Monessen hopes rivalry game will be springboard to success
With a rivalry is as old and intense as Monessen versus Charleroi, anything is possible.
Greyhounds coach Mikey Blainefield can vouch for that. A four-year starter at Monessen, the 2004 graduate vividly remembers one of the more unusual happenings.
“My junior year (2002), we actually lost at home in overtime,” Blainefield said. “The running back from Charleroi scored when he fell across the goal line after he was knocked out cold by a hit. He just fell forward into the end zone, had no idea he scored the winning touchdown. It’s something I’ll never forget.”
Wild finishes, legendary players and a bridge spanning the Monongahela River that connects the communities and bears the name of the most recent winner first are just part of the lure of one of Western Pennsylvania’s most-played rivalries.
Friday’s installment will be the 102nd meeting, and Charleroi holds a 49-43-9 advantage. It dates to 1907 -- Monessen won the initial game, 11-0 -- and it ran continuously every year from 1923 to 2007 with the exception of 1972, when a Charleroi teachers’ strike kept the game from being played.
WPIAL realignment put an abrupt end to the rivalry in 2008 as the schools planned to celebrate the 100th edition, and the feud held an uncertain future. At that time, Charleroi competed in Class AA and Monessen played in A. Both were in nine-team conferences, meaning there were eight league games and a WPIAL-scheduled nonconference game against a team from the same classification.
To appease fan bases and players, Monessen and Chaleroi scrimmaged for four years, but it was played with the same intensity as a meaningful game. Just when the scrimmage was about to be called off, the opportunity to play again in the regular season emerged. The season-opening staple was back on the schedule.
“It’s awesome for Monessen, and it’s great for the kids,” Blainefield said. “We’ve spent so much time telling them about it over the years, and I know they’re excited to be playing the game here. I know the kids are pumped for the game.”
Charleroi’s won the two most recent installments, meaning the Charleroi-Monessen Bridge connects the communities. Last year’s game is the most attended in the brief history of Charleroi’s Myron Pottios Stadium.
“We tell the players that this rivalry is something that runs deeper than football,” Blainefield said. “Our programs used to compete in every aspect, from fundraisers to blood drives to raising money for charities. It does not let up. I know people from both communities who are married, and they don’t talk going into that game. It’s like that.”
While Blainefield grew up with the rivalry, first-year Charleroi coach Lance Getsy is getting his first taste.
The former Franklin Regional assistant and brother of former Pitt and Akron quarterback Luke Getsy -- now the offensive coordinator at Mississippi State -- is taking over a team that finished 9-2 last season, including a 35-13 win against Monessen.
“I continue to learn things about it as it gets closer, and you can feel the energy from the community, supporters and players,” Getsy said. “It’s a good rivalry, the kind of rivalry that makes these small communities great.
“I already learned that we better win.”
Monessen hopes a win can serve as a springboard back to respectability. In Blainefield’s first season, the Greyhounds went 3-8 -- two wins better than a 1-9 mark in 2016 -- and qualified for the WPIAL playoffs as the fourth-place team in the Tri-County South. The numbers are up, and expectations are growing for the tradition-rich program, but the Charleroi opener is part of a rough nonconference schedule that includes perennial playoff contenders Springdale and Rochester.
“Our schedule offers a great challenge,” Blainefield said. “Personally, the Charleroi game is always emotional, not only coaching and playing in it, but just watching it.”