Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The Pioneer Gridblog Report Week 7

by Tom Condardo

Hamilton-Wenham Leftovers, Around the CAL Baker, D5 Update, Bedford Playoff Update 

Hamilton-Wenham Leftovers
As I finished my postgame interview with head coach Neal Weidman, I stopped to jot down some notes. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the coach's 12 year old son Hudson sauntering over, casually flipping a football to himself.

"Rough game, huh?" he said to his Dad, matter-of-factly.

From the mouth of babes.

Rough would be one word you could use to describe the devastating loss to the Generals Friday night. Others would be stunning, shocking, surprising, unexpected, stupifying. I could go on and on but you get the picture.

Everyone expected a tight, to-the-final-whistle battle between two undefeated, evenly matched teams fighting for a league title. That one of them would lose was not the issue. The 7-7 halftime score was a bit low for two high-powered offenses, but not out of the ordinary for this type of game.

It was the way the second half came apart at the seams for the home team that was so startling. There's another word. No one saw that coming.

"We were bound to have one of these sooner or later," Weidman said after the game. "It's unfortunate but it is kind of where it is. When you do that against a good team, you lose.

The scope of the loss was historic, as far as recent Pioneer football history is concerned. If you read my Villager article you saw that a Lynnfield football team hasn't lost by 28 points since a 49-21 defeat at the hands of North Andover in 2007 - a year before Weidman took over as head coach.

The Pioneers haven't given up 28 straight points since 2008 when Saugus turned a 21-14 halftime lead into a 49-14 second half bulge with four straight TD's. The Pioneers scored a pair of late TD's to make it a 49-28 final.

It's been 28 games since the Lynnfield failed to score in double digits, that coming in the 26-0 loss to Holliston in the D4 title game in 2014. It's been 59 regular season games since the Pioneers failed to score 10 or more points. The last regular season game they scored in single digits was a 14-7 loss to Bishop Fenwick in 2012.

The win also snaps a 27-game league winning streak that dates back to 2011. Their last CAL league loss came at the hands of Manchester-Essex, 7-6. Also on Senior Day.

Road to loss started in first half
But to get to the heart of what happened Friday night, you must look beyond the second half. The seeds of the defeat were sown in the first half, when the Pioneers failed to put away the Generals when they had the chance.

The Pioneers realistically could have scored four times in the first half.

Drive #1: Took the opening kick and marched from their own 38 to the H-W 14. Big play on the drive was a six yard run by captain Anthony Murphy for a first down on fourth and two from the Lynnfield 46. On third and two from the 14 there was no gain on a run, then a killer false start penalty. Incomplete pass on fourth down, turnover on downs.

Drive #3: 71 yards, 7 plays, Matt Mortellite to captain Nick Kinnon 24 yard TD pass for the score. Big play on the drive was a 21 run run by Mortellite.

Drive #4: Interception by Jason Ndansi -his fifth of the season - at the Lynnfield 32 and an impressive 40 yard runback to the HW 28. two runs for four yards and two incomplete passes, turnover on downs.

Drive #5: Interception by Ndansi in the end zone - his sixth of the season. With only 33 seconds left the Pioneers motored 67 yards in three plays to get a first down at the HW 13. Big play on the drive, a 43 yard pass from Mortellite to Peter Look. With seconds on the clock, incomplete pass in the end zone as time runs out in the half.

Meanwhile, on Drive #2, the Pioneers moved quickly from their own 23 to the HW 48 but then fumbled. The Generals scored six plays later.

So instead of being up 28-7 or 21-7 or even 14-7, the two teams went in at the half tied 7-7.

If the Pioneers had a two or three TD lead, the Generals would have likely had to go to their passing game. Although it is formidable, it also plays right into the teeth of the Pioneers' defensive strength. Instead, HW patiently pounded the running game - an area the Pioneers have struggled with lately.

The Generals then marched down the field to open the third quarter moving 52 yards in nine plays, throwing only twice and handing it off to sophomore running back Ian Coffey six times. The Lynnfield fumble on the first play of the following drive gave the Generals another short field and they ate it up in two plays with Cam Peach bulldozing the final 27 yards to make it 21-7.

The Generals would throw the ball only one more time in their final 17 plays, but that one was a 40 yard TD pass on a fourth and 17.

Another key factor: the Generals converted both Pioneer turnovers into touchdowns while Lynnfield wasn't able to capitalize on the two turnovers committed by HW.

"We never really got anything going," Weidman said. "We had a hard time getting off the field on defense and then not hanging on to the ball at all on offense. It was a combination. We got outplayed on both sides."

Defensive Demon
Ndansi's two interceptions gives him six for the season. He not only had two picks but also made a super over the shoulder knockdown of a sure TD pass.

His performance this year puts him in some lofty company when it comes to defensive back play. Cam Rondeau set the standard in recent years with an amazing 15 picks in three years. He had 4 as a sophomore, 6 as a junior and 5 as a senior. In 2013, Rondeau's junior year, Matt Kramich also had 6 picks. The Pioneers had an eyepopping 18 interceptions that season.

Battlefield Promotion
With captain Cooper Marengi out with an ankle injury, Kinnon was called on to do the placekicking and converted his only PAT try after scoring the Pioneers' lone TD. The seven points gives him 151 for his career and lifts him into a seventh place tie on the Lynnfield alltime scoring list with Dan Veinot (99-00).

Data Points
- The loss snaps a five game winning streak against Hamilton-Wenham. The Pioneers now lead the series 23-21-1.

- The Pioneers lost two fumbles in the game. They had lost only one in the first six games.

