NORTH SEWICKLEY TOWNSHIP — Ball control can dictate the outcome of a football game.
The Neshannock High football team didn’t allow that to happen Friday night.
The Lancers had the ball for just eight minutes in the opening half. Yet they led at the half and pulled away in the final 24 minutes for a 26-8 WPIAL Midwestern Conference road win over host Riverside.
“In the first half, we came out a little bit slow,” Neshannock coach Fred Mozzocio said.
“They played some good defenses on us at times and they did a great job of controlling the football.”
Neshannock improves to 4-1 in the conference and 4-1 overall, just a game behind Beaver Falls (5-0, 5-0). The teams will play at Geneva College on Oct. 23.
The Panthers dropped to 1-4, 1-4.
The top two teams from each conference in Class 2A advance to the WPIAL playoffs.
The Lancers held a 6-0 halftime advantage courtesy of a 43-yard interception return for a score by Matt Nativio. The extra point was blocked.
Nativio hauled the errant aerial in and picked up his blocks, coasting in for the touchdown.
“Once I got it, I saw a lot of green grass in front of me,” Nativio said of the interception.
“There was a nice block on the quarterback to clear the way for me. I saw it was overthrown and I just waited on it.”
Said Mozzocio, “It was a great pick. He was right in the perfect position. The ball was overthrown, he made a nice catch on the ball.
“Matt Ioanilli got out in front of him and made a great block. Spencer Perry made a couple of great blocks and then Matt was off to the races. Once he gets the ball he can move.”
Neshannock had five offensive possessions in the first half. The Lancers turned the ball over on downs on the Panthers’ 19 on their first drive. Neshannock also punted once, fumbled twice and the other opportunity was at the end of the half.
Mozzocio kept it simple for his team at halftime.
“We felt good because when we did have the ball on offense it was just self destruction,” he said.
“We self destructed on a couple of drives. We missed a couple of passes that hit us right in the stomach and we just said ‘hey, let’s not self destruct and we’ll move the ball on these guys.’”
The Lancers wasted little time following through with their instructions. On the second play of the second half, Neshannock quarterback Kurt Sommerfeld hit Nativio over the middle on a slant. Nativio broke a tackle about five yards in front of the first-down marker and cruised the rest of the way to the end zone from 69 yards out and a 12-0 lead. Carter DeVivo’s kick pushed the lead to 13-0 just 41 seconds into the third quarter.
“Our quarterback threw a nice ball,” Nativio said. “I caught it, and once again, there was a lot of green grass in front of me.”
Mozzocio said his team worked on that play throughout the week in practice.
“Kurt threw a dime,” he said. “It hit him right in the chest and he slipped a tackle and he was off to the races.”
The Lancers dialed long distance two more times in the period. Cam’Ron Owens scored on runs of 73 and 85 yards. The 73-yard run resulted in a one-play drive and the 85-yard dash was on the third play of a drive.
Owens finished with a game-high 245 rushing yards on 16 carries. On the 85-yard run, Owens ran toward the right sideline, broke from a potential tackle, and breezed toward the end zone.
“He just keeps getting better and better every week,” Mozzocio said of Owens. “He’s really growing up and he’s playing some great football for us. The offensive line is giving him some great holes to run through.
“It’s encouraging for us, because we want to block for him. And it’s discouraging for the defense who is there trying to make a play and he’s just running defenders over.”
Neshannock returns to action at 7 p.m. Friday when it hosts New Brighton (3-2, 3-2) in a conference clash.