Following two straight losses, the Fitch football team knew it had no chance of winning the Federal League or getting an invitation to the Division I state playoffs.
That set up two weeks of playing only for pride for the Falcons to finish this season.
Thanks to a 49-26 win over Uniontown Lake last Friday in Austintown that improved the team’s overall record to 6-3, the Falcons were beaming with some of that satisfaction.
“I am very proud with how we came out (after those two losses),” said Fitch head coach Phil Annarella. “We feel good about the win.”
Annarella really felt good about Fitch’s running game against Lake. Playing in sloppy conditions brought on by a day full of rain, the Falcons carried the ball close to 60 times and racked up more than 300 yards rushing. Quarterback Jon Ballard was the beneficiary of some good blocking and led the Falcons with 114 yards on 20 carries. Ballard was one of three Fitch rushers to eclipse 100 yards on the ground. Will Mahone with 108 and Bruce Reed with 106 were the other two. Annarella credited those fine totals to good execution and a will to win.
“We blocked well,” said the coach. “We also played with intensity that we didn’t have last week. We came out from the beginning and played hard.”
Despite the gaudy numbers, the coach was pleasantly surprised that his offense was able to grind it out as well as it did Oct. 23.
“We had a little more success (running the football) than we anticipated,” Annarella admitted. “We went into the game intending to run well, but we didn’t know we would be able to.”
Reed was more than able as he came out and put the Falcons on the board first with a 23-yard touchdown run just seconds into the contest. Reed’s run was set up by Demetrius Davis’ 61-yard opening kickoff return. After Lake tied the score, Mahone got into the end zone on a slithery 45-yard run to make it 14-7 in favor of Fitch heading into the second quarter. The Blue Streaks would tie the score again early in the second then Fitch’s defense forced two turnovers that set up a pair of scores. Both touchdowns involved Ballard, one on a five-yard pass to Sam Mariano and the other on a one-yard plunge. Ballard would concoct one more touchdown play before halftime when he hit Terry Terrigno on a pass in the end zone to give the Falcons a 35-14 lead at intermission. Coach Annarella realized when looking at the score sheet how huge those two second quarter fumbles were for his squad.
“We hit hard and were able to knock the ball loose,” he said. “Those were critical plays.”
It was also critical not to let Lake back into the game in the second half. The Blue Streaks scored the opening touchdown of the third quarter to make it a two possession game, but once again it was time for Fitch to turn the ball over to Ballard. Fitch’s signal caller would score twice more in the second half on runs of 37 and one yard to kick mud in the face of the visitors on the sloppy night in Austintown.
Big plays by Ballard, Mariano, Terrigno, offensive lineman George Thomas and others showed the character of Fitch’s seniors after two losses that theoretically ended the team’s season. When the Falcons hook up with cross town rival Boardman in the season finale this Friday those twelfth-graders will be playing their hearts out and should not need any extra incentive.
“Playing in that last game is motivation enough,” Annarella said. “They know it will be special putting on that Fitch uniform one last time.”
The game can be extra special for Boardman because although they lost to Canton McKinley last week, the Spartans still harbor hopes of making the playoffs. That is why coach Annarella will make sure he pulls out all the stops this week.
“All of the pressure will be on (Boardman),” he said. “We can roll the dice a little bit and lay it all on the line.”
Speaking of lines, Boardman’s offensive one is quite imposing. It does a fantastic job blocking in the running game and does especially well keeping strong-armed senior quarterback Rob Boyd upright. If Fitch can bother Boyd it stands a good chance of walking out of Spartan Stadium victorious.
“(Boardman’s) quarterback is really good,” Annarella announced. “He is real accurate and has good receivers to throw to. We need to get some pressure on him to make him hurry his throws.”