Neshannock uses ground game to run past short-handed Burrell

Friday, November 4, 2022 | 10:41 PM

Neshannock’s rushing attack was on full display at Bob Bleggi Stadium on Friday night.

The Lancers had three rushers surpass 80 yards and held Burrell to just 130 yards of total offense in a 48-6 victory in the first round of the WPIAL Class 2A playoffs.

“It’s a huge victory for us,” Neshannock (10-1) coach Fred Mozzocio said. “Anytime you can win playoff game in the WPIAL, that’s a big thing. We don’t take that for granted.”

No. 13 seed Burrell (6-5) came out swinging against the Lancers. After forcing a Neshannock turnover on downs, the Buccaneers drove 58 yards on nine plays, capped by a Devin Beattie 2-yard run. The kick was blocked, giving Burrell a 6-0 advantage.

Burrell’s slot-T misdirection rushing attack caused fits for the fourth-seeded Neshannock defense, with Beattie and Tristan Brothers getting big gains.

“I’m proud of the way our kids battled,” Burrell coach Shawn Liotta said. “Our kids came out and played tough. We were dealing with a lot of guys being out of the lineup that we had to fight through.”

Even with Beattie and Brothers in the lineup, five starters were unable to play because of injury or illness.

“We came here and fought,” Liotta said. “Credit to Neshannock. They made the critical plays when they needed to.”

Neshannock responded by scoring touchdowns on seven of its next eight possessions. Quarterback Jonny Huff, the program’s all-time single-season rushing leader, took a quarterback keeper 33 yards on the subsequent drive to give Neshannock a 7-6 lead at the end of the first quarter.

After forcing a three-and-out, Neshannock again drove down the field with the help of the Burrell defense. On fourth-and-10 from the 16-yard line, Burrell was flagged for pass interference. The penalty was not enough for a first down, but on the next play, another interference penalty against the Bucs awarded Neshannock with a first-and-goal.

Jackson Billyk would run it in from 2 yards on the next play.

Neshannock would extend their lead on a highlight reel play by Huff. He appeared to be sacked on third down in the red zone but somehow eluded multiple Burrell defenders and found a wide open Braden Montgomery who ran it in for a 16-yard touchdown to extend the lead to 20-6.

“Johnny Football,” Mozzocio described it, matter-of-factly. “He made a play. I can’t take any credit for that one.”

“I don’t even know how I did it,” Huff said of his touchdown pass. “I just kept my feet running, (Montgomery) waved his hand, and I just found him.”

While it was only a two-score lead at the time, that play took the wind out of the sails of the visiting Buccaneers.

“We were about to have them stopped there and get the ball back,” Liotta said. “That was a dynamic play that he made. It turned the tide a little bit. It kind of took us out of what we wanted to do with our ball control.”

Neshannock would score again with under thirty seconds in the first half to take a 27-6 lead into the locker room. The Lancers would get three more scores in the second half on a touchdown reception by Luciano DeLillo and long runs by Matthew Ioanilli and Billyk to round out the scoring.

Neshannock’s defense allowed 65 yards of offense on the first possession but gave up just 65 yards of offense the rest of the game.

“It took us a series to get our feet under us and get used to it,” Mozzocio said of Burrell’s quick-attack offense. “We tried to emulate it in practice, but until a varsity team is running it at you, it’s a different level of speed.”

Neshannock’s defense tilted the field the entire game. The worst starting field position the Lancers had in the game was their own 40-yard line.

The stifling defense was led by senior Ryan Huff, Jonny’s twin brother, who had double-digit tackles and a pair of sacks.

“Ryan is one of the unheralded heroes of this team this year,” Mozzocio said. “He stepped up for us at the center position. Tonight you saw what he can do on the defensive side of the ball. He was all over the field. Just a tremendous game for Ryan to end his senior year at Bob Bleggi Stadium.”

For Burrell’s seniors, it’s the final time they will put on a Buccaneer uniform. Unfortunately, four of those seniors were unable to play, including starting quarterback Chase Fenner and three-year starting lineman Aaron Mele.

“We were down three of our captains tonight who couldn’t play for various things,” Liotta said. “We didn’t get a lot of luck that way.

“I’m so proud of our 13 seniors. They did a really good job for this football program and have us with a lot of momentum and a lot of positives for Burrell football.”

One bright spot for a senior was offensive lineman Ian Quinn getting three carries late in the game.

“That was my reward to Ian Quinn for four years of being a starter and busting his butt,” Liotta said. “That’s a lineman’s dream come true to go out there and carry the ball a couple of times. That’s what this is about. High school football is about creating memories for kids, and we created a lot of great memories this year.”

Neshannock has made itself at home under the tenure of Fred Mozzocio. In his 11-year career as Neshannock’s coach, the Lancers are 46-7 at home, including now 6-1 at home in the playoffs.

Now it’s back to business again for Neshannock, who will face Washington in the quarterfinals. The 12th-seeded Little Prexies defeated 5-seed and defending WPIAL champion Serra Catholic, 49-21.

Whether it was the defending champions or Washington, Mozzocio said his team is up for the challenge.

“We’re excited to play the ball game,” Mozzocio said. “We’re thrilled to advance.”

Watch an archived broadcast of this game on Trib HSSN.

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