Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Pioneer Gridblog Report - Week 3

Amesbury Leftovers, Around the CAL Baker, D5 Update, Winthrop Preview

by Tom Condardo

Amesbury Leftovers

The Flash. Quicksilver. The Roadrunner.

(Insert fast metaphor here).

So did you catch the Pioneers' game Friday night? Even if you were there you might have missed it.

Lynnfield's speed was on full display and the Amesbury Indians were the unfortunate victims. The Pioneers were dashing circles around the poor visitors  scoring from every point on the field and wasting no time doing in.

The Pioneers scored on their first four possessions (would have been five but the officials somehow decided to wave off the final 29 seconds of the first half with Lynnfield perched on the one yard line.) Instead, the home team had to settle for a 27-0 lead thanks to 349 yards of offense.

When asked about the impressive first half execution, head coach Neal Weidman responded,

"Yes we did well. I think it was our speed."

You think?

"We were definitely a faster team then they were but that's our strong point this year," Weidman said. "Some year's you're big and some years you're fast."

Color the 2017 Pioneers fast.

Captain Nick Kinnon rips a Matt Mortellite
pass away from Amesbury's Patrick
Birmingham enroute to a 74 yard TD
The Pioneers set the tone early when John Lee exploded for a 30 yard gain on a jet sweep on the first play of the game. It was the first of 15 Pioneer plays that went longer than 10 yards. They scored on runs of 38 (Tyler Murphy) and 25 yards (Jason Ndansi) and a 74 yard pass from Matt Mortellite to captain Nick Kinnon.

"In that first half four or five guys with speed made the plays," Weidman said.

And Amesbury just couldn't keep up.

Second Team Action
One of the key benefits of having the game locked up early was the ability to get some of the second teamers into the game. Weidman has done this through the years and it pays off by getting some valuable experience for varsity players who may not see much regular action.

Usually with a big lead, the Weidman will send out his first team for a series or two and then send in the backups. On Friday, Weidman wasted no time and sent his second team offense out to start the third quarter.

"I wanted them to get some meaningful time," he said. "Those kids are all a play away from being in the game so I wanted them to get that time where they're varsity players. The second offense did a nice job on that first series. We picked up a couple of first downs and kept the clock moving."

Backup quarterback Brett Cohee displayed some speed (there's that word again) and shiftiness picking up 53 yards on 11 carries against Amesbury's first defense.

Not-so-special Teams
From the "Picking Nits" department, the only downside on the night was in the kickoff return department. Amesbury had five opportunities and made the most of them. They had returns of 19, 30, 16, 25, and 30 yards for an average of 24 yards per return.

"They have a really good scheme," Weidman explained. "I like it a lot. They decide ahead of time and have their middle guy lead the way. It's a sideline return and you can tell which way they're going by seeing where the middle guy goes. But they do a good job of blocking everyone down. One time we got caught where they were returning left and our kicker called it right because he kicked that way. So one of our guys went around his block and then all the blocking was going that way so we created a giant gap. Plus they executed it well."

Air Defense Force update
The Pioneer Air Defense Force was tight again holding Indian quarterback Blake Bennett to 3 for 7 for 18 yards and an interception. For the season, opposing quarterbacks are 13 for 41 for 79 yards, no touchdowns, and 3 interceptions. That's an NFL passer rating of 6.05.

For comparison, Mortellite is 23 for 37 for 546 yards, 4 touchdowns and no interceptions. That's an NFL passer rating of 151.5. A perfect rating is 158.3.

Shutout City
The Pioneers have now posted shutouts in two of their first three games. They haven't done that to start the season since 1974 when they opened with a 20-13 win over Wayland then shut out North Andover 7-0 and Triton 26-0. Those would be their only two shutouts of the year but they would go on to post a 8-2 record. More on the 1974 season in a minute.

The two shutouts this year are the 100th and 101st in the history of the program. North Reading has been the most frequent victim, coming up with a goose egg against the Pioneers 13 times. Amesbury ranks second having been blanked 8 times.

Data Points
Captain Cooper Marengi's third PAT against Amesbury was the 600th in the history of the program. Of those, 276 or 46% have come in the last ten years under Weidman.

The win was the tenth straight over Amesbury and lifts Lynnfield's overall mark against the Indians to 30-15-1.

Overtime Flashback Redux
A tip of the helmet to a couple of eagle-eyed readers who noted a pair of overtime games I missed in last week's report.

Tom Waisnor, Voice of the Pioneers, reminded me of the exciting overtime contest against Hamilton-Wenham in 2011 at the old Middle School field. I'm claiming that the traumatic nature of the game forced me to block it from my memory.

The Pioneers were poised to knock off the defending champion Generals, leading 14-6 into the last minute of play. Elliot Burr capped a 64 yard General drive to cut the lead to 14-12 with 37 seconds left. He barreled in for the two to tie the game.

