By TOM CONDARDO
LYNNFIELD — Anchors away!
Despite finishing undefeated in the regular season portion of their schedule, the poor performance of Lynnfield’s opponents landed the Pioneers third in the Division 4 North power rankings. Their reward is a visit from the high-powered Saugus Sachems (5-2) and their devastating “Navy Triple Option” offense on Saturday night.
The Sachems, who earned the sixth seed as a wild card, have been nearly unstoppable this year, amassing 253 points (36.1 ppg), the exact same as the Pioneers. The fewest points they have scored came in a 24-13 win over North Reading, a game in which the Sachems had several regulars out with injuries.
Quarterback Justin Winn (20 TDs, 128 points) and running back Dan Cacciola (13 TDs, 86 points) led the Saugus ground-based attack. The pair currently ranks second and third in Division 4 scoring. In last season’s 35-21 Lynnfield win over Saugus, Cacciola was a beast, carrying 29 times for 166 yards and a touchdown. Winn carried 12 times for 72 yards and a pair of scores. Winn was 1 for 8 passing for 13 yards.
The Sachems have some impressive wins on their resume including a 36-22 victory over Triton, a team that runs virtually the same offense as the Pioneers and which finished ahead of the Sachems in fifth place in the power rankings. The Saugus losses came to top-seeded Winthrop, 44-41, on a last minute drive aided by an excess celebration call. They also fell 41-33 to Lynn English, a Division 3 team from the Northeast Conference.
“They’re real big and fast,” said Pioneer head coach Neal Weidman. “Obviously we’ll have to play really well to win.”
The Navy Triple Option
Saugus runs the flex bone triple option popularized by the Naval Academy and refers to the three options available on each play. The quarterback is under center with a back behind him and a wingback on either side of the tackles. He can hand off to fullback driving up the middle, toss it left or right to one of the wingbacks or keep it and run himself.
“Saugus basically runs four plays and they run them well,” said Pat Sheehan, Triton’s head coach. “They are a senior heavy team and they are good. This will be the first time this season that Lynnfield doesn’t have a complete size advantage.”
According to Weidman, the Pioneers have to play “assignment football,” which means the Lynnfield defenders have to know what gaps to plug and which players to hit. When someone doesn’t carry out his assignment, option plays go for big gains.
“You have to tackle really well because you can be put in situations where you might have to tackle on your own without a lot of help,” Weidman said.
While the triple option is vastly different than the wide open spread offense run by the Pioneers, the teams appear equally explosive on offense. Lynnfield head lacrosse coach and former Pioneer defensive coordinator Joe Papagni is helping run the Sachems’ defense and knows what’s he in for Friday night.
“They have lots of weapons,” Papagni said of the Pioneers’ offense. “You have to stop the run and the pass. It all comes down to preparation.”
On paper, the Pioneers would appear to have the edge defensively. The Pioneers have been nearly perfect, allowing only 20 points all year, an average of 2.9 points per game. The Sachems have given up 164 points, 23.4 points per game. Weidman isn’t necessarily hanging his hat on that.
“Well that depends on who you’re playing,” Weidman said.
Weidman knows his team really hasn’t been tested yet. Their seven wins have come against teams with a collective 14-34 record and the only team with a winning mark is Hamilton-Wenham at 4-3.
“The league schedule is the league schedule,” Weidman said. “We scheduled our two non-league games against two playoff teams in Pentucket (finished 3-4) and Newburyport (finished 2-4).”
When asked if he knew how good his team is, Weidman responded, “I think they’re pretty good. It’s hard to tell.”
They’ll finally find out on Saturday night.
“We’re excited,” said Weidman. “This is what you play for. If both teams play the way they’re capable of playing, it will be a good game.”
Game time at LHS Stadium is 6 p.m.