Rochester looks to avoid injury woes, go on another playoff run

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Monday, August 21, 2023 | 9:43 PM


There are plenty of things that Gene Matsook wants his Rochester football team to achieve this year. Staying healthy is at the top of the list.

“With the injuries we had last year, and really the last two years, it’s been kind of crazy,” said Matsook, entering his 24th season leading the Rams. “These last two years, this is the most injuries we’ve had, especially with our skill position kids.”

For the third straight season, Rochester lost its starting quarterback to injury when Parker Lyons went down in the fourth game last fall. Jerome Mullins, the team’s top wideout, also was injured late in the season.

Despite that, Rochester still found a way to make a run at a title, reaching the WPIAL Class A semifinals as the tournament’s No. 14 seed before falling to eventual champion Union, 18-16. The Rams ended the season with a 7-5 record, 3-3 in Class A’s Big 7 Conference.

“To do what we did, to be a 14 seed – which is one of the lowest we’ve had here at Rochester – and get to the semifinals while overcoming that adversity, it was really a success and a tribute to the kids,” added Matsook.

“While getting to the semifinals was a success, we were disappointed. Our goals are always higher than that, and we fell a little bit short.”

The silver lining to those injuries is that Rochester will return several players who were forced into roles last year they would have otherwise not been in, including quarterback Jayden Norman, who passed for 434 yards following Lyons’ injury.

“He’s gotten some experience over the last two years,” said Matsook. “He really grew last year with his field reading, his intelligence and his field sense. He’s gotten some big games under his belt and is going to fit in comfortably. We’re really excited about him.”

Some of Norman’s comfort will come from his backfield mate, all-conference tailback Antonio Laure, who racked up 1,407 rushing yards and 26 touchdowns in 2022.

“Oh, he’s a good one. He’s one of the top running backs around,” said Matsook. “If people haven’t seen him, they need to come see him. Great agility, sees the field well, strong, quick. He’s a kid that is a top-level player, no doubt about it.”

Dom Guido will complement Laure and fellow senior Amari Curry returns after losing his junior season to an ankle injury. Junior Connor Mason will see some carries as well.

At receiver, Guido, Mason, Patrick Bable and Desmond Ledford will attempt to fill the void left by Mullins, who led Rochester in catches and receiving yards the last two seasons.

Nehemiah Haskins, Michael Norman and Logan Lyons return on the offensive line. Lucas Pearce, Parker Munroe, Jaylin Stewart and freshman Tristan Seybert will get reps up front.

Defensively, Rochester returns a good amount of talent, including Curry on the defensive line and Norman in the secondary.

“Our defensive experience should be a strength,” Matsook said. “That’ll be good for us.”

A strong defense will be needed. Rochester will be one of several contenders in a stacked Big 7 Conference, which features returning WPIAL champion Union, as well as conference title winner Laurel.

“The Big 7 has always been good since back in the day with Farrell and Monaca,” Matsook said. “It’s a week-in, week-out process. You’ve got to be ready to go each week, but we’re ready for that.”

The Rams will also play quality nonconference opponents like OLSH and Clairton.

“You’ve got to play good teams,” Matsook added. “We don’t want to play teams that won’t help us. At Rochester, we don’t want to shy away from nobody. It makes us better, and we want to meet challenges.”

What Matsook – and the Rams – hope that readiness brings is success in the semifinals. Rochester’s seniors have been to that round the last three seasons but lost. In the last two seasons, those games have been decided by a total of three points.

“They know the injury bug has hit us the last two years, but you can’t go back,” Matsook said. “Hopefully they’ve learned valuable lessons. I get a high sense that they want to do things, and their chemistry is getting better.

“I tell the kids all the time to focus on the day and focus on the rep, and we’ve really narrowed that down this year to do that. We have to be able to win those close games.”

Rochester

Coach: Gene Matsook

2022 record: 7-5, 3-3 in Class A Big 7 Conference

All-time record: 687-421-54

SCHEDULE

Date, Opponent, Time

8.25 Riverside, 7

9.2 at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, 7

9.8 New Brighton, 7

9.15 Summit Academy*, 7

9.22 at Shenango*, 7

9.29 Laurel*, 7

10.6 at Union*, 7

10.13 Clairton, 7

10.20 Northgate*, 7

10.27 at South Side*, 7

*Conference game

STAT LEADERS

Passing: Jayden Norman

29-61, 434 yards, 2 TDs

Rushing: Antonio Laure

231-1,407 yards, 26 TDs

Receving: Jerome Mullins*

25-482 yards, 13 TDs

*Graduated

FAST FACTS

• Matsook has 37 years total of coaching in Beaver County, believed to be the longest of any active coach in the county.

• Laure’s brother, Sal, rushed for 1,182 yards and 21 touchdowns as a senior for the Rams and is now playing at Marietta College.

• Rochester lost five games last season, with none coming by more than nine points and three coming by a single score.

• The Rams have claimed eight WPIAL titles, with the last coming in 2004.

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