Lynnfield still earns share of CAL Baker crown

Published in the November 29, 2017 edition

BRETT COHEE (15), forced into action when starting quarterback Matt Mortellite was injured, eludes Gerald Callagy (21) enroute to a 10-yard pickup. The junior carried nine times for 87 yards and a touchdown. (Tom Condardo Photo)


NORTH READING — Even with a full roster it was going to be difficult for the Lynnfield Pioneers to defeat a tough North Reading team on Thanksgiving morning. Take away five key players who cover eight starting positions and the task became nearly impossible.

But instead of packing it in, the Pioneers stepped it up at Arthur J. Kenney Field in North Reading and put themselves in position to pull off an improbable win. Trailing 20-13 with 5:35 to play in the game, the Pioneers drove inside the Hornet 20. But a fumbled bad snap was scooped up by Hornet lineman Michael Luciano who raced 77 yards for a touchdown to make it 27-13 and slam the door on Lynnfield’s upset hopes.

CAPTAIN Harry Collins (53) pulls down North Reading’s Jake Bedell (13) for a 3-yard loss in the second quarter. (Tom Condardo Photo)

“We played well,” said Pioneer head coach Neal Weidman. “The kids we asked to hop in did a nice job and the kids that have been there all year really played hard. We were really close to pulling this one out.”

The Pioneers (8-3) came into the game without the services of leading rusher and key inside linebacker captain Anthony Murphy who suffered a broken leg against Watertown. Then a few days later they learned they would be without three other starters due to disciplinary reasons. The final blow came in the closing minute of the first half when North Reading’s Jake Bedell spun quarterback Matt Mortellite into the turf forcing the senior to leave the game with concussion symptoms. Junior Brett Cohee stepped in and played the rest of the game at quarterback.

“Losing Mort was tough,” said Weidman. “It changed what we had to do game plan wise. Brett does some good things but we do different things with him than we do with Mort.”

Hornets out fast

North Reading (7-4) took advantage of the undermanned Pioneer defense in the early going, scoring quickly on their first two drives of the game. Bedell capped a 75-yard drive with a seven-yard run to opening the scoring. Alex D’Ambrosio’s point after was wide but the Hornets led 6-0.

After a Pioneer punt on their first possession, the Hornets added to their lead on a 70-yard drive with Bedell zig-zagging his way through the Lynnfield defense for the final 35 yards. The Hornets set up for a point after but holder Mike Mikula lateralled to D’Amborsio who tossed it to Mike Sheridan for the two-point conversion to make it 14-0. The Hornets gained nearly half of their 311 total rushing yards on those first two drives.

Pioneers step up in 2nd quarter

The Pioneer offense got in gear to open the second quarter. Forced to play with backup running backs, the Pioneers relied on the arm of Mortellite to get on the board. Mortellite was 4 for 4 for 52 yards on the 58-yard drive including a nifty 24-yard “drop-in-the-bucket” pass to Jason Ndansi (5 catches, 65 yards, 1TD) in the corner of the end zone for the score. Captain Nick Kinnon’s PAT was blocked and the Pioneers trailed 14-6.

The Pioneer defense found its legs on North Reading’s next possession, forcing a turnover on downs at the Lynnfield 24. The offense then moved 73 yards to the North Reading three-yard line with time running out in the half. Mortellite picked up 25 yards on the ground and was 5 for 7 for 25 yards passing on the drive. On second and goal, Mortellite faked the hand off but Bedell didn’t bite and ended the quarterback’s day with a four-yard loss. Cohee came in and, with 26 seconds left, was picked off in the end zone to end the threat.

Pioneers fight back

Despite being down to backups at many key positions, the Pioneers fought hard to stay in the game. On the opening drive of the second half, Cohee showed off his deceptive ball handling skills and strong running ability to move the Pioneers to the North Reading 25. But after a five-yard loss, he was picked off at the four-yard line and Lynnfield came up empty again.

The Hornets quickly converted the turnover into points when Bedell broke loose for a 64-yard touchdown run on the first play following the pick. The Pioneers blocked the PAT and trailed 20-6.

Lynnfield came back on their next possession with Cohee rushing for 50 of the 63-yard drive including the final 35 for the score. Kinnon’s kick was good and the Pioneers were alive at 20-13.

The Lynnfield surge continued when captain Nathan Drislane recovered a Hornet fumble at mid field early in the fourth quarter. Cohee converted a fourth and five with a nifty sideline pass to Ndansi and then Drislane, forced into a running back for the first time this season, picked up three yards to the 27. A Hornet personal foul gave the Pioneers a first down at the NR 12, but the threat was snuffed out on the fatal fumble on the next play.

The Pioneers got inside the North Reading 30 on six of their seven possessions but came away with only a pair of scores. Ultimately that did them in.

“We talk about adversity all the time,” said Weidman. “We played tough against a pretty good team. The score looks like 14 points, but it was probably a bit closer than that. If we could have pulled this one off, it would have been some good stuff.”

Earn share of CAL title

The Pioneers did get some good news from Ipswich where the Tigers knocked off the Generals 22-20 in OT. That created a three-way tie between Lynnfield, Ipswich and Hamilton-Wenham who all finished 3-1 in the league and will share the CAL Baker division championship keeping the Pioneers’ streak of six straight CAL titles intact.