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Lowellville tops Ridge after late-game fireworks

LOWELLVILLE — After a defensive struggle for the better part of the game, Lowellville and Mineral Ridge combined for three touchdowns in the final 2:09.

The Rockets saved what could’ve been a disappointing homecoming by scoring the final points on Cole Bunofsky’s 27-yard touchdown reception from freshman quarterback Vinny Ballone with 13.1 seconds remaining and Michael Donatelli’s two-point conversion run as they topped the Rams 28-20.

“I told Vinnie to just throw it up there and let me take care of the rest because I didn’t feel like anyone could cover me,” said Bunofsky, who hauled in the pass with one hand, tucked it away at the 2-yard line and was tackled into the end zone. “He did exactly what we needed him to do and that saved our homecoming.”

Ballone set up the late touchdown when he intercepted a pass and returned it 30 yards after Mineral Ridge scored two touchdowns in eight seconds to overcome a 20-7 deficit.

“I trust our receivers and they make a lot of good catches,” said Ballone, who was 16-for-22 passing for 207 yards and four touchdowns. “Our coaches had us in the right positions late in the game and we had to make something happen after they tied it up. I just saw the ball, grabbed it and looked for some running room.”

The Rockets improved to 5-1 overall and 2-1 in the Mahoning Valley Athletic Conference as Mineral Ridge dropped to 4-2 and 1-2.

The Rams trailed 20-7 after Bunofsky threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to Anthony Lucente with 3:14 remaining.

But Mineral Ridge needed just four plays to pull within 20-14 as quarterback Dakota Edwards hooked up with Randall Miller on a 16-yard scoring play. The Rams then squirted an onside kick down the right sideline and the ball stayed in bounds and Mineral Ridge recovered at the Lowellville 28.

On first down, Edwards found Miller again to tie the game at 20 with 2:01 left, as the Rams missed the extra-point kick.

The Rockets then connected on two nice pass plays, but fumbled and the Rams took over at their own 16-yard line. After a pass interference penalty, Edwards threw downfield on a first-and-10 from his own 27 and Ballone darted in for the interception.

“It was a crazy end and we kept battling,” Rams coach Brian Shaner said. “We put ourselves right back in the game. I’m disappointed we didn’t play well earlier, but we got thinks clicking in our passing game late and gave ourselves a chance. But give credit to Lowellville. They kept us from doing much offensively for most of the game.”

Edwards was 12-for-22 passing for 192 yards with three interceptions.

Lowellville took a 14-7 lead in the third quarter when Ballone tossed an 18-yard scoring stike to Brady Bunofsky.

Defenses dominated the first half. Each team scored on one of its five possessions as the combatants went to the locker room tied at 7.

The Rams scored first, covering 59 yards in seven plays, with Jalen Royal-Eiland hauling in a 19-yard scoring pass from Edwards. The drive was interrupted for 24 minutes following an injury to Devon Winford, who was taken by ambulance to the hospital for evaluation after receiving neck pains when being tackled.

The Rockets responded on their next drive, marching 67 yards in nine plays, with Ballone throwing a 19-yard touchdown to Cole Bunofsky, who made a nice catch and got a foot down in the right side of the end zone.