Fitch’s football team has had the soup, the salad and the appetizer so far this season. Now it is time for the main course.
Thanks to a 34-0 whitewash of Painesville Riverside last Friday on the road, the Falcons have started this season 3-0. Fitch will put that perfect mark on the line in week 4 when it hosts 2-1 Canton McKinley in the Falcons opening Federal League game.
“This game will be big for us because it is our first Federal League game of the year,” said Falcon head coach Phil Annarella during a break from watching film of the Bulldogs. “We have to go out and play our game. We have to be ready mentally.”
According to Annarella, a bad mental approach was something that almost caused his team to slip-up against undermanned Painesville Riverside last week. Sure the game was a blowout, but the coach was concerned that his boys may have had the Bulldogs on their minds more than Beavers.
“We were lackluster at times,” Annarella admitted. “We may have been looking past Riverside. Plus we had a two-hour bus ride and we played like we had a two-hour bus ride.”
All night Riverside’s offense must have felt like it was getting run over by that bus because it could not move the ball against Fitch’s defense. In a twist of nature, a dam was built around the Beavers all game as the Falcons gave up less than 150 yards of total offense. Beaver receivers must have felt unwanted because the home team never completed a pass all evening. It wasn’t much better for the Beaver rushing attack as it was held to only a three yard average. Riverside only collected nine first downs and turned the ball over four times. On one of those miscues, Fitch defender Lucas Haupt had an impressive 49-yard interception return for a touchdown right before halftime to give his team a four touchdown advantage at the break.
“Our defense played well,” said Annarella. “The linebackers played very well and the secondary did a great job holding (Riverside) to zero yards passing.”
One would think that coach Annarella and defensive coordinator Wally Hurdley had some special game plan to take the bite out of the Beavers, but that would not be true.
“Defensively we just do what we do,” Annarella said coyly.
Fitch does a lot on the offensive side of the ball as well and that was evident over the first 24 minutes of the ballgame. The Davis twins took control early and scored the first three touchdowns of the game. Chris Davis opened things up with a four-yard run to put Fitch ahead 7-0. Demetrious Davis then capped the next two drives with touchdown plunges of one and three yards which made the game 21-0 in favor of the Falcons. Davis would close the scoring with a sensational 71-yard touchdown scamper just before the close of the third quarter. Davis the quarterback rushed 13 times for 143 yards and connected on 9-of-12 passing for another 85 yards. Davis the receiver would snag five passes for 50 yards. Bruce Reed also topped the century mark on the ground with 120 yards as Fitch racked up 25 first downs and 353 yards rushing. Just like the defensive strategy last Friday night, coach Annarella insisted that nothing special offensively was in play.
“We just try to go fast on offense,” said Annarella with a slight smile on his face. “We don’t have a lot of plays.”
Fitch may play fast, but so does McKinley. It may be unbelievable, but the Bulldogs may actually have more speed on its roster than the Falcons do. That speed is not just seen at the offensive skill positions either.
“(McKinley’s) overall team speed is outstanding,” marveled Annarella as he scouted the Canton kids. “The strong safety is making plays on film from boundary to boundary.”
There may be some chinks in the McKinley armor however. The Bulldogs turned the ball over twice and could not dig out of an early hole in a 21-14 loss to Uniontown Lake last Saturday. That setback put the Bulldogs at 0-1 in the league and one would assume not in a very good mood heading into Friday’s game at Fitch.
“Lake went after them on Saturday,” said Annarella after going to that game.
Fitch’s coach would also like his team to go after the Bulldogs this week, but he doesn’t want the kids to think that if they lose it will ruin their chance at a Federal League title.
“We don’t want to approach this as a make-or-break game,” Annarella says. “We have six more weeks to go so lots can happen, but it would certainly be better for us to go out and get this first one.”
It is also nice that the Falcons are playing this year’s game against McKinley at the friendly confines of Falcon Stadium. Fitch beat the Bulldogs on the road last year, but that doesn’t mean that the Falcons should allow McKinley to return the favor this Friday. Coach Annarella is counting on his home crowd to be in full throat and hopes his guests get that same bus lag that he thought infected his own kids a week ago.
“Having this game at home is important,” Annarella says. “We seem to play better at home. The local support really inspires the kids.”