Hounds set for first playoff test
Monessen has never played Apollo-Ridge before in football.
So Greyhounds coach Andy Pacak had no history to fall back on as he prepared his team for Friday's WPIAL Class A first round contest against the Vikings at Charleroi Stadium (7:30 p.m. kickoff).
All he had to show his Greyhounds (8-1) were two tapes of blowout wins by A-R (6-3), and he said those videos showed him very little.
“I guess I would kind of compare them to a cross between California and Fort Cherry,” Pacak said of the Vikings. “But really, it was hard to tell from the tape because of who they were playing.”
A-R finished third in the Eastern Conference behind North Catholic and Springdale.
The Vikings, who have not played in the playoffs since 2007, feature a multi-talented quarterback with a solid receiving corps.
Jesse Zelonka has completed 75 of 151 passes for 1,260 yards and 16 TDs. He has thrown 9 interceptions.
Zelonka is also the team's leading rusher with 578 yards on 104 carries and has scored 8 TDs.
His top two receivers are Tre Tipton, who has caught 35 passes and scored 14 TDs while averaging 18.1 yards per reception, and Alex Smith with 21 receptions for 5 TDs and an average of 23.5 yards per catch average.
“They look like they can move the ball pretty well offensively, Pacak said of his team's foe.
However, the Monessen coach says that Friday — as always in the playoffs — the biggest concern for him is not the opponent, but his own team.
“This is the playoffs,” he said. “There are 16 teams in it and for us, we simply can't afford to make stupid mistakes in the form of penalties and turnovers. Usually, the team that stays away from those things comes out on top this time of year.”
One thing that Pacak said he feels good about going into the playoffs is his team's readiness to play.
“We had several close, hard-fought games this season that we managed to win,” he said. “I'm not knocking the Tri-County South Conference (where Monessen played until this season),” but we had very few of those kind of games in the past. This year, we had some really tough games — especially on the road — where we were able to pull through. That means a lot.
“In that regard, I feel a little more at ease about our team going into the playoffs. I think we are better suited for adversity.”
Monessen is led by a standout quarterback of its own, Chavas Rawlins. Like Zelonka, Rawlins has thrown for more than 1,000 yards (1,085) and double-digit TD passes (11) and is the team's leading rusher (490 yards).
“We are healthy and all hands are on deck,” Pacak said of his team. “I feel pretty good about where we are going into the playoffs. All we need to do is go out there, perform to the best of our ability and let the chips fall where they may.”
PLAYOFF TIDBITS: Pacak has taken the Greyhounds to the playoffs in eight of his nine seasons and took the team to the semifinals in 2007 ... Clintell Gillaspie has scored 10 TDs for Monessen and has 880 yards combined rushing and receiving ... The winner of Friday's game will play the winner of the Jefferson-Morgan vs. Neshannock contest.
Jeff Oliver is a sports editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2666 or firstname.lastname@example.org.