The Fitch football team’s defense was introduced to the reigning Ohio Mr. Football Erick Howard, of North Canton Hoover, Oct. 9.
Actually, the Falcons already knew a lot about Howard, but the senior running back wanted to make sure they did not forget him after the game. Howard rushed for 225 yards and four touchdowns and in the process became Stark County’s all time leading rusher as the Vikings vanquished the Falcons, 31-20.
Last Friday’s loss was devastating for the Falcons because they have now fallen two games off the lead in the Federal League with just three games left to play. Fitch is now 2-2 in the Federal and 5-2 overall.
Howard carried the ball on every play on Hoover’s opening drive finishing it off with a 2-yard touchdown to put the Vikings in front 7-0. That would be the start of a spectacular night for the senior. He would go on to score every touchdown for his team the rest of the evening. Howard’s heroics left Fitch head coach Phil Annarella amazed.
“He’s a good back,” Annarella admitted. “We would have liked to have contained him better.”
Annarella would have also appreciated taking the lead in the contest. Before the Falcons knew what hit them, the Vikings had that early 14-0 advantage. A big reason for that deficit was Fitch’s inability to capitalize on its first half chances. The Falcons did not pick up a first down until midway through the second quarter. A nice drive ended on downs inside the Vikings’ 10 yard line. Fitch’s first half ineptitude caused great grief for Annarella.
“We didn’t do enough on offense,” explained Annarella. “We didn’t convert in the passing game and we had some self-inflicted wounds once again.”
With just a few seconds left in the first half, the Falcons finally did enough to get into the end zone. Shane Stevens dropped a one-yard touchdown pass to Dion Matthews with 13 ticks remaining to pull to within 14-7 at halftime.
The third quarter started with a bang for Fitch when sophomore running back Will Mahone sprinted 84 yards for a touchdown to tie the game at 14-14. That run was indicative of just how much of an asset the young Mahone has been for the Fitch offense this season.
“Mahone came in cold and had a tough first start versus Hoover,” said Annarella. “He is a good back. I’m proud of him.”
After Mahone’s score, Hoover came back to score the next 10 points to make it 24-14 late in the third period. That is when the Falcons’ largest “self-inflicted wound” would happen. Fitch would get the ball inside Hoover’s 5 yard line, but lost possession on a fumble. Making things worse was that the fumble was lost without help from Hoover.
“We fumbled at (Hoover’s) four (yard line) without being hit,” said a discouraged Annarella. “You can’t do that versus Hoover.”
Stevens did come back in the fourth quarter to score on a one-yard run to cut the Vikings’ lead to 24-20, but Howard would score his final touchdown of the contest with under a minute to play to put the game on ice on the chilly October Canton night. Despite the defeat, Annarella still complimented his team’s effort.
“Our kids fought hard,” the coach said. “We just didn’t play well enough at times. We played better in the second half and that gave us a chance to win. I’m proud of (our kids).”
Coach Annarella will be even prouder if the Falcons can do what they did after their first loss of the season and that is bounce back with a win. That win came at home against winless Massillon Jackson, this time Fitch will have to do it on the road against a tougher Massillon Perry outfit.
Perry will pose a challenge to Fitch because it uses an offense that has not been used much by other opponents.
“(Perry) does things differently on offense,” Annarella said. “They are very run oriented and like to use the Wing-T. “
So the Falcons will be intent on stopping the run. Meanwhile, Fitch’s offense will probably do more running of its own because the Panthers have had their problems with rush defense.
“We will take what they give us,” said Annarella. “We feel comfortable that if we take care of the ball and don’t beat ourselves we can do some good things.”
The best thing that could happen to the Falcons on Friday night is to score early and often. In both of Fitch’s losses it had to play from behind. That is not easy to do against such stiff competition.
“We fell behind by 14 points in both games (that Fitch lost),” Annarella said. “You can’t do that in the Federal League and expect to win.”