Rochester looking to complete trifecta
Rochester can do something that's never been done, by doing something that always happens.
The Rams (12-2) will seek to become the first team to win three PIAA Class A titles, when they renew acquaintances with perennial runner-up Southern Columbia (14-0) at 2 p.m., Friday at Hersheypark Stadium.
Southern Columbia, a District 4 power 10 miles south of Bloomsburg, has been on the wrong end of the state title game three years in a row and five times in the past six seasons.
Since beating Western Beaver, 49-6, in 1995 for its only state banner, Southern Columbia has become an annual victim of the WPIAL's best.
Defending PIAA Class A champion Rochester beat Southern Columbia for its two state titles, 18-0, in 1998 and, 22-14, last season.
"We know them pretty well," Rochester coach Gene Matsook said.
Southern Columbia, however, returned six starters on offense and seven on defense from the team that turned the ball over five times in the 2000 loss to Rochester.
Coach Jim Roth believes this year's team is more prepared to handle the latest WPIAL Class A power. He said the two key factors in the recent losses - lack of team speed and inadequate line play - were upgraded.
"The thing that hurts you, is when you don't get it done up front and when speed becomes an issue," he said. "Our team speed is better, and we match up much better on both sides of the ball."
Roth, who is 207-38-2 in 18 seasons, admits no one is going to confuse Rochester with some of the District 4 teams that his Tigers beat up on this year.
In one early-season stretch, Southern Columbia won six games by an aggregate score of 289-7.
The Tigers defeated Class AA power Mount Carmel, 22-0, and Class AAA Selinsgrove, 35-7, in the regular season and, when finally faced with adversity, edged Camp Hill, 24-7, in the state quarterfinals.
Southern Columbia, which has won 11 District 4 titles in a row, eased past the PIAA Class A Eastern finals, routing previously undefeated Pius X, 35-6.
"In all of our big games this year, we've had a real good effort in those games," Roth said. "This team has risen up in the tough games and played with a lot of desire. ...We didn't have a tough district playoff and didn't play with a whole lot of intensity and still won fairly easily. Against Camp Hill, we had a scare. The kids felt threatened and the next week they played one of their best games of the year."
Rochester also stormed into Hershey like Charlie with a Willy Wonka gold certificate. The Rams held senior halfback Chad Schilling, a 2,000-yard rusher, to a season-low 37 yards on 13 carries in a 32-6 semifinal victory over Bishop Carroll.
"Our kids have done a great job," said Matsook, a second-year head coach. "We're working extremely hard in practice. We've got two teams going for the same prize, and we've got to make sure we're fundamentally sound. We have to go out and beat Southern Columbia."
Rochester will be challenged by senior halfbacks Jason Brobst ( 152 carries, 1,339 yards, 20 TDs) and Nate Schiccatano (124-924, 12 TDs), who lead the Tigers' Delaware Wing-T offense.
Roth uses a strict rotating quarterback platoon with 5-foot-11, 175-pound senior starter Chase Roadarmel and 5-10, 170-pound junior Mark Wojtowicz.
The two have combined to complete 83 of 154 pass attempts for 1,426 yards and 14 touchdowns.
The Tigers' offensive line is led by junior right guard Drew Hampton (5-11, 205), and his cousin, junior right tackle Nick Hampton (5-11, 245).
Schiccatano, a major Division I prospect with 4.5 speed, usually only plays offense. But the 6-foot-3, 215-pounder likely will start at linebacker this week in place of injured sophomore Brandon Traugh (leg).
He is joined by Brad Sones, a 6-2, 225-pound senior end and the Tigers' only full-time two-way starter.
Rochester 1,000-yard rushers Javonn Bradley and Jermaine Moye will confront a defense that is allowing an average of only 40.3 rushing yards per game and 1.3 yards per carry.
Senior Shawn Mummey (four interceptions, 13 breakups) and junior Matt Murdock (four ints, 12 breakups) spearhead the secondary. As a team, Southern Columbia has 24 interceptions and 11 fumble recoveries.
But Roth said the best team he's ever coached still might not be enough to end the state title jinx.
"This team is as good as any we've had," he said. "But I don't know that we've faced anybody along the way that will line up and come at you and be as physical as Rochester."