West Xtra: Overachieving Rams ousted
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Since 2000, the Rochester football team has averaged more than 11 wins per season.
So it might have been a bit of an exaggeration on Rams coach Gene Matsook's part when he talked about the relative inexperience his team had returning for this season and what that could have translated into in terms of its predicted record.
"Losing seven starters, we easily could have gone 3-6," Matsook said.
Doubtful that a team that has played in eight of the past 12 WPIAL Class A championship games would sink that low, but a dropoff this season could easily have been anticipated.
How about 10-2 and a WPIAL semifinal berth?
"I'm real proud of my football team," Matsook said late Friday evening outside a quiet visitor's locker room at West Allegheny's Joe DiMichela Stadium in Imperial, where Rochester's season ended with a 43-7 WPIAL semifinal defeat to No. 1-seeded Clairton.
"People don't realize we lost seven starters from last year on both sides of the ball, and we had two transfers come out, and to do what we did, to get to the semifinals and take a run at it was a tribute to this football team. I'm proud of each and every one of them for what they did."
This Rochester team won't be known as the greatest in a storied program's history that includes eight WPIAL championships. But considering the expectation level and the relative inexperience entering the campaign, it's one of the one's that's made Matsook -- who has been on the Rams' coaching staff since 1986 -- the proudest.
A large senior class graduated after Rochester lost in the WPIAL title game at Heinz Field last season. A relatively small senior class was left for this season. But the Rams were nearly as strong, their lone two losses coming to the undefeated teams that will meet for this season's championship Saturday (Clairton and Sto-Rox).
"De'Andre Moon and our senior class really just took the bull by the horns and led us to this point," Matsook said. "I'm real proud of those guys."
Moon, a 6-foot, 215-pound senior, played both ways (as well as special teams), leading the team with 1,675 rushing yards and 32 touchdowns.
Moon was one of 11 seniors Matsook said played their final game as a Ram on Friday.
"They've been special," Matsook said. "De'Andre, even though I know he gets singled out a little bit, but there is a kid, character-wise, who sophomore year didn't play a down, and here he is.
"He grew up over the past two years and became a great young man and a kid who's become a leader and became captain of our football team. That's a tribute to him and to the entire senior class. They stuck with it for me, and they'll always be special."
Kind of like the Rochester program. Matsook said eight starters will return on both offense and defense, meaning that the Rams, as usual, figure to be on the short list of Class A favorites to get to Heinz Field again next season.
"We were real young this year," Matsook said. "That will only help us."
Quarterback Ben Richko had 671 passing yards and 10 touchdowns as a junior this season. Second-leading rusher Preston Johnson (440 yards) is merely a freshman, and speedy Jaquan Pennington (301 total yards) is a sophomore.
First Published November 23, 2011 12:00 am