Around the CAL Baker
With the win, the Generals have earned at least a share of the Baker title for the first time since they won it in 2010 & 2011. To win it outright, HW will have to beat Ipswich on Thanksgiving Day. Should the Tigers spring the upset, Ipswich, Hamilton-Wenham, and Lynnfield will all be tied at 3-1 which will likely make them Tri-Champs so technically the Pioneers' five year championship string is not over. The Tigers have not tasted the league championship since 2006 when they went 5-0 in league play and went on to win the Super Bowl.

If there were a playoff game on the line, the normal tiebreaker would be points allowed, so the Pioneers would likely be on the short end of that stick having giving up a combined 64 points to the Tigers and Generals.

In the only other Baker action last week, Manchester Essex picked up its first league win with a 35-14 victory over Amesbury. The win also allowed the Hornets to squeeze into the Division 7 playoffs as the eight seed. Their reward? A first round date with St. Mary's of Lynn - although how in heaven's name St. Mary's is in D7 is anybody's guess.

The Standings
Hamilton-Wenham 3-0 (7-0 overall)
Lynnfield 3-1 (6-1)
Ipswich 2-1 (4-3)
Manchester-Essex 1-3 (3-4)
Amesbury 0-4 (0-7)

D5 Update
As discussed here last week, despite the loss, the Pioneers were able to hold on to the top spot in Division 5 by the tips of their fingernails. The margin was a razor thin six-tenths of a point over Somerville 111-110.4. There were no upsets last week and the Pioneers picked up 16 opponent points thanks to wins by Man-Essex, Ipswich, and Wayland. They also got one point each for seven HW wins adding another 7 points to the pile. They needed every single one of them.

The Pioneers can thank their CAL foes who in the past years haven't been able to deliver many opponent points but this year Ipswich, Man-Essex, and Newburyport came up with 10 wins, good enough for 30 points, 27% of Lynnfield's total.

Surging Somerville - again why they are in D5 is another subject for another day - roars into the playoffs off four straight wins. Swampscott's wins over winless Winthrop and one-win Saugus in the last two weeks proved fatal and caused them to slip into third place.

Weston took the fourth spot, taking advantage of the system playing an independent schedule piling up points against two teams from D8, one from D7, two from D6, and two from D4.

Newburyport, Watertown, Triton, and Bedford round out the playoff field.

On Friday night, the Pioneers will host Bedford and  Pat Sheehan's Triton Vikings will travel to Somerville. On Saturday, Swampscott faces Watertown, a dangerous six seed who didn't finish higher mostly because they play a D4 schedule in the tough Middlesex League, and Newburyport will play Weston in Wellesley because the Wildcats' field is under construction.

Should the Pioneers take care of business Friday, they would either face Weston, or host Newburyport in a rematch of opening night.

Final Playoff Rankings
1. Lynnfield 6-1; 15.86 (111 points)
2. Somerville 5-2; 15.77 (110.4)
3. Swampscott 6-1; 15.20 (106.4)
4. Weston 5-2; 14.94 (104.6)
5. Newburyport 3-3; 11.50 (69)
6. Watertown 3-4; 10.89 (76.2)
7. Triton 2-5; 8.77 (61.4)
8. Bedford 2-5; 6.94 (48.6)
9. Saugus 1-6; 6.43 (45.0)
10. Pentucket 1-5; 4.83 (29.0)
11. Amesbury 0-7; 4.14 (29.0)

Bedford Playoff Preview
When last we saw Bedford, it was the 2013 Division 4 North Semi-Finals in the final game ever played at the Middle School Field. It was a fitting finale for the place the Pioneers called home for 56 years as the Pioneers and Buccaneers battered each other for four bruising quarters.

The Pioneers led 7-0 heading into the fourth quarter but Bedford finished the game with two scoring drives to end the Pioneer's playoff run. The Buccaneers' outstanding tailback Olan Abner punched in the winning TD with nine seconds to go to hand the Pioneers their first loss of the season.

The Pioneers scored first in the second quarter after a bizarre turnover. Bedford's return man caught a C. J. Finn punt at the 25 and appeared to try to pitch it to a teammate when Jon Knee picked it off and danced into the end zone for an apparent touchdown. The officials ruled that it was a muff, which can't be advances, not a lateral and gave the ball to Lynnfield at the Bedford 25.

Four plays later Kyle McGah barreled in from the 11 for the touchdown. Dan Bronshvayg added the point after.

Lynnfield shut out Bedford's run heavy offense for the first three quarters but then wore down. The Bucs tied the score on a 25 yard sweep with just over eight minutes to go in the game setting up the game winner in the final seconds.

"That's exactly the type of game we though it would be," Weidman told me after the hard fought contest. "They were exactly who we thought they were - fast on defense and grinding on offense."

It was one of the hardest hitting, physical games I have seen since I've been covering high school football.

Which brings us to Friday night. The Bucs team that comes to town bears little resemblance to that big, veteran Bedford team of 2013. The young squad with eight seniors, 14 juniors, and 13 sophomores that comes in under new head coach Tom Tone finished the regular season 2-5 to take the final D5 playoff spot.

But don't let their record fool you. The Bucs played a tough schedule with five of their seven games coming against teams in higher divisions. Their five losses have come against teams with a combined record of 22-12.

Their season unfolded as follows:

Oliver Ames (D3) 32 Bedford 21
Wilmington (D4) 41 Bedford 13
Cardinal Spellman (D6) 30 Bedford 6
Newton South (D2) 22 Bedford 7
Bedford 30 Boston Latin (D4) 0
Bedford 32 Atlantis Charter (D8) 7
Wayland (D4) 41 Bedford 18

The only common opponent is Wayland who the Pioneers defeated 28-26 in OT in Week 2. The Warriors exploded for four touchdowns in just over seven minutes to put the game away early in the 41-18 rout.

