After starting this season 4-0 the Fitch football team lost a heartbreaking game at home to Canton GlenOak, Sept. 25.
The talk in Austintown the subsequent week was about how the upstart Falcons would respond to that defeat with struggling Massillon Jackson coming to town. It didn't take long for the Falcons to squash any lingering doubts in the minds of their fans.
Fitch scored three first quarter touchdowns to seize control of the contest then played tough defense down the stretch to hold off the Polar Bears, 45-37. The win to start the second half of the season put Fitch at 5-1, 2-1 in the Federal League and right in the middle of the conference race.
"All wins are big," said Fitch head coach Phil Annarella a couple days after the game. "We have stressed (that each game is a big game) all week. We know if we play our best then the wins will come."
Annarella's kids may not have played their best last Friday, but they did enough at the right times to pick up win number five.
"We played well in the first half," Annarella said. "I was not happy with our performance later in the game, but our kids played hard."
Using three different players behind center, the Falcons scored on three different possessions in the opening quarter. Regular quarterback Jon Ballard score on an eight-yard touchdown run early in the first frame to give Fitch a 7-0 lead. Shane Stevens would score later in the stanza from five yards out to make it 14-0. With just over a minute to play in the first, sophomore Demitrious Davis danced in from 11 yards out for his team's third touchdown. Stevens would add another touchdown run before halftime, and then Will Mahone would score on a 42-yard run late in the game for a total of five Fitch rushing scores.
"The game warranted that we use the three different kids at quarterback," explained Annarella about the wealth of running signal callers. "We have been using the Wildcat formation with Shane (Stevens) all year, but it worked well (against Jackson). In the Wildcat we are able to spread Jon (Ballard) out and give us another athlete on the field. We will use it again if the game warrants it."
Despite racking up 28 first downs, 350 yards on the ground and over 400 yards of total offense the win did not come easily for the Falcons. After Fitch's Nick Williams picked off an errant Polar Bears pass and returned it 55 yards for a touchdown, the Falcons took a seemingly untouchable 38-16 lead into the fourth quarter. Jackson would not quit, however, and battled back to within 38-30 with a little less than five minutes left in the game. That Bears comeback would not sit well with coach Annarella after the game.
"Jackson did well to stay in the game," the coach mentioned, "but we gave them too many opportunities to come back. We did some bad things that we need to fix."
One player who does not need fixed is Ballard who ran wild on Jackson for 145 yards. Bruce Reed registered 80 yards rushing. Mahone only had four carries, but finished with 71 yards.
Speaking of running backs, the Falcons will find a very good one tomorrow night when they travel to North Canton Hoover. When Fitch arrives in Canton it will encounter Ohio's Mr. Football Erik Howard. Howard is the reigning Northeast Ohio Player of the Year and is running amuck again in 2009. There is no doubt that Annarella and his staff is very cognizant of Howard's ability.
"He is awfully talented," said Annarella in amazement. "(Hoover) has a good offensive line. They throw off play action just enough that you can't gang up on Howard."
Howard was ganged up on a lot a week ago in a shocking 16-7 loss to Boardman. The superstar was held to just 78 yards on the ground and the Vikings could only total 155 yards of offense. Being that the Vikings are the defending conference and regional champions one has to figure that the loss to the Spartans should leave them in a horrible mood tomorrow night.
"(Hoover) will be fired up for sure," Annarella said almost chuckling. "We will get their best."
Certainly, the Falcons will give it their best on Friday as well. Is there best good enough to beat mighty Hoover? If it is good enough then coach Annarella thinks it will speak volumes for how far his program has progressed.
"A win will show that we are a viable program," he said. "A win will send a message to the entire Federal League not just this year, but for years to come."