By Ryan Jones
LOWELLVILLE — Lowellville coach Mike Palumbo knew his team faced some fierce competition during the first four weeks of the season.
His young squad suffered four losses, but learned to play through adversity.
Propelled by a defense that forced five turnovers, the Rockets earned their third consecutive win with a 20-7 triumph over Southern in Inter Tri-County League Tier Two play.
“We played Malvern to open the season and they are now 6-0,” Palumbo said. “Game two was against Tusky Central and they are now 5-1, with their loss coming against Malvern.”
After losses to Springfield and McDonald Palumbo said those early lumps made his team stronger.
“We knew we hadn’t gone up against any slouches,” he said. “All along our kids believed that when we played against teams of our caliber that we would come out on top. Southern is a good team and this was a huge win for us, but what impressed me most was how we went about winning tonight.”
Lowellville’s defense forced the Indians into five turnovers (two fumbles and three interceptions) while pounding out 248 yards on the ground.
Trailing 12-0 after the first quarter, Southern’s Bryan Brinker scored on a 10-yard run the make the score 12-7 with 9:38 left in the second quarter.
After Zack Puckett recovered a Lowellville fumble at midfield, the Indians drove the ball to the 5-yard line. On third-and-goal from the 5, Lowellville defensive back, Pat Minnie, picked off Adam Kelly’s pass in the end zone 55 seconds before halftime.
“We expect Patrick [Minnie] to make those types of plays,” Palumbo said. “I wasn’t surprised that he made that play when the opportunity presented itself. Being a senior our guys look to him for leadership and experience.”
Southern coach Jim Brown said his quarterback had two looks on the third-and-goal play.
“If those receivers weren’t open, we were supposed to throw it away,” he said. “Five more turnovers tonight and that’s kind of been the story of our season. You can’t beat any teams if you have that many mistakes. We’ve played pretty fundamentally sound, but mentally we have breakdowns.”
The Rocket defense tightened in the second half and yielded 57 yards of offense to the Indians. Southern fumbled, turned the ball over on downs and was intercepted by Minnie and safety Randy Pavlicko.
“We had a great week of practice leading up to this game,” Palumbo said. “Nick Sharpe, a sophomore defensive lineman played a great game, and Randy Pavlicko [another sophomore] came up with a huge interception for us. “
Quarterback Evan Filip led all rushers with 144 yards on 18 carries. The sophomore signal caller scored on runs of 2 and 77 yards in the first quarter to put the Rockets up 12-0.
“Evan is our playmaker and he’s the fastest guy on our team,” Palumbo said. “We expect him to take it all the way when we get him a seam. We knew Southern was going to man up their best versus our best so we spread them out and tried to get our backs some seams. We knew we weren’t going to overpower a team like Southern.”
Geno Tkach had 93 yards rushing and scored on a 5-yard TD plunge for Lowellville (3-4, 3-1).
Brett Hunt led Southern (2-5, 0-4) with 72 yards rushing, while Bryan Brinker totaled 60 yards and Kelly 57.