Bedford runs a spread offense similar to the Pioneers with sophomore quarterback Gregory Cormier at the control. They lost starting signal caller Panayiotis Kapanides to a broken thumb in the second game of the year against Wilmington.

Cormier likes to sling the ball around and picked up 230 yards passing against Wayland as two Bedford quarterbacks threw 33 passes in the game completing 20. Captain Toby Hart is a favorite receiver. Myles Francis is the feature running back.

The game is another Dual County League reunion as the Pioneers and Bucs faced each other 13 times between 1960 and 1972 as members of the DCL. Lynnfield holds a 8-5-2 edge over all.

Tone, the Bedford head coach, will have no trouble finding Lynnfield, although he may head for the Middle School instead of Pioneer Stadium. Tone is a former North Reading quarterback and faced the Pioneers in three Thanksgiving Day games from 1998 to 2000.

He was 2 for 11 for 27 yards and a two point conversion and picked up 26 yards as a sophomore in the Hornets 14-6 win in 1998. As a junior in 1999, Tone was one for 4 for 34 yards and one TD and an interception with one carry for minus one yard in a 28-12 North Reading win. The Pioneers finally got him in an exciting 2000 game. He was 10 for 22 for 191 yards and 2 TD's and 19 yards rushing, but he threw three interceptions, the last one in the end zone to Dan Veinot to preserve a 29-23 Lynnfield win.

Game time at Pioneer Stadium is 7 pm.

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Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Pioneer Gridblog Report Week 6

by Tom Condardo

Ipswich Leftovers, Around the CAL Baker, D5 Update, Hamilton-Wenham Preview

Ipswich Leftovers
So before I get started, I have a favor to ask. I'm going to ask you all to be very quiet while I type since I've had a splitting headache for the past five days....

Oh, no, Here he comes again...


E. J. Umlah Leaps over 
Tiger defender

I can't seem to get that out of my head and it's driving me crazy.

For those of you not fortunate to attend Friday's exciting 54-29 Pioneer win, every time Ipswich picked up a first down, the PA announcer would scream that at the top of his lungs. You lucky fans were way over on the other side of the field. But for those of us on the sideline right under the press box, the sound was excruciating. And thanks to the Pioneers' inability to slow down the Ipswich Veer running game, we were serenaded like this SEVENTEEN TIMES!
Captain Anthony Murphy streaks into
the end zone for his second TD of the

He's no Tom Waisnor, that's for sure.

Luckily, as the Pioneers took control of the game, he was heard from less and less as the game wore on and not once in the fourth quarter.

If you read my game story - and if not, why not? - you know that the explosive, back and forth game resulted in a number of mosts, and firsts in a long time. The combined 83 points were the most ever scored in a Lynnfield game, topping the 77 points in a 42-35 loss to North Reading in 2013. The 54 points the Pioneers put up were the most since 1985 when Lynnfield blasted Masco 55-0. It was only the second time since 1960 that the Pioneers scored 50 or more points.

Incredibly, in 1960, the Pioneers scored 50 or more points in four straight and five out of six games. In succession, they defeated Dracut 54-12, Weston 22-16, Wayland 60-0, Lynn Tech 60-6, Bedford 50-6, and Westford Academy 50-0.  That team averaged 45.6 points a game while allowing a total of 64 points on the season. Needless to say they were 9-0 and were Dual County League champs.

Tyler Murphy picks up a big
gain against Ipswich
The first half Friday night resembled more of a tennis match than a football game as each team took turns ripping through the opposing defense for touchdowns. The Pioneers scored all four times they touched the ball and Ipswich found the end zone on four of their six possessions. The only time they didn't put up points was when the Pioneers broke serve on a Peter Look fumble recovery and when time ran out in the first half.

The Pioneers continued the onslaught in the second half again scoring all four times they had the ball. The Lynnfield defense finally slowed the Ipswich veer offense down first on Jason Ndansi's fourth interception of the season and again on a crucial fourth down stop at their own 20. Despite the efficiency of the Tiger running game, the Pioneers were able to shut them out in the second half, turning a 29-27 deficit into a 54-29 win with 27 unanswered second half points.

Veer Problems
Why did the Pioneers struggle to stop Pat Gillis (220 yards on 27 carries) and the Ipswich running game? Head coach Neal Weidman explained it to me after the game.

"We knew the veer was tough to stop," he said. "We watched it on film and they're good at it. You don't see it much. It's assignment football but not only is it assignments, but it's different assignments depending on the formation. While you're thinking about that, you still have to get off blocks and make tackles. It's tough to stop."

So was it confusion or lack of execution?

"I think it was less confusion and more they're really good at running it and us being tentative because we knew the assignments changed based on what Ipswich did," he said. "We didn't want to screw up but you can't play that way. You have to be able to play full speed and we were catching a lot of blocks and catching a lot of ball carriers and not being aggressive because we were trying to do the right thing."

Pep Talk
Right before the half, the Pioneers appeared a bit frazzled as Ipswich recovered a pop-up kickoff and went down and scored to make it 29-20 with 2:42 to play, Lynnfield's biggest deficit of the season. They came back to cut the lead to 29-27 a minute and a half later, but they definitely needed to regroup at half time.

And they did, coming out for the second half a different team. I asked the coach what he had said to them at the break.

"I told them they weren't always going to be ahead," he said. "I told them 'you're down by two points and you guys are acting like we're getting beat by 50.' I told them to just compete. That's what we're here for. We're here to compete. That's okay. You're going to have to compete for four quarters tonight and that should be fun. You get to go and compete against a team that's been playing well. They sometimes lose sight of some of that because we've had some games where they were so far ahead at halftime, they weren't in a dogfight. It's actually good for them in some ways.

"You don't want to be banged up, but it's about overcoming adversity," he went on. "They have a whole lifetime ahead of them of adversity, so it's good practice."

