Varsity Notebook: Some unusual teams unbeaten

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It isn't unusual that 30 teams are undefeated in WPIAL football. After all, the season is only three weeks old.

But what is extremely unusual is that two of those 30 perfect teams are Neshannock and Avella.

It's like these two programs have been turned upside down. Over the years, it's more likely for both to be 0-3. It wasn't all that long ago that Avella struggled to have enough players to field a team and had a girl playing so it could have at least 13 players. In terms of student enrollment, Avella is the fourth-smallest school in WPIAL football.

But Avella and Neshannock are Class A teams with 3-0 records this season. The previous time Avella started 3-0 was 1994. Meanwhile, the last time Neshannock started 3-0 was 1976.

The perfect starts have created some excitement in both districts. Neshannock is fresh off an upset victory against Sto-Rox, which was the Post-Gazette's No. 3-ranked Class A team.

"I've never seen anything like it in years," said Fred Mazzocio, Neshannock's first-year coach who was an assistant at New Castle the past six years. "Our student body is tightly knit, and, after we upset Sto-Rox, the whole student body swarmed the field. It was tremendous. When I addressed the team on the field after the game, there were probably 300 students around me. It was a pretty unique experience."

Avella has won a total of three games in the past five seasons, and the Eagles have won more than one game in a season once in the past nine years. Avella hasn't had a winning season since '94, and the Eagles' last playoff appearance was in '76.

Neshannock has been playing WPIAL football since 1958, but has been to the playoffs only four times. The last was in '04.

While Avella, under coach Ryan Cecchini, and Neshannock are most certainly improved, what has helped both teams is a change in classifications or conferences. Neshannock played in Class AA from '02-'07 and struggled in some of those seasons. But the Lancers dropped to Class A in '08 and last year finished 5-4.

Meanwhile, the WPIAL moved Avella from the rugged Class A Black Hills Conference to the Tri-County South this season. The Tri-County South is considered the weakest of the four Class A conferences.

"When I first came here, I eyeballed the kids and told them they looked like every other kid in the WPIAL, but we just had to change their mindset," Mazzocio said. "One of the things we've been talking about since day one is how do we earn respect?

"We tried to instill in them from the beginning that you earn respect on the field. You don't earn it with your mouth or talking on Facebook. The only way to do it is you have to win football games."

Finding the end zone

Give Washington running back Shai McKenzie the ball, and there is a 33 percent chance he'll end up in the end zone.

McKenzie, a junior, has scored once every three times he has touched the ball. He has carried 30 times in three games and has scored 10 touchdowns.

McKenzie also has a been a big-play specialist. The average length of his 10 touchdowns is 38.5 yards.

More big numbers

Jefferson-Morgan quarterback Tyler Bowman doesn't throw often (a total of 13 times in three games). But when he does, it usually results in a big play. Bowman has completed 8 of 13 passes for 335 yards, an average of 41.9 yards a completion. Four of his eight completions have been for touchdowns.

He also is averaging 11.7 yards a carry on 16 rushing attempts.

Also after the first three weeks, Clairton's Armani Ford has thrown for 459 yards and a 28.7 yards per completion average. Clairton's Terrish Webb has four receptions and a 46.3-yard average per catch.

Pink out

The "Pink Out" for district high school football teams will be Oct. 26.

This is the fourth year of the "Pink Out" in Western Pennsylvania, an idea sponsored by the Young Women's Breast Cancer Awareness Foundation. High school football teams and their fans are encouraged to wear pink Oct. 26 to raise awareness for breast cancer. Former Steelers punter Josh Miller is the chairperson for this year's "Pink Out" event.

But the Awareness Foundation also encourages other high school sports teams to have a "Pink Out" at one of their games or matches.

Schools or teams wishing to participate should go to www.youngwomensbreastcancerfoundation.com to register and to get more ideas on how to hold a "Pink Out."

Naccarato the AD

Former Monessen girls basketball star Gina Naccarato, the all-time leading scorer in WPIAL history, is a sixth-grade teacher in the Monessen district and also Monessen's varsity girls basketball coach. This fall, she has added another title -- athletic director.

Naccarato, 34, is one of the few women athletic directors in the WPIAL.

"I've always wanted to do this," Naccarato said. "I'm enjoying it."

The AD position at Monessen is not a full-time job, but Naccarato was quite busy this week because the Greyhounds football team had a big home game Thursday night against Clairton.

The game was televised live by Root Sports, and a number of other media members came to cover the game.

"I guess it's exciting, but also I can't wait until this week is over," Naccarato said, with a laugh.

hsfootball

For more on high school sports, go to "Varsity Blog" at www.post-gazette.com/varsityblog. Mike White: mwhite@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1975. Twitter @mwhiteburgh


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