Late TD sinks Monessen
The Monessen fight song was playing after the hard fought battle between the fifth-seeded Greyhounds and the 13th-seed Neshannock.
Sadly, though, the tune was being played for the Lancers, who share it as their fight song, by the Lancer band celebrating Neshannock's 24-21 come-from-behind, last second win over the Greyhounds in the WPIAL quarterfinals.
The Lancers drove 60 yards in just over two minutes and scored on an Ernie Burkes dive from the one-yard line with four seconds remaining to send the underdog Lancers (10-1) to the WPIAL semifinals where they will meet No. 1-seed Clairton.
“We were out here, still trying to earn respect, and our boys fought to the very end,” Neshannock coach Fred Mozzocio said after taking a few minutes to take in the scene. “I give credit to Monessen, though. They battled us and they're a very talented team, but no one gave us a chance in this game. Everyone was picking us to lose.”
It looked as if the Lancers' dream season was going to come to a close when Greyhounds' quarterback Chavas Rawlins hit Clintell Gillaspie on a throwback screen pass on fourth down on the 5. The junior running back got the first down and continued rumbling down the sideline until he made it to the end zone for a 20-yard score.
On the ensuing kickoff, Monessen chose to squib kick and the Lancers' Kienan Owens returned it to the Neshannock 40.
Nine plays and 40 yards later, the Lancers were staring down the end of their season with a fourth-and-10 from the Greyhounds' 20.
“During that timeout, I told the guys, ‘We're going to get this first down and we're going to win this ball game,'” Mozzocio said.
On the snap, Burkes rolled right and fired a ball that was caught by John Conglose at the Monessen 5. He nearly scored, but was dragged down at the 1.
“The kid made a hell of a play on that pass,” Greyhounds coach Andy Pacak said. “It wasn't like we had someone out of position. They made the play.
“They needed just the one yard and ran it in. We didn't stop it. I mean ... it was a great high school football game.”
The Monessen offense went back in time, using an old-school power offense behind the strong running of Gillaspie.
The junior finished with 174 total yards, with 19 carries for 109 yards rushing and 65 yards through the air.
“We knew that (Gillaspie) was a hell of a back,” Mozzocio said. “We kind of expected them to come out the way they did with him back there.
“We just wanted them to have to earn their points, make them go on long, sustained drives, and we did that.”
The Greyhound defense set the tone early, holding the potent Lancers' offense to a three-and-out on their first possession.
Monessen took over after a Neshannock punt and drove deep into Lancers territory before Eli Owens stepped in front and picked off a Rawlins pass.
The Lancers capitalized after embarking on an 83-yard, 19-play drive that chewed up the remainder of the first quarter. Connor Richards booted a 22-yard field goal with eight seconds remaining to give the Lancers a 3-0 lead.
The drive was aided by a roughing the kicker penalty called on the Greyhounds' Raymond Dickerson.
The snap clearly hit the turf, which is a fumble, but the referees threw the flag giving the Lancers 15 yards and a first down to keep the drive going.
“I thought that when the punter picked it up, he looked as if he was going to run. He made a football move,” Pacak said. “But the call was made. And that was that.”
Five plays later, the Lancers kicked a 22-yard field goal, which would later prove to be the winning margin.
“I'm not going to say that call cost us the game,” Pacak said. “They made plays and we rebounded from that.”
But it was a clutch pass by Chavas Rawlins that vaulted the Greyhounds to a 7-3 halftime lead, snatching momentum at the break.
After Rawlins had a 10-yard run to the Lancers' 7-yard line called back by holding, the WVU recruit fired a rocket to Javon Brown at the five to convert a fourth-and-19.
Two plays later, Clintell Gillaspie scored on a 3-yard run with one minute remaining in the second quarter.
The second half couldn't have started better for the Greyhounds as they chewed up nearly seven minutes on a 14-play, 77-yard drive capped off by Gillaspie's second touchdown run.
The Lancers answered, though, when Burkes and Conglose hooked up from 13 yards out to make the score 14-10 in favor of the Greyhounds.
The Greyhounds were forced to punt on their next drive, which carried into the fourth quarter.
Neshannock took a 17-14 lead when Eli Owens burst through the Monessen defense and got the safety twisted and raced 46 yards to paydirt.
The next Greyhounds drive chewed up 68 yards in 14 plays that ended with the Rawlins-to-Gillaspie 20 yard touchdown.
“Clintell ... that was just him doing what he does,” Pacak said. “Of course, we wanted the first down, but he wouldn't quit on the play.”
The Lancers move on to take on top-seeded Clairton, a 39-0 winner over Brentwood.
“I can't take anything away from these kids, they put everything they had into this game,” Pacak said of his team. “I haven't even talked to them yet. They left it all on the field. We did what we wanted to do coming in. I couldn't have asked for any more. I'm really proud of them.”
GAME NOTES: Rawlins finished 7-of-13 for 130 yards and had 69 yards rushing on 13 carries ... Freshman Demond Jordan, filling in for LB Keith Davis, had an interception ... Burkes finished 10-for-17 for 125 yards.
Jeremy Sellew is a staff wrtier for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2667 or firstname.lastname@example.org.