Mortellite Hat Trick Passing Record
Quarterback Matt Mortellite completed the passing TD records hat trick Friday night. With his two touchdown passes, he now has 32 for his career, breaking the mark set by Gino Cohee (2007-2010).

When I told him he broke the record after the game he was surprised since he really had no idea. I asked him how he was able to pick up the complex Pioneer system so quickly after coming over from Malden Catholic last year as a junior.

"The coaches here are so good," the senior replied. "They know what they are doing all the time. It's all coaching."

When I relayed his answer to Weidman, he joked, "He's well trained."

"His best attribute is he cares," the coach went on more seriously. "He's a competitor and he wants to win. He doesn't care how. If it means we have to throw the ball then he'll throw the ball. If it mean we have to run the ball, we'll run it. He does not care one bit. He just wants to win and compete. And he loves playing. Obviously when he came back and got an opportunity to play, he appreciated it."

On the season, Mortellite is now 57 for 79 (72% completion) for 1118 yards, 11 touchdowns, 3 two-point conversions and only 2 interceptions. His NFL passer rating is 143.3. Alex Smith leads all NFL quarterbacks in passer rating at 119.2.

Chain Gang Praise
The men who worked the chains during the game were all parents of Ipswich players and spent the entire game on the Pioneer sideline. They were pumped when the Tigers looked ready to spring the upset but were gracious in defeat when the outcome was decided.

"This is the best coaching staff we've had here this year," one of them told me. "Always under control. They do a great job."

Data Points
- The Pioneers have now won 11 straight games against Ipswich. Overall, they trail in the series 23-26. They lead in points scored 781-771,
- Captain Nick Kinnon caught a two point conversion pass giving him 114 points for his career and lifting him into ninth place all time. He passed Dan Bronshvayg who has 143.
- The Mortelitte to Kinnon two point conversion in the third period was the 100th passing two-pointer all time for the Pioneers. They've rushed for two 229 times.

Around the CAL Baker
The only other league game last week was somewhat of a surprise. Hamilton Wenham defeated Manchester-Essex to stay unbeaten both in the league and overall, but they had to come back from a 14-0 hole to do it. Seems like the Hornets gave the Generals a similar hard time as they gave the Pioneers with their double headed running attack of Jake Athanas and Robbie Sarmanian. M/E took an early 14-0 lead on two Sarmanian touchdowns but H/W cut it to 14-8 on a touchdown and safety before the half.

The Generals took a 15-14 lead but M/E took it back when Sarmanian connected with Lake Flemming on a halfback option pass to make it 22-15. But as was the case against the Pioneers, the Hornets ran out of gas as the game wore on.

The  Generals tied it and went ahead in the fourth on a pair of TDs. H-W is now 2-0 in league play right behind the Pioneers who are 3-0.

The Standings
Lynnfield 3-0 (6-0 overall)
Ham-Wen 2-0 (6-0 overall)
Ipswich 2-1 (3-3 overall)
Man-Essex 0-3 (2-4 overall)
Amesbury 0-3 (0-6 overall)

D5 Update
The Pioneers win over Ipswich gave them 19 points and wins by Wayland and Newburyport earned them 6 more giving them a total of 95. Swampscott only picked up 19.2 points. That vaulted the Pioneers into the top spot in the division with a slim 5.8 point lead over the Big Blue.

Somerville cemented its hold on third place with a huge win over previously unbeaten Lynn Classical. Weston picked up its fourth win to move into the final first round home playoff slot. Newburyport, Watertown, Triton and Bedford round out the current top eight.

The Pioneers can clarify things quickly Friday night with a win over Hamilton-Wenham. That would give them the top seed in the playoffs and guarantee them home field through a potential D5 North title game.

Lynnfield can still take the top spot if they lose, but then some serious scoreboard watching would be in order. I'll try to sort it out, but a warning: there will be math. And keep in mind this mess is HIGHLY UNOFFICIAL.

The Pioneers would earn 7 points in a loss to the Generals (for their 7 wins) and are guaranteed 3 points from the Man-Essex/Amesbury game because they beat both team. If Wayland beats Bedford and Ipswich defeats Georgetown - and both teams would be favored - that would get Lynnfield to 111 points. Winless Winthrop is unlikely to beat undefeated Lynn English, and Newburyport is an underdog to North Reading.

Swampscott can put the most pressure on the Pioneers with a victory over one-win Saugus that will earn them 13 points. The are guaranteed at least 1.2 points from Winthrop/Lynn English game which would give them 103.4 points. A win by favored Greater Lawrence over Mystic Valley would boost that to 106.4.

So to jump over the Pioneers, Swampscott would need upset wins in four games: Revere (1-5) over Somerville (4-2), Triton (2-4) over Masco (4-2), Salem (4-2) over Lynn Classical (5-1), Winthrop (0-6) over Lynn English (6-0).

Somerville is guaranteed 91 points and can pick up 15 more with a win over Revere. The Highlanders would get an additional 4.2 points if Lynn English beats Winthrop and Lynn Classical beats Salem. That would give them 110.2. They could get 2 more points if Medford (1-5) upsets Gloucester (4-2). That would give them 112.2.

Weston has an outside shot with 75.6 points but they would need to beat New Mission (4-2) and get wins from five of their opponents and an upset win by winless Boston Latin over Concord-Carlisle to get to 111.8.

In a nutshell, it would be a lot simpler if the Pioneers would just win Friday night.

