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Game of the Week

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Neshannock (31) vs. Sto-Rox (34)
Written: Sep 13, 2013
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By Corey J. Corbin

New Castle News

McKEES ROCKS — Football is a game of inches. Everyone knows it. Everyone says it.

Last night the Neshannock High football team lived it.

Whether it was Sto-Rox quarterback Lenny Williams’ game-winning touchdown pass just barely getting past the outstretched fingertips of Lancers defensive back Eli Owens, or fullback Gianni Oliva falling to the muddy turf less than a yard short of the goal line in the closing seconds, Neshannock was gutwrenchingly close to a huge WPIAL Big Seven victory, but instead had to settle for a 34-31 loss to host Sto-Rox.

“It’s a game of inches, right?” Neshannock coach Fred Mozzocio asked rhetorically. “Six inches separated us tonight. It was a great football game. I’ll play a game like this any day. This is what it’s all about.

“It’s definitely a tough loss ... it’s tough to swallow. I always tell these guys that we’re going to go 48 minutes, give everything you have, lay it all on the line and if that’s not good enough, we’ll be the first to go over to the other team to congratulate them. Tonight was one of those nights. We came up six inches short. I feel for my team ... they played their hearts out. Last year, we were on the other side of it. That’s just how football is.”

Following Javell Kirkland’s game-winning 53-yard score from Williams, the Lancers mounted one final drive from their own 35.

Neshannock (2-1 conference, 2-1 overall) needed 11 plays — including a key fourth down conversion on a Jimmy Medure reverse and pivotal Ernie Burkes to Steven Jefferies connection on third-and-11 — to get to the Vikings 6 with a fresh set of downs.

After Oliva picked up five yards on first down, he was stopped for a one-yard loss on second down and a botched snap cost Neshannock third down, setting up for the pivotal fourth down play from the two.

After a timeout with 10 seconds left, Oliva attempted to go around the right side of the Lancers line on fourth-and-two, but had his legs taken out from under him by a Sto-Rox defender.

“Once we got down there and there was a timeout, I called my kids over and I put it in their hands,” Mozzocio said. “I asked them if they wanted to go for the win or if they wanted to go for the tie. They wanted to go for the win, so we went for the win. We won’t second-guess that. We laid it on the line and I’m proud of them that they had the confidence to go for the win. It was a great game and (Sto-Rox) made one more play than we did. Hopefully, we get another shot at them.”

Vikings coach Dan Bradley expected Neshannock to feature Burkes on the game-clinching play.

“I thought maybe a bootleg or play action to get Ernie on the edge to see what happened,” he said. “It’s a good call if it works, but they went power football. They had been getting yards with that.”

The Lancers got on the scoreboard midway through the first quarter when Ralph Dovidio sacked Williams in the endzone for a safety after the snap sailed past Williams. On Neshannock’s ensuing offensive series, Burkes found Jefferies in the back of the end zone for a five-yard scoring strike and a 9-0 cushion after the first of three Jason Owrey extra points.

Four plays later, the Vikings cut the deficit to 9-8 with a 45-yard bomb from Williams to Mallory Clayburn. Clayburn provided the two-point conversion out of a swinging gate formation.

In the second quarter, Oliva sandwiched three-yard scoring runs around an 11-yard scoring strike from Williams to Kirkland.

Neshannock entered the break nursing a 23-22 lead before Williams joined forces with Kirkland again on a 37-yard touchdown just 11 seconds before halftime.

The Vikings (3-0 conference, 3-0 overall) took their first lead of the game (28-23) with 5:18 left in the third quarter on a Brendan Blair 13-yard touchdown pass from Williams.

Neshannock stole the momentum back moments later when Burkes saw something in the Sto-Rox defense, running 67 yards for a 31-28 lead on a fake punt.

“Ernie knows he has the green light,” Mozzocio said. “He reads it not only on our offense, but when he’s punting. He always has the green light when he sees something. He’s a playmaker .... that’s the stuff he does for us.”

Burkes led Neshannock with 150 yards rushing on 16 carries and a score, while completing 11-of-18 passes for 61 yards and another touchdown. Eli Owens also crossed the century mark with 120 yards on 23 totes, while Oliva rushed for 39 yards and two scores on his 13 carries.

“Ernie is Ernie,” Mozzocio said. “Everybody talks about Lenny Williams and he’s a great player, too, but we have a great quarterback and a great playmaker here in Ernie Burkes. We knew it’d be a shootout coming in. I think they knew it was going to be a shootout, too.”

Meanwhile, Williams — who has scholarship offers from several Division I programs — lived up to the hype, spreading the ball between six different receivers for 287 yards and five touchdowns, while completing 15-of-27 passes.

Kirkland had three catches for 101 yards and three scores, while Clayburn pulled in four passes for 81 yards a touchdown.

“We thought we might be able to run the ball a little better than we did,” Bradley said. “They closed us down inside, so we spread them out. If we spread them out, we could really line up our protection. We were able to get guys open today.

“We had a few new wrinkles just like they did. We go through progressions and reads. If they cover this guy, then this guy will be open. If they cover these two guys, then go with the third (option).”

NOTES — Kirkland ended Neshannock’s first offensive possession with an interception in the endzone. ... Dovidio, Oliva, Medure, Seth Duiett and Steve Senko were credited with sacks for Neshannock. ... Rocco Fazio hauled in six Burkes passes for 10 yards, while Jefferies pulled in five aerials for 51 yards. ... With his five touchdown passes, Williams needs just one more scoring strike to move past former Sto-Rox great Adam DiMichele into the top spot in WPIAL annals ... .The game was televised on tape delay by Root Sports Pittsburgh.
Neshannock 9 14 8 0 0 31
Sto-Rox 8 14 6 6 0 34
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