NEW CASTLE —
It was a record-setting year for the Neshannock High football team.
And, a record-tying run for Union.
The Lancers claimed a share of the Big Seven Conference championship and won their first-ever WPIAL playoff game. They advanced all the way to the WPIAL Class A semifinals where they fell to powerhouse Clairton.
Meanwhile, the Scotties won their first playoff game since 1979. They dropped a WPIAL Class A quarterfinal matchup to Sto-Rox, 33-8.
Those two teams earned a bounty of first-team all-Big Seven Conference honors. The Lancers’ Ralph DoVidio, Alex Welker, Steven Jeffries, Connor Richards, Gianni Oliva and John Conglose joined the Scotties’ Drew Robinson on the first team. Laurel’s Cody Clem, Josh Dando and Noah Wertz and Shenango’s Vince Albertini earned first-team honors as well.
In addition, Neshannock’s Fred Mozzocio and Union’s Stacy Robinson were named the conference’s co-coaches of the year.
Neshannock enjoyed a breakthrough campaign under Mozzocio, the team’s first-year coach. The Lancers’ only regular-season loss came at Rochester and they advanced to the WPIAL Class A semifinals. Clairton ended Neshannock’s season with a 37-7 victory that tied a state record for consecutive wins (59).
“I told our young men that it’ll hurt for a few days. We’ll all be hurting for a while. Then, things will settle in and the sting will go away and we’ll look back at our 10-win season and all we accomplished,” Mozzocio said. “We beat some traditional powers this year. I asked seniors to create a legacy for themselves at the start of year and they did that. It’s been a phenomenal ride. The seniors laid a foundation for this program moving forward. Everything we accomplished starts with the senior class and the leadership they’ve provided.”
Two Lancers earned first-team honors on offense and defense (DoVidio and Welker), while Conglose was a unanimous selection on defense.
DoVidio, a junior, earned first-team honors at offensive and defensive tackle.
“When I took over in January, he was one of those guys who never missed a workout. He was in there every day,” Mozzocio said. “He works relentlessly at his craft both on and off the field. He is a kid you know will be there. He plays with a quiet fury. He’s not very boisterous; everything he does is through action. Teams will have their hands full handling him next year. He’s just a great kid.”
Welker, a senior, earned first-team honors at wide receiver and defensive back. He led the county in receiving yardage with 701 on 30 catches. He added 25 carries for 232 yards and finished with 12 touchdowns.
“He is one of those kids who has always been a standout. I was anxious to meet him and work with him. He became a leader for me right off the bat. His performance on the field was just unbelievable on both sides of the ball,” Mozzocio said. “On the defensive side, he and Conglose were like Batman and Robin for us. They love to ring bells. Whenever someone would break through our front seven, they were coming up and making those people pay the price.
“He was always a linebacker before, but we moved him back to safety, which is a very hard move going from the front seven to the back. As the year went on, he got more comfortable and was a force for us.”
Conglose was a unanimous first-team choice at defensive back. On offense, he led the county in receptions with 41 for 602 yards. He had 67 yards on 16 carries and finished with 11 touchdowns.
“If he wouldn’t have been (a unanimous choice), then something would have been wrong. If he didn’t lead us in tackles every game, he was in a close second. When making a highlight film, he has probably five or six knockout blocks where he completely decleated kids,” Mozzocio said. “He leads with action, not words. He’s a great kid to coach and someone who will be missed. With Welker and Conglose, sometimes one is Batman and the other is Robin. You never know which is which, but they were always there on both sides of the ball.”
Richards, a senior, earned first-team honors at kicker. He booted one field goal and had 53 PATs for a total of 56 points.
“He plays soccer, too, and he came to me early on and said he’d like to kick. Even though he’s just a kicker, he showed up in the weight room all winter long, too. Every free moment he had from soccer, he was working on his craft. It paid off. He was a force for us,” Mozzocio said. “He didn’t miss many extra points. We could have kicked numerous field goals. Fortunately, we scored a lot of touchdowns so we didn’t have to. If he decides he wants to, he can play at the next level. He consistently made field goals between 52 and 57 yards in practice. He made a few 57 yarders for us in scrimmages. If you get someone working with him at the college level, we think he can do something. He was the difference in a few games for us.”
Mozzocio was surprised to see another senior, Kienan Owens, not repeat as a first-teamer on defense.
“Every time you pick an all-star team, there are a couple players who don’t get on there. He has had double-digit sacks over last two years,” Mozzocio said. “We asked him to play slot receiver for us this year and he played some running back, too. He made contributions there. He was somebody, who in the past, the whole defense revolved around him and what he did. We asked him to play team type of defense for us. Individually, that probably hurt him in the end, but by no means does it diminish his role and how he helped us get to 10 wins. He is a flat-out phenomenal football player.”
Jeffries, a junior, was honored at tight end. He had five catches for 76 yards and a touchdown.
