New Castle News

November 28, 2013

High School Football: Neshannock’s Dovidio, Oliva lead Big Seven all-stars

Joe Sager
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — The Neshannock High football team followed up its 2012 season with a repeat performance.

Meanwhile, Laurel got back into the postseason for the first time since 2009.

While the Lancers finished second in the Big Seven Conference this fall, they advanced to their second-straight WPIAL Class A semifinal playoff contest. Like last year, they lost to the eventual WPIAL champ (North Catholic).

The Spartans fell to Avonworth, 34-16, in their first-round playoff game since their 33-0 setback to Clairton in the 2009 semifinals.

The two teams earned many Big Seven Conference first-team honors. Neshannock’s Steven Jeffries, Ralph Dovidio, Eli Owens, Gianni Oliva and Seth Dueitt joined Laurel’s Aaron Vanasco, Noah Wertz, Rick Nail, Dalton Rosta, Josh Dando and Spencer Pullium on the first team. Union’s Benjamin Young gained first-team honors as well.

Oliva and Dovidio earned additional honors. Oliva was named the most valuable defensive player, while Dovidio was named the lineman of the year.


On the heels of its successful 2012 campaign, which included a share of the Big Seven title, the program’s first-ever playoff victory and a spot in the semifinals, Neshannock nearly duplicated that success. The Lancers finished with a 7-1 mark in the conference — their only setback coming to Sto-Rox, 34-31. They dropped a nonconference game to North Catholic, 21-14, and fell again to the Trojans, 27-14, in the semifinals. Neshannock finished with a 9-3 overall record.

“We always set our goals high. We set out to win a state championship. It didn’t happen. Once it’s all said and done, you can look back and see everything you accomplished along the way, personally and as a team,” Neshannock coach Frank Mozzocio said. “We did a fine job and we are really proud of our guys. Already, the underclassmen are begging to get into the weight room. I couldn’t be prouder of this group of young men and the seniors coming up with 19 wins and getting to the semifinals two years in a row. They left it all out there for us.”

Dovidio, a senior, was a first-team pick on the offensive and defensive lines, in addition to his lineman of the year honor.

“Ralph played tremendously on both sides of the football for us. He is a silent leader. He does it with actions. He does it every day in the weight room, on the practice field and in games,” Mozzocio said. “He has a quiet fury. He goes about his business professionally. I am so happy and proud of him that the coaches saw that and recognized it. It’s a great honor for what he did this year.”

Oliva, a senior, earned first-team honors at linebacker and was named the conference’s defensive player of the year.

“I am so pleased that Gianni was recognized by the other coaches in league for his tenacity on the field,” Mozzocio said. “Gianni is more of a vocal leader. That’s what he’s been the last two years. It’s a blessing to coach him. He and Ralph are together constantly. They never missed workouts or anything. When you look at the honors they received, it speaks volumes for the work they put in.”

Jeffries, a senior, was a first-team tight end. He had 16 catches for 201 yards and three touchdowns.

“Steven made great strides from last year to this year, especially in the receiving department,” Mozzocio said. “He worked on his routes in the offseason and really made a commitment to catching the football better. He did a fine job making plays when we needed him to all year.

“One thing, he seals that edge as a blocker. He dominates the edge for us and getting us that corner when we need it.”

Owens, a junior, benefited from that. He was named a first-team running back. He led Lawrence County with 1,439 yards on 168 carries. He added 10 receptions for 100 yards and finished with 13 touchdowns.

“He did a tremendous job in the backfield and made big plays for us all year. One of the things we don’t do is rack up numbers for guys unnecessarily. Those are numbers he got during crunch time and in big-game situations. He was not in there when the game was out of reach. These are legit numbers,” Mozzocio said. “He had a heck of a year. He suffered through an injury in the summer with a broken wrist, but he overcame that and got strong and ready for the season. We’re expecting great things from him again next year.”

Dueitt, a junior, was named a first-team defensive back.

