Ron Poniewasz Jr.
New Castle News
GREEN TREE —
Three Lawrence County football teams are where they expected to be for the first round of the WPIAL playoffs.
The Neshannock, New Castle and Laurel high squads were satisfied with the seeds they received when opening-round matchups were announced last night at a meeting at the DoubleTree Hotel.
Neshannock (7-2) paced the trio, earning a No. 6 seed and a home game against 11th-seeded Brentwood in Class A. The game marks the first home football playoff game for the Lancers at Bob Bleggi Stadium.
“We’re happy to be sixth, but it really doesn’t matter,” second-year Lancers coach Fred Mozzocio said. “They could have set us up to play North Catholic or Sto-Rox in the first two rounds. We look forward to showing what we can do out there.”
Tenth-seeded Laurel (7-2) will travel to seventh-seeded Avonworth (8-1) in Class A and 10th-seeded New Castle (7-2) will visit seventh-seeded Highlands (6-3) in Class AAA.
All three games will be 7:30 p.m. Friday.
The postseason berths mark the first time Spartans coach Pat Cuba and Red Hurricane coach Joe Cowart will enter the postseason as their respective team’s head coach.
While it’s the first head coaching stint in the WPIAL playoffs for Cuba and Cowart, they both won a district title in their playing days at New Castle. Cuba won a championship in 1973 and tied for it in 1975. Cowart, in his second season at the helm, directed the ’Canes to the 1998 WPIAL crown.
“We’re excited about it,” Cowart said of the playoffs. “It’s step one in our process, just getting in. We’re pleased with the results there and we were rewarded with a good regular season.”
Cuba is in his first season at the helm of Laurel after Jerry Holzhauser resigned following the 2012 season. Cuba previously coached at Neshannock before stepping down after the 2011 season.
“I’m very happy with the progress we’ve made,” Cuba said. “The kids have got a lot better and bought into the system; they’re good kids and they come enthusiastic to work. It makes my job a lot easier.”
Neshannock finished second in the Big Seven Conference with a 7-1 league mark behind champion Sto-Rox (9-0 overall), which captured the top seed.
“It’s a new season now,” Mozzocio said. “Everybody is good at this time of the year. If you’re in the dance, you have that opportunity to achieve the ultimate goal.”
The Lancers battled the Vikings before being stopped on a fourth-and-goal inside their 1 in the game’s waning seconds, falling 34-31 on a Thursday night in primetime. A furious rally late came up short against second-seeded North Catholic (9-0) in a 21-14 setback in Week 8.
“We definitely feel we can play with anyone. We don’t fear anyone,” Mozzocio said.
Laurel took third in the Big Seven at 6-2 in the conference, losing to Neshannock (34-12) and Sto-Rox (28-17).
“You want to try and win the conference and win more than you lose,” Cuba said. “If the conference title doesn’t happen, you want to at least get in and get another chance and accomplish the next goal of a district championship.
“I think we learned a lot this year. Our kids aren’t going to back down. We have to minimize mistakes against good teams.”
New Castle also had a shot at a home playoff game, but a Week 7 home loss to West Allegheny (37-31) dashed those hopes. Despite that loss to the top-seeded Indians (9-0) the ’Canes enter the postseason winners of seven of their last eight contests.
“I think we’re going into the playoffs with good momentum,” Cowart said. “We feel good going in that we can compete against anyone that we’re playing against.
“We think we’ve gotten better since Week 1. That’s our goal as a team, to get better each week. We want to be playing our best football at this time of year, but it’s on us to get better.”
Cowart had no problem with the No. 10 seed his team received.
“That’s fine. As long as they remember to put us in, I’m OK with it,” he said. “They could put us anywhere, as long as we’re on the bracket.”
Laurel and New Castle are in the WPIAL playoffs for the first time since 2009.
Neshannock is in the district playoffs for the second straight season. The Lancers reached the semifinals before losing to Clairton, 37-7. Neshannock’s 42-14 first-round win over Jefferson-Morgan a year ago was the program’s first postseason victory.
“The kids are very excited. They’ve been waiting for this time of year,” Mozzocio said. “It should be a pretty exciting time hosting our first playoff game. I’m looking forward to it.”
The four WPIAL championship games are set for Nov. 23 at Heinz Field.
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