by their starting a freshman quarterback. And they only have one real offensive weapon in Charlie Gillis, but on the defensive side of the ball, they are the real deal.

This is a team that beat Newburyport 12-6 - the same Clipper team that hung 32 points on the Pioneers on opening night. They hung with North Reading, a team with a dangerous attack, before falling 21-13. They gave Triton a battle before finally succumbing to a team that is currently number one in the Division 3 power rankings.

The defensive effort - holding them to 28 yards and zero first downs - for the 40 minutes both varsity squads were on the field was truly impressive. What is just has important is the way the Pioneers moved the ball against a very good defense. They went for over 300 yards - 232 on the ground - led by some bruising running by Anthony Murphy who rolled for 114 yards on 12 carries.

The game remained in doubt until the fourth quarter mainly because the Pioneers couldn't cash in on three early opportunities when they drove inside the Tiger 25 - once to the 16 and once to the six - but couldn't convert on fourth down. The Pioneers could have cracked the 30 point mark if they had converted a couple of those chances.

But the missed opportunities didn't come back to haunt them and they notched the win. It was an important victory because it give the Pioneers a leg up on the Tigers both in the CAL Baker League race and the D3A power rankings.

I asked head coach Neal Weidman after the game if they had made any changes scheme or personnel wise that led to the much improved performance.

"No it was probably a combination of maybe a good matchup for us - sometimes you match up with some teams differently than you match up with other teams," he said, "and the fact that the kids are starting to grasp it a little bit. They are starting to execute and a little less of doing their own thing.

"We knew it was going to be a process this year," he went on. "Hopefully we can continue to move forward. The mistakes are becoming less and less. We're still committing penalties thart are backing us up offensively but we're playing much cleaner. The first game was absolute chaos and hectic. We were playing a hundred miles an hour and not going anywhere. We definitely had some improvement. I was hoping for it to come a little bit faster than it's been bit I think we're inching our way there."

The task for Weidman and his staff is to make sure the team sees the win as a turning point, not an end point. He talked to me about that after the game.

"We have to guard against thinking that we're good," he said. "We have to realize we've played better the last two weeks and got two wins because we came out with some focus and we wanted to do well. They can't forget that and come to practice and think now all of a sudden we know what we're doing."

Copy Cats
The Tigers may have been watching too much film in preparing for the Pioneers and got a bit fooled by what they saw. They have been running out of the spread with sophomore Ben Yanakakis at quarterback. On Friday, they started freshman Nick Sotiropoulos at quarterback running out of the I formation with Charlie Gillis as the feature back.

"The did run some I," Weidman said. "I think they thought they might want to get downhill on us since some teams had some success doing that. They're searching a bit offensively. They tried it and our defense stepped up."

You couldn't blame the Tigers. Their only real offensive threat is Gillis, and if they watched the Danvers and Amesbury films they saw Matt Andreas of the Falcons and Zach Prentiss of the Indians rip through the Pioneers for over 150 yards each. The Pioneer front seven was much tighter against Gillis and the plan didn't quite work out. Gillis finished with 21 yards on 12 carries. The Tigers eventually went back to the spread with Yanakakis, but the results were pretty much the same.

Triple Threat
Quarterback Matt Mortellite pulled off a triple play by throwing a TD pass (3 yarder to captain Kyle Hawes), running for a score (22 yard scamper) and tossing a two point conversion to Anthony Murphy. The last Pioneer quarterback to pull that off was Danny Sullivan who did it in 2014 against Winthrop.