LOWELLVILLE, Ohio (WKBN) – The Rocket football program went through a stretch of fifteen years (2004-18) where they enjoyed just one winning season in 2013 when Lowellville advanced to the post-season. Since 2019, the Rockets have posted a pair of winning campaigns and an overall record of 17-13.

In coach Andrew Mamula’s third year at the helm, he returns plenty of experience including his senior signal caller Vinny Ballone. Last year, #5 completed 59% of his 242 tosses for 2114 yards and 28 scores. Ballone also led the team in rushing with 870 yards, an average of 9.7 stripes per carry, and 11 touchdowns.

Ballone will have his top three targets from a year ago back in the fold in Brady Bunofsky (1005 yards, 15.5 avg, 13 TDs), Matt Lucido (337 yards, 10.9 avg, 4 TDs) and Anthony Lucente (350 yards, 16.7 avg, 4 TDs).

Coach Andrew Mamula indicates, “Ballone and Bunofsky will remain the centerpieces, but we have two juniors that were excited to scheme opportunities for. Michael Ballone and Braylen Dabney will have similar roles as slot guys. We plan to use motion and formations to put them in advantageous positions. Dabney’s speed is as fast as anyone in our league and Michael’s shiftiness will allow him to get separation and make plays in the open field. We are going to make it a priority to give these two more opportunities than they had as sophomores because they can be difference makers.”

The offensive line returns three players who started more than three games, a year ago, in Anthony Vrabel, Thomas Dubos and Casey Gordon. “Anthony has stepped up in the weight room and at our linemen skills sessions,” says Mamula. “He looks to make a leap [this season]. We still have two openings up front that we’ll need to fill. Senior Devon Palomaki has been making noise in the weight room and is a front runner to take one of those spots. They’ll need to gel and put it together.”

In their 7 wins in 2021, the Rockets outscored their opponents on average by 22-points (41-19). In their three losses, Lowellville was outscored by a combined score of 116 to 33 against Springfield, Western Reserve and Malvern.

The loss of Vinny Layko (95 tackles, 3 QB sacks), Christopher Sanchez (52 tackles, 3 QB sacks) and Anthony Lucido (56 tackles) to graduation will be a challenge to replace. Nevertheless, the defense should be talented led by the likes of Michael Ballone (74 tackles, 8 TFL, 5 INTs), Matt Lucido (71 tackles), Brady Bunofsky (58 tackles, 10 TFL, 4 FF) and Tino Rivera-Ocasio (66 tackles, 8 TFL).

Mamula points to his linebackers and safeties as the real strength of the defensive unit. Rivera-Ocasio, Bunofsky, Lucido and Anthony Lucente will operate in the middle of the defense at their linebacker spots. Michael Ballone, Jim Clinton, and Vinny Ballone will roam in the secondary at the safety positions. “As a team, we forced twenty-five turnovers last year. Those two position groups [linebacker and safety] were responsible for most of those turnovers. To have success defensively, we must continue to force teams into making mistakes. We’ll be breaking in three new starters along the defensive front. We plan is to move Tino [Rivera-Ocasio] from his outside linebacker position to the inside Will linebacker. He’ll get first crack at absorbing those chances.”

“Depth will continue to be an issue for our team,” states coach Mamula. “The good news is we do return all our skill players. That’ll be our strength. Last year, we were able to breakthrough and finish in the top three [of the MVAC], being one-yard shy from possibly placing second. We hope to continue that upward trajectory with the goal of finding success in the postseason. Our kids’ sights are set on it, but we know we must take care of business in our league games first to even have a chance in the playoffs.”

The Rockets will open play on Friday, August 19 at Columbiana.

Lowellville Rockets
Fast Facts
Head Coach: Andrew Mamula, 3rd season (11-9)
2021 Record: 7-3 (4-2), 3rd place in MVAC Scarlet Tier
Last 5 Years: 24-26 (48%)
Home Field: Paul Menichini Field
League: Mahoning Valley Athletic Conference, Scarlet Tier
Base Offense: Spread
Base Defense: Multiple

Returning Starters
Offense: 8
Defense: 7

2021 Team Stats
Scoring Offense: 31.8 (15th in Area)
Scoring Defense: 25.2 (27th in Area)
Total Offense: 371.3
Rushing Offense: 151.4
Passing Offense: 219.9

2021 Individual Leaders
Passing: Vinny Ballone – 2114 yards, 58.7% (142-242), 28 TDs
Rushing: Vinny Ballone – 870 yards, 9.7 avg, 11 TDs
Receiving: Brady Bunofsky – 1005 yards, 15.5 avg, 13 TDs
Tackles: Vinny Layko – 95
Quarterback Sacks: Vinny Layko & Chris Sanchez – 3
Interceptions: Michael Ballone – 5

2021 Results
Malvern 34 Rockets 0*
Rockets 56 Mineral Ridge 28
Rockets 40 McDonald 20
Western Reserve 28 Rockets 27
Rockets 31 Waterloo 28
Rockets 41 Jackson-Milton 7
Springfield 54 Rockets 6
Rockets 33 Wellsville 6
Rockets 34 Campbell Memorial 20
Rockets 50 Columbiana 27

2021 MVAC Scarlet Tier Standings
Springfield – 7-0 (13-2)
Western Reserve – 5-1 (5-6)
Lowellville – 4-2 (7-3)
McDonald – 3-2 (3-6)
Mineral Ridge – 2-4 (4-5)
Waterloo – 2-4 (3-7)
Jackson-Milton – 1-5 (2-7)
Sebring – 0-6 (1-8)

2022 Schedule
Aug. 19 – at Columbiana
Aug. 26 – at Campbell Memorial
Sept. 2 – at South Central
Sept. 9 – at Springfield
Sept. 16 – at Jackson-Milton
Sept. 23 – Waterloo
Sept. 30 – Sebring
Oct. 7 – at McDonald
Oct. 14 – at Mineral Ridge
Oct. 21 – Western Reserve