Xtra Points: Rochester is coping with a rare 'down' season

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Gene Matsook certainly doesn't fancy himself a professional coach, but these days he empathizes with Steelers coach Mike Tomlin.

Like Tomlin, Matsook coaches a team steeped in tradition. And like Tomlin, Matsook's team has hit rock bottom -- at least by Rochester's lofty standards.

Matsook is in his 14th season as Rochester's coach and the Rams are 2-3. This from a program that has been one of the best in the WPIAL in the past 15 years. From 1998 through 2012, Rochester was 156-30 (.839 winning percentage). Since 1991, the Rams have won seven WPIAL titles, played in the title game 11 times and also appeared in six PIAA championship games, winning three.

In Matsook's first 13 seasons, the most games he lost was four. Nine times he lost two games or fewer. He has four WPIAL titles and eight championship game appearances.

So what in the name of Mike Tomlin has happened at the Beaver County school?

"I look at the Steelers a lot and I love Tomlin's lines and what he says," Matsook said. "We have to just look to improve every week and if our guys don't do that, then why are you here?

"We kind of hit a wall this year. We saw it coming. We know a lot of people are wondering what's going on at Rochester? Well, we hit a wall."

And the wall has barely budged. As surprising as a 2-3 record is for Rochester, it's how the Rams are losing that is downright shocking. They are 0-3 at home and lost those games by 33-6 to Avonworth, 33-0 to Union and 50-6 to Western Beaver. The 50 points is the most given up by Rochester since 1993.

"We knew coming into the season what we had," said Matsook, 50. "Of the 36 kids we have on the roster, 19 have never played varsity football before. Either they are freshmen or they haven't come out the past couple years. ... This is the youngest team I ever had in my 28 years here as an assistant coach or head coach."

It also hasn't helped that Rochester has lost some of its top players to transfers over the past few years. Preston Johnson would've been the top running back this year, but transferred to Central Valley. JaQuan Pennington also left for Central Valley a couple years ago and starts at running back for the Warriors. Lineman Tyler Beatrice transferred to Blackhawk a few years ago and then transferred to Central Valley.

"Those transfers aren't why we're losing," Matsook said. "We lost 16 seniors from last year and replaced them with only four seniors this year. We're young, and then the last game five starters were out with injuries. It's like everything came together this year.

"It kind of feels like when I started coaching here as an assistant in 1986. We have to start all over again because we hit the wall. Clairton and those other guys haven't hit the wall yet. Who knows when you will hit it? But I think everyone in Class A will hit it sooner or later."

Rochester is in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time since 1996.

"I don't like to lose because there is a lot of pride built into this program with what my brother [Dan] and myself have done," said Matsook, whose brother won three WPIAL titles and one PIAA title before him. "This hurts your pride a little bit because you're not used to this.

"It's a challenge but we'll keep going to see what we have. I think next year we may make some noise. The year after that could be our year. At least we hope that's the way it goes."

"Rob-bing" at Mt. Lebanon

The Mt. Lebanon offense hasn't had much to boast about this season, scoring 10 points or fewer in four of five games. But the Blue Devils still have a certain kick to them.

Rob Costantino, a 5-foot-9 junior, has kicked a WPIAL-leading seven field goals in five games. Three of Costantino's field goals are 40 yards or farther -- 40, 41 and 42 yards.

No other WPIAL kicker has more than four field goals.

Best in the country

USA Today is asking fans to pick the best football coach in the country -- and four of the nominees are from the WPIAL.

USA Today's staff picked eight active coaches from each state for the contest. The four from the WPIAL are Thomas Jefferson's Bill Cherpak, Clairton's Tom Nola, Upper St. Clair's Jim Render and North Allegheny's Art Walker.

The athletic department of the winning coach will receive $2,000. The athletic departments of the next four finishers also will receive money.

To vote, go to: http://contest.usatodayhss.com.

Receivers go quiet

Someone started a Twitter account for the Hopewell receivers (@HVWRprobs) that jokingly had tweets about Hopewell's lack of passing. One of the tweets was "Dad, what's a touchdown?" "Don't worry about it son. You're a Hopewell receiver."

The Twitter account was mentioned in this column last week. Although the account may have had a "tongue-in-cheek" approach, we will apparently hear no more from the receivers. The account has been taken down from Twitter.

Different sister acts

One makes an impact with spikes. One plays on spikes. Although they play different sports, the Letos are quite the sister act.

Ashley Leto is a senior at North Allegheny and one of the best volleyball players in the WPIAL. She was an all-state selection as a junior and already has decided to play at California University of Pennsylvania.

Her younger sister, Megan, is a sophomore at North Allegheny and one of the WPIAL's top golfers. She finished tied for third at the Class AAA championships Monday and qualified for the PIAA Western Regional.

WPIAL goes high tech

If you wanted to follow the WPIAL Class AAA boys' golf championships Wednesday hole by hole, you could have on a computer or smartphone.

The WPIAL used Scrolf real time scoring to give score updates of every golfer after every hole.

What's next, the WPIAL or WPIAL executive director Tim O'Malley on Twitter?

"Our golf committee came up with this," O'Malley said "The committee is always looking for ways to enhance what we do and this was spoken about. ... We figured if you can't get to the match or maybe you want to see how your grandkid is doing, this gives you the opportunity."



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