Hard work paying off for CWNC QB
Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic first-year coach Patrick O’Shea was the team’s offensive coordinator last season, so he knew he had a special player in sophomore quarterback Zack Rocco. But it wasn’t until a 7-on-7 camp this summer at Pitt when O’Shea realized he was working with a potential FBS-level talent.
“When we were down there, we realized what his potential could be if he continues to work hard, continues to work in the weight room, and follows what the coaches want him to do, which I know he will. Then the sky is the limit,” O’Shea said. “He’s the kind of kid that down the road will get a lot of attention from the schools you watch on television each Saturday.”
For now, Rocco is making his mark on Fridays, and the 15-year-old is already one of the area’s top passers. Rocco ranks second in the WPIAL in touchdown passes with 21. He has helped North Catholic to a 5-2 overall record and 4-0 mark in the Class 2A Midwestern Conference. The Trojans host No. 4 Riverside (5-1, 5-0) Friday with first place on the line.
Rocco ( 6 feet 3, 200 pounds) has completed 62 percent of his passes (103 of 166) for 1,167 yards. He has thrown for at least two touchdowns in every game, and had his second fourtouchdown outing last week.
O’Shea talks a lot about Rocco’s intelligence and work ethic, traits O’Shea was introduced to when he taught Rocco in government and economics in eighth grade. Rocco also has shown a lot of resilience while bouncing back from a broken leg that cost him most of his freshman season.
“It was a pretty gruesome injury. Now he’s gaining confidence bouncing back from that injury,” O’Shea said. “He’s an extremely mobile quarterback. Big frame. Super strong arm. He has never missed a day in the weight room. He takes that part very seriously.”
Rocco didn’t assume the starting job until the third game of the season. Up until then, Rocco and seniors Jack Cassidy and Ryan Maziarz were splitting time. But Cassidy sustained a season-ending knee injury and O’Shea decided to move Maziarz — who started at quarterback for much of last season — to wide receiver. Maziarz leads the team in receiving and touchdowns.
The Charleroi Cougars are 6-1 and contending for a conference title. That’s not a typo. What a season it has been for Charleroi, which isn’t quite Aliquippa or Clairton when it comes to football tradition. The Cougars (3-1 in Class 2A Century Conference) are on the verge of qualifying for the WPIAL playoffs for the first time since 2004 and the second time since 1998. They are guaranteed to finish with a winning record for the first time since 2009.
Donnie Militzer has helped resurrect the Charleroi program in his four years as coach, but it has been a process. Charleroi went 2-8 and 0-9 in Militzer’s first two seasons, but took a big leap last season when it finished 5-5. The Cougars host undefeated Burgettstown (6-0, 5-0) and rival Beth-Center (6-1, 3-1) the next two games.
“To be honest, I didn’t know how long it would take,” Militzer said. “Last year I could see it turning. This year it’s taken off. Credit to our kids, the parents, the school district, the whole community. The community is wild about it. One of my goals when I came here was to make Friday nights at Pottios Stadium the place to be, and it will be the next two weeks.”
Charleroi has made major strides on both sides of the ball. The Cougars average 40.6 points per game after averaging 21.6 a season ago. Junior quarterback Geno Pellegrini and junior wide receiver Dakota Romantino form one of the best pass-catch combos in Class 2A. Defensively, the Cougars give up 13.3 points a game, an improvement from the 21.9 they allowed in 2016.
With a win at Seton LaSalle (6-0, 5-0) Friday, Freeport (5-1, 4-0) can move into first place in the Class 3A Allegheny Conference. A much-improved defense has played a key part in Freeport’s success.
After surrendering 26.2 points per game a season ago, Freeport is giving up a conference-best 13.7. The Yellowjackets have allowed 30 points total in their five wins. Headlining that defensive unit are senior linebacker Austin Kemp (teamhigh 59 tackles) and junior cornerback Austin Romanchak (two interceptions and 13 passes defended). Romanchak is also the team’s quarterback and has rushed for team highs of 506 yards and 12 touchdowns. Football notebook Class 1A, 2A, 3A