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Punt return seals it



Published: Fri, August 24, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



By JOE SCALZO

VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF

LOWELLVILLE -- It took less than 20 seconds.

Lowellville spent the first 30 minutes of its season-opener playing Crestview to a virtual draw, trailing just 10-6 midway through the third quarter.

But on a fourth-and-2 at Crestview's 28, Lowellville junior Andy Peterson boomed a 52-yard punt that sailed over the head of the Rebels' Matt Thompson.

It also sailed over the Rockets' coverage.

Big score: Thompson picked up the ball and raced 81 yards along the sideline that led to Crestview's 17-6 victory Thursday night at Lowellville Stadium.

"That was a huge play," Rebel coach Paul Cusick said of the punt return. "We hadn't had a big play up to that point and it really helped us."

At first, it looked like the Rockets might pin Crestview deep in their own territory, but Thompson picked up the ball before any Lowellville players could get close, and a couple blocks gave Thompson all the room he needed.

"Coach [Cusick] always tells me to hit the corner hard," Thompson said. "We did a great job but we have a lot to work on."

Senior leadership: Thompson finished with 140 yards of total offense, but was just one of the many Rebel seniors who played well. Will Franklin was the game's leading rusher with 14 carries for 60 yards. Brian Steele added 13 carries for 49 yards and Josh Louk carried 10 times for 47 yards and a touchdown. Louk's 1-yard plunge came on Crestview's game-opening 10-play, 51-yard drive.

"We had a very sloppy practice on Wednesday and I was real concerned about tonight," Cusick said. "But I knew we'd be ready to play. The guys have played in big games before and we didn't make the mistakes that would hurt us."

Crestview's special teams were key. In addition to Thompson's return, junior linebacker Cody Holmes blocked a punt and kicker Scott Raschilla added a 37-yard field goal and two extra points.

"We call our special teams the special forces," Cusick said. "We work hard on special teams the whole year. For a lot of guys, that's their only chance to play and they make the most of it."

Defensive struggle: Lowellville's defense played well -- twice holding the Rebels scoreless on drives inside the 10-yard line in the fourth quarter -- but the offense never seemed to hit stride.

"The defense played a great game, but they can't be on the field for 50 or 60 plays a game," Lowellville coach John Protopapa said. "We just didn't get it done on offense.

"We knew it was a big game because they were in the playoffs last year. We just didn't execute like we did in our two scrimmages."

Sophomore tailback Jeff Peterson led Lowellville with 19 yards on seven carries.

Junior quarterback Mike Palumbo was 5-of-13 for 39 yards and a 1-yard touchdown run in the first quarter that cut Crestview's lead to 7-6. Nick Pope's extra point kick was blocked. Senior defensive back Autumn Axel set up the drive by intercepting Crestview quarterback Seth Antram and racing 35 yards to the Rebels' 18-yard line.

Pinned: Antram finished 4-of-11 for 49 yards and Troy Duwe caught one pass for 27 yards. Crestview used a 17-play, 70-yard drive in the third and fourth quarters that ate up close to 10 minutes and basically put the game away. The Rebels didn't score, but Lowellville was pinned deep and never recovered.

"We look at our defense as the bright spot," Protopapa said. "We have to work on our special teams. If we have to put some of the older kids on special teams, we'll do it. We only have six seniors but we have to get the job done. No excuses."

scalzo@vindy.com




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