By Mike Grenier
---- — LYNNFIELD — You’re the underdog and on the road. Making the task even more difficult, the opposing team is on the verge of clinching a league title.
When you’re in that position, as the Hamilton-Wenham football team was Saturday against Lynnfield, you’d better play your best ball of the season.
Hamilton-Wenham might have been mentally ready for the major challenge against the undefeated Pioneers, but it didn’t translate on the field as Lynnfield (6-0) detonated for 21 points in the third quarter and ran away with it, 34-0, securing the Cape Ann League Small championship for the third time in five years.
It wasn’t a poor effort by the Generals (2-4), but it was mistake-filled. Two interceptions and a fumble considerably dampened the threat, and an 86-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Lynnfield’s Ryan Battaglia to open the second half (making it 20-0) made the upset bid look unrealistic.
“Lynnfield has done that all year, so my hat’s off to them,” said Hamilton-Wenham coach Andrew Morency. “You make a mistake and they’re going to make you pay.
“Teams have kind of hung around with Lynnfield, but then they explode. That’s the sign of a good team.”
Lynnfield coach Neal Weidman seemed genuinely surprised by the margin of victory.
“People will look at the final score and think it was (a big mismatch), but it wasn’t like that,” said Weidman. “Hamilton-Wenham is one of the most competitive teams we play. They want to win, they have the drive, and the coach is super competitive. The fact that our kids had that in mind going into the game was big for us.”
Despite trailing 13-0 at intermission on a 24-yard scoring run by the Pioneers’ Matt Kramich and a 5-yard scamper by Kyle McGah (capping a 12-play, 93-yard drive), a Hamilton-Wenham comeback was not out of the question. Led by senior Ian Dickey (18 carries, 101 yards), the Generals displayed a solid running game and senior quarterback Jack Clay’s short passing game was on target early in the game.
However, the Generals dropped too many passes, negating what could have been a dangerous complementary game.
“We would’ve had to play almost a perfect game and that’s something we didn’t do,” said Morency. “We dropped some footballs, then we had the kickoff return (by Battaglia) and threw an interception (that eventually turned into a touchdown that stretched it to 27-0). Lynnfield finished the job as far as Senior Day and winning the league.”
It got out of hand following the interception by Lynnfield’s Anthony Costa. The Pioneers were methodical in working the short field and McGah (78 yards on 11 carries) took it in from the nine for a 27-point lead heading into the fourth quarter. Jake Rourke produced another score on a 13-yard run in the final period before the reserves on both teams got some playing time.
Clay was 9-for-23 passing for 119 yards and the two interceptions. His stat line was deceptive, as Morency quickly pointed out.
“Jack Clay deserved a better fate,” said Morency. “You saw that we can run the ball and we have the potential to complement that (phase) with a passing attack. If we can do that, we can finish the job. But even against a good team, I think you saw us running it pretty well.”
But a 34-0 loss can wreck a team’s confidence. That’s what Morency and the Generals have to guard against this week.
“We have a lot of super seniors and they have pride, but right now we’re down a little bit as a team,” said Morency. “We’ve kicked ourselves in the foot all season and it happened again. There’s a fine line between winning and losing, and we have to find a way to cross that line somehow.”