“He was a first-year starter for us. He worked very hard at his craft. He had some nice games,” Mozzocio said. “We look for him to become an even greater force on both sides of the ball next year. This year, he was getting his feet under him and he got better and better each week.”

Quarterback Ernie Burkes did not make the first team, but that’s because the WPIAL’s all-time leading passer (Sto-Rox’s) Lenny Williams was in the same conference. Williams finished his career with 8,508 yards. He threw 102 career TD passes and had 3,051 rushing yards. His total yardage (11,559) is a WPIAL record as well. Meanwhile, Burkes, a senior, joined an elite club with 1,105 passing yards and 1,018 rushing yards on the season. His 19 touchdowns led the county.

“It’s unfortunate for Ernie that he had to be the same year and in the same conference as the WPIAL’s all-time leading passer in Lenny. Any other year or conference, I think you see Ernie as the offensive player of the year and first-team quarterback,” Mozzocio said. “What he did for this football team the last two seasons as leader and playmaker is unprecedented. It was a great honor to coach him and work with him. He’ll be missed.”


Laurel, under first-year coach Pat Cuba, who was a longtime teacher in the school district, got back into the postseason after a three-year absence. The Spartans finished third in the Big Seven with a 6-2 record. They wrapped up the season with a 7-3 mark.

“I enjoyed it. These are kids I have basically grown up with. I know how important football is at Laurel. They made my season enjoyable,” he said. “They came to practice every day ready to work. I was very proud of them. They set the tone for the coming years. We have some really good, young guys coming up. This group set a good work ethic for these youngsters to follow. We have a good group of juniors and sophomores coming back, too.”

Vanasco, a senior, was named a first-team offensive lineman.

“He is basically the leading guy up front. He is a very versatile guy,” Cuba said. “He’d make the calls up front and on the blocking schemes. He was excellent. He is a good kid, student and a good player.”

Wertz, a junior, was selected as a first-team kicker. He had three field goals and 24 PAT kicks.

“Noah is a great weapon. Just have him put ball in the end zone on kickoffs almost every time and to have teams start at the 20 and have to drive the field is really big. As far as kicking field goals, he is excellent,” Cuba said. “We’ll get him some work in the offseason and he could be even better next year. He is an excellent kicking prospect. Once he refines his technique, he is a guy a lot of people would be interested in. He can drive it. He can kick it high and deep.”

Nail, a junior, was named to the first team at defensive line.

“He did a great job for us. He is one of those guys who has a good work ethic. He played through a lot of injuries,” Cuba said. “I think he has the possibility to play at the next level if he wants to. He has natural ability and natural strength. He did a great job for us up front. He is a good foundation to build on.”

Rosta, a senior, was selected as a first-team linebacker.

“He is a really good player. We put him in different spots on defense. He is a beast to try to block,” Cuba said. “We could put him all over. He has the speed to run with backs and the physical strength to handle linemen. He would be an excellent recruit for someone. He is a wrestler, so he understands balance and that helps him on the football field, too. He’ll hit you. He is a good player all around. He can carry the football, too. He has very deceiving speed. He can run.”

Dando, a senior, was named a first-team defensive back.

“I can’t say enough good things about him. He is a coach on the field. He understood what we’re trying to do. He has outstanding mental ability on top of physical ability,” Cuba said. “He could definitely play at the next level. He is a student of the game. As far as adjustments or motions, he understood the adjustments needed to be made in the secondary as well as up front. He was good at that.”

Pullium, a senior, was named a first-team punter.

“He is an unselfish guy. He should have been first team on offense as a tight end. He could catch and block,” Cuba said. “We threw him in at punter when Noah got hurt. He became an excellent punter. He can boom it. He is a natural athlete. Whatever we ask him to do, he could probably do. He is really good on both sides of the ball.”


Union advanced to the WPIAL quarterfinals last year, but missed the postseason this fall when the Scotties finished sixth in the Big Seven with a 3-5 mark. They were 4-5 overall.

