LYNNFIELD — After falling 26-0 to Holliston in the state semi-finals last Saturday, Pioneers head coach Neal Weidman is faced with the difficult task of regrouping and facing archrival North Reading on Thanksgiving Day.

“We have two days to figure out how to get ready,” Weidman said following Saturday’s loss. “It’s going to be a quick turnaround. We have to find a way to get over it and get ready for Thursday.”

He could try playing the revenge card after last year’s 42-35 loss in North Reading. Or maybe use the fact that the Hornets have been a personal pain in the tailpad for the Pioneers over the past few years. Since Thanksgiving Day 2011, the Pioneers are 28-6 and North Reading has handed them two of those losses, beating the Pioneers 37-18 in 2011 in addition to last year’s defeat. In the 31 non-Hornet games during that span, the Pioneers have outscored their opponents by an average of 30-8 but North Reading has outscored Lynnfield by an average of 29-22 in their three matchups in that period.

The Pioneers did beat the Hornets 14-7 in the de-facto CAL/NEC 4 championship game in 2012, the only contest of the three that really mattered. And Lynnfield was decimated by injuries in the other two games, forced to go with third string freshman Danny Sullivan in 2011 and having most of their linebacker corps wiped out before the game last year. The Pioneers will need to be ready for the Hornets’ best shot. North Reading comes in at 4-6 but would love to knock off the Division 4 North champs and make their year.

A tale of two Hornet seasons

It’s been a tumultuous year for the Hornets, who had to deal with an early season controversy surrounding offensive coordinator Ed Melanson. The assistant coach, who brought the unique single wing offense to North Reading, was suspended for the team’s third game of the year against Newburyport following an alleged conflict with another coach over use of the school’s turf field. Melanson subsequently resigned saying he did not feel supported by the administration.

However it’s hard to argue with the success the Hornets enjoyed using the retro offense. From 1990 to 2010, the Hornets went 62–154, a .287 winning percentage. From 2011 through this week, North Reading has gone 26–14, a .650 winning percentage.

The shakeup helped derail what looked to be a promising season for the Hornets. North Reading beat Ipswich and Hamilton–Wenham to open the season, then lost a 45-33 shootout to Newburyport in the third game of the season. The Hornets then went into a tailspin, losing four straight to Masconomet, Saugus, Triton and Pentucket by a 102–32 mark. The nadir came in a 16–0 loss to Pentucket when the Hornets managed only 43 total yards of offense.

That game appeared to be the wake-up call as North Reading exploded the following week, smashing Arlington Catholic, a team that barely missed the playoffs, by a 54-6 count. They followed that up with a payback 21-0 win over Pentucket and ended the pre–Thanksgiving portion of their schedule with a heart pounding 29-27 overtime loss to Newburyport in which North Reading controlled the ball for most of the game.

Ground and pound

The Hornets continue to run the single wing run offense and rarely pass. C.J. McCarthy, the back who torched the Pioneers for 271 yards and four touchdowns in last year’s 42–35 win, has graduated and passed the baton to his sophomore brother Matt, who has continued to light up the scoreboard. The other Hornet backs are speedster David Smith and John Merullo. They are averaging over 400 yards on the ground in their last three games so expect the new turf at LHS to get a workout on Thursday.

This will be the fourth year that Lynnfield faces the single wing. In 2011 the injury-riddled Pioneers allowed 339 yards rushing but bounced back in 2012 to hold the Hornets to 145. North Reading exploded again last year with a 401-yard performance and they seem to be clicking on all cylinders coming into the game.

The Pioneers (10-1) are looking to become the first team in school history to win 11 games. This will be the 57th overall meeting between the schools with the Pioneers holding a 33-23 edge. The first game in 1958 was not played on Thanksgiving Day.

“The guys have just been through four weeks of real physical games,” said Weidman. “But I think the mental issue will be a little bit more difficult to deal with. But you want to finish strong and put your best foot forward on your last day.”

Game time at Pioneer Stadium is 10 a.m.

(Tom Condardo is the football writer for the Lynnfield Villager.)