Week 6 Playoff Rankings
1. Lynnfield (6-0); 15.83 (95 points)
2. Swampscott (5-1); 14.87 (89.2)
3. Somerville (4-2); 14.50 (87)
4. Weston (4-2); 12.60 (75.6)
5. Newburyport (3-2); 11.76 (58.8)
6. Watertown (3-3); 11.20 (77.2)
7. Triton (2-4); 8.17 (49)
8. Bedford (2-4); 6.73 (40.4)
9. Saugus (1-5); 5.93 (35.6)
10. Pentucket (1-5); 4.43 (26.6)
11. Amesbury (0-6); 4.00 (24)

Hamilton-Wenham Preview
Death, taxes, and Hamilton-Wenham. Some things are inevitable. At least when it comes to the CAL title.

The Pioneers and Generals are the only two teams to wear the CAL Small crown (in whatever configuration) for the past eight years. The Pioneers took it in 2009, and the Generals won it in 2010 and 2011. Lynnfield has now captured it five years in a row and it looks like it will come down to these two teams again.

For a review of the rivalry from 2009 to 2013, check out my post from 2014. The Pioneers have dominated the past three years beating the Generals 35-0 in 2014, 49-8 in 2015, and 32-7 last year. They have now beaten H-W five straight times.

If the Pioneers can make it six in a row Friday night, they will capture their sixth straight CAL title. The Generals will take a giant step toward the title if they win, but they would still have to beat Ipswich on Thanksgiving Day.

Both rivals come into the game riding high. The Pioneers are 6-0 and hold the top spot in the Division 5 playoff rankings. The Generals are 6-0 and sit atop the D6 playoff rankings.

The Generals opened the season with a 21-0 whitewash of Bishop Fenwick, and followed that with an impressive 28-14 win over North Reading, who has already clinched a share of the CAL Kinney (Large) division. H-W then rolled to three straight lopsided wins over Greater Lawrence (28-7), Amesbury (42-12), and Georgetown (37-8).

They struggled with Manchester-Essex last week falling behind 14-0 in the first quarter before coming back to swat the Hornets 29-22.

For the first time this season the Pioneers will be facing a team that has the same type of potent passing attack as they do. Southpaw quarterback Billy Whelan has no problem slinging it all over the field trusting his outstanding receivers Cam Peach, Jake Lanciani, and Michael Crowley to go up and get it. Whelan has tossed 10 TD passes, four each to Peach and Lanciani.

The strength of the Pioneer defense has been its pass defense, holding opposing quarterbacks to a 28% completion percentage, 125 total yards, and two touchdowns. That's an average half for Whelan and company. Safe to say, the Pioneers haven't faced anywhere near the passing attack they will see Friday night.

As good as Whelan has been, keep your eyes on Peach, #44 in your program. Make no mistake, the General offense runs thought this 6'2", 180 pound all league performer. He lines up everywhere on the field - wide receiver, slot receiver, tight end, and tailback. Given the Pioneers' recent struggles containing the run (569 yards allowed the past two weeks), don't be surprised to see H-W coach Jim Pugh plug Peach into the backfield to see if he can get similar results.

Pioneer head coach Neal Weidman knows his team will have their hands full with the Generals.

"They're very, very good," he said. "They have tons of good players and they're well coached. We're going to have to play well.

"They run a multiple I and can run the ball," Weidman continued. "They'll do some single back and some shot gun and they'll break out in four wide. Sometimes they'll be under center with a fullback. The do a lot of different things from a lot of different formations, different plays, play action passes and straight drop back passes. It's different from us but the way they mix things up is similar to us."

"It's been a lot of years in a row," Weidman said of the battle between the two teams for league supremacy. "We'll see how it goes."

Friday night is also Senior Night, where the 20 graduating seniors will be honored before the game. The ceremonies start at 5:45 so get there early.

Game time is 7 pm.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Pioneer Gridblog Report Week 5

by Tom Condardo

Manchester-Essex Leftovers, Around the CAL Baker, D5 Playoff Race Update, Ipswich Preview

Manchester-Essex Leftovers
After his defense had given up 202 total yards rushing in its previous two games, Pioneer head coach Neal Weidman could be forgiven for being angry as he watched Manchester-Essex rip through the Pioneers for 160 yards in the first half. Only he wasn't.

"I wasn't necessarily upset about the way the game was going because it's probably what we deserved a little bit," the coach told me after the game. "After four games maybe they thought that they could start doing things in a different way and not doing what got them to this week."

Was the sleepy first half and semi-scare the Hornets threw at them a wake up call for the Pioneers?

"I would hope so," Weidman replied. "We'll find out next week. We definitely played better in the second half."

Not that the Hornets, now 2-3 on the season, didn't have something to do with the shocking first two quarters.

"They definitely have some talent," Weidman said. "They're thin obviously. They don't have a lot of numbers and that hurts them in the end but the kids that start are good looking players."

Running backs Jake Athanas and Robbie Sarmanian certainly shined in those first two quarters. Athanas rolled for 81 yards and Sarmanian scampered for 65 yards and a touchdown.

"You have to give them credit," Weidman went on. "They played harder than we did and played better than we did and they took it to us.

The Hornets could have made this one a lot more interesting if not for a key sequence late in the second quarter. Leading 7-6, M/E appeared to be heading for another score as they marched from their own 20 deep into Lynnfield territory. But the Pioneer defense came alive once the Hornets got into the red zone.

They held Sarmanian to a two yard gain, broke up a pass on second down, threw Athanas for a yard loss on third down, and broke up a pass on fourth down to force a turnover on downs with 1:16 left.

The Pioneers made the Hornets pay and took control of the game on the next play when quarterback Matt Mortellite faded back and threw a perfect pass that travelled 43 yards in the air into the waiting arms of captain Nick Kinnon who was streaking down the left sideline. He never broke stride and cruised into the end zone to give the visiting Pioneers a 12-7 lead. That play doused the flames of the fired up Hornets ending any thoughts of an upset.

