New Castle News
NEW CASTLE —
A bonfire lit the sky last night behind Neshannock High School.
The school was holding a pep rally to celebrate the season of its red-hot football team.
“We’re getting a lot of support from the community here coming out,” junior tight end Steven Jeffries said during the event. “They’ve been supporting us every step of the way. We’re here now at 9-1 and it feels good to have everyone out here supporting us.”
The Lancers finished the season with their first Big Seven Conference championship, sharing it with Sto-Rox and Rochester. The team also won its first WPIAL playoff game in school history last week, a 42-14 decision against Jefferson-Morgan. Neshannock will take on Monessen in the quarterfinals of the WPIAL playoffs at 7:30 tonight at Chartiers-Houston High School.
The Neshannock Township Fire Department started the festivities last night with the lighting of the fire. As it blazed, players and coaches took turns hyping the crowd of hundreds, which included cheerleaders, students, fans, parents and teachers who gathered to root on the team.
Defensive back Antonio Blundo began the round of speeches with a prayer.
“I give a big prayer before every game. I give a big speech before every game. It gets everyone fired up,” Blundo said “I’m glad I could give it to the community, too. They can get a little taste of what we get in the locker room.”
Blundo believes the new coaching staff, led by head coach Fred Mozzocio, helped bring the program back from obscurity.
“It wasn’t easy,” Blundo said. “It started in January and it’s still not done. It’s almost been a full year that we’ve been going nonstop. Like coach said, we were out on the practice field every day in the summer. We had no vacation. They installed this new offense that was fast-paced and no one seems to be able to stop it, and I hope no one does. We owe it all to the coaches.”
The senior was overwhelmed by the community showing up and supporting the team as they did.
“It’s more important than anything. We’re not used to it. We haven’t seen something like this in almost 30 years,” Blundo said. “We’re happy we can get together like this. It’s nice to know we have a lot of people behind us. We turned a lot of skeptics into believers. That’s what this season was all about.
Lancers quarterback Ernie Burkes then took the microphone and spoke to the crowd about how important it is for them to show up for tonight’s game.
After Burkes spoke, Mozzocio took the stage. He rallied the crowd with his goal of making it to the state championship while discussing the difficulties and sacrifices the players made to get to that point. He then awarded the Big Seven Conference trophy to Neshannock principal Luca Passarelli.
“When this community sets its mind to something, they were very committed to this, they’re committed to all of our student programs,” Passarelli said. “This is a testament to just how special this community is. I’m very proud to be a part of it. We’re very proud of all of our students and our student-athletes. We hope to go far.”