Serra Catholic too much for Neshannock in Class 2A first round

Friday, November 5, 2021 | 10:39 PM

Sixth-seeded Serra Catholic scored on all five of its first-half possessions en route to a convincing 61-21 victory over No. 11 Neshannock in the first round of the WPIAL Class 2A playoffs at Norwin on Friday night.

With the win, the Eagles (11-1) will play third-seeded Laurel in next week’s quarterfinals. The Spartans were 41-2 winners over No. 14 McGuffey on Friday.

“With us going back to being 0-0 for the playoffs, we just had to come in here, get our minds right and come out firing,” Serra Catholic coach Jose Regus said. “We knew our guys were going to respond after last week’s loss to Steel Valley. That’s all you can do is respond to the situation. Sometimes a loss wakes a team up, and I think it did just that for us.”

The Eagles were forced to open the postseason without starting quarterback Max Rocco. With the senior field general on the shelf due to a concussion suffered in last week’s defeat, junior Elijah Ward stepped in and made an immediate impact in more ways than one.

Ward completed 7 of 9 passes for 200 yards and two touchdowns. He threw for scores of 54 and 78 yards, while adding a 57-yard touchdown run as part of a 74-yard performance on the ground.

“Elijah did great, but he’s an athlete who can play anywhere, so we expect that type of performance from him,” Regus said. “I have a lot of confidence in him at quarterback and I always have.”

Neshannock (7-4) had trouble stopping Serra Catholic’s high-powered offense all night long.

The Eagles, who finished with 443 yards of total offense, scored on eight of their 10 drives and were forced to punt once.

“You may stop one of them, but the next thing you know, they run a bubble screen to somebody else and they’re going the distance. They just have speed all over the field, and not just good speed, they have great speed,” Neshannock head coach Fred Mozzocio said. “That made it tough on us.”

Neshannock struggled to get much going in its passing game as it finished with just over 10 yards through the air. The Lancers’ longest passing play of the game came on a 13-yard touchdown pass from Kurt Sommerfeld to Aidan Shaffer in the fourth quarter.

The running game, however, was much more effective for Mozzocio’s group as it totaled 250 yards on the ground.

Peyton Weaver led the charge with 14 carries for 153 yards and two touchdowns. He scored on a 29-yard run in the second quarter and a 59-yard run in the fourth.

Matthew Ioanilli added 11 carries for 66 yards.

“We have a strong running game and we have a strong offensive line. We felt that we could control the football game with the running game and try to shorten this game up a little bit,” Mozzocio said. “When you don’t tackle, though, that causes you problems, and we didn’t tackle well tonight. We had bodies around people and opportunities to get guys to the ground, but we didn’t do that.

“We’re not happy with the result because that’s not what we’re about at Neshannock, but all you can ask is for the guys to fight. They fought until the last play.”

Serra Catholic rolled to a 20-0 lead in the first quarter before seeing it expand to 34-7 by halftime.

Ward wasted little time leaving his mark out of the quarterback spot as he opened the scoring with his long touchdown run to put the Eagles ahead by six.

After a blocked punt by Ryan Brooks set Serra up with prime field position on its next drive, Pharoh Fisher cashed in with a 2-yard scamper, his first of three touchdowns on the night. He also took a screen pass from Ward 54 yards for a touchdown later in the first quarter before adding a 3-yard run in the second.

“Pharoh is a special player and we try to use him as much as possible,” Regus said. “No matter where he is, he’s going to perform.”

Jayvon Holt added three touchdowns of his own in the middle quarters. He capped off the first-half scoring with a 20-yard run and added a 24-yard rushing score in the third quarter. His final touchdown came on a 78-yard strike from Ward in the third. Holt had two receptions for 105 yards in addition to four carries for 49 yards.

Michael Schanck returned a fumble recovery for a touchdown early in the second half and Terrell Booth finished off Serra’s scoring with a 70-yard run in the fourth.

The Eagles now head to work in preparation for their matchup with Laurel, the unbeaten champions from the Midwestern Conference.

The Spartans are averaging 43 points per game this season, while allowing a minuscule 7.5 per contest.

“We have to go back and watch the film to form our gameplan, but we know they’re a good team that plays well together,” Regus said. “We just have to prepare and come ready to play.”

Watch an archived broadcast of this game on Trib HSSN.

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