Published in the November 25, 2015 edition

HORNET FOOTBALL TEAM CAPTAINS  are, from left: David Smith, a senior; Nic O'Connell, a senior and John Merullo, a junior. (Bob Turosz Photo)

HORNET FOOTBALL TEAM CAPTAINS are, from left: David Smith, a senior; Nic O’Connell, a senior and John Merullo, a junior. (Bob Turosz Photo)


LYNNFIELD  — The Lynnfield Pioneers (7-3) and North Reading Hornets (8-2) have been on a collision course all season. They nearly met in the Division 4 North semifinal playoff three weeks ago, but Watertown and Bedford derailed the rivals and prevented the dream matchup.

The two squads finally get to settle things Thursday morning at Arthur J. Kenney Field in North Reading in the 57th meeting on the holiday.

The Hornets and the Pioneers are clearly the second and third best teams in the Cape Ann League, so this one will decide the final pecking order. Both teams suffered their only CAL loss to large school Kinney Division champion Pentucket – the Hornets losing 28-6 and the Pioneers dropping a heartbreaker 28-27. Both teams routed Ipswich, Hamilton-Wenham and Newburyport, beat Triton, and lost to Watertown.

Against non–common opponents, the Pioneers were 3-1 against teams that went a combined 18-22 and the Hornets went 2-1 against teams who were 10-20.

Both teams feature strong defenses with the Pioneers allowing 103 points and the Hornets giving up only 118.

The four–time defending league champion Pioneers have the statistical edge on offense, scoring 323 points to 247 for the Hornets. Much of that discrepancy comes from Lynnfield’s ravaging of their small school Baker League schedule where they reeled off five straight wins by a 195-15 count.

“It’s two evenly matched teams so if both play the way they’re capable of, it will be a close game,” said Pioneer head coach Neal Weidman.

Hornets seeking revenge

North Reading may be more motivated in this one as a result of some issues surrounding last year’s 35-0 beat down they suffered at Pioneer Stadium. Some North Reading fans felt the Pioneers rubbed their noses in the snow with an elaborate celebration following Lynnfield’s final touchdown. Quarterback Danny Sullivan pretended to “bowl over” his teammates who were lined up like bowling pins in the end zone.

A lot of people sitting in the North Reading section of the bleachers didn’t appreciate the gesture and Head Coach Jeff Wall was not pleased with what he perceived to be inordinately loud music that prevented him from addressing his team following the game.

“I know some of my guys were not too happy with that celebration,” Wall told the Transcript last year, following the game. “I hope they can also take that into the off season as motivation for next year.”

Next year, of course, is here. Weidman dismissed the revenge factor. “I don’t know if they need any extra motivation,” he said. “They were going to play hard either way.”

McCarthy on McCarthy

An interesting matchup will feature the two teams’ primary running backs – Matt McCarthy for North Reading and captain Drew McCarthy for the Pioneers (no relation). Both lead their teams in scoring with Matt being the Hornets’ primary offensive weapon, tallying 22 of the team’s 35 touchdowns. Drew tops Lynnfield’s scoring with 12 TDs and 78 points.

The difference is that Matt has accounted for 63 percent of the Hornets’ offense while Drew made up only 27 percent (12 of 49) of the Pioneers’ touchdowns.

The Hornets’ other weapons are speedy running back David Smith and power running back John Merullo.

“McCarthy runs real hard and he’s exceptionally fast. He’s also pretty elusive so he can make you miss,” said Weidman. “Merullo and Smith are also very good. The whole backfield is fast.”

The Hornets switched from the unorthodox single wing to a more conventional multiple I formation, but they are still primarily a running team, rarely throwing the ball.

Their defense is fast, big, and aggressive and won’t be intimidated by the Pioneers’ size. Brian Cotter, Bob O’Donnell, Drew Delano, and Michael Quaratiello make up a stout interior line with Merullo, Nic O’Connell and Chris Vella active behind them at linebacker.

“They’re really solid,” Weidman said of the tough Hornet defense. “They don’t give you much room to breath. They’re big up front with good linebackers and a ton of speed in the back end.”

Rough road

Last year’s win ups the Pioneers’ overall advantage in the series to 34-22, but since 1987, the series is dead even at 14-14. Despite Lynnfield’s recent success, the Pioneers have won only once on Arthur J. Kenney Field in their last five tries, including losses in their last two trips down Chestnut Street.

The Hornets hammered an injury-riddled Pioneer squad 37-18 in 2011 and outlasted another banged up Lynnfield squad 42-35 in 2013 in a shootout that saw Matt McCarthy’s older brother C.J. roll through the Pioneers’ defense for 271 yards and four TDs.

The Pioneers will be much healthier for this one although they will be missing their second leading rusher and backup quarterback in sophomore Nick Kinnon, who suffered a fractured collarbone against Pentucket.

“They’re pretty good and we’re pretty good,” summed up Weidman. “It should be a good game.”

Game time at Arthur J. Kenney Field is 10:30 a.m. Tickets at the gate are $10 each for students and adults. Senior citizens are admitted free of charge.