The Generals had the first possession of the overtime and Andrew Kibarian got things started by sacking all league quarterback Trevor Lyons at the 15. But Lyons connected for a pass to get it to the three on second down, Burr got it to the one on third, and Lyons knifed in for the score on fourth down. He repeated the play for the two point conversion to make it 22-14.

The Pioneers picked up one yard on first down on their possession, an incompletion on second and a completed pass from Mike Karavetsos to Alex Pascucci to the five on third down. But on fourth and goal from the five, Karavetsos' pass fell incomplete.

The loss was even more bitter because the Pioneers appeared to pad their lead twice in the second half. The first was a controversial call in the endzone on an apparent touchdown catch by the Pioneers' Nico Varano. He and H-W defensive back Pete Duval came down with the ball together and the call should have gone Lynnfield's way since the offense should retain possession on a simultaneous catch, but the official ruled it an interception.

Early in the fourth, a 22 yard Karavetsos TD run was called back on a holding call.

Lynnfield built the lead on touchdowns by Kyle McGah and Tyler Palumbo. Palumbo's score came after ripping the ball from Burr and returning it 37 yards for the score. Alex Roper booted both PAT's.

And speaking of 1974, Glenn Listernick (LHS '74), wrote to tell me that the first ever Lynnfield overtime game came in that 1974 season against...wait for it...Hamilton Wenham.

The two teams battled to a scoreless tie and the Generals scored first in the overtime but missed the PAT. Glenn Dolbeare scored the tying touchdown on the Pioneers' possession and Alan Harrington banged through the extra point for the 7-6 win.

So for those keeping score at home, the Pioneers have played five overtime games and three of them have come against Hamilton- Wenham. And I think that brings us to date. Unless I missed another.

Thanks to Tom and Glenn for keeping me honest.

Around the CAL Baker
The Pioneer win over Amesbury was the only league action last week but all the other teams will begin CAL Baker play this weekend. Hamilton-Wenham (3-0) travels to Amesbury (0-3) while Manchester Essex (2-1) heads to Ipswich (1-2). Both games are on Friday night.

It's a bit early to handicap the race, but just as an fyi, the Pioneers and Generals wrap up the CAL Baker season in Lynnfield on October 20. Get your tickets early.

D5 Update
The Pioneers' win combined with Watertown's loss to Melrose vaulted Lynnfield into the top spot in the division. Swampscott remains undefeated and jumped into second place with a 48-6 beating of Winthrop.  The Pioneers lead the Big Blue by a slim two points, .67 in the ratings, the difference being the two points Lynnfield earned by beating D4 Wayland. Watertown is lurking in third place and surprising Weston holds down the last home field playoff spot.

However, Swampscott and Watertown have big risk/reward schedules in the final four weeks. The Big Blue have two 12 point games against teams in a higher division when they play Lynn English (currently 3-0) and Revere (currently 0-3).

The Raiders have the biggest opportunity to cash in since they are in the Middlesex League and play 3 of their final four games against D4 teams - all 12 point games. They will play Burlington (0-3) this week than follow up with Wilmington (3-0), Stoneham (3-0) only a ten point game, and Wakefield (1-2).  If they get on any type of winning streak they will be piling up more points than anyone in the division.

All of the Pioneers' final four games are against teams in the same or lower division which are worth only 10 points. If the playoffs started this week, the Pioneers would be hosting Pentucket in game one.

Week 3 Playoff Ratings

1. Lynnfield 3-0; 12.67 (38 points)
2. Swampscott 3-0; 12.00 (36 points)
3. Watertown 2-1; 10.53 (32 points)
4. Weston 2-1; 9.00 (27 points)
5. Triton 1-2; 6.53 (20 points)
6. Somerville 1-2; 6.40 (19 points)
7. Newburyport 1-2; 6.13 (18 points)
8. Pentucket 1-2; 4.00 (12 points)
9. Bedford 0-3; 2.60 (8 points)
10. Saugus 0-3; 2.40 (7 points)
11. Amesbury 0-3; 2.33 (7 points)

Winthrop Preview
The Pioneers will play their fourth home game in a row Friday night when they host the winless Winthrop Vikings (0-3).

When we last saw the Vikes in the 2014 D4 North Championship game, Cam Rondeau was pilfering the football from a pile of Pioneers and Vikings as Winthrop was trying to score from the Lynnfield half yard line. Cam DeGeorge blew up a quarterback sneak and Rondeau picked up the loose ball and raced 99 yards the other way for a Lynnfield touchdown.

Instead of of being up only 28-21, the Pioneers led 35-14 and effectively sealed the win and earned them a trip to Lowell to face Holliston in the D4 state semi-final.

That was the first time Winthrop and Lynnfield met in football and they haven't played since.

