With line leading way, Neshannock looks solid despite personnel losses

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Friday, August 28, 2020 | 11:17 PM


After going 8-2 in the regular season and advancing to the WPIAL Class 2A quarterfinals last season, Neshannock lost some productive skill players to graduation.

Gone are 1,500-yard rusher Braden Gennock, who coach Fred Mozzocio called the MVP of the Midwestern Athletic Conference, and 1,000-yard passer Jason Nativio.

Yet optimism remains high on the Lawrence County campus, and there’s a big reason for that.

More accurately, five or six big reasons.

The Lancers return their entire offensive line from a team that scored a conference-best 344 points a year ago.

“These guys have all either been starting or playing significant minutes since they’ve been freshmen,” Mozzocio said. “We’re finally a junior- and senior-laden offensive and defensive line team.”

Success in the trenches starts with 6-foot-1, 270-pound four-year starter Joey Antuono at tackle.

“Joe’s a hard worker,” Mozzocio said. “He’s one of the most powerful and explosive kids I’ve ever coached. Never misses a workout. Can’t wait to get in the weight room and carries the same excitement and enthusiasm onto the field every day. He’s a great leader for us.”

Three-year starter Connor Montgomery also returns at center.

The tight end is a player to watch as well — 6-5, 225-pound senior Spencer Perry.

“He’s just blossomed over the last two years into a great football player,” Mozzocio said.

Camron Owens, the team’s leading pass catcher last season, is set to move to quarterback, but Mozzocio said he’ll see time at running back and wide receiver as well.

The same personnel should make the Lancers tough to score on too.

“Our strong suit defensively, we’re going to hang our hat on our defensive line week in and week out,” Mozzocio said. “These guys have been playing since their freshman year. If they weren’t starting, they were definitely in the mix, playing a lot. They’re a very veteran group, and a lot of the success we had on defense last year was created with this front four. We’re pretty excited about those guys.”

By any objective measure, the Lancers are coming off a strong season. After a year away, they returned to the postseason and scored a first-round win over Serra Catholic before falling to Brentwood in the quarterfinals.

Standards are high at Neshannock, however, so the returning starters are more likely to be hungry for more than satisfied with what they’ve already accomplished.

“We had an outstanding year last year. It was definitely a team that came in and gave us their all and overachieved for us,” Mozzocio said. “We felt that we were going to advance when we got to the quarterfinals. We were confident. We felt we had a nice game plan together. We worked hard during the week, but we ran into a team that played a little better than us that night.

“I don’t want to say we have a sour taste in our mouth about the season last year, but it’s definitely something that nags these kids that were juniors last year going into their senior years.”

The Lancers welcome the changes realignment brought to the MAC. Beaver Falls and Laurel replace Western Beaver and Shenango.

“Laurel’s just a stone’s throw away from us, so we’ll renew a rivalry there, which will be pretty exciting,” Mozzocio said. “Beaver Falls is one of those traditional football powerhouse names in the WPIAL and that’s what we’re striving to be here at Neshannock, somebody that consistently is knocking on the door and is in the mix for WPIAL championships. We’re still trying to get our first, but we’ll keep knocking until we get there.”

Schedule

Coach: Fred Mozzocio

2019 record: 9-3, 6-1 in Class 2A Midwestern Athletic Conference

All-time record: 274-322-15

Date, Opponent, Time

9.11, Laurel*, 7

9.17, Mohawk*, 7

9.25, at Freedom*, 7:30

10.2, Ellwood City*, 7

10.9, at Riverside*, 7

10.16, New Brighton*, 7

10.23, at Beaver Falls*, 7

*Class 2A Midwestern Athletic Conference game

Statistical leaders

Passing: Jason Nativio*

57-136, 1,053 yards, 7 TDs

Rushing: Braden Gennock*

211-1,523 yards, 21 TDs

Receiving: Camron Owens

15-400 yards, 5 TDs

*Graduated

Fast facts

• Although it was probably little consolation at the time, Neshannock played better defense against WPIAL champion Avonworth than anyone else in the district last season. The Lancers lost the season opener 21-7. Avonworth scored at least 24 points against every other WPIAL foe it faced.

• Neshannock was a juggernaut at home last season, going 5-0, scoring at least 34 points in each victory and outscoring opponents 227-72.

• It should come as no surprise that Neshannock bounced back from missing the playoffs in 2018 with a strong effort in 2019. In coach Fred Mozzocio’s eight years on the sidelines, the Lancers have gone 67-17 and won four conference titles.

• Joey Antuono, a returning first-team all-conference offensive lineman, has received scholarship offers from St. Francis, Clarion and Lake Erie College.

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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