Explosive running game sets tone for Neshannock

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Saturday, August 21, 2021 | 6:01 AM


Neshannock senior Cam’Ron Owens has become one of the most dangerous running backs in the WPIAL.

The route he took to that distinction had plenty of zigs and zags.

At the start of preseason camp last year, the 6-foot-2, 185-pounder was competing for the Lancers’ starting quarterback job. Community spread of the coronavirus was high at the time, and Owens found himself in need of a covid test.

Tests at that stage of the pandemic, however, were anything but rapid. It took 13 days for Owens to get his results, and by that time, the season opener was only three days away.

To avoid having Owens line up at a new position with such little prep time, coach Fred Mozzocio had him play wide receiver for the opener, since it was a position he played the previous year.

After Neshannock’s offense was held in check in a 14-7 loss to Laurel, Mozzocio made a change that charted the course for the rest of the Lancers’ season. He moved Owens to running back.

“We felt we needed a little bit more explosiveness in the backfield,” Mozzocio said.

Oh, he got some explosiveness, all right.

Owens ran 14 times for 105 yards and two touchdowns in a 37-22 win over Mohawk. By the end of the season, Owens had racked up 1,133 yards and 10 TDs.

“We feel he’s one of the best players in the WPIAL, and I know he’s out to prove that,” Mozzocio said. “He’s got a little bit of a chip on his shoulder going into the season and has worked really hard. We’re definitely excited to see what he can do for us.”

The Lancers went 4-3 last year, but that pedestrian record doesn’t paint the full picture of their season. There was the seven-point loss to Laurel, a six-point loss to New Brighton and a 46-27 loss to WPIAL champion Beaver Falls where the Lancers were leading 20-16 at halftime when Owens suffered an ankle injury.

Mozzocio made it a point to accept full blame for the close losses.

“I have to do a better job being prepared as a football team and do a better job coaching in those situations,” he said. “I take full responsibility.”

He also acknowledged, though, that last season has bred some optimism. A team that was so close to making the playoffs is bringing back a lot of top talent. The Lancers are going to be a handful in the Midwestern Athletic Conference.

Just as Owens settled in at running back after a camp competition, Kurt Sommerfeld took the quarterback job and ran with it.

“He’s going to be a big contributor for us with his arm and his feet,” Mozzocio said.

Junior Jonny Huff, also a quarterback, will contribute as a wide receiver. Slot receiver Luciano Delillo also returns.

All-conference linebacker Matt Ioanilli, Jonathan Pallerino, Peyton Weaver and Ryan Huff are among the playmakers on defense.

Up front, the Lancers lost key players Spencer Perry and Joey Antuono to graduation but bring back a rock-sold trio of seniors in Landon Shaffer, Mason Manos and Emon Holmes.

Shaffer is making his return after suffering a compound fracture of his leg in the season opener last year. The injury became a snapshot of pandemic life at the time. Because of attendance restrictions, his mother anxiously watched an online broadcast as her son was stretchered off the field.

“We’re going to be happy to see him back,” Mozzocio said. “I don’t know about the opponents.”

Neshannock

Coach: Fred Mozzocio

2020 record: 4-3, 4-3 in Class 2A MAC

All-time record: 278-325-15

SCHEDULE

Date, Opponent, Time

8.28 Shenango, 7

9.3 at South Side, 7

9.10 Union, 7

9.17 at Mohawk*, 7

9.24 Freedom*, 7

10.1 at Ellwood City*, 7

10.8 Riverside*, 7

10.15 at New Brighton*, 7

10.22 at Beaver Falls*, 7

10.29 at Laurel*, 7

*Conference game

STATISTICAL LEADERS

Passing: Kurt Sommerfeld

50-83, 606 yards, 3 TDs

Receiving: Spencer Perry*

16-140, 1 TD

Rushing: Cam’Ron Owens

119-1,133, 10 TDs

*Graduated

FAST FACTS

• With nonconference games against Shenango and Union, Neshannock will face six of the seven Lawrence County schools this season. The only team missing from the schedule is Class 4A New Castle.

• Despite going 4-3 last season, Neshannock had the second-best point differential (plus-80) in the MAC, trailing only Beaver Falls (plus-223) and ahead of second-place Laurel (plus-79), third-place New Brighton (plus-46) and fourth-place Freedom (plus-14).

• Neshannock lost to Beaver Falls, 46-27, in Week 7. It was the most points the WPIAL champion Tigers gave up in the regular season.

• Running back Cam’Ron Owens won three medals at the WPIAL track championships last year, taking second in the high jump and third in the long jump and triple jump.

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review Assistant Sports Editor. You can contact Jonathan by email at jbombulie@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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