It was the first-ever meeting on the gridiron between Austintown Fitch and Poland Sept. 3 at Dave Pavlansky Field in Poland.
Heading into that inaugural contest, Poland head coach Mark Brungard was concerned that, despite his powerful Poland squad being a perennial playoff contender in Division III, it was going to be a huge challenge stepping up to take on Division I fixture Fitch.
On the other hand, Fitch head coach Phil Annarella sheepishly suggested that the Bulldogs have played the Cardinal Mooneys and the Akron Hobans of the world in the past and should “take on little old Fitch.” One look at Friday’s final score and it is easy to see that Annarella must have felt like the lion who coaxed his prey into his lair. The Falcons’ offense was flying from the first drive of the game and never stopped to breathe in their 48-13 blasting of the Bulldogs. Although this was a monumental win for the Falcons, coach Annarella thought it lacked the importance of a win against a rival from the Federal League.
“We feel good about the win,” Annarella said over the weekend, “but we are to the point where people doubt us in the (Federal) league. We must win more games in the league.”
Fitch’s first foray in the Federal is on Sept. 17 against Canton McKinley so for now Annarella must bask in the glory of demolishing one of the most storied programs in recent local history.
Fitch took the opening kickoff of the contest and concluded a nice drive with a five-yard touchdown run by quarterback Demetrious Davis to go ahead 7-0. The Falcons would score again later in the first quarter on a three-yard touchdown run by Chris Davis. That play was set up by speedy linebacker Will Mahone who stripped Poland quarterback Colin Reardon of the ball and ran 20 yards to the Bulldogs’ Red Zone. It may have only been the first period, but Annarella acknowledged that Mahone’s thievery turned the game in his team’s favor.
“Mahone’s play was immense,” said Annarella. “I told him after the game how important a play that was. He is great on either side of the ball. He has a knack for making big plays.”
Demetrious Davis has that same knack as well and he has proven it over the Falcons’ first two games of this season. Davis has spearheaded Fitch’s offense, a unit that has scored 106 points already, both on the ground and through the air. The junior added a 67-yard touchdown run in the second quarter to finish with 132 yards rushing. He also completed all six of his pass attempts for 173 yards including touchdown passes of 12 yards to Nick Williams and 46 yards to Cam Patterson. Shane Stevens and Bruce Reed also contributed touchdown runs with Reed running the ball 10 times for 80 yards. Needless to say, the spread offense is hitting on all cylinders so far for the Falcons and Annarella has a theory why it has been so successful.
“It is hard (for Fitch’s opponents) to simulate what we do in practice,” the coach said. “It is totally different when you play against it during a game.”
While Fitch’s offense has been humming along, its defense has flexed its muscles as well. Fitch’s foes have only totaled 20 points in two games and last Friday the Falcons forced two turnovers and held Poland’s big- play offense to just a shade over 200 yards. Great defense has allowed Annarella’s offense to be in perfect scoring position.
“Our defense has given us great opportunities to do well,” Annarella announced.
The defense will get another chance to be opportunistic this week when the Falcons fly to Painesville to battle Riverside. The Beavers have only scored 14 points this year so the Falcon defenders should be able to pin their ears back and go at it full throttle. On the flip side, Riverside has allowed 13 touchdowns meaning that Demetrious Davis and company should get plenty of rest because they will be doing a lot of running around the field this Friday.
Fitch defeated the Beavers last season in a game that honestly did not help the Falcons as far as playoff points were concerned. Painesville Riverside once was a proud outfit, but the Beavers have lost their bite in recent seasons, which disappoints coach Annarella.
“(Painesville Riverside) is going through some bad times,” said the coach. “Beating them last year really didn’t do much for us. We hope they get better.”
Of course, Annarella does not want Riverside to get better in time for Friday’s game, but he hopes his boys do. There is always room for improvement no matter how well a team is playing and there is also a chance that that good fortune may carry over into overconfidence. That possibility is especially true for the Falcons who play a 0-2 team in the middle of an enormous game in week two and a potential make-or-break game in the Federal League with McKinley next Friday. Fitch’s coach is hoping that his youngsters do not letdown in Painesville.
“A letdown is always a concern,” Annarella said. “You can’t take anything for granted. We need the focus to be on us. We still need to get better to keep things rolling.”
Photos by Mike Capps, Town Crier correspondent
Right out the gate, Fitch’s defense held nothing back as they swarmed Poland’s running attack the entire night with Lucas Haupt, Cam Patterson and Shane Stevens leading the way.