By Evan Mugford
---- — AMESBURY — If momentum makes matchups, then football fans need look no further than the Cape Ann League/Northeastern Conference showdown between the Division 3 champion Amesbury Indians (9-2 overall, 5-0 league) and the Division 4 champion Lynnfield Pioneers (8-2 overall, 5-0 league).
The two teams will converge at Lowell’s Cawley Stadium tomorrow night at 5:15 with nearly identical records, but more impressively, the teams concluded their regular seasons with a combined 15-0 record.
After starting the season with a convincing win over Manchester Essex, the Indians lost back-to-back games — a narrow 31-27 defeat at the hands of Lynnfield in Week 2, and then a disconcerting 21-7 loss to North Reading, a team who, like the Pioneers, lost only two games all season.
Likewise, the Pioneers also started 1-2. They lost their first game to Newburyport, 7-6, and then to out-of-conference foe Bishop Fenwick, 14-7.
“Both teams are different teams from when we first met, and both have come a long way,” said Amesbury coach Thom Connors. “We both had frustrating losses in between, but we’ve both managed to find our own way.”
More than any other team in their respective divisions, both Amesbury and Lynnfield have learned from their mistakes. Neither the Indians nor the Pioneers have lost a regular season game since Sept. 21. As a result, the Pioneers are riding a seven-game winning streak, while the Indians’ winning streak is now up to eight — a CAL/NEC mark only bettered by the undefeated Division 2 Beverly Panthers.
“No team is the same since the second or third week of the season. Our teams are just simply better,” said Lynnfield coach Neal Weidman. “We’re more skilled, less sloppy. At the start of the year, things just weren’t as precise. Everything has improved.”
Beyond the number of wins, the two teams have displayed considerable resolve — the true zenith of championship character.
After a pair of relatively painless games versus the Georgetown Royals (35-0) and then Manchester Essex (47-13), the Pioneers avoided the trap-game by upending the Hornets 14-7 in a rousing championship-clinching contest on Thanksgiving.
The Indians concluded their regular season with what would prove to be their toughest three-game stretch — a hard-fought 29-19 win over Saugus, a last-minute, come-from-behind 21-20 thriller over Pentucket, and then, on Thanksgiving, a tooth-and-nail scrap against the defensive-minded Newburyport Clippers — a game in which the golden boot of junior Mac Short propelled the Indians to a 13-10 victory.
“Our last two games against Pentucket and then Newburyport prove that this team can take a punch and keep moving forward,” said Connors. “We know how to battle, and that’s what we expect. Playing aggressive, scrappy defensive teams like Newburyport have helped this team, but when it really comes down to it, it’s about turnovers, having no penalties, and timely plays.
“We’ve played against good teams that shoot themselves in the foot, and we’ve been able to avoid that. The first time we played Lynnfield, we had four or five turnovers, and, needless to say, they capitalized.”
The Indians are returning to the postseason for their first time since their Super Bowl 2008 season, while the Pioneers are making their first postseason trip since 2009. Weidman hopes his team can make the next step, but he knows that it’ll have to take a near flawless performance from his team to do so.
“First off, (Amesbury) has tough kids, they’re well-coached and they’re athletic, so that’s a pretty solid combination whichever way you look at it,” said Weidman. “You really can’t make mistakes against a team like this, because if you begin to help them, you’re really putting the odds against you — they’re good enough on their own.”
Weidman isn’t wrong. Since the 21-7 loss to North Reading in Week 3, the Indians haven’t scored fewer than 21 points in any contest — with the one exception coming against the Clippers last Thursday. Amesbury’s 317 total points are second-to-none in CAL/NEC Division 3 or 4.
Conversely, the Pioneers are the most frugal team in CAL/NEC Division 3 and 4, ending the regular season with only 94 points allowed. Not surprisingly, the only team to score over 20 points against the Pioneers was Amesbury.
Still, though, offense will undoubtedly be the name of the game come tomorrow night when a pair of high-powered offenses clash. For the Indians, bottling up junior tailback Kyle McGah (972 rushing yards) and senior quarterback Mike Karavetsos (over 800 rushing yards and 800 passing yards) will be their primary concern.
“Basically, we need to contain those two guys and defend the pass. They spread you out and run that branch between the quarterback and the tailback, and those two guys are outstanding out of the backfield,” said Connors. “The quarterback throws the ball pretty well, and because he reads the plays at a high level, they make things difficult to defend. They’re very big up front; they have a good offensive line, so they present a great challenge for this team.”
The Indians aren’t short on talent either. Senior quarterback Matt Talbot (1,272 passing yards and 15 passing TDs, 720 rushing yards and 10 TDs), senior running back Perry Mroz (500 rushing yards, 8 TDs), senior wide receiver Tommy Connors (462 receiving yards, 6 TDs), and senior wide receiver Devlin Gobeil (474 receiving yards, 4 TDs) have each done their part in making Amesbury one of the league’s most diverse offensive attacks.
As much as Amesbury will use its diversity to spoil the Lynnfield game plan, come tomorrow night, Connors expects his team to hold steadfast to a concept they set in place before the season even began — unity.
“Our whole senior class has been tremendous, as have our captains of Matt Talbot, Tommy Connors, Devlin Gobeil, Sean Bannon and Curran O’Connor,” said Connors. “This is a group of level-headed kids who don’t get overly down or overly excited. They just take things in stride and move on to the next play, and from the start of the year, this group has pushed the idea of family. Guys like Perry Mroz have really been the voice of that, and they’ve all made it loud and clear — you don’t have to be a captain to be a leader.”