"They shouldn't have been down 12-7 at the half," Weidman said of the home team. "We got the big play. Obviously the fourth down stop was huge. They outplayed us in the first half and we were still winning. That's a good thing for us but we certainly didn't deserve it."

The Pioneers came out with a much different attitude in the second half, scoring on three straight possessions and limiting the Hornets to six plays on their two third quarter possessions. When I mentioned that the first team defense didn't allow a first down in the second half, Weidman wasn't impressed.

"They allowed a lot of them in the first half," he said. "They kicked our butt in the first half."

Something tells me film review this week featured more of the first half than the second half.

Three's a Charm (Part 1)
Mortellite tossed four TD's in the game, tying a record he set and then matched last year. He torched Manchester Essex to set the record last year in a 47-14 win and then repeated the four bagger in a 34-14 victory against Greater Lawrence. The four this week gives him nine on the year. His NFL passer rating is now 148.8.

Three's a Charm (Part 2)
Opposing quarterbacks may want to start trying someone other than Jason Ndansi when looking for an opening in the Pioneer secondary. The senior picked off his third interception of the year early in the second quarter against M/E. Ndansi got some help from junior Hunter Allain who roared in untouched from his right linebacker spot to T-bone Hornet quarterback Cosmo Pallazola just as he threw. Ndansi's three picks is half the total for the Pioneers on the year.

The Pioneer secondary continues to be air tight. They held Pallazola to a 1 for 7 night for nine yards and the interception. For the season, opposing quarterbacks are 16 for 57 (28%) for 97 yards, 1 touchdown, and six interceptions. That works out to a Passer Rating of 5.84.

Long Distance Calling
The Pioneers have scored 25 touchdowns so far this season and 13 been for 20+ yards, 6 passing and 7 rushing.

Well Coached
Interesting tidbit on the next to last play of the game. With time running down and the game essentially over, junior quarterback Brett Cohee took the snap, faked a handoff to the running back and when the outside linebacker bit on the fake, Cohee tossed a perfect bubble screen to Aidan McCormack who scampered for a 26 yard gain. Perfect read and perfect execution.

Except it wasn't what Weidman wanted. As soon as Cohee made the read, the coach knew what his quarterback was going to do and he started yelling "No, no!" But is was too late.

"Obviously I did not want him to throw the bubble in that situation but he did as he was coached so I couldn't yell at him," Weidman said. "His run game reads are really good. He's smart, he pays attention, he does all those things. He did it correctly like he typically does."

The coach made a point of pulling Cohee aside after the game to tell him he absolutely did the right thing. The play was called back on a holding call so no harm, no foul.

Cohee took a knew to end the game.

Around the CAL Baker
It'll be a battle for first place this Friday night in Ipswich as the Tigers moved to 2-0 in Baker League play with a 42-21 win over Amesbury. The Tigers were clinging to a 21-14 halftime lead but made it 28-14 early in the third and pulled away with a pair of Pick Six interceptions.

That was the only other Baker League action last week. In addition to the Lynnfield/Ipswich clash, Manchester-Essex will take on undefeated Hamilton-Wenham.

The Standings
Lynnfield 2-0 (5-0 overall)
Ipswich 2-0 (3-2)
Hamilton-Wenham 1-0 (5-0)
Man-Essex 0-2 (2-3)
Amesbury 0-3 (0-5)

D5 Update
The Pioneers win combined with the Swampscott loss to Lynn English puts the two teams in a dead heat for the top seed in the division. The Big Blue has an easier final two week schedule facing one win Revere and winless Saugus but that also limits their opponent point potential.

The Pioneers have a tougher schedule with Ipswich (3-2) and undefeated Hamilton-Wenham upcoming but it also gives them the opportunity to pile up some serious opponent points should they manage to get past their two CAL Baker foes.

There are a couple of important swing games for Lynnfield this week. Triton plays Amesbury and a win for the Vikes gives Swampscott three points while an Amesbury win would give three to Lynnfield. Winthrop plays Saugus in a battle of winless team. A win by Winthrop gives both leaders three points, but a Saugus win gives Swampscott an opportunity for three points next week when they face the Sachems. Wins by Newburyport over Pentucket and Wayland over Concord-Carlisle would give the Pioneers six more opponent points.

Somerville beat Beverly to get to 3-2 and move into third place in the division, 14.2 points behind the leaders. Watertown lost to Wilmington but still held on to the fourth and final home playoff spot, 16.2 points behind. Weston, Newburyport, Triton, and Bedford round out the eight playoff slots.

If the playoffs started this weekend, the Pioneers would be playing either Triton or Bedford.

Week 5 Playoff Rankings
1. Lynnfield 5-0; 14.00 (70 points)
2. Swampscott 4-1; 14.00 (70 points)
3. Somerville 3-2; 11.16 (55.8 points)
4. Watertown 3-2; 10.76 (53.8 points)
5. Weston 3-1; 10.72 (43.6 points)
6. Newburyport 2-2; 10.45 (41.8 points)
7. Triton 1-4; 6.92 (34.6 points)
8. Bedford 1-4; 5.60 (18 points)
9. Saugus 0-5; 4.68 (23.4 points)
10. Pentucket 1-4; 4.08 (20.4 points)
11. Amesbury 0-5; 3.80 (19 points)

Ipswich Preview
Talk to any high school football coach and they will tell you that high school football is a senior game. Pioneer head coach Neal Weidman has made that point several times and the team's success this year can in a large part be attributed to a nearly all senior lineup Lynnfield puts on the field on both sides of the ball.

If it's true that your twelfth graders are key to winning, the Pioneers better be alert on Friday night when they travel to Ipswich. The Tigers have 17 seniors and will leverage that experience to try and spring the upset over the Pioneers.

