Conneaut rallies past SJP for its first win
By BRUCE McCLIMANS
For the Star Beacon
CONNEAUT -Down 21-6 to SS. John and Paul at halftime, Conneaut Spartans coach Bob Lundin put a challenge to his team and told them that they needed to make a statement.
Boy, did they ever as the Spartans came out re-energized and wore down the Heralds in the second half to go home winners for the first time this season as they squeaked by SJP, 26-21, Friday at Municipal Field.
But, as in everything worthwhile, it came at a price as lineman Brett Lowe and wide receiver Jake Lundin were injured and never returned to the field.
The game started out quite sluggishly as both teams traded punts back and forth in the first two possessions. The Heralds were finally able to muster enough offense on a Jake Phelps-to-Corey Herpy pass that covered 33-yards that landed the Heralds at the Spartan 6. Adam Liuzzo ran it in from there to give the Heralds an early 7-0 lead.
It would be short-lived as SJP, which has been susceptible to the big play in the first two ball games, gave up a 65-yard touchdown run to Conneaut quarterback Nick Distelrath. Overpursuit has been a problem for the Heralds in the early going, and it would rear it's ugly head later in the game.
Early in the second quarter Phelps drove the Heralds from their own 36 to the Spartan 35 when he went back to the air and found Liuzzo for a 30-yard gain down the Conneaut 5. Halfback Ryan Welton then hooked up with Phelps to make it 14-6.
It's easy to see that the Herald (0-2, 0-0) offense is built around Phelps (10-17-0-144) yards, but a more diversified attack will be needed if the Heralds are to be successful.
Ryan Prugar hooked up with Phelps on a 32-yard go-pattern for the Heralds' final score.
As in the novel A Tale of Two Cities, Conneaut (1-1, 0-0) proved that this game would be the Tale of Two Halves as they came roaring back with vengeance and a newfound vigor that produced three Herald turnovers. And it seemed that they took full advantage of every break that was given to them by the Heralds.
Joe Teed recovered a Welton fumble at the Herald 22, and three plays later Ian Pelow changed directions twice and cut back against the grain of the field to score on a 20-yard run as the third quarter ran out.
In what might have been the back-breaker for the Heralds, off-setting penalties nullified a 39-yard pass from Phelps to Prugar. It was the kind of play that might have been the death nail to the Spartans, but it was the young Heralds who were going to fold.
Tyler Rice then picked off a fumble by Phelps in mid-air and returned it 45 yards for a Spartan score at 5:34 to make it 21-20, SJP.
After the Spartan kickoff to the SJP 35, it took only one more play for the curtain to come down on the Heralds as Joe Massucci was hit hard and coughed the ball up to Conneaut's Nick Eaton.
The smell of blood was in the air. After runs of 14, 29, and 2 yards from Pelow it was Distelrath's turn and he didn't disappoint as he scored from the one.
Herald coach Jim Timonere is proud of his team, but he's not about moral victories anymore.
"It's time for these boys to produce," Timonere said. "We had Conneaut's number going into halftime, but we let it slip away. I was afraid that we might become complacent, but give Conneaut credit. They never stopped and they took it to us in the second half."
McClimans is a freelance writer from Ashtabula.