CAMDEN MARENGI made multiple tough catches to try and spark a Pioneer comeback against St. Mary’s. (Kristine Marengi Photo)
By JAMES CRANNEY
LYNN – It was six years ago the last time the Pioneers matched up against the Spartans from St. Mary’s. During that 2016 semifinal meeting, St. Mary’s came away with a 44-24 postseason victory. Last Friday night, 6-3 Lynnfield once again met 8-1 St. Mary’s at historic Manning Field, this time, with a chance to advance to the Div. 6 semifinals.
Unfortunately for the Pioneers, their tenacious efforts would not yield a different result as they fell again to St. Mary’s 20-6.
Facing a Spartan offense averaging 35.5 points per game, Lynnfield knew they needed their best effort in this quarterfinal matchup. On St. Mary’s’ first two possessions, the Spartans looked like the high-powered offense their fans became accustomed to seeing. Despite the defense bending however, the Pioneers would not break.
After advancing the ball to Lynnfield’s 34-yard line, the Spartans faced 4th and 1. Sophomore quarterback Tyler Guy called his number to keep the drive alive, but was met by a swarm of white jerseys turning the ball over on downs.
The next St. Mary’s possession, the Spartans high tempo offense once again moved themselves into Pioneer territory. On 4th and 8 from Lynnfield’s 15-yard line, the Pioneer defense came up with another huge stop with an interception from senior captain James Sharkey.
“We knew we had our hands full,” commented Lynnfield head coach Pat Lamusta on going up against a talented St. Mary’s offense. “Coach Driscoll does a nice job…it was fun to have our guys compete against that type of football.”
Following the two defensive stops, the Pioneer offense finally found some footing. A 41-yard Jared Bernabei (3 rushes, 45 yards) run got things started on the series’ first play. Lynnfield advanced the ball to the Spartans 25-yard line, but failed to convert on 4th and 7 when quarterback Tyler Adamo’s (11-23, 148 yards) pass fell incomplete.
St. Mary’s would make the Pioneers pay.
On the very first snap following the turnover, junior running back Ernie Panias took a sweep right and found some daylight. Panias ran 75-yards down the sideline untouched breaking the tie to give the Spartans a 7-0 lead. St. Mary’s added to their lead scoring on the next drive when Guy found Jack Marks in the back of the endzone for an 18-yard touchdown pass.
Lynnfield entered the second half trailing 13-0, but continued to fight with everything they had.
Late in the 3rd quarter after forcing a St. Mary’s punt, the Pioneers got into scoring position following great chunk passes to sophomore Joey Cucciniello (4 catches, 74 yards), and seniors Camden Marengi (2 catches, 37 yards) and Jack Calichman (2 catches 16 yards). On 3rd and goal, Lynnfield was 5 yards away from their first score. With great blocking up front, the Pioneers turned to senior captain James Sharkey (9 carries, 72 yards, 1 touchdown) who forced his way into the endzone.
Despite cutting the deficit to a touchdown, the high tempo Spartan offense quickly responded. In 9 plays, St. Mary’s marched 80 yards before capping the drive off with a 9-yard Derick Coulanges touchdown run.
As they have done all year though, the Pioneers refused to surrender. Lynnfield fought their way into the Spartans red zone following huge pass plays once again to Cucciniello and Marengi.
“I was impressed with Camden Marengi’s catches in tight spaces late in the game,” claimed coach Lamusta after the game. “He really had a great night and gave us a spark with big catches that kept some drives alive.”
Trailing 20-6 with just under 4 minutes remaining in the game, the Pioneers needed a touchdown. On 4th and 4 though, the season came to an end when Cucciniello could not haul in Adamo’s intended pass. St. Mary’s would run out the clock ending Lynnfield’s shot at a state championship.
“I just thanked the seniors because ever since they’ve crossed the high school threshold, they’ve been so locked in and so committed,” stated an emotional coach Lamusta after the playoff loss. “It hurts a ton because I really feel they deserved to go the distance. That’s what really hurts. This senior group, they’d do anything for this program.”
While Lynnfield’s season did not end with an opportunity to compete for a state title, the team has a great deal to be proud of with plenty more to play for.
In two weeks’ time, the Pioneers will take part in one of the longest standing Massachusetts traditions…Thanksgiving football. Lynnfield travels to North Reading for the 65th installment of the heated rivalry. Looking to avoid their seventh consecutive loss to the Hornets, the Pioneers will put the St. Mary’s loss behind them and prepare for another Thanksgiving clash.
“It stings, it hurts right now but we still got a little football left on Thanksgiving so we’re going to try and pick everyone back up and give that our best.”