Story by Jim Horvath
Photos by David Ploenzke of Stickware Photography
What a difference a week makes.
In their season opener with Fairview, early turnovers put the Rocky River Pirates in a hole they never crawled out of in a loss to Fairview. Friday night, however, the home team turned the tables before many fans got settled in their seats.
A 66-yard pass play from Matt Lowry to Pat Connors gave River a 7-0 lead on the first play from scrimmage 15 seconds into the game. Less than 15 seconds later, Eric Jones’ 23-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown had the Pirates rolling.
When Lowry hit Alex Theiling on a 9-yard scoring strike right before the half, the game had turned into a rout. River, up 35-7, would get one more score in the third quarter on Lowry’s fifth scoring pass of the night and take a 42-7 win over Wellington at Rocky River Stadium.
Lowry, who threw for four touchdowns in the loss to Fairview, had a career night in the second game of his junior season. Unofficially, he completed 15 of 24 passes for 262 yards and five touchdowns with just one interception. He also ran the ball 10 times for 55 yards and made all seven conversion kicks.
His second touchdown strike was a 10-yarder to Connors with 1:29 left in the first quarter. That gave River a 21-7 lead, a far cry from last week’s 17-7 first-quarter deficit.
“We practiced that all week long,” said Lowry of the Pirates’ guick start. “Right off the bat, we got a score. Then we got the second one in 30 seconds, and that was huge. From there we never let up.
“We scored quick, and I just kept going from there. We knew the post was going to be there, but then they took that away. We went to running a little, then went back to the deep ball. If I didn’t have the pass, I just ran it. Our line did a great job of blocking for me and our backs.
“This feels good. I feel I improved from last week, and now I just have to keep on improving in the coming weeks,” he added.
River’s offense stalled a bit from that point, with Wellington beginning to win the field position battle. Lowry’s lone interception and a handful of penalties held the Pirates back as well.
But an interception of a Joe Holliday pass by junior Cam Heider allowed River to regain some momentum. Two drives later, Lowry found Jones all alone deep for a 28-yard scoring strike with 3:41 left in the half. Lowry made the kick, and it was 28-7, River.
Pirates head coach Rick Adams was impressed not only by his team’s first-half performance, but that of his junior signal caller.
“The last two weeks offensively have just been fantastic for him,” Adams said. “For him to come out tonight and not have that second-game or sophomore jinx - to put up the type of numbers that he did - is pretty impressive.”
“When you have a player like Matt Lowry and the skilled receivers we have, we have to use them to our advantage. We talk a lot about our receivers, but if our line doesn’t block and give Matt the time, it’s all for nothing. I think our offensive line did a great job tonight.
“We need our running backs to give enough of a look so the defense has to prepare for them. I think that takes a huge amount of pressure off Matt so he can relax and play his game,” he said.
As it turned out, however, Lowry’s gang wasn’t finished with their first-half outburst.
After Wellington turned the ball over on downs, River took over on its own 32-yard line with 1:04 remaining. On the second play, Lowry found sophomore wide receiver Evan Nugent on a 44-yard bomb that put the Pirates back in business.
Lowry ran the ball nine yards to the Dukes 9-yard line, then hit Theiling for a score that pretty much sealed the game. With 32.6 tick left on the stadium clock, the Pirates had all but sealed the deal at 35-7.
“That catch by Evan Nugget was huge for us,” Adams said. “When he caught that bomb, that put us in a great field position. At that point, we either go into halftime at 28-7 and it’s a close game, or we get it to 35-7.
“That took a lot of wind out of their sails. That catch was huge for us,” he added.
As it turned out, Lowry had one more touchdown left in his arm beforetaking the rest of the night off. On River’s second drive of the half, hit hit Connors - a wide open Connors - on a 39-yarder for the final score of the game.
With 3:14 left in the third quarter, the bench began to get some valued varsity playing time.
“This shows a lot of maturity by our kids,” Adams said. “It shows they’ve learned from last week’s mistakes. They’ve not given up, and they’ve dug deep. I think it’s a huge step up for the program. “And we kept our mistakes to a minimum tonight, and that’s always helpful.”
Up next for the Pirates is a road game next Friday night at Warrensville Heights.
“It’s going to be the first time we’ve been on the road this year,” Adams said. “Both of our games have been at home, and so were our two scrimmages.
“It’s going to be a new experience for a young team, so it’s going to be a challenge to stay focused going into a different environment,” he added.
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