West Xtra: Rochester negotiates tough start

Craig Meyer's high school football notebook

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For years, no discussion of the perennial powers in Class A of the WPIAL would be complete without talking about Rochester, and for good reason. Over the past nine years, the Rams have gone a combined 96-18 while winning at least nine games in eight of those nine seasons.

Given this track record of success under longtime coach Gene Matsook, it came as a surprise to many to see Rochester drop its season opener in lopsided fashion to Avonworth, 33-6. Not only did that game mark the Rams' first season-opening loss since 2004, but it was also their most lopsided regular-season loss since 1996, when they fell to Greensburg Central Catholic, 36-6.

Like many games and statistics, Rochester's loss to Avonworth does not exist in a vacuum. While it was hardly a desirable result, this season's Rams team does not fit the profile of many of their more successful ones in the past.

After losing its top rusher (Dante Marsick) and top passer (Ben Richko) from last season, Rochester has just four seniors on a roster that features eight sophomores and 11 freshmen. Matsook guessed that it is the youngest team he's coached in his 28-year career. That kind of inexperience was highlighted last Friday, something that played a large factor in the loss.

"We're trying to get our young kids up to another level and we were playing a senior-laden team," Matsook said. "When that's the case, all of those mistakes are all correctable errors."

At a school such as Rochester, where the goal is to always be in the upper echelon of Class A, Matsook said he will need older players such as Brent Johnson and running back O'Shea Anderson to guide some of the younger players if the Rams don't want their early season setback to be repeated.

"This team needs to come together and work together to get better and better," Matsook said. "That's a decision they have to make."

Historic highs for two teams

The past six seasons have not been kind to the Moon Area football program, as it has gone 8-47 in that span, all without a WPIAL playoff appearance.

Though it was just one game, the Tigers' season opener may have been a sign of some changing fortune. In its 56-23 victory against Chartiers Valley, Moon recorded its most points in a game since at least 1986, which is as far back as the Post-Gazette's high school football statistical records go.

In a winning effort, quarterback Aleksei Yaramus completed 9 of 11 passes for 177 yards and was involved in four touchdown plays (two rushing, two passing).

The Tigers were not the only team with a banner offensive performance last week. In New Brighton's 42-21 victory against Ellwood City, the Lions put up their highest point total in a season opener since at least 1986. Six players scored touchdowns for New Brighton, while quarterback Gabe Greco led the way on offense with 209 yards on 12 of 15 passing.

Ishman shows promise

A year after he was faced with the daunting task of replacing Rushel Shell, the all-time leading rusher in Pennsylvania high school football history, Tyler Ishman came through with an impressive debut to the 2013 season.

In Hopewell's 20-14 loss to Montour Friday, this junior running back rushed for 141 yards, the second-best single-game mark of his career, along with scoring two touchdowns. After a sophomore season in which he rushed for 596 yards while splitting carries with senior Adam Murray, Ishman's first game could be a sign that he's ready to break out this season.

Games of interest

With the first week of games now complete, here are some of the more intriguing matchups involving teams from the West Xtra coverage area this week:

Central Valley at Montour -- The Warriors had little trouble with an upstart New Castle team, defeating the Red Hurricanes by 23 points. But will they be able to replicate the same feat against the Spartans, one of the other top teams in the Parkway Conference?

West Allegheny at Ambridge Area -- The Bridgers have 14 starters (seven apiece on offense and defense) back from a team that posted the school's best winning percentage in five years. How they fare against the Indians, the defending WPIAL champions, remains to be seen.

hsfootball

Craig Meyer: cmeyer@post-gazette.com and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG


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