This will be a very different Viking team that comes to town from the battled tested, veteran Winthrop team that came into that 2014 game undefeated. The Pioneers will face the baby-faced Vikes this week. Head Coach Sean Driscoll has been saying this is the youngest team he has ever had in Winthrop.

They will bring a 34 man roster, but with only 7 seniors and 7 juniors. Half the team (17) are freshmen. The bulk of the playing time goes to the juniors and seniors and ten of them play both ways. The only relief comes from two freshmen who play regularly. The Vikes played six freshmen in a 31-0 loss to Danvers in their opening game.

Medford beat them 28-6 in week two and last week they fell to undefeated Swampscott 48-6. That score is a bit misleading since they scrappy Vikings trailed only 7-0 for most of the first half. A late Big Blue touchdown made it 14-0 at the break and the Vikings ran out of gas in the second half on a hot afternoon, giving up 34 points in the final two quarters.

Jake Adamson is the quarterback and his favorite receiver is junior Matt Love. The lead running back is Feedle Small - probably the best name I have ever heard.

The defense is led by linebackers Brett Sheehan, A.J. Massa, and Tyler Chuidina.

Game time at Pioneer Stadium is 7 pm.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Pioneer Gridblog Report - Week 2

Wayland Leftovers, Around the CAL Baker, D5 Update, Amesbury Preview

by Tom Condardo

Wayland Leftovers

Endgame Rewind
For those in attendance, you know what an exciting game the Pioneers and Warriors played Friday night. For those who weren't there, you missed out on truly outstanding high school football game.

THUMBS UP  for Pioneer captain Anthony Murphy
after scoring the tying and winning points against Wayland
The hectic finish was particularly wild, and if you're like me, most of it went by in a blur. I thought it would be a good idea to review those final crazy minutes of regulation and overtime now that we have had a chance to process what happened.

To set the stage, the Pioneers had built a 20-6 halftime lead but were clearly on the ropes in the second half. The bigger Warriors had begun to wear down the Lynnfield defense who were on the field FOREVER. The numbers show just how long they were out there.

The Pioneers had one offensive series in the third period. Wayland also only had one but theirs lasted for 6:45 of the 11 minute quarter. The fourth quarter was worse. The Warriors controlled the ball for 7:53 of the final quarter. In total in the second half, Wayland had possession for 13:38 compared to 7:22 for Lynnfield. They held the edge in plays 35-20.

Things started to go sideways for the Pioneers at the end of their first drive of the second half. They took the kick and marched to the Wayland four yard line where they looked to be in good shape to take a three touchdown lead. Unfortunately, on third and goal, the aggressive Wayland defense blew up a Tyler Murphy run for a nine yard loss. On fourth and goal from the 13, Matt Mortellite sprinted out to the right but his receivers were covered so he took off for the end zone. He came up a yard short.

Wayland took over on the one yard line and were promptly flagged for motion putting the ball on their own half yard line. Fourteen plays later - on the last play of the third quarter, Warrior quarterback Mason Bolivar got loose down the left sideline and sprinted all the way for a 46 yard score to cut the lead to 20-13.

The Pioneer came thisclose to answering on their first play of the fourth quarter when Mortellite hit captain Nick Kinnon down that same left sideline. Kinnon is not usually caught when behind the defense but Joey Lydon had the angle - and the speed - to run him down at the Wayland 20. The Pioneers picked up five more yards but turned the ball over on downs.

Wayland then embarked on another mind-numbing 80 yard, 14 play march with Wellington Pereira plowing in from the one for the touchdown. Andy Brogan nailed the PAT and the game was tied with 1:58 left in the game.

Then things got really interesting.

A three yard gain from Anthony Murphy, a motion penalty, and three incomplete passes gave the Pioneers a fourth and 12 from their own 30 with 1:23 to play. Captain Cooper Marengi set up in punt formation but the snap went to the up man Sal Marotta who threw a pass in the left flat. Wayland defensed it perfectly and the pass fell incomplete. With 1:17 left in regulation, the Warriors were now 30 yards away from taking the lead.

"I thought they were going to try and block it," said head coach Neal Weidman of the fake punt attempt. "They lined up like they were coming but the two guys on the wing dropped back after the snap."

The thing that saved the Pioneers was that Wayland had used up all five of their time outs. The clock was as big a nemesis as the Pioneers. Pereira carried twice to pick up the first down at the 16. With only 57 seconds remaining, Bolivar spiked the ball on first down to stop the clock.

On second down, Manny Oliver knifed to the Lynnfield 11 yard line, but the Warriors were flagged for holding bringing the ball back to the 26. Bolivar picked up five yards on two carries but then spiked the ball on fourth down ending the threat.

"You would have expected him to just throw it up into the end zone but it gets hectic at the end," Weidman said. "He had spiked one earlier and you forget about those. He probably thinks its third down because he forgot about the spike on first down."

