Sunday, November 6, 2016

St. Mary's Leftovers

by Tom Condardo

It was a few days after Halloween, but still appropriate that the Pioneers played the role of a zombie football team Friday night. No matter how many times St. Mary's tried to bury them, the Pioneers kept rising from the dead in a ruthless pursuit of the Spartans.

In the end, they finally succumbed, but not before throwing a real scare into the Spartans. In fact, St. Mary's coach Matt Durgin told Steve Krause of the Daily Item that Lynnfield gave his Spartans their toughest test of the season.

"That's the best anyone's played against us all season probably," Durgin was quoted in Krause's article."

The Pioneers forced St. Mary's to play their starters the entire game, something no one else has been able to do. They gave the Spartans all they could handle, but when I asked head coach Neal Weidman if battling tough made him feel any better he replied, "Not really. It doesn't make it any better when you give them a great game and you lose."

As for pure entertainment value, the fans certainly got their money's worth.

There used to an old joke where someone would say they went to a prize fight and a hockey game broke out. On Friday night, Pioneer fans went to a football game and a track meet, aerial circus, and a little MMA broke out.

The teams combined for 686 yards of offense, 68 points, 9 touchdowns, and six two point conversions. And believe it or not, the defense wasn't that bad. The offenses were just that good.

The Spartans did most of their damage on the ground, breaking long plays with the dynamic running of Calvin Johnson, Abraham Toe, and James Brumfield. Toe went out with an ankle injury early but Brumfield stepped in and picked up 67 yards and a score. Johnson was other-worldly, virtually unstoppable and uncatchable when he got to the edge. He rolled for 246 yards and five touchdowns.

Meanwhile, the Spartans clamped down on the Pioneer running game, holding them to only 74 yards rushing. So the Pioneers went to plan B which was airing it out. Quarterback Matt Mortellite fired it up 42 times connecting on 26 of them for 245 yards, three TD's, and three two-point conversions. (More on some of those stats in a minute.)

Weidman was impressed with a couple of changes the Spartan coaching staff made, one of which helped foil the Pioneers opening drive. After falling behind 8-0, the Pioneers moved the ball from their own 25 to the Spartan 40 and looked to be in good shape. They were then flagged for a motion call and the Spartans adjusted their defensive approach.

"They stopped rushing the passer," explained Weidman. "Instead they just had their tall kids start reading the quarterback and put their hands up and they got a couple of batted balls in a row. That was a smart move."

The two blocks ended the first drive.

Stopping the explosive St. Mary's double wing is nearly impossible so the Pioneers needed to match them score for score. They nearly did, but in the end came up a few scores short.

"Unfortunately we shot ourselves in the foot offensively in the first half," Weidman said. "That's the way it is. When you play good teams, that stuff just can't happen."

Big Time
The Spartans clearly had the size advantage, making the Pioneers' effort to hang with them in the trenches even more impressive. Freshman TE/LB Matt Cross is 6'7" 215, Lineman Cam Sakowich is 6'4" 230, Lineman Liam Reddy, a beast all night, is 6'2, 270 and TE/DL Patrick Henry (no, not the "give me liberty" guy) is 6'3, 260.

Now we know what Pioneer opponents felt like the past few years when Lynnfield always came out with the significant size edge.

St. Mary's either doesn't  have or chooses not to use a placekicker and always goes for the two point conversion. That forces the opposition to match them and the Pioneers did just that picking up three-two pointers on Mortellite passes to co-captains Louis Ellis and Kyle Hawes and one to Nick Kinnon. With the hat trick, Mortellite tied the record for most two point conversion tosses in a single game.

The record was set in 1961 in a 30-6 win over Westford Academy. In that game, quarterback Steve Mucica tossed two to Laurie Bleiler and one to Frank Berardino.

To find the last game in which the Pioneers picked up three two pointers you have to go back 36 years to 1980 when Jim Dolbeare ran for three conversions in a 36-20 win over Masco.

Airing It Out
The Pioneers threw an incredible 44 passes in the game - 42 by Mortellite and 2 by Kinnon. That's the most since I've been keeping stats - 1989 - and my guess is that it's the most all time. The most passes before this was in 2009 when Gino Cohee (32), Chris Grassi (4) and A. J. Roberto (1) combined for 37 in a 28-7 loss to Wilmington.

Just to show how the high school game as changed in the past twenty years, in 1998 Pioneer quarterbacks Kris Borkowski (92), Jim Motzkin (17) and Charlie Shove (2) combined for 111 pass attempts FOR THE SEASON! They completed 34 for a total of 468 yards for the year.

Mortellite completed 8 fewer passes for 223 fewer yards in Friday night's game than the 1998 team did for the entire year. It was certainly a different brand of football.

James Brumfield's 50 yard touchdown run Friday night was the 9000th point scored against the Pioneers in the history of the program. The tally now stands at 9013 against in 59 seasons.

Next Up: Greater Lawrence
The Pioneers will play their final game before Thanksgiving on Saturday morning at 10:30 in West Andover against 6-3 Greater Lawrence. Check back Thursday night for my preview post of the game against the Reggies.

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