LOWELLVILLE, Ohio (WKBN) – Over the last 17 years, Lowellville has posted just two winning seasons (2013, 2019). During that time span, the Rockets have finished with less than five losses in a single campaign only once (2019: 6-4).
With a strong junior class, the Rockets appear to be on the brink of getting over the hump. Three-year starting quarterback Vinny Ballone is back along with many playmakers and three starters along the offensive line. Last year, Lowellville averaged nearly 30-points per contest.
However, the defense permitted over 35 points to be scored in each of their six losses.
“That’s an area we need to improve upon if we want to win games in our league this year,” said Coach Andrew Mamula. “With many players returning on that side of the ball, it should help us with our communication as there were times last year where we misaligned or blew coverages because we didn’t communicate properly and lacked discipline. Having guys that are experienced in the system should reduce those lapses in communication.”
The Rockets were eliminated from the post-season in the second round by eventual-state finalist Warren JFK, 65-33
Lowellville begins the 2021 season with a trip to Columbiana.
2020 Record: 4-6 (2-5, 6th place in MVAC Scarlet Tier)
Coach: Andrew Mamula, 2nd season (4-6)
Previewing Lowellville’s Offense
Scoring Offense: 29.6 (21st in Area)
Total Offense: 349.2
Returning Starters: 8
Key Returnees: Vinny Ballone, JR/QB; Brady Bunofsky, JR/WR; Max Jones, SR/OL; Anthony Lucente, JR/TE; Anthony Lucido, SR/OL; Kyle Miller, SR/OL; Alex Modelski, JR/WR; Francisco Rivera-Ocasio, OL
Key Losses: Cole Bunofsky, WR; Taz Sanchez, RB
Name to watch for: Vinny Ballone, QB
Lowellville averaged the most points in a single season last year (29.6) since their last league championship and the undefeated regular season of 2002 (33.0).
As a sophomore, quarterback Vinny Ballone completed 54.7% of his passes (181-331) while throwing for 2472 yards and 34 touchdowns. Ballone also led the team in rushing with 368 yards on 87 totes (4.2 avg).
His favorite target was Brady Bunofsky, who caught 63 balls as a sophomore. Bunofsky was 16-yards shy of 1000-receiving yards for the season (984). He hauled in 10 touchdowns.
“They both had great seasons for us,” Mamula said. “Remember, that was with a very limited off-season with no passing scrimmages [just one scrimmage]. We were pretty basic early on, but as the season progressed, we were able to open up the playbook a little more. Vinny showed last year that he’s not afraid to spread the ball around to the open read in our system. We had four players with at least 25 receptions, and 11 different players that recorded at least one catch in a varsity game last year. We expect to be a bit more balanced especially with Vinny contributing a bit more in the run game.”
Expect to see the likes of Alex Modelski (26 catches, 289 yards), Anthony Lucente (25 catches, 264 yards), Braylen Dabney (3 catches), Jim Clinton (7 receptions) and Tino Rivera-Occasio to contribute as well.
“We have three returning offensive linemen in Kyle Miller, Anthony Lucido and Max Jones [all seniors]. Max has had a great offseason in the weight room and we expect him to be the anchor of our offensive line as he is by far our biggest and strongest lineman,” Mamula said. “We also spent the offseason working on developing some of our younger linemen that need to step up this year. Casey Gordon and Michael Katula [sophomores] got some experience last year and we’re excited about one of our incoming freshmen, Anthony Vrabel. He’s put in great work this offseason and will factor into the offensive line somewhere.”
Previewing Lowellville’s Defense
Scoring Defense: 37.2 (57th in Area)
Total Defense: 299.1
Returning Starters: 7
Key Returnees: Brady Bunofsky, JR/LB; Braylen Dabney, SO/DB; Vinny Layko, SR/LB; Anthony Lucido, SR/DL; Matt Lucido, SO/LB; Tino Rivera-Ocasio, SO/LB
Key Losses: Cole Bunofsky, DB; John Loshuk, DL; Francisco Rivera-Ocasio, DL; Taz Sanchez, DB; Ricky Snyder, LB
Name to watch for: Vinny Layko, LB
The Rockets have allowed their opponents to average 31 points or more in four of the last six years.
“We expect to be able to get to the ball,” Mamula said. “We need to do a better job of finishing this year. We’ll be undersized again, but our speed will allow us to be a bit more exotic with blitzes and bring pressure from different areas to counteract our lack of size up front. We’ll have a lot of speed, especially in the secondary and our outside [line]backer core.”
Linebacker Vinny Layko returns after posting the third highest tackle total on the team (47).
“We expect a big year defensively from Vinny,” Mamula said. “We also had some young guys contribute last year in Braylen Dabney, Matt Lucido and Tino Rivera-Ocasio [two QB sacks] that played significant roles as freshmen. They’re all a year older and stronger which should help us get stops on the defensive end. Jim Clinton, Michael Ballone and Mark Dubos figure to factor in the defensive secondary.”
“We expect more competition in our secondary and along the defensive line this summer,” Mamula says. “That should allow us to find players that are disciplined and are willing to do their job to get on the field. We have a lot of young, hungry players that we want to find roles for and the defensive side of the ball should allow us to do that.”
2020 MVAC Scarlet Tier Standings
Springfield – 6-0 (11-1)
McDonald – 5-1 (7-2)
Jackson-Milton – 4-2 (6-3)
Western Reserve – 4-3 (6-4)
Mineral Ridge – 3-3 (6-4)
Lowellville – 2-5 (4-6)
Sebring – 1-5 (2-8)
Waterloo – 0-6 (4-6)
Aug. 20 – at Columbiana
Aug. 27 – Campbell Memorial
Sept. 3 – at Wellsville
Sept. 10 – Springfield
Sept. 17 – Jackson-Milton
Sept. 24 – at Waterloo
Oct. 1 – at Sebring
Oct. 8 – McDonald
Oct. 15 – Mineral Ridge
Oct. 22 – Western Reserve