Mortellite took a knee, and we were headed for overtime.

I've always wondered about the overtime rules because they seem to be different at different times. Weidman shed some light on that when he explained the meeting between him, Wayland coach Scott Parseghian and the referee.

"The rules vary," said Weidman. "Both teams have to agree on them. They said no extra points so you have to go for two. They didn't give us much of a choice. You could choose to have a tie but we both wanted to have a winner. The referee just said we're going for two only because the OT can go forever if you have two guys that can kick."

Weidman won the toss and elected to let Wayland have the first possession from the ten yard line.

"If we go first you have to decide to kick the field goal or try to go for it," he explained. "If you're on defense first and they kick a field goal then you know what you have to do. If they score a touchdown, you have no choice but to go for the touchdown. If you stop them, you can be more conservative and try to kick the field goal. You always try to defer and play defense first to see what their score is so you know what you have to do."

Wayland wasted little time getting into the endzone. Bolivar picked up two yards on first down. On second down, Periera took the hand off and was hit at the six yard line. He then literally carried seven Pioneers all six yards and into the endzone.

"He is gigantic," said Weidman about the inability of the defense to stop him. "He outweighs most of our guys by 30 pounds, including our defensive linemen."

On the two point conversion, Bolivar stepped back to pass. Warrior captain Sean Devlin lined up as the tight end on the right side. He blocked down briefly, released and the defense lost him in the wash. He cut to the left into the end zone and was wide open. Bolivar's pass hit him right in the numbers. I was standing right next to him and as the ball floated toward him, I looked down to write the note that the two point conversion was good. When I looked up, I saw the ref waving the pass incomplete and Devlin holding his head with both hands.

The score was now 26-20 with the Pioneers about to get the ball.

A swing pass from Mortellite to Anthony Murphy picked up three yards. His next two passes were incomplete forcing a fourth and goal from the seven. Kinnon got behind the defender in the left corner of the end zone but the Warrior defender clearly ran him over in an obvious pass interference. Two refs threw their flags.

"I give them a lot of credit for calling it," Weidman said. "A lot of times they'll bury the flags but he definitely interfered."

That gave the Pioneers new life and a first down at the 3.5 yard line. Anthony Murphy bulldozed to the one and then blasted in to tie the score at 26-26. They only needed the two point conversion to win.

Kinnon came in motion left to right and Mortellite and Anthony Murphy sprinted to the left on a read option run. The defensive end took the quarterback and Mortellite pitched to Murphy who dashed through the linebacker, who was late to the play, and into the end zone for the win.

"It's a read play," Weidman explained. "It all depends on what they do. When they ran with Kinnon on the motion, that took him out of the equation. If they didn't go with Kinnon, Mort would have handed to him. Once they ran with him, it turns into a front side read with the running back and the quarterback and Mort made the right read.

I asked Murphy after the game if he was going to be denied getting into the end zone on the play.

"Oh, no, definitely not," he replied. "I had it in my mind that I was getting in and there was no one that was going to stop me."

The captain was quick to praise Mortellite on the play.

"Mort is one of the smartest high school quarterbacks I've ever seen in my life," he said. "Every single play he does he does it with the smartest mindset you could possibly have. It's amazing."

Ultimately, the whole game was amazing.

Overtime Flashbacks
There have only been three other overtime games in the 29 years I've been covering the Pioneers. The most recent occurred in 2009 in a playoff game that would have sent the Pioneers to the Super Bowl. Lynnfield faced Austin Prep in their first post season game in 24 years. Ironically that game also ended 20-20 in regulation.

The Cougars had the first possession and the Pioneers held on the first three downs. On fourth down Austin's quarterback fumbled the snap but the officials ruled he recovered in the end zone for the score. The pass for two failed and the Pioneers had their shot trailing 26-20.

Two runs by Gino Cohee sandwiched around a rush by captain George Hennessey got the Pioneers to the one and a half yard line. Cohee was stopped on fourth down on a play that would have been called back for an illegal formation penalty. Austin Prep went on to the Super Bowl and Lynnfield's Cinderella season came to an end.

The Pioneers played an overtime two years before that in 2007 in Gloucester against Manchester Essex. Lynnfield was in control with a 14-0 lead but the Hornets exploded for two scores in the final 2:28 to tie it up at 14-14. The Hornets scored on the second play of overtime to go up 21-14.

On the Pioneers' first play in overtime, Chris Grassi hit (now assistant coach) Pat Lamusta for a short gain, but the running back was stripped (sorry Pat) and M-E recovered for the win.

The other overtime game was played in 1991 against Hamilton Wenham. It was the fourth game of the season and the defending champion Generals and the Pioneers came into the game undefeated. The Generals took a 7-0 lead but the Pioneers tied it up midway in the second when Greg Fellows picked off a pass, returned it 38 yards for the score, and David Picard nailed the extra point. The score would remain 7-7 until overtime.

