Carry 10-game league winning streak into Amesbury
By TOM CONDARDO
LYNNFIELD — Pioneer head coach Neal Weidman couldn’t have scripted the start of the 2014 season any better: Two wins against tough non-league opponents then a week off to prepare for the league opener. Oh, and get ready for a gala opening of a new turf stadium in a couple of weeks. As the Pioneers prepare for their CAL Baker division opener this Friday night in Amesbury, all is well in the land of Lynnfield football, right?
“It’s good to win, but we certainly need to get better,” Weidman said. “There are still a lot of mistakes and things we have to fix as we go down the road. But it’s a lot better than being 0-2, that’s for sure.”
The two wins are important, but the league season is critical if the Pioneers harbor any playoff aspirations. (See sidebar.)
“The only guarantee of getting into the playoffs is to win your league,” Weidman explained. “So you have to strive to win the league, and that’s always difficult.”
Although that’s true, the Pioneers have managed to do it for two straight years with a perfect 10-0 record in league play. Lynnfield has been successful overall in league play in six years under Weidman, compiling an overall 24-9 mark. It hasn’t much mattered which league the Pioneers have been in, either. From 2008-2010, Lynnfield went 12-6 in the CAL Small, including an undefeated 6-0 league championship season in 2009. In 2011-12, the Pioneers were 7-3 in the CAL/NEC4, winning a title with a 5-0 record in 2012. Last year, the Pioneers went 5-0 in the inaugural season in the CAL Baker taking their third league championship in the Weidman era.
The Pioneers are looking to three-peat when they kick off their Baker schedule against longtime rival Amesbury. The Pioneers and Indians will be meeting for the 43rd time with Lynnfield holding a 26-15-1 overall edge. They’ve beaten Amesbury six straight times while outscoring them 165-84, including a 41-7 win last year.
The Indians (4-7 last year) are in transition this year as former head coach Thom Connors stepped down after 12 seasons. Unable to come up with a permanent head coach in the off-season, Amesbury AD Glen Gearin stepped in as interim head coach for this year. Gearin previously compiled a 3-37 mark with Methuen from 2003 to 2006. Amesbury has struggled out of the gate this year, losing to Triton 43-6 and Pentucket 36-7.
The Indians were overrun by the Vikings’ ground game in week one but had a much better performance against Pentucket last week. They held the Sachems to only 42 yards rushing in a scoreless first half, but Pentucket blew it open with over 200 rushing yards in the final two quarters to cruise to the win. The Indians’ offense is starting to take shape with junior running back Ryan Foley having two solid games. Sophomore quarterback Jared Dupere now has two games under his belt and will be looking for dangerous All-League receiver Pat Scanlon. Linebackers Travis Motsis and Spencer Fournier lead a defense that has shown flashes.
“They’re a little different defensively,” Weidman said of the Indians under their new coach. “They used to be a 4-4 cover three. Now they’re more of a 3-4 defense. They are still wing T offensively but from what I understand there’s a little more I formation and slot. Amesbury’s always broken out of the wing T but they seem to be going more pro I when they break out now.”
Game time at Landry Stadium in Amesbury is 7 p.m.
Here is a look at the rest of the CAL Baker Division:
HAMILTON-WENHAM (Last year: 6-5)
The only other team besides the Pioneers to claim the league championship in the past five years has been the Generals who did the trick in 2010 and 2011 and again appear to be the Pioneers’ biggest threat. They made the playoffs last season by finishing second in the league but fell in the opening round to Pentucket.
The Generals have come out of the gate 0-2 but that may be deceiving. They lost to a loaded Bishop Fenwick team 27-6 in their opener, but the Crusaders are coming off an undefeated state championship. The Globe has them rated 16th in Eastern Mass. despite coming from Division 5.
H-W lost 21-13 to a tough North Reading team last week but showed some offensive explosion and a traditional hard-hitting defense. They also may be one of the few teams in the league with the size to match up with Pioneers. They have a big, experienced offensive line that has been effective opening holes for shifty running back Jimmy Littlefield. New quarterback Thomas Rostad has two tall, experienced receivers in Jimmy Campbell (6’3”) and Nolan Wilson (6’4”).
“I think Hamilton-Wenham is good,” said Weidman. “They are probably better than that score against Bishop Fenwick, who has a ton back from the team last year.”
IPSWICH (Last year: 2-9)
This could be the year the Tigers make some noise as they enter the second year under head coach Greg Brotherton. Despite an 0-2 start with losses to North Reading 34-8 and Newburyport 28-10, the Tigers have shown positive signs defensively. They were burned by three long touchdown runs by the Hornets in their opener and last week they led the Clippers for most of the first half until Newburyport took the lead on a couple of TD passes from Mike Shay to JJ Bajko.
Linebackers Mike Carey and Eddie Flaherty, and defensive end Alex Kuljik lead the defense. The offense starts with new quarterback Jake Long and running back Charles Gillis. The offensive line is young and a huge concern for Brotherton.
MANCHESTER-ESSEX (Last year: 6-5)
The Hornets captured a Division 5 playoff berth as a wild card last season and made it to the semi-finals where they lost to Northeast Metro Tech. The two teams met up in the season opener and the Knights blanked M-E 30-0. The Hornets fell to 0-2 with a 22-6 loss to Greater Lawrence last week. M-E has offensive experience with returning quarterback Craig Carter and running back Jack Hennigan but may be hurt by their lack of depth.
GEORGETOWN (Last year: 2-9)
The Royals entered the CAL in 2008, ripped off a 5-1 mark and lost out on a league title on tiebreakers. Since that boffo opening, the Royals have struggled, going 1- 26 in league play and they are currently suffering through a 24-game league-losing streak. They are looking for a fresh start this season under new coach Justin Spurr, who has had good success with the Royals’ baseball program. They’ve had a rough start with losses to Cathedral (31-6) and Greater Lawrence (36-9) and are again suffering from lack of depth. They do return 11 starters, including eight seniors, so if they can stay healthy, they may be able to remain competitive.