BENNINGTON -- A team can't win a football game in the first five minutes, but they can lose it that way.
For the Southern Vermont Storm, it was a nightmare scenario as fumbles on the first two offensive plays turned into points.
Evenly matched throughout, the turnovers were the difference in a 12-3 loss to the Central Mass Sabercats in a New England Football League Class A matchup at Spinelli Field.
"Both defenses were outstanding, but we had some opportunities to make plays and we didn't do it," said Storm head coach Tighe Stratton. "We had too many penalties -- taking one step forward and two steps back."
The Storm got the ball first and on the opening play ran a toss to the right for tailback Mike Woodson. It was stretched to the sideline where a Sabercats defender knocked the ball out, then fell on it to give them the ball at the Storm 28.
Seven plays later, the Sabercats converted on a 4th-and-goal from the 4 on a touchdown pass from Frankie Desiderio to Kyle Quinn for a 6-0 advantage.
On the next possession, Ken Cross carried the ball for nine yards, but fumbled fighting for extra yards. The ball ended up in the hands of defensive back Shawn Gyles, who returned it 23 yards for a score.
"We watched the film from the last game and we wanted to run it more this time and slow the game a little bit," Stratton said. "But [the Sabercats] stopped the run and the linebackers made a lot of good plays."
The Storm missed an opportunity on their third offensive possession, missing a field goal after a 14-play, 75-yard drive.
But the Storm defense kept them in the game, not allowing the Sabercats to sustain any drives. With two minutes left in the half, Desiderio was intercepted by Geoff Silver. The Storm were forced to punt, but on the next drive, Nick Bennett came up with a pick, running it back 24 yards. Desiderio threw for just over 150 yards and was picked off twice.
"I was very happy with them," Stratton said. "One of our starters, Gary Hewson, was out and Nick was in that spot and had an interception. Mike Stephens played some defensive end and got some pressure on the quarterback."
The good field position set up the Storm for a Will Cole 43-yard field goal as the half ended.
The Storm had a chance in the fourth to pull within one score, but the Sabercats defense made yet another play. Down in the red zone, J.C. LeBarron went back to pass, looking for Mike Waters, but the Sabercats' Ryan Rendon made a play to kill the drive. LeBarron threw for more than 100 yards on the night.
Central Mass improved to 5-0 with the victory, while the Storm dropped to 2-2. But the schedule favors Southern Vermont, with three of the final four games at home.
"We play the [Berkshire] Kings and the [Monadnock] Marauders again and we handled them in the first game," Stratton said. "The Ravens are still a mystery, but I think the destiny is in our hands. I'm confident, but we have a lot of work to do."