The Pioneers scored on the first play of overtime on a 10 yard naked reverse by quarterback Chris Sutera. The PAT was no good and the Pioneers led 13-7. General running back Mike McGowan fumbled on H-W's first play of overtime, but the General's recovered on the one foot line. Two plays later McGowan blasted in for the score to tie the game.

McGowan was nearly automatic as a placekicker, so the crowd at the Middle School Field fully expected the Generals to walk away with a one point win. However McGowan's kick sailed wide right preserving the tie. In those days, the teams only had one set of downs in overtime to settle the score, so the game finished in a 13-13 tie.

The Pioneers finished the season 9-1-1 and the tie likely cost Bill Adams' squad a shot at a Super Bowl berth. But on that day, the tie seemed more like a win.

So in the the past three decades, the Pioneers' win Friday night is Lynnfield's only overtime win.

Quick Start
The Pioneers are now 2-0, the fourth time Lynnfield has won their first two games in the Weidman Era. They did it in 2014 (Newburyport, Pentucket), 2013 (Newburyport, Saugus), 2010 (Manchester, Georgetown), and 2009 (Matignon, Georgetown). In three of those seasons ( 2009, 2013, 2014) they went on to win the league championship and made the playoffs.

Cleanup Crew
After getting buried under a hail of penalty flags in week one, the Pioneers did much better against Wayland. They were called for three penalties for 20 yards.

"We cleaned it up a lot," remarked Weidman. "It was much better this week."

Wayland, on the other hand, killed themselves with penalties. They were flagged 11 times for 75 yards including the huge pass interference call in the endzone in overtime.

Air Defense Force
The Pioneers were tough to throw against again Friday night. Bolivar was 3 for 15 for 37 yards and threw a pair of interceptions. Jason Ndansi picked off the first and Peter Look hauled in the second in the end zone after a tip from Nick Kinnon. Last week they held Newburyport quarterback Owen Bradbury to 7 for 20 for 24 yards.

In total, the Pioneer secondary of Kinnon, Look, Ndansi, Justin Ysalguez, and Tyler Murphy have held opposing quarterback to 10 for 35 (28.5%) for 39 yards and two interceptions. That's an NFL passer rating of 6.7. A perfect score is 153.7.

Around the CAL Baker
The biggest story coming out of the Baker this week was the Hamilton Wenham 28-14 upset of a highly-touted North Reading team. Combined with their 21-0 whitewash of Bishop Fenwick last week, the Generals have made a strong statement that they will be a contender this year.

They have a ton of weapons with experienced Billy Whelan at quarterback and two dangerous receiving threats in Cam Peach and Jake Lanciani. But it could be their defense that makes them such a threat. Shutting down the Crusaders and then holding the Hornets to a pair of touchdowns is truly impressive. They take on Greater Lawrence this weekend.

In other Baker action, Ipswich, Man-Essex, and Amesbury all lost. The Tigers lost a tough one to Newburyport 10-7, M/E was swamped by Nantucket 32-7, and the Indians were nipped by Pentucket 23-20.

Lynnfield and Amesbury have the Baker opening week stage to themselves as the other three squads have non league games.

D5 Update
The Pioneers big win over D4 Wayland earned them 12 points and they picked up another 3 from the Newburyport win over Ipswich giving them a total of 25 points. Their 12.5 rating puts them in a tie with Watertown for the top spot in the division.

Swampscott is also undefeated at 2-0 but they were both 10 point wins. They sit in third place with an 11.5 rating. Newburyport currently holds the fourth home field playoff position with a 1-1 record. Triton, Bedford, Saugus, and Amesbury are all still winless.

Watertown has a big 12 point game this week against Melrose. A win over the Red Raiders would vault them into sole possession of first place.

Week 2 Playoff Ratings

1. Lynnfield - 12.5 (25 points)
1. Watertown - 12.5 rating (25 points)
3. Swampscott - 11.5 (23 points)
4. Newburyport - 7.5 (15 points)
5. Somerville - 7.2 (14.4 points)
6. Weston - 5.5 (11 points)
6. Pentucket - 5.5 (11 points)
8. Triton - 2.2 (4.4 points)
9. Bedford - 1.8 (3.6 points)
10. Saugus - 1.6 (3.2 points)
11. Amesbury - 1.5 (3 points)

Amesbury Preview
The Pioneers begin their quest for a sixth straight CAL title Friday night when they open their CAL Baker schedule by hosting the Amesbury Indians.

Two streaks will be on the line. First, the Pioneers will be looking for their 25th straight league win when they kick it off against the Indians. They have run the table in league play for five straight years. Their last league loss came on Thanksgiving Day 2011 when they were thumped by North Reading 37-18.

The Pioneers will also carry a nine game winning streak against Amesbury into the contest. They have beaten the Indians every year since 2009 including twice in 2012 when they upended Amesbury in a playoff to earn their Super Bowl berth.

