INTER-COUNTY LEAGUE Relieved Protopapa, Rockets celebrate victory at S. Range
The undefeated Rockets held the Raiders scoreless for three quarters en route to a 26-12 triumph.
By RYAN JONES
NORTH LIMA -- You could see the sign of relief on Lowellville High football coach John Protopapa's face as the final seconds ticked away Friday.
In his third season as head coach of the Rockets, Protopapa's team beat the Raiders, 26-12, for the first time, improving to 6-0 overall and 3-0 atop the Inter-County League standings.
"We really challenged the kids a lot this week," said Protopapa, whose team is ranked No. 2 in this week's Division VI Region 21 computer playoff rankings. "The past few weeks have been sloppy even though we won.
"Sometimes I feel that we play to the level of our competition, but tonight we didn't do that," Protopapa said.
"It was evident from the first snap that the Rockets' defense had come ready to play. Raiders quarterback Ryan Maxwell felt the effects of that defense.
The Rockets hawked him all over the field, deflecting several of his passes, forcing him to hurry his throws on almost every drop back and intercepting him twice.
"We really focused on trying to pressure him," Protopapa said. "Even though we knew he was a great athlete, we felt we had to try to get in his face.
"All week, we concentrated on getting our hands up when he went to throw," Protopapa said. "The results looked good tonight."
Maxwell finally managed to nullify the Rockets shutout bid when he connected with Matt Novak for a touchdown play covering 54 yards in the fourth quarter.
The Rockets struck on their first two possessions.
After two running plays left them in third and long, quarterback Mike Palumbo rolled to his right and went deep to Brian Meehan for a 90-yard catch and run touchdown.
On their second possession, Lowellville stretched the lead to 14-0 when Palumbo faked an option pitch to tailback Andy Peterson and kept it himself, scampering in from 43 yards away.
Palumbo totaled 152 yards in the air to go along with 80 more on the ground, scoring three times .
Out of the halftime gate, the Rockets extended the lead, this time relying Peterson, their workhorse in the backfield who was held to just 22 yards in the first half.
"We adjusted to what South Range was doing defensively at the half," Protopapa said. "We realized that we needed to get Andy the ball and let him grind it out behind our big guys up front."
Peterson proceeded to do just that, rushing eight times for 61 yards during the drive that lasted seven minutes and two seconds. Palumbo finished it off with the second of his two rushing touchdowns, this one a plunge from the 1 yard line.
Early in the fourth frame, Peterson found the end zone on a dazzling 20-yard touchdown run to put the Rockets up, 26-0. In all, Peterson ran 22 times for 149 yards, with 127 of those yards coming in the second half.
Next week, Lowellville will square off against Springfield, who also is undefeated in the ICL.
Protopapa is looking forward to the matchup.
"I really felt that we maintained our focus tonight, and next week will be another great test for our team to take a step in the direction of our playoff run last year," Protopapa said.