Late-season surge breeds optimism at Rochester

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Tuesday, August 25, 2020 | 11:21 PM


Small school football programs go through ups and downs.

They make championship runs and then reload and develop with a new set of players. The Rochester Rams are a perfect example of that, and last year was one of those seasons where the Rams had to reset.

“I’ve been here for 34 years and last year was one of our youngest teams from what I can remember,” longtime football coach Gene Matsook said. “We started freshmen and sophomores, so we figured we were going to have a little bit of a rebuilding year. But, from about game six on, we started to catch on. Our young kids got better, the team came together, and we won the last three games in a row. We have them all back this year too, so we are hoping to take a big step forward.”

After losing their first seven games of the season while only scoring 40 points, the Rams won their final three games over Northgate, Monessen and Bishop Canevin by a combined score of 124-34.

“It was a big confidence boost for us because we have a lot of guys coming back,” senior Matt Bedekovich said. “So, to get (the younger players) comfortable in their position, it will help this season.”

The Rams only lost six seniors from last year’s team, so as they head into the 2020 season, Matsook and the Rams are looking forward to building off of what they established.

“That was a big building block for a young team,” Matsook said. “If you can start improving by Week 5 or Week 6, with a young team, you are taking a step in the right direction. It showed last year that the kids were willing to learn and get better.”

Matsook and the Rams will return a lot of talent from a year ago. After starting as a freshman, Parker Lyons will return as a sophomore quarterback, and running backs Rashawn Reid and Denny Robinson will also be back after providing solid options in the backfield last season.

Bedekovich and Ryan Zawislak are two more linemen and two-way players that will help contribute again. Both are just trying to focus on the basics as they get ready for this season.

“We just have to work on getting our fundamentals down and building off of that,” Zawislak said.

Before finishing off their season on the right foot, the Rams’ offense couldn’t find a rhythm and their defense allowed teams to light up the scoreboard. Through their first seven games, they allowed three teams to score over 40 points. One scored 35, and two scored 21.

As the Rams came together as a team, the offense started to find a rhythm. Matsook is hoping both his offense and defense can operate efficiently at the same time so the team can reach its highest level. After seeing what his team could do toward the end of last season, he’s excited to see what the next step looks like.

“I think our kids caught on to what Rochester football is and how to play at a high level last year towards the end of the season,” Matsook said. “But we can’t be satisfied after just winning three games in a row. We have to take another step forward if we are going to get back to the top.”

Schedule

Coach: Gene Matsook

2019 record: 3-7, 2-5 in Class A Big Seven Conference

All-time record: 664-411-54

Date, Opponent, Time

9.11, at Northgate*, 7

9.18, Union*, 7

9.25, at Burgettstown*, 7

10.2, OLSH*, 7

10.9, at Fort Cherry*, 7

10.16, at Cornell*, 7

10.23, Shenango*, 7

*Class A Big Seven Conference game

Fast facts

• The teams that Rochester beat last season finished with a combined record of 5-24.

• The Rams have won eight WPIAL Class A championships and three PIAA Class A championships.

• Rashawn Reid and Denny Robinson both ran for 100-plus yards at least twice in the final three games of last season. In their 50-16 win over Northgate, they combined for 331 yards and three touchdowns on 25 carries.

• The Rams will have eight starters returning on offense and 10 returning on defense.

Greg Macafee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Greg by email at gmacafee@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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