That streak nearly ended last year in the muck in Amesbury when a banged up Pioneer squad took a 21-6 lead but needed a clutch interception by Peter Look with 23 seconds left to preserve a 21-14 win.

Amesbury comes into the game 0-2 after losses to Norwell (20-7) and Pentucket (23-20). The Indians are playing for new head coach Colin McQueen, making this the second time in three games the Pioneers will be facing a team under new management. McQueen was the Indians' defensive coordinator for the past two years and prior to that coached at Sanborn Regional in New Hampshire. He is attempting to rebuild a program that has gone 14-30 over the past four seasons after winning the CAL/NEC 3 Title and making the playoffs in 2012.

The Indians are a young team with only eight seniors on their 41 man roster but a 19 man junior class can help fill that void. The returnees they do have bring a lot of experience starting with senior running backs Zach Levarity, Malik Benton, and Elijah Jackman. Junior Logan Burrill rounds out a solid stable of runners.

McQueen uses them all in a throwback full house backfield where three backs line up in a row behind sophomore quarterback Blake Bennett. Needless to say the offense is run heavy. Against Pentucket the Indians ran 31 times for 132 yards and Bennett attempted only seven passes, completing five, but making them count for 114 yards. 

The defense is led by captain Connor Whitley who anchors the defensive line. Jackman leads the linebacking corps.

Don't be fooled by their 0-2 record. They lost to a pair of perennially strong programs so may be better than their record indicates.

Game time at Pioneer Stadium is 7 pm.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Pioneer Gridblog Report - Week 1

Newburyport Leftovers, Around the CAL Baker, D5 Update, Wayland Preview

by Tom Condardo

Newburyport Leftovers

Unsung Heroes
There was a lot to like in Friday night's big win over Newburyport. Certainly a great deal of credit goes to the ball handlers (the term I prefer since "skill position players" suggests the other players lack skill - untrue.)

Matt Mortellite (13 for 19, 250 yds, 2 TD's), captain Nick Kinnon (7 catches, 176 yards, TD; 21 yards rushing), Jason Ndansi (2 catches 34 yards, TD) and Peter Look (2 catches, 36 yards) unleashed a lethal aerial assault.

Meanwhile on the ground, the Murphy Boys Thunder and Lightning attack performed as advertised. Captain Anthony Murphy (65 yards, 2 TD's) punished every Clipper who attempted to bring him down. Tyler Murphy (56 yards, 1 TD) showed off his jets with a scintillating 40 yard scamper down the left sideline for the final score of the night.

Kudos to all who contributed to an offense that rolled to 410 yards of total offense.

Today I want to note the unsung heroes who contributed mightily to the win. Start with the offensive line of captain Harry Collins, Zack Hyunh, Ken Babine, Nick Torosian, and E. J. Umlah. They were matched up against a bigger Clipper line, led by Newburyport's 6'6, 240 pound giant captain Connor Smith. Despite giving up size, the Pioneer front wall more than held its own. They gave Mortellite time to find his open receivers and opened enough room for the running game to pick up 170 yards. Very impressive.

"They're shorter but they're al pretty strong," head coach Neal Weidman said of his linemen. "They don't necessarily weigh a lot but they're pretty quick. Sometimes that's a good thing too."

Line coach Gino Fodero seems happy with his group, size or no size.

"We need to move people and we have to be in great condition," Fodera said as the most significant difference in having smaller linemen. "(In the scrimmage) against Melrose, when we got down to the nitty gritty we started pushing people around a bit. It's about angles and having your wind. Understanding where you have to go. We have to grind and get people out of the holes. Once we do that, we'll be fine. I think over time this is going to be a really good offensive line."

You could see the effects of the Pioneer conditioning over the course of the game Friday night as the Clipper defensive line clearly wore down. The same group held up well on the defensive side of the ball, holding the Clipper first team to 110 yards rushing.

"Defensively we don't have the size but we have speed like I have never seen at Lynnfield before," said Fodera. "Umlah, Collins, and (captain Nate) Drislane have to be three of the fastest defensive linemen in the league."

Another unsung group against Newburyport was the linebacking corps. Captain Cooper Marengi and Anthony Murphy, Jack Razzaboni, and Leo Quinn were all over the Clipper ball carriers.

Finally, a shout out to the Pioneer's special teams coverage, where the Lynnfield speed was again in evidence. The Pioneers had solid coverage on punts and kicks all night led by junior speedster John Lee who was in on most special teams tackles.

"We have some speed in the underclassmen as well," Weidman said of the crew he has covering kicks. "John's one of them. he's one of those guys that's starting to get varsity reps because of his athleticism. Him and a few other guys as well. It's just getting them up to speed on knowing what to do."

