Monessen's defense stops Imani
All season long, Monessen has been considered one of the top teams in Class A.
That's because the Greyhounds have a bevy of talented offensive players, including West Virginia University recruit Chavas Rawlins at quarterback.
But the one negative figure that has stared the Greyhounds in the face most of the season is 25.7.
That's how many points per game the Greyhounds' defense had been giving up going into Friday's Black Hills Conference game with explosive Imani Christian.
In short, there were few games that Monessen coach Andy Pacak could hang his hat on his defense for a job well done.
Monessen harassed Imani quarterback Khari Hicks — the WPIAL's No. 2 ranked passer — all night and virtually pitched a shutout in a 17-12 win.
The two touchdowns the Greyhounds (6-1, 6-1) gave up were the result of a 46-yard return of a stripped football by the Saints' defense and a 48-yard punt return that gave Imani a first-and-goal on the Monessen one yard line.
“That was our best defensive performance of the season, far and away because they have speed and skill,” Pacak said. “Our front line did an outstanding job of taking away any type of running game they wanted to do and they were able to keep their quarterback from getting outside and hurting us with his legs.”
The linemen that Pacak praised included R.J. Small, Pete Tarka, Shyheim Windom and Kayne Jackson.
“Those guys played a heck of a game,” Pacak said. “The whole defense was looking forward to this challenge and they responded.”
The Greyhounds also picked off Hicks four times with Irvin Green snatching three of the errant passes.
“(Green) had a coming out party tonight,” Pacak said with a huge grin. “He was all over the place in our secondary.”
The Greyhounds wasted little time taking a 7-0 lead, scoring on their first possession of the night with a quick, three-play, 65-yard drive.
On first down, Rawlins hit Lavelle Rush with a 52-yard pass to the Imani 13-yard line. Keith Davis carried the ball twice, the second time going in from five yards out to give Monessen the lead less than two minutes into the game.
The score remained that way until the third quarter when Monessen went up 10-0 on a 31-yard field goal by Alex Picciarelli.
Picciarelli's field goal capped an 11-play, 46-yard drive to start the second half and used nearly six minutes off the clock.
“I really liked that drive that gave us a field goal because we ate so much time off the clock,” Pacak said.
The Saints (5-2, 5-2) ran just five offensive plays the entire third quarter, but they managed to get back into the game when Darrell Dean stripped the ball from Small and raced 46 yards for a touchdown to make it 10-6.
Monessen quickly went up 17-6 on its next possession late in the third, going 58-yards in five plays as Javon Brown started the drive with a 23-yard run and ended the march by catching a 35-yard scoring strike from Rawlins on a fourth-and-10.
“That was a big, big play from Javon and Chavas,” Pacak said. “It gave us breathing room.”
It was room Monessen needed because midway through the fourth quarter, Imani's Troy Simon returned a punt 48 yards to the Monessen one.
It took the Saints four plays to score as Hicks hit Simon from four yards out to make it 17-12.
“I don't even think the kid caught the ball, but the official thought he did,” Pacak said.
Rawlins outdueled Hicks, completing nine of 19 passes for 175 yards and a touchdown. Hicks ended up completing 16 of 31 passes for 151 yards with the four interceptions.
GAME NOTES: Brown rushed for 60 yards on 12 carries and caught three passes for 49 yards for the Greyhounds ... The Greyhounds also had a goal-line stand in the first half, stopping the Saints on three plays from inside the five as Small tackled Ron Brown for a one-yard loss on fourth and goal from the three ... Monessen hosts Chartiers-Houston Friday night.
Jeff Oliver is a sports editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2666 or firstname.lastname@example.org.