West Xtra: It's 'old guard' Rochester vs. 'new kids' Neshannock in a battle of unbeatens

HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL


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The storylines throughout the Western Pennsylvania high school football season change each and every year.

Whether it's rising young players, star collegiate recruits or a surprise up-and-coming program, the story never seems to be the same.

Rochester, however, might be an exception to that trend.

One of 13 schools in Beaver County that has a football program, Rochester continues to turn out successful football teams year after year, and this season is no different for the Rams as they remain one of four undefeated Class A teams in the WPIAL.

"Rochester is Rochester," said Neshannock coach Fred Mozzocio, whose Lancers also are undefeated. "You say the name and it speaks for itself. It's obviously known in the Big Seven Conference, it's a tradition in the WPIAL and it's also known throughout the state that it's a top-of-the-line program.

"We have all the respect in the world for that program and we hope to be like them in the near future."

Neshannock, a small school located outside of New Castle in Lawrence County, might be one of the biggest surprises in the Class A circuit this season and has thrown its hat into the ring to challenge Rochester for the Big Seven Conference crown.

The Lancers (5-0, 5-0) entered this week ranked No. 4 in the Post-Gazette's Class A rankings and will travel south to Rochester on Friday night to face the No. 2-ranked Rams (5-0, 4-0). Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.

"Obviously, we're excited about this game," said Mozzocio, who is in his first season as coach at Neshannock. "Just with the atmosphere and the tradition, heading down there Friday is going to be great. We're just excited to see what we can do."

Mainly known for its successful baseball and softball programs, Neshannock has witnessed some positive production from its football team. The Lancers are off to their best start since 1976 and are outscoring opponents by an average of 43-13.6.

"Obviously, we got off to a nice start and we're pleased with where we are at this point," Mozzocio said. "But at the same time, all of that is in the past. It's time to turn the next page and that page is Rochester. We're staying focused with what's ahead of us."

Alex Welker, John Conglose and Ernie Burkes paced Neshannock's 41-6 conference victory last week against South Side Beaver. Welker and Conglose both scored a pair of touchdowns, while Welker rushed for a 112 yards on just five carries. Banks completed 11 of 14 passes for 171 yards and one touchdown.

"They're an up-and-coming team in the conference, which is a good thing for the Big Seven," Matsook said. "They run a spread offense and to put you in a situation. They're playing good football with good athletes.

"We're going to have to bring athleticism and play fundamentally sound this week."

The Rams, who are outscoring opponents by an average of 28.8-8, are coming off a 41-6 win against Western Beaver.

"We're still on the rise," Matsook said. "We still have work to do, especially on offense, defense and special teams. We have to get better and keep moving up the ladder.

"It's all about peaking at the right time, and we haven't peaked just yet. We still have to work to get better."

Dante Marsick led Rochester last week by rushing for 154 yards on 13 carries and scored four touchdowns. The Rams also have a playmaking quarterback in Ben Richko, who completed 5 of 6 passes for 167 yards and three touchdowns against Western Beaver.

"They're strong up front and have a huge offensive line," Mozzocio said. "Their players' size is equivalent to some Quad-A teams. They have a good quarterback and are solid all the way around.

"It's a typical Rochester team."

Rochester beat Neshannock last year, 38-7. The Rams have outscored the Lancers, 142-7, in the past four meetings between the two teams.

"It's all about us," Matsook said. "We have to be fundamentally sound in all three areas of the game. At the same time, we must be mentally tough and disciplined in this game."

Mozzocio also understands that his team must play nearly perfect in order to challenge the Rams this week.

"All we're going to do is focus on what we do and control our game," Mozzocio said. "We have to stay in our game plan and execute. We also need to limit penalties and mistakes and let the chips fall where they may.

"This is the kind of game we've talked about all year. This is the game we've wanted to be in and the level we want to be playing at, so we're excited about the challenge."

hsfootball


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