Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Pioneer Gridblog Report - Final Edition

by Tom Condardo

North Reading Leftovers

The short-staffed Pioneers had no business being in this game. Yet there they were with 5:35 to go in the game, playing with a backup quarterback and backup running backs driving for what could have been the go-ahead touchdown.

"If we had gotten that in, we were definitely going for two," Pioneer head coach Neal Weidman told me after the game.

But then came the back-breaking, game-ending bad snap/fumble and North Reading turned what might have been a 21-20 Lynnfield lead into a 27-13 heart-breaking loss. But in defeat, this game told you more about this year's team than all the blowout wins over Newburyport, Amesbury, Winthrop, Manchester-Essex, and Bedford ever could: The 2017 Pioneers had heart and guts.

This 60th game between the rivals could have gotten ugly in a hurry and it looked like we were headed that way early. The explosive Hornets gashed the Pioneers on their first two drives gobbling up 134 of their 311 rushing yards and jumping out to a 14-0 lead.

But the Pioneer defense stiffened and held the Hornets offense to only one more TD. The Lynnfield defense, on the arms and legs of Matt Mortellite, then got in gear to cut the lead to 14-6 just before the quarterback's day ended on a spinning tackle right before the half.

But the resilient Pioneers kept at it. Junior Brett Cohee showed his mastery of the spread run game making the right reads and picking up 87 rushing yards including a 35 yard scamper that made it 20-13 after captain Nick Kinnon's PAT. With a quarter and a half to go, the Pioneers were in business.

However, it was not to be on this holiday morning, but it wasn't for lack of effort or determination.

Much of grit was the result of the stellar leadership of captains Kinnon, Cooper Marengi, Nathan Drislane, Harry Collins, and Anthony Murphy (whose absence in the game due to a broken leg suffered against Watertown was huge). Coupled with the loss of Mortellite for the second half and the loss of several other key players due to disciplinary reasons, and the Pioneers faced a mountain just too steep to climb.

"We have definitely had to deal with adversity all year," Drislane told me after the game. "It's been kind of a common theme. It was again today, especially when our quarterback went down. I'm proud of what we did today with so many things fighting against us."

"For all these young guys to step up in what we consider one of the biggest games of our career is huge," added Marengi. "We just told the guys to be confident in what they were doing. We told them they are in that position for a reason and we trust them to make the plays and they ended up doing pretty well."

"We did alright," Weidman summed up. "The kids we asked to hop in did a nice job and the kids that have been there all year really played hard. We were really close to pulling this one out."

Champs Again
Lost in the disappointment was the fact that 20 miles to the north, the Ipswich Tigers were in the process of helping to secure the Pioneers' sixth straight CAL championship. Ipswich upset Hamilton-Wenham 22-20 in overtime leaving the three teams in a tie with 3-1 league records.

"It wasn't really an up and down year," said Weidman. "Hamilton-Wenham outplayed us. That's the only game I can say was a real disappointment. But give credit to them. They outplayed us that day in every way and I would have like to see a little better performance that night but other than that we were right there. Watertown we played tough in some tough circumstances with the weather and then today we played through some tough circumstances as well but I can't complain. I really can't."

Deja Vu 
Thursday morning's game brought back some bad memories of the 2011 Thanksgiving game on the same field when another short-handed Pioneer squad fell to the Hornets 37-18. Like this year, the Pioneers went into the game without their starting running back. That year is was Mike Thomas who was out with a collarbone and outside linebacker/placekicker/backup quarterback Alex Roper.

And again like last week, they lost their quarterback to concussion symptoms in the second quarter when starter Mike Karavetsos took a hit to the head on a nine yard run. With Roper unavailable, Weidman was forced to jump start the career of Danny Sullivan.

The freshman, alternating with sophomore Matt Kramich, hung in there - all 5'6" 135 lbs of him - and picked up the first of his eventual 29 career TD passes. On the Pioneers' first play of the second half from their own 20, Sullivan reared back and drilled a perfect pass to a streaking Alex Pascucci who got behind the Hornet defense and raced all the way in for the score. It gave Lynnfield a short-lived 18-16 lead, but the depleted Pioneers couldn't hold off the Hornets' devastating running game.

Still Ahead
Despite the loss, the Pioneers still lead the series with the Hornets 35-25. They hold a 1013-824 scoring edge. It was the second loss in a row to North Reading, the only time the Pioneers have suffered consecutive losses to their rivals in the past 10 years.

Unlucky 13
It was only the second time this season the Pioneers have scored 13 points or less, the other being the seven they tallied against H-W and both resulted in losses. In the past ten years of the Weidman Era, the Pioneers are 2-15 in such games and five of those came in the coach's first season in 2008. The two wins both came against Ipswich, 13-7 in 2008 and 13-6 in in 2011.

Top Gun
The unceremonious end of Mortellite's day at Arthur Kenney Field brought to a conclusion a stellar career that puts him in the company of all time great Pioneer passers. Mortellite's two year career numbers puts him in the conversation with Danny Sullivan and Gino Cohee, two other elite passers of the past three decades.

Mortellite's 38 career touchdown passes shattered the previous mark of 30 set by Cohee from 2007 to 2010. His 21 TD passes last season tied him with Sullivan (2014) for the most in a single season. He also tied the record for most career two-point conversion passes with 10, a 45-year old record set by Steve Mucica from 1960-62.

Mortellite's 1,878 yards passing this year is the best ever for a single season since at least 1989 (and probably all time considering how offenses were run before the advent of the spread offense), topping Sullivan's 1,741 in 2014. Mortellite's 68.1% completion percentage this year is second only to Sullivan's 69.1% in 2013. Mortellite's two-year total of 3,609 yards is almost 700 yards more than Sullivan's second most 2,954 career total.

Mortellite's NFL passer rating this season was 128.8 a tenth of a point behind Sullivan's 128.98 in 2014. His two year passer rating was 118.1.

Not bad for someone who stepped into a brand new offense when he transferred in from Malden Catholic as a junior last year. He struggled in his first game against Newburyport throwing three interceptions and no TD's in the 32-12 loss. It would be the last game in which he ever played that he DIDN't throw a touchdown pass. He would go on to throw TD passes in 20 straight game culminating in the 24 yard beauty he tossed to Jason Ndansi in the second quarter Thursday morning. Even more impressive, after three picks in game one, he was intercepted only eight more times in the next 20 games.

Truly an outstanding career.

Catching a Record
Captain Nick Kinnon caught 7 TD passes this year and 8 last year to set a career touchdown reception mark of 15, edging Jon Knee who caught 14 in 2013-14. Kinnon also scored 68 points giving him 178 for his career placing him 6th on the all time scoring list. Captain Anthony Murphy finished with 108 career points good enough for 16th on the all time list.

Data Points
- The 60 year Lynnfield record now stands at 317-275-11, an all time winning percentage of .526,
- The 337 points the Pioneers scored this season placed them fifth on the all time single season points scored list. Seven of the top ten teams on the list are from the Weidman Era.
- The 188 points against - a 17.1 ppg average - places them 40th on the all time points allowed list.
- It was the 16th Pioneer team to reach at least eight wins in a season. Six of those have come in the last 10 years.

That's it from here. Congrats to the Pioneers for another great season.

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