Posted on Wednesday, October 28, 2015
BY TOM CONDARDO
Editor’s Note: The playoff preview story was inadvertently left out of this week’s print edition of the Villager.
LYNNFIELD — The Pioneers begin the defense of their D4 North crown Friday night at home against Watertown (4-3) who come in fresh off a 21-17 win over No. 5 seed Stoneham last week.
The Raiders play in the Division 3 Middlesex Freedom League where they went 2-3, beating Wakefield (20-14) and Stoneham while losing to Burlington (21-17), Melrose (28-7) and Wilmington (20-6). Watertown won both of its non-league games against Arlington Catholic (38-35) and Mount Pleasant, R.I. (31-0) for an overall record of 4-3.
Dynamic junior quarterback Deon Smith runs the Raiders’ run-heavy offense that is similar to the Saugus triple option. Smith, a transfer to Watertown from BB&N, is a dangerous run first weapon and has scored 11 of the Raiders’ 18 touchdowns – 10 running and one on a kickoff return. He has also thrown one TD pass.
They also have an outstanding fullback in Zac Rimsa who has only scored four touchdowns this season, down from the 15 he tallied last year as a sophomore.
“(Smith) is an unbelievable athlete and he can flip it around a little bit too,” said Pioneer head coach Neal Weidman. “(Rimsa) is a little underrated. He is fast and runs hard. He’s super tough.”
Watertown also has an outstanding kicker in sophomore Connor Kennel who has booted four field goals this season, the longest from 37 yards. In a tight-scoring game Kennel and Pioneer placekicker Dan Bronshvayg could play prominent roles.
The aggressive Raiders’ defense starts with a strong linebacking corps led by middle linebacker Rimsa and captain Faried Mawanda. Senior linemen Eric Yak Vidal, Jake Leitner and Eric Mey anchor the Watertown line.
“My guess is there won’t be a ton of possessions,” said Weidman. “They’re pretty good defensively and so are we, so it could end up being anything from a puntfest to a series of long drives. Field position is going to be a big thing.”
Lynnfield and Watertown have met only once previously, in the memorable post-playoff game in 2013. In that hard fought battle in Watertown between two squads who had been knocked out of the playoffs the previous week, the sluggish Pioneers fell behind 14-0 in the first half. Lynnfield scored with four seconds left in the half and notched two more touchdowns in the second half to take home a 21-20 win.
This time the game is for more than pride with the winner advancing to the division semi-finals against the winner of the first round game between No. 2 seed North Reading and No. 7 seed Ipswich. Based on this season’s results, chances are the Hornets will be waiting for either the Raiders or Pioneers.
Watertown and Lynnfield both come into the game with significant playoff experience. The Raiders and Pioneers, along with Pat Sheehan’s Triton Vikings, are the only D4N teams to make the playoffs in all three seasons under the current format.
The Raiders were the No. 2 seed last year and were stunned in the opening round by Swampscott. In 2013, they were the No. 4 seed and beat Triton before falling to top seeded Pentucket in the semi-finals. The Pioneers made it to the semi-finals in 2013 by defeating Stoneham before falling to Bedford. Last year they dropped Saugus, Swampscott and Winthrop to take the D4N title before losing to Holliston in the state D4 semifinals.
Game time is 7 p.m.