Neshannock scores late, upends Monessen
HOUSTON – Sixteen seconds and one play separated the Monessen High School football team from a spot in the WPIAL Class A semifinals. The Greyhounds were clinging to a 21-17 lead, and Neshannock faced a fourth and 10 from the Monessen 20-yard line.
Then the incredible happened.
John Conglose hauled in a bullet of a pass from Ernie Burkes down to the one-yard line to convert the first down with nine seconds remaining, then Burkes scored on the next play as Neshannock stunned Monessen, 24-21, in a WPIAL Class A quarterfinal game Friday at Chartiers-Houston.
“Give me a moment,” said Lancers head coach Fred Mozzocio, who needed time to compose himself after his team’s emotional victory.
“It was a war out there, believe me. My heart goes out to (Monessen.) They played just as hard as we did,” Mozzocio said. “Words can’t describe it.”
Just a few minutes earlier, it looked as if Monessen coach Andy Pacak might have been the exuberant one following the game. The Greyhounds (9-2) had just driven 70 yards in six minutes for the go-ahead score – on fourth and five – on a Clintell Gillaspie 20-yard pass from Chavas Rawlins.
But on the ensuing return, Kienan Owens gave the Lancers (10-1) the boost they needed by returning the kickoff to the Neshannock 40-yard line. The Lancers had two timeouts remaining, which gave them the flexibility to still be able to run the ball, which they did effectively on the last drive.
Owens also caught a 14-yard pass on the drive to set up Neshannock at the Monessen 20. Four plays later came the clutch grab by Conglose.
“Ernie Burkes, John Conglose, Kienan Owens, Alex Welker; when the game is on the line, put the ball in their hands,” said Mozzocio. “After they went ahead, I told the kids they’re not going to beat us.”
What will have Pacak and the rest of the Greyhounds sore was a roughing the punter penalty to keep a Neshannock drive alive in the first quarter. Burkes lined up as the punter, but the snap to him was low and hit the ground.
Believing Burkes to be a live runner at that point, Monessen’s Raymond Dickerson hit Burkes and drew the flag. That gave the Lancers a first down at the Monessen 33, and they eventually scored a field goal for the game’s first points.
It might not have been the difference in the game, but it also might have at least separated the teams from playing overtime.
“The call was made,” said Pacak. “When the ball hit the ground, I thought the kid tried to make a football play, which made him just another player. Be that as it may, we were still up at the last play.”
The game was pitted as a duel between two dual-threat quarterbacks in Rawlins and Burkes, but for the majority of the game, that’s now how it played out. Monessen set out to limit how often Neshannock’s offense was on the field, and the Greyhounds effectively did that behind a strong running game.
Gillaspie spearheaded a ground attack that gained 223 yards. The junior ran for 109 yards on 19 carries, scoring a pair of rushing touchdowns, and also caught three passes for another 65 yards and a score.
“It was very effective,” Pacak said. “We controlled the tempo and kept the ball away from them and scored when we had our opportunities.”
Burkes was limited to 124 yards passing and 48 rushing – compared to 130 and 64 for Rawlins – but made the plays he needed to at the end.
“It’s a tough one,” said Pacak. “There’s no two ways about it. The kids in coverage did a hell of a job. If they were taking a test in school, they’d get a 98 percent. But it was just a matter of they made a big play. And at the end of the day, the kid made a great catch.”
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