Hornets shut out Lowellville, face Lucas Saturday

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Malvern Hornet KJ Thomas (11) runs the ball during the play-off game against Lowellville Saturday night.

By Leigh Ann Rutledge

CCM Reporter

The Malvern Hornets shut-out, shut-down and shut-off the Lowellville Rockets 34-0 Saturday night in front of the home crowd in the Division VII Region 25 playoff game. 

The Hornets kicked off to start the game and were flagged for a face mask penalty on the play. The Hornets regrouped and were facing third-and-goal on the Rockets 1-yard line as the first quarter ended. Malvern quarterback Tristan Phillips handed off to Bryson White who scored. A bobbled snap caused the extra point to be no good. The Hornets led 6-0 just three seconds into the second quarter.

 On the next series, Lowellville moved the ball to the Malvern 1-yard line. Rocket quarterback Vinny Ballone attempted a pass to the end zone which was intercepted by Phillips. 

Malvern was unable to gain ground and punted the ball away. Again, Lowellville moved the ball to the red zone before a holding call set them back to the 25-yard line. A 16-yard pass from Vinny Ballone to Michael Ballone put them on the 9-yard line as the half ended.

“Our goal this week was to play November football. If you’re playing football in November in high school football then you’ve had a pretty good year,” Malvern Head Coach Matt Chiurco stated. “We were sluggish in the first half offensively and credit Lowellville, they had 8-9 guys in the box to take away our run and we had some penalties that hurt our drives.”

On paper, the teams looked similar, the Hornets came in the game 8-2, the Rockets 7-2. On the field it was a different story. 

The Hornets and the Rockets each earned 13 first downs. Malvern quarterback Tristan Phillips passed for 133 yards with one interception. Lowellville quarterback Vinny Ballone passed for 151 yards but had four interceptions. Lowellville also had two fumbles.

Hornet Xavier Watson made good on one fumble. The first series of the second half began with a Lowellville kick-off. Malvern took possession on their 36-yard line. A two-yard run by Bryson White and a face mask penalty against the Rockets brought the Hornets to the 47-yard line. On third down, Phillips threw a 17-yard pass to Noah Ball for a first down. Then, facing fourth-and-10 on the Rockets’ 37, a Phillips-to-KJ Thomas 30-yard pass brought them to the 8-yard line. A pass to Watson, which he turned and twisted between defenders, culminated with him landing in the end zone. A two-point conversion pass from Phillips to Dylan Phillips was good which put the Hornets up 14-0 with 7:58 left in the third quarter. 

Ryan Runyon kicked off and Rocket Michael Ballone fumbled the ball. Watson recovered the fumble and ran 34 yards to the 1-yard line before being taken down. A hand off from Phillips to White resulted in a second touchdown in 10 seconds. The extra point kick by Runyon was good, putting the Hornets up 21-0 with 7:48 to go in the third quarter. 

The Rockets, catching a second wind, began a drive for the end zone but a fourth-down pass on the Malvern 4-yard line fell incomplete. 

Again, the Hornets possessed the ball as the quarter ended. Phillips handed the ball to Thomas, Johnny Walker, Watson and White to get to the Rocket 17-yard line. Two bad snaps in a row resulted in the Hornets facing third-and-29. Passes to White and Walker couldn’t make up the deficit and the Hornets turned the ball over on downs. 

Lowellville quarterback Ballone began the drive by throwing a pass, which was intercepted by Walker, who returned the ball for a touchdown. Runyon’s extra point kick was good putting the Hornets up 28-0 with 8:23 left in the game. Ballone passed to wide receiver Brady Bunofsky and Matthew Lucido moving the ball into Hornet territory. Ballone’s next pass was intercepted by Thomas who ran the ball to the Rocket 15-yard line. 

Phillips gained 6 yards on a keeper and Thomas ran the ball, gaining three yards, two yards and finally scoring. Runyon’s extra point was no good. With the Hornets leading 34-0, the clock became a running clock for the final 4:48.

“Our defense was just tremendous once again. We knew they would move the ball offensively, but our defense always tightened up when they had to,” Chiurco said. “We continue to add to our team record for interceptions in a season now with 23 and Noah (Ball) continues to add to his single season record now with nine.” 

On the defensive side, Tristan Phillips had six tackles, White, five; Ball and Walker, three and Thomas, two. Phillips, Ball, Thomas and Walker recorded interceptions.

On offense, Thomas led in rushing with 57 yards in 11 attempts and Ball picked up 48 receiving yards.

“Now we get to face a very good Lucas team. They played in the Division VII state championship two years ago and we were a regional finalist a year ago. It will be a challenge but our guys are certainly ready for it,” said Chiurco. 

Malvern travels to Lucas for a second round game Saturday. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.

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