Rochester ready to ‘kick the door down’ in 2022
Thursday, August 25, 2022 | 12:01 PM
Rochester has a message for its Class A opponents this year — tighten those hinges.
“Our motto this year is, ‘Kick the door down,’” said 23rd-year coach Gene Matsook. “That door is the semifinals, and hopefully we can knock it down and move to the next level.”
The Rams, for a second straight season, reached the WPIAL semifinals last year, falling in a 14-13 heartbreaker to OLSH to cap a 9-3 season.
“I thought all of our kids did a good job considering the fact that we had more injuries than I’ve ever had here at Rochester,” Matsook said. “We went through our share of injuries last year, but were still able to get to the semifinals.”
Rochester lost its dual-threat quarterback, Parker Lyons, in the first game of the 2021 season to a broken tibia. It was his second season-ending injury in as many years, having broken his wrist in Week 4 of the 2020 campaign. But Lyons, now a senior, is healthy and will be a focal point in the offense.
“Unfortunately, we can’t redshirt in high school, I guess,” joked Matsook. “But he’s had a good offseason. He’s lifted and his arm is very strong. He’s reading defenses well. But getting back to the flow of things is the big key for him.”
Rochester is tasked with having to replace tailback Sal Laure, who rushed for 1,182 yards and 21 touchdowns and is now playing at Marietta.
While the running back will be new, the last name on the jersey will stay the same. Laure’s younger brother, sophomore Antonio Laure, will be the featured ball carrier.
“He’s a good one,” Matsook said. “He was a hard worker in the offseason. He’s ready to take that spot. He ran for over 400 yards last year in a limited role, but now his role has definitely climbed. He’s going to be one of the top guys.”
On the outside, Matsook is excited about the potential of receiver Jerome Mullins, who missed time last year with a hamstring injury.
“He’s got good size and good speed,” Matsook said. “And he’s been getting looked at by some (NCAA Division I FCS) and Division II schools. He’ll be big for us.”
Rochester’s biggest strength may be up front, as the Rams return three senior starters on the offensive line in all-conference selection Adam Schurr plus Duante Welling and Dylan Yunt.
They also bring back physical tight end Ryan Clark, a senior who will lead the defense as an inside linebacker.
Mullins, a first team all-conference defensive back, will anchor the secondary. Schurr will be the preeminent force on the defensive line, and Antonio Laure will fill his brother’s role at inside linebacker for a Rams team that allowed just 8.6 points per game last season, the second-best mark in Class A.
“We did a good job of being fundamentally sound with our defense,” Matsook said. “They were aggressive, they tackled well, and they ran to the ball. They got better and better as the season went on, especially considering the injuries.”
Rochester hopes to carry that defense over to a new year and will need to.
The Rams must battle through a Big 7 Conference that’s undergone a bit of a makeover this offseason. Out went Cornell, OLSH, Burgettstown and Fort Cherry. In came Laurel and South Side — both playoff teams in Class 2A last year — as well as Summit Academy.
“We can make a run at it,” Matsook said. “But we’ve just got to stay healthy. Being healthy is our first key going into the season. We can’t get hurt. And we have to be mentally tough. We have to buckle down, the way we think.”
Coach: Gene Matsook
2021 record: 9-3, 5-2 in Class A Big Seven Conference
All-time record: 680-416-54
Date, Opponent, Time
8.26 at Riverside, 7
9.2 OLSH, 7
9.9 at New Brighton, 7
9.17 at Summit Academy*, noon
9.23 Shenango*, 7
9.30 at Laurel*, 7
10.7 Union*, 7
10.14 at Clairton, 7
10.21 at Northgate*, 7
10.28 South Side*, 7
Passing: JD Azulay*
34-68, 498 yards, 9 TDs
Rushing: Sal Laure*
185-1,182, 21 TDs
Receiving: Jerome Mullins
17-259, 5 TDs
• Following a rare losing season (3-7) in 2019, the Rams have combined to go 16-5 over the last two years.
• Only Class A champ Bishop Canevin (8.0 points per game) sported a better defense in the classification last season.
• Searching for a ninth WPIAL title, Rochester will play a challenging nonconference schedule in 2022, including games against OLSH and perennial power Clairton.
• Matsook went over the 200-win mark last season. His 37 years of coaching experience are believed to be the most of any coach in Beaver County.
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