New Castle News
NEW CASTLE —
There will be nothing surprising when Neshannock and Monessen collide in quarterfinal action in the WPIAL Class A playoffs.
The two teams come battle-tested. The Lancers (9-1) shared part of the tough Big Seven Conference title this season and the Greyhounds (9-1) came out of a Black Hills Conference that sent three teams to the playoffs, including undefeated powerhouse Clairton (10-0). Of the eight teams remaining in the WPIAL Class A playoffs, seven belong to the two conferences. Monessen is ranked No. 3 in the WPIAL in Class A by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, while Neshannock is No. 5.
“There are seven teams besides us in the Class A playoffs, and we’ve played four of them,” Lancers coach Fred Mozzocio said. “We’re prepared for anything they throw at us. We’re only worried about what we’re doing. We’re trying to be sharp on offense and defense.”
No. 13 seed Neshannock was able to advance to Friday’s game after it rolled Jefferson-Morgan 42-14 last weekend in the program’s first WPIAL playoff victory. Fourth-seeded Monessen comes into the contest having made the playoffs 12 of the last 13 seasons. The Greyhounds handled Apollo-Ridge 48-19 to advance to today’s 7:30 p.m. matchup at Chartiers-Houston High School. The winner of the matchup will play the winner of the Clairton-Brentwood quarterfinal.
Both teams rely on outstanding play from their quarterbacks. Quarterback Chavas Rawlins, a West Virginia University recruit, leads the Greyhounds offense with 16 total touchdowns on 1,253 yards passing and 546 on the ground.
“He’s a Division I athlete,” Mozzocio said. “It all starts and stops right there with him. We have to do a good job containing him.”
The Lancers will lean on past experiences to stop Rawlins. The team faced a similar athlete in an earlier game against conference rival Sto-Rox in junior quarterback Lenny Williams, and was able to overcome the Vikings 35-34.
“That kid from Sto-Rox is as good as they come,” Mozzocio said. “Rawlins and Williams are comparable athletes. Lenny had 400 yards passing against us. We have to keep him contained as much as possible. He can ad-lib and break the pocket on you and cause some problems. His feet are the scariest thing.”
Monessen has averaged 35 points a game under Rawlins and a solid supporting cast which includes Clintell Gillespie, the leading receiver for the Greyhounds with 507 yards on 21 receptions with 11 total touchdowns.
“He’s a big, strong kid,” Mozzocio said. “We definitely need to keep an eye on him as well.”
The X-factor for Monessen’s offense is Javon Brown, with eight touchdowns and a skillset that could pose problems for the Lancers’ defense.
“He’s a pretty good player for them,” Mozzocio said. “You’ll see him little bit in the backfield at times. He’s a real quick, shifty kid.”
Neshannock’s Ernie Burkes is the player to watch when the Lancers have the ball. The junior quarterback scored six touchdowns against Jefferson-Morgan last week and has big-play ability through the air and on the ground. Burkes leads all county passers with 1,346 yards with 17 touchdowns. He is seventh in rushing with 740 yards on 78 carries.
“Their quarterback is extremely gifted back there running that offense,” Greyhounds coach Andy Pacak said. “He fools people over and over and over again with the direction the ball is going. He has a nice arm and the receivers do a great job of running their routes well. They’re a well-oiled machine on offense.”
The Lancers offensive machine has averaged 40 points a game this season through a spread offense which often goes no-huddle.
“Dealing with their no huddle and their spread offense will be difficult,” Pacak said. “We’ll definitely have our hands full. Fortunately, the spread in the Black Hills Conference is more common than uncommon. We should be prepared for it.”
Receivers Alex Welker and John Conglose pace the county in receiving yards. Welker has 577 yards on 33 receptions and Conglose has 563 yards on 38 receptions. The Greyhounds shouldn’t forget running back Eli Owens, who rushed for 139 yards on 13 attempts last week including a game-changing interception on defense against Jefferson-Morgan. Owens is fourth in the county with 1,057 yards on 138 carries.
THE DEFENSIVE SIDE
Both teams have underrated defensive units. Neshannock allows fewer points, 16.5 per game, than Monessen does, but the Greyhounds may have the more effective playmakers.
“They have a very good defense,” Mozzocio said. “Again, Rawlins is a key guy on that side of the ball. They have some really good ballplayers which complement nice schemes. They do well playing team defense and swarming to the ball.”
Rawlins is a ball-hawking safety for the Greyhounds. Gillespie leads the front-seven from his linebacker position.
Pacak is impressed with the schemes and openness of the Lancers defense.
“Scheme wise, they’re wide open,” Pacak said. “Watching them, it seems like they are going to play their defense and do what it is they’re going to do. Their linebackers pursuit of the ball is impressive. Both ends of the ball they have bunch of kids going after it and playing at 150 miles-per-hour every play.”
Pacak looks to Monessen’s past playoff experience to keep the nerves calm. The team is making its second trip to the quarterfinals in three season, its most recent a 30-6 loss to Springdale in 2010.
“That helps being in the playoffs,” Pacak said. “Being in the Black Hills Conference has paid a lot of dividends in being in a lot of tough games. Our kids that our seniors, this will be their sixth playoff game they’ve played in.”
Neshannock has taken the same approach to every game all season, according to Mozzocio. The loose atmosphere of the team continued after last week’s big win.
“It’s been a same type of atmosphere,” Mozzocio said. “We have kids coming out to practice laughing and having a good time when we warm up. It’s been all business as usual.”
“I don’t want anybody to take this the wrong way,” he continued. “On our very first day, I talked to these young men. We set a goal to win the state championship. With that, we say the word ‘win’ every day. It means what’s important now. That’s exactly in our mind in what we continue to do.”