Tuesday, November 22, 2016

North Reading Game Preview: Clash of Champions

By Tom Condardo

For the second year in a row the Pioneers will be playing in the Unofficial Cape Ann League Championship game. Last year it was Baker Champ Lynnfield against Kinney Champ Pentucket in an exciting 28-27 Sachem win.

Tomorrow, the five-time Baker/CAL-NEC4/CAL Small Champion Pioneers host the Kinney Co-Champion Hornets for supremacy in the overall CAL. Of course it's highly unofficial and no one cares or even mentions it but me, but still.

Both teams come into the game after successful championship seasons, the Pioneers at 6-3 after an 0-2 start and the Hornets at 8-2.

Both teams made brief playoff runs, Lynnfield bowing out in the section semi finals and North Reading lasting one round longer and losing in the sectional finals to a strong Marblehead squad.

Both can put points on the board in a hurry - the Pioneers averaging 32 points a game over their last six contests and the Hornets scoring at a 30 point per game clip in their last half dozen games.

But that's where the similarity ends. The methods of each offense vary significantly.

The Hornets are a run-first offense led by dynamic running back Matt McCarthy. North Reading has scored 39 touchdowns and 32 have come via the run - 18 from McCarthy and 8 from quarterback Kyle Bythrow. The Hornets have tallied only three passing TD's. They've run the ball 304 times and passed it only 20 times.

The Pioneers are more balanced scoring 15 rushing touchdowns (4 each from Anthony Murphy and
Nick Kinnon, and 3 from Tyler Murphy.) But quarterback Matt Mortellite has tossed 19 touchdown passes - 8 to Kinnon and 5 to co-captain Louis Ellis. They've had 221 running plays and 180 pass attempts.

There will be no surprises on what the Hornets want to do. McCarthy, who has gained over 1600 yards so far - will get the lion's share of the carries but the Pioneers will have to keep an eye on Bythrow who is averaging almost 10 carries a game.

The Pioneers have more offensive weapons with Mortellite throwing to a solid corps of receivers in Kinnon, Ellis, and co-capt Kyle Hawes. Anthony Murphy, Tyler Murphy (if he's able to go after suffering an injury against Greater Lawrence), and Kinnon will handle most of the ground game. If Tyler Murphy doesn't play, Justin Ysalguez could see significant action.

The wild card for the Pioneers could be Mortellite on the run. He's carried 55 times for 219 yards and a pair of touchdowns, but he has speed and could burn the Hornets if they don't pay attention.

The weather looks to be ugly with freezing rain on the menu, and that would tend to favor a running team like the Hornets. But the Pioneers have been able to throw in bad weather, something they have faced too many times already this year.

It should be a good matchup and the question will be which defense can slow down the other offense the best. If neither can, we could be looking at a shootout at Pioneer Stadium.

Pioneers like home cooking
The Pioneers come into the game winners of two straight against North Reading and four straight at home. The Hornets haven't won in Lynnfield since posting a 22-0 shutout at the Middle School field in 2006.

The Chestnut Street Rivalry is the longest for both teams. The Pioneers have played the Hornets every year since the program began in 1958. That first game was on the last week of October and since 1959, the game has been played on Thanksgiving.

The Hornets won that first game and then the Pioneers reeled off the next seven and 14 of the first 18 meetings. The series has been pretty even since then. The teams are 10-10 over the past two decades and the Pioneers hold a 21-19 edge over the past 40 years.

Playoff System Fallacy
Oh well. Too bad the Thursday's game doesn't mean anything and no one is interested right? Wrong.

The critics of the playoff system will tell you the Thanksgiving Day games have been devalued because teams that have been bounced from the playoffs or didn't make it in the first place are just playing out the string.

I never understood this logic since what would you call it when a team loses its first three games with seven to go and has no chance of winning a league title - as unfortunately Lynnfield and North Reading and many others - have done too many times in their respective histories.

The angst over the playoff system affecting the holiday games is simply hogwash. The Thanksgiving Day rivalries are normally long standing battles between neighboring towns and will ALWAYS mean something. That's the case whether both teams come in 1-9 or march in as champions of their respective leagues. And that will be the case tomorrow when the Pioneers and Hornets meet for the 59th time.

So let's tee it up, hope the rain holds off, and get ready for what promises to be an exciting game.

Game time at Pioneer Stadium is 10:30.

That's it for now. Check back next week for my Leftovers post

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