Young, a senior, was a first-team selection at wide receiver and defensive back. The versatile player saw time all over the field. He finished with 218 yards rushing on 41 carries, 23 catches for 355 yards and 11 TDs.

“We had a few talented skill people this year. An injury to Rob Clark kind of forced the load to Ben. People knew we’d try to get the ball to him. He scored from the quarterback, running back and wide receiver positions. He is multifaceted. He responded at each position,” Union coach Stacy Robinson said. “Defensively, he has a skillset and the ability. He can accelerate. I wouldn’t be surprised if he is the fastest player in the league. He has really come on as a football player. I hate to see him go. He is another quality kid. He touches all the bases and does all the right things. Wherever he goes, he’ll be successful.”


Big Seven Conference

First Team


Tight End: Steven Jeffries (Neshannock), Sr.

Wide Receivers: *Mallory Clayburn (Sto-Rox), Sr.; Benjamin Young (Union), Sr.

Linemen: *Ralph Dovidio (Neshannock), Sr.; Aaron Vanasco (Laurel), Sr.; Jessie Rippole (Sto-Rox), Sr.; Nick DeDominicis (Western Beaver), Sr.; Ryan Theobald (OLSH), Sr.

Quarterback: *Lenny Williams (Sto-Rox), Sr.

Running Backs: *Eli Owens (Neshannock), Jr.; Hunter Roknich (Western Beaver), Jr.; Brendan Blair (Sto-Rox), Sr.

Kicker: Noah Wertz (Laurel), Jr.



Linemen: *Ralph Dovidio (Neshannock), Sr.; Rick Nail (Laurel), Jr.; Nick DeDominicis (Western Beaver), Sr.; Brandon Gary (Sto-Rox), Jr.

Linebackers: *Gianni Oliva (Neshannock), Sr.; Dalton Rosta (Laurel), Sr.; Elisha Bonner (Sto-Rox), Sr.; Tom Marra (OLSH), Sr.

Defensive Backs: *Josh Dando (Laurel), Sr.; *Mallory Clayburn (Sto-Rox), Sr.; Benjamin Young (Union), Sr.; Seth Dueitt (Neshannock), Jr.; Lenny Williams (Sto-Rox), Sr.

Punters: Spencer Pullium (Laurel), Sr.; Greg Strong (OLSH), Sr.


Most Valuable Offensive Player: Lenny Williams (Sto-Rox), Sr.

Most Valuable Defensive Player: Gianni Oliva (Neshannock), Sr.

Lineman of the Year: Ralph Dovidio (Neshannock), Sr.

Coach of the Year: Dan Bradley (Sto-Rox)


Second Team


Tight End: Elisha Bonner (Sto-Rox), Sr.

Wide Receivers: Brent Johnson (Rochester), Sr.; Nick Metz (OLSH), Sr.; Javelle Kirkland (Sto-Rox), Jr.

Linemen: Jesse Mays (Sto-Rox), Jr.; Zach Barnes (Neshannock), Jr.; Matt Girting (Western Beaver), Sr.; Joey Arrigo (South Side Beaver), Jr.; Jamie Hooks (Union), Sr.

Quarterback: Ernie Burkes (Neshannock), Sr.

Running Backs: Dalton Rosta (Laurel), Sr.; Tyler Welsh (Shenango), Sr.; Nathan Block (South Side Beaver), Jr.

Kicker: Jason Owrey (Neshannock), Sr.



Linemen: Steven Jeffries (Neshannock), Sr.; Nick Metz (OLSH), Sr.; Alonzo Regna (Shenango), Sr.; Dakota Cameron (Laurel), Sr.; Matt Girting (Western Beaver), Sr.

Linebackers: Brent McCormick (Shenango), Sr.; Brent Johnson (Rochester), Sr.; Billy Drear (Western Beaver), Sr.; Nathan Block (South Side Beaver), Jr.; Damien Denanas (Sto-Rox), Jr.

Defensive Backs: Nick Miller (Western Beaver), Sr.; Cedric Gray (OLSH), Jr.; Javelle Kirkland (Sto-Rox), Jr.