Rochester rallies to down Neshannock
His head held high, a sly grin on his face, Dante Marsick nodded to his right while he pointed into the center of the Rochester locker room.
When asked what the difference was for the Rams in the second half of their 28-21 win against visiting Neshannock on Friday night, Marsick referred to the halftime speech — and the halftime adjustments.
“The coaches came in and basically told us they shouldn't be in the game,” said Marsick, Rochester's senior running back. “Simple as that. They told us to respond. The seniors stepped up.”
Marsick rushed for 202 yards and three touchdowns for Class A No. 2 Rochester (6-0, 5-0), which trailed by a point after two quarters but controlled much of the second half.
After a slow start, Rochester read Neshannock's spread.
The upstart Lancers and their high-scoring, shotgun, short-passes offense took a 7-0 lead on the game's first possession, moved the ball to the Rochester 1 on their second drive and added another first-half touchdown against the perennial powerhouse Rams.
But the bigger, steadier Rochester defense buckled down in the second half. No. 5 Neshannock (5-1, 5-1) was held to two first downs in the second half until a final desperation drive resulted in an Eli Owens 1-yard scoring run with 17.9 seconds to play.
“They threw a punch at us, but we responded to the punch,” Rams coach Gene Matsook said. “That's what good football teams do.”
Early on, the Lancers' spread offense — the one averaging 43 points, third in WPIAL Class A — was humming.
Neshannock entered the game ranked ninth in the WPIAL in total offense and second among Class A teams, and the Lancers moved the ball effortlessly their first two possessions. The opening drive resulted in an Alex Welker 25-yard touchdown reception from Ernie Burkes.
Burkes added a 60-yard touchdown pass to John Congolose that made it 14-7 in the second quarter.
“We knew they were going to bring everybody to try to stop our inside run game, which they did,” Lancers coach Fred Mozzocio said. “What we had to do was make plays on the outside. We did in the first half, but in the second half we didn't.”
Rochester's Ben Richko did it all. He went 6 for 14 for 86 yards, had a rushing touchdown, ran for a two-point conversion, kicked an extra point and had an interception.
Chris Adamski is a freelance writer.