Brentwood defense denies Neshannock in Class 2A quarterfinal

Saturday, November 9, 2019 | 12:13 AM

Bend but don’t break.

Brentwood’s defense lived up to the old saying as the fifth-seed Spartans blanked fourth-seeded Neshannock 20-0 at Freedom Bulldog Stadium in the WPIAL Class 2A quarterfinals Friday night.

Neshannock traveled inside the Brentwood 30-yard line on three of its four second-half possessions, but the Lancers turned it over on downs each time, failing to put any points on the board.

“As we got closer (to the end zone), we sort of sputtered tonight,” Neshannock coach Fred Mozzocio said. “Usually we cash in when we get into the red zone, and tonight we didn’t. That’s hats off to them and the job that they did defensively. They played one hell of a game defensively.”

Brentwood’s defense, which came in averaging less than 10 points allowed per game on the season, controlled the game from the start. Neshannock running back Braden Gennock, who averaged 131 yards per game, was held to negative yards on four of his first six carries. He finished with 61 yards on 18 attempts.

“We figured that if we shut the run down and make them pass, it would be in our favor,” Brentwood coach Kevin Kissel said. “If we could control the ball and run the ball a little bit, then we have it and they don’t. The gameplan worked.”

The Brentwood (10-2) offense pounced early with touchdowns on two of its first three possessions.

On the fifth play from scrimmage, running back Aiden Wardzinski bounced outside and went untouched for a 24-yard touchdown. Two drives later, with the Lancers crashing the line for the run, quarterback John Milcic found tight end Ian Thomas wide open on a play-action pass for a 28-yard score midway through the second quarter to make it 12-0.

After trading punts, Neshannock (9-3) drove into Brentwood territory with less than two minutes remaining in the half. However, on third down, Neshannock quarterback Jason Nativio was flushed from the pocket and was hit as he tried to fire a pass downfield. The pass found no receiver in the area, and Neshannock was charged with intentional grounding.

The Lancers were assessed a five-yard penalty from the spot of the pass, plus a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty from the coaching staff arguing the call. After a 22-yard punt on fourth-and-44, Brentwood was set up at the Neshannock 39-yard line.

Four plays later, Milcic called his own number, beating the defense to the pylon from 16 yards out. Instead of a potential one-possession game at halftime, Brentwood took a 20-0 lead into the locker room.

Though Neshannock knocked on the doorstep multiple times in the third and fourth quarters, neither team scored in the second half.

“Our kids held them scoreless in the second half, and our offense got inside the red zone three times,” Mozzocio said. “They didn’t quit. They played their hearts out. It just wasn’t meant to be.”

Brentwood was led offensively by the dynamic duo of Milcic and Wardzinski. Milcic was a perfect 8 for 8 passing for 96 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed for 77 yards and a score. Wardzinski, who eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark for the season on his first carry of the night, finished with 96 yards on 23 carries and a touchdown.

“They are two good football players,” Mozzocio said. “They’re a two-headed monster, and they showed it again tonight. We had a hard time getting our hands on them.”

Although Neshannock outgained Brentwood 281-269 in total yards, the Spartans controlled the game with their rushing attack, dominating time of possession with their “undersized” offensive line.

“It’s been that way all year,” Kissel said of his line being outsized. “We actually laugh when we see the other roster. We are playing two kids that weigh over 200 pounds, but our kids eat up on that. They’re tough kids. They give effort. That’s what I ask.”

Neshannock’s five-game winning streak on the way to a Midwestern Athletic Conference championship came to an end. Mozzocio gave all credit to the quick start of Brentwood, jumping on the sluggish first half for the Lancers.

“Probably six or seven games in a row were like a playoff game for us trying to win a MAC championship and getting here,” he said. “I think we finally ran out of gas. The legs just weren’t there for us tonight.”

Brentwood advances to the Class 2A semifinals for just the second time in Kissel’s 23-year tenure. They will take on the undefeated and top-seeded Washington Little Prexies, a 28-0 victor over Freedom, next Friday with a trip to Norwin and the WPIAL championship game on the line.

It’s a challenge that Kissel and his Spartans are ready to take on.”

“We’ll be the underdog,” he said. “We’ve been the underdog all year. We’ll be fine. We’re glad to be there.”

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