New Castle News
NEW CASTLE —
Nothing seems to unite and ignite a community more than a deep playoff run by its high school football team.
Neshannock Township is proving that this week as the Lancers prepare for their first WPIAL Class A semifinal tomorrow against powerful Clairton.
Neshannock advanced that far by claiming a share of the Big Seven Conference crown, and with it, the team’s first post-season berth since 2004. The Lancers then notched their program’s first-ever playoff victory with a 42-14 thrashing of Jefferson-Morgan before moving on again with a thrilling 24-21 quarterfinal win over Monessen.
“We’re just going to enjoy the moment,” said head coach Fred Mozzocio. “The journey is the reward.”
But the players and coaches aren’t the only ones taking delight in what’s been accomplished.
“We Believe” signs supporting the Lancers are sprouting up throughout the township as the amazing high school football season of 2012 continues into unforeseen territory.
Copy Shop of Neshannock Township donated 225 signs that will be displayed up and down Mitchell Road. They also will distribute more than a thousand signs suitable for dashboards and car windows.
“We Believe” is a chant that the Neshannock student cheering section has used primarily during basketball seasons, but now it has become the battle cry for the football team.
“We want the boys to know that we believe in them,” said Laurie Martin, an officer in the Cheerleaders Boosters Club.
The Touchdown Club and the Neshannock Band Boosters have joined the Cheerleaders Boosters Club in going the extra mile for their local heroes this week.
It’s not going unnoticed.
“The fans are heavily invested in the games and it matters,” said Bob Bleggi, former football coach and athletic director at Neshannock High School. Bleggi has been part of the football program for more than a half century. “When you hear the crowd cheer, especially the students, it psyches you up.
“There’s definitely something special happening,” Bleggi said. “I’m seeing faces in the crowd that were there when I was coaching, and that’s a long time ago.”
Luca Passarelli, in his seventh year as principal as the high school, said the Neshannock community is fully and actively invested in the football team’s quest.
“It’s been building all season and now is reaching a fever pitch,” Passarelli said. “Everybody is talking Lancer football.”
Passarelli has seen it before. He was part of an ardent student body that went bonkers over the success of the football team at Knoch High, where he graduated.
“What happened there, I’m seeing now in Neshannock.”
“Our kids are always spirited, but it’s been amped up and taken to a completely new level,” Passarelli said. “I’ve never seen more red and white worn in this building.”
Bleggi lives in New Wilmington, where that community’s high school team is a regular participant in the playoffs. “Nothing pulls a community closer together than a winning football team,” he said.
“And this team has generated so much excitement,” Bleggi said.
“We knew they would be good because of the skilled people and linemen that were coming back,” said Bleggi. “But I don’t think anybody could have expected this.”
Bleggi attributes the Lancers’ success to leadership.
“The seniors are pulling the other kids along,” Bleggi said. “There are some great juniors as well and the sophomores are buying in, too.”
“It looks like there is no selfishness. They are always congratulating each other and giving credit to their teammates,” he said. “And somebody always seems to step up with a big play in every game. Everyone has contributed.”
EVERYONE CHEERING NOW
“The community has rallied behind us,” admits head coach Fred Mozzocio. “Early on there was some doubt, and there were some naysayers. But everyone is cheering now.”
Mozzocio said the plan was formulated by “the commitment that these kids made last summer.”
“I’ve seen a bond develop between these kids,” he said. “This senior group has set a foundation for us.
Mozzocio said he was pleased and proud of the community’s support during last week’s 24-21 quarterfinal win over Monesson at Chartiers-Houston.
“The place was packed and people were standing everywhere. We had more fans than Monesson.”
Mozzocio said it has been a special season, but the realization didn’t come until homecoming night when the Lancers were getting ready to play South Side Beaver. “We were walking to the field arm-in-arm for pregame and as we approached the field, the kids saw people lined up about 50 yards deep buying tickets.”
“They were amazed,” Mozzocio said. “But we told them if you win, people will come.”
Mozzocio said the support continues to grow in the form of well-wishers throughout the community.
Mozzocio said Clairton — three-time defending state champions and owners of a 58-game winning streak — will be a monumental challenge, but he believes the Lancers have an advantage of playing in the Big Seven. “No other team is more battle tested that we are.”
Nobody has been more enthusiastic at games than the Lancer Lunatics, a student cheering section known for its exuberance and organized chants. Students send tweets to coordinate cheers. It is led by Walt DeMase.
Passarelli said there will be a pep assembly tomorrow morning with the band and cheerleaders welcoming students before coaches and captains speak. The multi-media presentation will also include video highlights of the season. The team is scheduled to leave from the high school at 3:45 p.m. with a police escort.
“Our community is so into this,” Passarelli said.