By VINCE PELUSO
As far as offensive efficiency was concerned, it didn’t get much better than what the Conneaut Spartans did to the Pymatuning Valley Lakers on Friday night at Conneaut Stadium.
Prior to Troy Colucci taking a knee to end the first half, the Spartans ran 16 plays, scored five touchdowns and led 34-8 at halftime ultimately taking home a 41-14 win.
“We knew they were going to stack the box a little bit so we wanted to come out throwing just to open up the box a little,” Conneaut coach Rocco Dobran, who’s team improved 3-2 with the win, said. “Troy did a great job throwing. He put the ball on the money. He did a great job throwing the ball to open things up then we took off running.
“The offensive line did an amazing job.”
Colucci started a big night with a 16-yard touchdown pass to C.J. Rice just two plays and 36 seconds into the game.
After a PV (1-4) turnover on downs, Colucci connected with Alex Gerdes from 43 yards out to give the Spartans an early 13-0 lead.
The Lakers answered, though.
A 9-play, 62-yard drive resulted in a 1-yard touchdown run from Nick Such with 2:40 left in the first. Quintin Ratliff’s run for the 2-point conversion cut the deficit to 13-8.
But, it was all Spartans from there.
A 69-yard return by Colucci on the ensuing kickoff set up the Spartans on the Lakers 15 and Colucci capped the short drive with a 2-yard touchdown run.
Lakers coach Neal Croston said the kickoff return killed any momentum his team had gained from the touchdown.
“We were trying to kick it away from No. 3 (Rice) and 5 (Colucci) and I think we kicked it right to him; you can’t do that,” he said. “It took all the momentum we did have right there. Next thing you know, it’s 21-8.”
And not long after that, it was 34-8.
Conneaut forced PV into consecutive three and outs and Colucci turned those into touchdown runs of 44 and 40 yards to give the Spartans a comfortable 26-point halftime advantage.
Colucci ended the night 4 of 7 passing for 115 yards, two touchdowns and no picks in addition to 170 yards rushing on 11 carries and three scores.
“His confidence is growing every week,” Dobran said. “He’s starting to fit into the quarterback role. Everyone wants to say he’s a running back at quarterback and he took that as a challenge and said ‘I’m a quarterback.’ His efficiency has been great all year. He works at it all the time. He’s just doing an outstanding job and the rest of the team is helping him get there.
“He knows it’s tough to key on him when you’ve got other guys out there doing well.”
Conneaut totaled 332 yards on the ground in addition to 122 through the air, averaging 11.1 yards per play.
Croston said coming in he felt the key to stopping the Spartans was controlling the ground game.
“I mean, they run their spread and we got seven in the box, we wanted to stop the run, we thought that was the main thing then they beat us with the pass,” he said. “Then we put six in the box and they were able to run on us so it was pick your poison tonight. We couldn’t stop either. Give them credit.”
Conversely, the Lakers didn’t get much going on offense.
Ratliff rushed for 100 of PV’s 137 on the ground. The Lakers added 133 yards through the air, but 45 of that came on the game’s final play, a touchdown pass from Mitchell Skleres to Kegen Hoopes.
“I was extremely excited (about our defense),” Dobran said. “Our defensive coaching staff put together a great game plan. We felt we could put up some points but I would’ve never thought we’d hold Ratliff and them to 8 points (not counting the final touchdown which came with mostly JV players in). Our defense did a great job pursuing the ball. Sam Distelrath and Cole Walker did a great job containing the outside and keeping Ratliff inside the box and everyone else just pursued to the ball. R.J. Nelson, first time full time back from his knee injury, did a great job in the middle.
“We counted on Ratliff getting his 150, we just thought we’d have to outscore them,” Dobran said. “They outweighed our expectations and did a great job.”
With Northeastern Athletic Conference play beginning next week, Croston said his team’s goal now becomes winning a conference title.
“The kids are a lot tougher than we give them credit for,” he said of his team’s mental state. “They’ll probably forget about this within five minutes. But you know, we’re banged up. But everyone is banged up right now. I just told the kids we’ve only won four conference titles ever so our goal is to win the conference. It’s a new season for us, it might sound dumb, but that’s the way we gotta think and stay positive.
“Most of these guys, after high school they’re done with football so you gotta have a little fun.”
On the opposite spectrum, Dobran’s team coming off a winless season in 2012, has a winning record for the first time in his three years as coach of the Spartans.
“It’s a great feeling,” he said. “I think these guys believe they can win and believe in the team concept. They’re buying into everyone is a part of this team and everyone’s got to do their job. It’s not all about Troy or (any one individual). Everyone is going to play their part and everyone is going to get their touches.
“It’s that team concept and since the scoreboard is showing it they’re believing it.”