The point? The guys who score the points get the headlines and the ink, but the supporting cast make it all possible.

Red Flag
Despite the win, there was one serious red (or should I say yellow) flag. The penalties the Pioneers piled up bordered on the absurd. They were flagged 12 times for 130 yards almost matching the total offensive output of the Clippers (149 yards). Although it didn't hurt in a 32 point win, Weidman is clearly concerned about cleaning that up.

"There were moments in the game where we got sloppy," Weidman told me. "And that's something we have to fight against a little bit better. They seem to come in stretches. Like a four minute stretch and then we're good for six minutes and then another four minute problem stretch. The consistency has been a bit of a struggle the past two years. But the penalties have to stop."

Data Points
Although there has been a lot of handwringing about the Pioneers's struggles against Newburyport (okay mostly by me), the fact is Friday's win was the fourth in the past five years over the Clippers. The only Newburyport win in the series since 2013 was last year.

Interestingly, the winning team's point total in the past four games have been 32 (32-0 Lynnfield), 32 (32-12 Newburyport last year), 33 (33-6 Lynnfield in 2015), and 32 (32-0 Lynnfield in 2014). And yes, the Pioneers have only shut out the Clippers twice in 45 meetings, both by 32-0 scores.

Speaking of shutouts, it was the tenth time in school history Lynnfield started the season with a shutout, the first time since 1991 when they blanked St. Mary's of Lynn 36-0 in the opener. It was the first shutout for the Pioneers since a 32-0 whitewash of Manchester Essex in 2015. They didn't put up a donut last season.

Baker League Review
Four of five CAL Baker teams notched victories in Week 1. In addition to the Pioneers, Hamilton-Wenham (21-0 over Bishop Fenwick), Ipswich (14-0 over Essex Tech) and Manchester Essex (46-34 over Northeast) all posted non league wins. Amesbury was the only Baker team to lose this weekend, falling to Norwell 20-7.

The most interesting score was the H-W win over Fenwick. Although the Crusaders are in rebuilding mode after losing a big senior class, a big shutout win by the Generals is still impressive.

D5 Update
Only four of the 11 teams in Division 5 scored victories in Week One, giving the Pioneers an early head start on the field. Somerville shocked D2 Peabody to pick up 12 points and vault into the top spot in the initial playoff rankings. In addition to Lynnfield and Somerville, Watertown (50-28 over Arlington Catholic) and Swampscott (43-0 over Greater Lawrence) also notched opening weekend wins.

The Week 1 Standings (rating in parentheses)

1. Somerville (12.00)
2. Lynnfield (10.00)
2. Watertown (10.00)
2. Swampscott (10.00)
5. Bedford (1.20)
5. Triton (1.20)
7. Amesbury (1.00)
7. Newburyport (1.00)
7. Pentucket (1.00)
7. Saugus (1.00)
7. Weston (1.00)

Wayland Preview
It's back to the future Friday night when the Pioneers host the Wayland Warriors at Pioneer Stadium. Although the two teams have met only once in the past two decades, the Warriors and Pioneers share a long football history.

When the Lynnfield football program began in 1958, the Pioneers were members of the Dual County league as were the Warriors. Wayland was Lynnfield's opponent in their fifth game all time, handing the Pioneers a 28-0 loss at the old Middle School Field.

The two teams met annually for the next 15 seasons with the Warriors holding a 9-4-2 edge. In 1973, Lynnfield joined the Cape Ann League and dropped Wayland from the schedule. After a one year hiatus, the two teams renewed the rivalry in 1974 with the Warriors becoming the Pioneers' traditional non-league opening day opponent.

The tide turned once the teams were no longer in the same league and the Pioneers went on to beat Wayland 14 times against seven losses over the next 21 seasons. In 1995, the CAL added Wilmington and Lynnfield no longer had room for a non-league opponent. They travelled to Wayland for opening night 2004 and were beaten 36-14. That was the last time the two teams met. Overall, the Pioneers hold a slim 18-17-2 edge in the series.

Wayland has become a Dual County power and are in Division 4 for post season play. That means a Pioneer win would be worth 12 points in the D5 ratings, the only time this season Lynnfield is jumping up a division.

The Boston Herald has the Warriors ranked sixth in D4 and the Pioneers listed at number two in D5. Wayland is coming off an 18-14 loss to Hopkinton, a game they led 14-0 and 14-6 before the Hillers dropped 12 unanswered points on them in the fourth quarter.

The Warriors, much like the Pioneers, had a young team last year and suffered through a 4-7 season. They come back experienced led by 12 seniors on their 45 man roster. Wayland returns three DCL all stars in linebacker Sean Devlin, the DCL's co Defensive Player of the Year, linebacker Wellington Periera, and wide receiver-safety Ben Robinson. They also return four of five starters in the offensive line.