The Tigers blanked winless Essex Tech 14-0 to open the season then fell to Newburyport 10-7. Ipswich fell to Triton 35-21 but has bounced back with wins over Manchester-Essex 22-13 on a big fourth quarter comeback and last week rode a big second half to rout winless Amesbury 42-21.

At 2-0 in the Baker, the Tigers are tied with the Pioneers for first place and at 3-2 overall are clinging to the final playoff spot in Division 6. There is a lot at stake for the Tigers and you can expect them to come out roaring Friday night.

"We'll have our hands full," Weidman said. "The are going to be tough.

Offensively, the Tigers have jumped into the Wayback Machine and installed an old school veer offense with two backs behind the quarterback and two tight ends. It is a run oriented attack that looks to take advantage of a solid, aggressive offensive line. Four of five starters return from last season.

The Tigers have been opportunists on defense. In the past two weeks they have scored three defensive touchdowns. Their defensive line is experienced but they have three first year starters at linebacker so look for the Pioneers to exploit the middle of the field.

The Pioneers have dominated the series in the last decade, winning ten straight by an aggregate score of 268-42. That includes four shutouts and five games in which the Tigers managed only one touchdown.

Game time in Ipswich is 7 pm.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The Pioneer Grid Blog Report - Week 4

Winthrop Leftovers, Around the CAL Baker, D5 Update, Manchester-Essex Preview

by Tom Condardo 

Winthrop Leftovers
Watching the Pioneers methodically dismantle the Vikings last Friday night might cause you to ask why Lynnfield was playing such an overmatched opponent. Chalk it up to the ebbs and flows of the strength of high school football teams.

Captain Anthony Murphy cruises
in from the three for the touchdown
First, you need to understand that there is a difference between a "team" and a "program." Winthrop has always been a strong "program." This year, they just happen to have a poor "team" and that is largely a function of their age.

They have 38 players on their roster and nearly half of them are freshmen. And head coach Sean Driscoll must dress - and use - some of these ninth graders. They also only have a dozen junior and seniors combined. So when they play a senior-laden team like the Pioneers, they are at a serious disadvantage.

But they are always a tough, scrappy team. They play in the tough Northeast Conference and despite their small numbers, they have always been able to compete. They have 4 Super Bowl appearances on their resume (1981, 1983, 1992, 2006) and have won three of them. In 2014, they were undefeated heading into the D4 North title game against the Pioneers.

"There's no crystal ball," head coach Neal Weidman said when asked about the scheduling. "Winthrop is a program that is typically good with tough kids who was open the same week we were.
John Lee scoots burst into 
the end zone for his first 
varsity score
They've always done well. In 2014 they were the top seed and I went and watched them play a number of times and they smoked a whole bunch of Northeast Conference teams that year. I knew they were going to be one of the teams to beat that year."

I asked the coach if they could get anything positive out of game like this other than being able to empty his bench and get some kids valuable experience.

"No," he responded. "They're just too young. You feel for them. Coach (Sean) Driscoll is a good guy and it's just one of those years. They'll remember this year and it will be better for them in the future."

Does Weidman feel he has to guard against overconfidence as a result of this game? Does his team have to be reminded that Winthrop just isn't in their class this year?

"They know that," he responded. "We try to schedule games so you improve before the end of the season."

Weidman will look to practices to gain the edge it is difficult to get in a mismatch game.

"We can control practices," he said. "That's where we can improve. We're going to have to do some of that this week."

Rush Hour
The Pioneers didn't waste much time scoring Friday night. Their six touchdown drives in the first half took 13, 68, 9, 67, 46, and 54 seconds. That's one touchdown every 42 seconds or a point every six seconds.

Point Total
The 47 points were the most for the Pioneers since beating Manchester-Essex 47-14 last year. It's the 14th time in school history they've scored 47 or more points and 32nd time they've tallied more than 40. The most points Lynnfield has scored in a game was in 1961 when the Pioneers beat Bedford 63-0.

Air Force Update
Winthrop's Jack Adamson was 2 for 9 for 9 yards and an interception passing Friday night, bringing the opposing quarterback passer rating to 7.64. Matt Mortellite was 3 for 3 for 91 yards and a touchdown giving him a passer rating of 150.00.

Climbing the chart
Captain Nick Kinnon's two touchdowns gives him 134 career points and vaults him into the top ten in Pioneer career scoring. Last week's performance lifted him past Andy Nekoroski (1979-81) who has 126, and Jake Rourke (2013-14) at 130. Frank Berardino (1958-61) is Lynnfield's all time scoring leader with 262 career points.

Triple Threat
For the second week in a row, the Pioneers were able to use all three of their varsity quarterbacks.
Brett Cohee scampers in for the first
of his two touchdown runs
Mortellite took a seat once the lead ballooned to 33-6 in the second quarter. Junior Brett Cohee took over and continued the onslaught carrying twice for 14 yard and 85 yard touchdowns. He also completed a pass for 9 yards. Despite limited playing time, Cohee is now the team's third leading rusher with 145 yards on 8 carries, a nifty 18.1 per carry average.

Sophomore Clayton Marengi, younger brother of captain Cooper, came on in the fourth quarter and picked up 21 yards on three carries. He actually had 32 yards on one carry but lost 11 yards on a couple of kneel downs to end the game.

The Pioneers head out on the road this week for the first time in nearly a year and they've been spoiled by how many home games they've played. Eight of their last 11 games have been played at Pioneer Stadium. Five of their first seven games will be played at home and if they stay in the top four in D5, they will have at least one more home playoff game.

Of course they'll be paying the price next year when they start the season with road trips to Newburyport, Wayland, Amesbury and Winthrop.