“He is such a nice kid; he is the big, friendly teddy bear type. We told him what we expected of him, and what we thought his potential was. We wanted him to go out and show what kind of player he is,” Mozzocio said. “When you get on the field, you have to flick that switch and become a force. He definitely did that. The best has yet to come for him. He has a huge upside. He’s only going to get bigger. He is going to grow more. We can’t wait to get him in the weight room a full year. I am glad I am not blocking him next year.”
Oliva, a junior linebacker, earned honors on the defensive line.
“He is the emotional spark for our defense. He is our vocal leader. When things look down, he is that leader who gives these guys a spark and keeps them working and focused,” Mozzocio said. “He makes plays sideline to sideline. He’s coming back and he will be a force. We’re excited about having him back.”
Mozzocio earned coach of the year honors for guiding Neshannock on an historic turnaround. The Lancers finished 5-4 last year and out of the playoffs. Mozzocio helped the team to a 10-2 record this fall and their first postseason appearance since 2004. The Lancers won their first-ever WPIAL playoff game this season and beat WPIAL finalist Sto-Rox.
“It’s definitely an honor, especially in the Big Seven Conference with all the great coaches in that conference,” he said. “The honor is to our staff, not me. We’re a complete staff. That’s our mentality as a team and as a coaching staff. I have the title to be a head coach, but we all work together with no egos. It’s a team effort. This award just goes out to my staff. They are the best around and, hopefully, we’ll have them all back next year.”
Drew Robinson earned first-team honors at running back and defensive back for the Scotties.
“I am happy for him. One thing about it, he has put a lot of hard work in. Ever since he got to high school, he has worked at it,” said Stacy Robinson, his father. “He is a hard worker; whatever comes his way, he deserves it.”
Drew rushed for 1,243 yards on 147 carries. He added 10 receptions for 188 yards. Overall, he finished the year with 16 touchdowns.
“Anytime, you can get a first-team honor in the Big Seven, it’s quite an honor,” Stacy said. “There are a lot of good, quality football players and good backs in the conference. He is in good company and did a good job for us on the offensive side of the ball.”
Drew performed well on defense, too, as the senior cornerback earned first-team honors as well.
“Our whole defensive secondary played well this year. Drew got the toughest assignments each week,” Stacy said. “I am sure he lined up over top receivers each week. But, you can’t just play in coverage; you have to be a run stopper, too. He fought the battle every week and did a good job there, too.”
Stacy, in his 16th year at the helm, helped the Scotties reach the playoffs for the first time since 2003 and win their first WPIAL playoff game since 1979. He was a Union player on that squad. This fall, the Scotties finished 5-3 in the conference and 7-4 overall.
“I was a bit surprised, to be quite honest. Usually, that award goes to the coach who wins the championship,” he said. “I respect the guys I coached against and they respect me. It’s the first time I got that recognition in whatever league I coached in. Maybe it is a testimony to the work I’ve done over the years. We try to put a quality product on the field each week and each year. I am blessed to win that award.”
LAUREL TRIO EXCELS
Clem, an offensive lineman, is the Spartans’ lone senior to earn first-team honors.
“Cody was a very consistent football player his whole career for us. He never missed practice and was a blue-collar type of player,” said Jerry Holzhauser, who stepped down as Laurel’s coach after the season. “He could play any position. We had him at tackle, guard and center. He had great technique, strength and leverage. He was a team captain, too.”
Dando, who quarterbacked Laurel, was a standout in the defensive secondary. The junior earned first-team honors as a defensive back.
“He was the mainstay of the secondary this year. He was a real strong part of it. If there was a matchup and we had to put him on a certain player, that’s where he went,” Holzhauser said. “He played both safety and corner. He is an outstanding athlete. He’s a real smart player and a good tackler. He has real good size as a defensive back.”
Wertz, a sophomore, earned first-team honors at punter for Laurel, which finished 4-4 in the conference and 5-4 overall.
“He played receiver and in the secondary, too. He was extremely dedicated to the kicking game. For a good many years, he’s worked extremely hard on kicking and punting,” Holzhauser said. “He made second-team kicker, too. He’d always stay after practice. Even after dark, I’d see him out there. Even his mom would be out there holding the ball for him. He’s a great kid. All three of these players are super kids. I couldn’t ask for anything more out of them, for sure.”
ALBERTINI LEADS ’CATS
Albertini, a junior, was Shenango’s lone first-teamer. He was picked at defensive end.
“He had started eight games as a sophomore on the defensive line and I think that helped him. He used that as valuable experience,” said Ryan Mayo, who stepped down as the Wildcats’ coach after the season. “This year, he came in and was a steady player on both sides of the ball. He was probably our best player on both sides of the ball. He’s definitely one of the building blocks of the future. All around, he is a great kid.”
NEW CASTLE —
It was a record-setting year for the Neshannock High football team.
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