A lone spot of inexperience is at quarterback where sophomore Mason Bolivar is taking the snaps. Periera and Bolivar ran for the two Warrior touchdowns against Hopkinton.

The Wayland strength appears to be on defense so the Pioneer offense, which exploded for 32 points against Newburyport last week, might have a sterner test this week.

Game time at Pioneer Stadium is 7 pm.


Thursday, September 7, 2017

Buckle Up, It's Go Time!

by Tom Condardo

Don't be fooled by the continued summer temperatures earlier this week. You may be able to get another dip or two in the pool, but come Friday night, football season returns.

The 2017 Lynnfield Pioneers kick off the season with the first of four straight home games to begin the year. Last season we were talking about the lack of experience the Pioneers would have to overcome as the blue and gold went into the season with a serious tinge of green.

They stumbled out of the blocks with losses to Newburyport and Danvers, but turned things around and reeled off four straight league wins to capture their fifth consecutive CAL championship. They cruised past Northeast and came up short against powerful St. Mary's who went on to play for the Division 3A state crown at Gillette. The Pioneers dispatched Greater Lawrence before losing a 21-20 heartbreaker to North Reading on Thanksgiving Day to end their year at 6-4.

Not bad for a "rebuilding" year.

This year is decidedly different as the Pioneers are dripping with experience on both sides of the ball. Of the 18 players that will either start or see significant action, 15 are seniors who started last year or received serious playing time. Given that level of seasoning, how important is it for the Pioneers to get off to a faster start than last year?

"It'll be important if we don't and we don't recover from it," said head coach Neal Weidman, who will be completing his first decade leading the Lynnfield program. "If we can get better every week, than I don't know how important it is.

"Last year after the first two games we started to steadily improve," he continued. "We went into our third game (against Amesbury) battered. We were reaching down deep into the depth chart. When we pulled that one out, then we started to get a little healthier and all of a sudden we started to play a lot better. If we can continue to improve and not shoot ourselves in the foot, then we'll be good. But obviously we'd love to get off to a good start."

For a full preview of the Pioneers, check out my article in the Villager.

Clippers sail into town
Getting the quick start will mean avenging last season's 32-12 opening night loss to the Clippers in Newburyport. No doubt the seniors won't forget the exuberant celebration by the Clippers who acted like they had just won the Super Bowl. They went on to have a 4-6 season and one year head coach Mike Levine resigned to return to Texas.

The Clippers will come in under new head coach, former defensive coordinator and former captain Ben Smolski, who becomes Newburyport's third coach in three season. Long time head man Ed Gaudiano stepped down following the 2015 season.

Smolski is promising to return the Clippers to begin a "new era" of Clipper football.

"I grew up a Clipper," he told Connor Whooley of the Newburyport Daily News. "The value of being a Clipper was instilled in me from my father from a young age and it's basically a dream come true."

The article goes on to say Newburyport players have noted an "added intensity" during preseason camp, something Smolski would like to carry into the season.

The Clippers come in with a small, but top heavy roster with 16 of the 34 players being seniors. They are led by three year starting captains Myles Maloof, Matt Donlan, and Connor Smith. Maloof caught six passes for 98 yards and a touchdown out of the backfield in last year's win over the Pioneers. Running back Donte Harmon who tallied a pair of TD's in the victory also returns.

The one place Newburyport doesn't have experience is at quarterback. Rob Shay, who torched the Pioneers with 101 yards passing and a TD and 76 yards rushing and a touchdown, has graduated. That leaves senior Owen Bradbury and junior Thomas Murphy battling for the starting job. Bradbury has started one game in his career and may have the inside track.

Newburyport has been the one killjoy in the otherwise stellar success of Lynnfield football under Weidman. In the nine seasons Weidman has coached the Pioneers, Lynnfield has played 12 teams three or more times. Against the 11 non-Newburyport team, the Pioneers sport an eye-popping 55-17 record (.764 winning percentage). In nine games against the Clippers? 4-5.

The Pioneers did win three consecutive games prior to last year's defeat but all time, they are 11-33 against Newburyport.

Division update
While it's still way too early to think about the postseason, it should be noted that for the third year in row, the Pioneers will be in a new division for playoff purposes. Two years ago they had the second smallest enrollment of any team in Division 4. Last year, they had the second highest enrollment in Division 3A. This year, they will once again be the smallest school in their newest division: D5.

They rejoin many of their CAL brethren including Newburyport, Triton, Pentucket, and Amesbury. Also in the 11 team division is Somerville, Bedford, Weston, Watertown, Swampscott, and Saugus. Eight of the 11 will make the playoffs.

Home sweet home
Against the visiting Clippers, the Pioneers will look to take advantage of the home field advantage they have enjoyed at new Pioneer Stadium. Since the new field opened in 2014, the Pioneers are 13-3 at home having only lost to Watertown in the 2015 playoffs and to Danvers and North Reading last year.