Wardrobe Change
Fans arriving at Pioneer Stadium Friday night may have been jarred to see the Pioneers wearing white pants instead of their traditional all navy blue look. I spoke to Kinnon and captain Harry Collins for the reasons behind the change and they told me it was at their request.

"We just wanted to change things up with the four straight home games," said Kinnon.

They said it took the captains two weeks to convince Weidman to let them make the change.

Around the CAL Baker
While the Pioneers were playing their non-league game, the rest of the CAL Baker was in action. Hamilton Wenham continued to impress with a 42-12 blasting of winless Amesbury.

The biggest news coming out of this game was the emergence of the General's running game. Their passing game with quarterback Billy Whelan and elite receivers Cam Peach and Jake Lanciani has been lethal, but against the Indians, sophomore running back Ian Coffey broke loose for 187 yards and three touchdowns in the first half. If the H-W attack can be effective both on the ground and in the air, they are going to be tough to handle.

Meanwhile, over in Ipswich, the Tigers stunned Manchester Essex with three touchdowns in the fourth quarter to take a 22-13 win. The Hornets led 13-6 with less than six minutes to play but Ipswich scored and made the two point conversion to give the Tigers a 14-13 lead. Ipswich then returned a M/E fumble for a score to seal the deal.

Ipswich travels to Amesbury this week and Hamilton-Wenham has a non-league game against Georgetown. 

The Standings
Lynnfield 1-0 (4-0 overall)
Ham-Wen 1-0 (4-0)
Ipswich 1-0 (2-2)
Man-Essex 0-1 (2-2)
Amesbury 0-2 (0-4)

D5 Update
Swampscott knocked the Pioneers out of the top spot with a win over previously undefeated Salem that earned them 19 points. They now have a 7 point lead on Lynnfield, thanks largely to opponents points. The Pioneers have 42 "own" points to 40 for the Big Blue, but Swampscott has 18 "opponent" points while Lynnfield has only 9, the second fewest in the division. Both Amesbury and Winthrop are winless, giving the Pioneers zero opponent points. Newburyport had a bye last week again depriving Lynnfield of any points. Wayland won again giving the Pioneers their only 3 opponent points for the week.

Weston snuck by Whittier 38-36 to stay at 3-1 only 2 points behind the Pioneers. Watertown beat D4 Burlington and hold on to the last home playoff spot, 3.2 points behind Lynnfield. Somerville, Newburyport, Triton, and Pentucket round out the eight playoff spots at this point.

Two games with huge implications for the Pioneers if they hope to earn the top seed in the division. Swampscott plays D4 Lynn English in a battle of unbeatens, and if the Big Blue can beat the Bulldogs, they will earn 24 points. Salem plays Winthrop likely giving Swampscott another 3 opponent points. The Big Blue finish up against winless Winthrop and Saugus so if they defeat Lynn English this week, it will be nearly impossible to catch them for the top spot.

Another game to consider is Newburyport vs. Triton. Swampscott has already beaten Pat Sheehan's Vikings and the Pioneers defeated Newburyport so the outcome of this one means a six point swing between Swampscott and Lynnfield. The Vikes would be heavy favorites in that one so it's probably three more points for Swampscott, and none for Lynnfield.

Watertown takes on D4 Wilmington who is 3-1 so a win there would be worth 21 points for the Raiders and give them a big boost in the ratings. Weston has a bye this week.

If the playoffs started this week, the second seeded Pioneers would host seventh seeded Triton.

Week 4 Playoff Ratings

1. Swampscott 4-0; 14.50 (58 points)
2. Lynnfield 4-0; 12.75 (51 points)
3. Weston 4-0; 12.25 (49 points)
4. Watertown 3-1; 11.95 (47.8 points)
5. Somerville 2-2; 9.60 (38.4 points)
6. Newburyport 1-2; 7.87 (23.6 points)
7. Triton 1-3; 6.80 (27.2 points)
8. Pentucket 1-3; 3.9 (15.6 points)
9. Saugus 0-4; 3.55 (14.2 points)
10. Amesbury 0-4; 3.25 (13 points)
11. Bedford 0-4; 3.15 (12.6 points)

BTW, if you're wondering about the fractions of points, teams get 1 point for every win by team that has beaten you, but you get 1.2 points for a win for team that has beaten you that is in a higher division.

Manchester-Essex Preview
The Pioneers hit the road to Manchester-by-the-Sea for their first road game of the year and their first since heading to Greater Lawrence last November 12. That's nearly a year between road games.

The Hornets are much improved from last year with two and three years starters at many key positions starting in the backfield. Robbie Sarmanian and Jake Athanas have been the workhorses for a couple of years and they will share the load in the running game. The Hornets lost last year's second leading rusher Dan Rodier to Governor's Academy. The other key hole is at quarterback where senior Cosmo Pallazola takes over for Charlie Otterbein who graduated.

M/E features a big, experienced interior line led by senior captains Andrew Hantzopoulos, Jackson Rice, and Charlie MacDowell. Four of the five linemen are returning starters.

Rice and Hantzopolous lead the linebacking corps to spearhead the defense.

The Hornets have had a see-saw season so far. They beat Northeast (2-2) in a 46-34 shootout to open the season and then were routed by Nantucket (4-0) 32-7. They bounced back with a 39-0 beating of winless Essex Tech then were nipped in the final minutes by Ipswich 22-13 last week.

The Pioneers won last year's meeting 47-14 with Matt Mortellite leading the way with a school-record four TD passes. The offense exploded for 524 yards of offense scoring 47 unanswered points after M/E marched down the field and scored on their first possession to take a 7-0 lead.

The Pioneers have beaten M/E five straight times by an aggregate score of 210-34. Overall they hold a 6-3 edge in the series.

Game time in Manchester-by-the-Sea is 7 pm.