Neshannock: A case of deja vu?
When Monessen lines up against Neshannock Friday night at Chartiers-Houston, it's understandable if the Monessen players and coaches get a feeling of deja vu.
They just hope that the result isn't the same.
Not only do the Greyhounds (10-1) and Lancers (8-2) meet in the quarterfinals at the same site for the second straight year, but Neshannock is pretty much led by the same players who did the Greyhounds in a year ago, 24-21.
“It's the same round, the same venue, the same team. Hopefully, it will be the same result,” said Neshannock coach Fred Mazzocio with a smile.
Neshannock quarterback Ernie Burkes, who passed for 125 yards and a touchdown and scored the game-winning touchdown last year on a 1-yard plunge with four seconds left, is back to guide the offense.
Burkes (5-10, 165) is a dual threat in Neshannock's spread offense as he has completed 83 of 152 passes for 967 yards and 14 touchdowns with eight interceptions. He has also rushed for 945 yards on 95 carries (9.9 avg.) and has scored a team-leading 16 touchdowns.
Running back Elijah Owens (6-1, 170), who scored on a 46-yard run against Monessen last year, is also back. He has rushed for 1,305 yards on 139 carries (9.4 avg.) with 12 TDs.
Monessen coach Andy Pacak admitted the Lancers look very similar to a year ago. After watching tape of this year's team, he said, tongue-in-cheek, “I expected some of their kids would have matriculated. They look on tape to be pretty much the same team we faced a year ago.”
Mazzocio noted that his team did lose some talented players from a year ago.
“I lost three really great players, Alex Welker and John Conglose, who both caught about 40 balls for me last year and Keenan Owens, Eli's older brother,” Mazzocio said.
The coach said a big key to his team's success is a veteran offensive line that, like Burkes and Elijah Owens, is back.
“Our offensive line is intact and we're pretty experienced up front,” he said. “They do a great job making adjustments during the game.”
This season, Burkes' top receiving targets are the trio of Jimmy Medure (15 receptions, 215 yards, four TDs), Rocco Fazio (17-165, four TDs) and Steven Jeffries (14-145, one TD).
Ironically, Mazzocio could say the same thing about the Greyhounds when it comes to returning players.
Although Chavas Rawlins is gone at quarterback, Clintell Gillaspie and Javon Brown return at running back.
In last year's game, Gillaspie rushed for 109 yards on 19 carries and had another 65 yards receiving. He scored what Monessen had hoped would be the winning touchdown on a 20-yard screen pass late in the game to give the Greyhounds a 21-17 lead.
Gillaspie has 1,069 yards rushing, more than 600 yards receiving and 30 TDs, while Brown has more than 1,000 yards combined rushing and receiving and 12 TDs.
“They don't have Chavas Rawlins, but they do have (Clintell) Gillaspie and (Javon) Brown,” Mazzocio said.
“Gillaspie is a big-time player. Not only is he a great running back, but a solid receiver out of the backfield, which is a real tough combination. And once he gets the ball, he doesn't go down easily. We are going to have to gang tackle him.”
As for Brown, Mazzocio said, “He is a totally different back from Gillaspie in that he is shifty and quick. They complement each other very well and that makes it tough on a defense.”
The Lancers and Greyhounds have had similar seasons, with each playing in a rugged conference. Monessen shared the Black Hills title with Clairton, and Fort Cherry and Neshannock finished second to Class A's top seed Sto-Rox in the Big Seven.
While the Greyhounds have scored 412 points in nine games, thee Lancers scored 414. Defensively, Monessen allowed 151 points and Neshannock 143.
The Lancers' two losses came to Sto-Rox (34-31) and unbeaten No. 2 North Catholic (21-14).
In their eight wins, they scored at least 34 points in every game and scored 40 or more six times, including last week's 40-9 first round rout of Brentwood.
Mazzocio said he is disappointed to make a return trip to Chartiers-Houston, which is an 80- to 90-minute trek for his team and fans.
“I love the venue and the people there are great to us, but I just thought we would get more respect and not have to travel that far for a second straight year,” he said. “I think it's going to be a great game between two really good football teams. I just hope it has the same result.”
The winner of Friday's game will meet the winner of the North Catholic (10-0) vs. Avonworth (9-1) contest in the semifinals.
Jeff Oliver is a sports editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2666 or firstname.lastname@example.org.