All season long everyone in Austintown has been gushing about their Fitch Falcons’ high-powered spread offense.
Indeed, that awesome “O” has racked up more than 40 points per game in leading the Falcons to a 5-0 start. Fitch once again lit up the scoreboard on Oct. 1 at Massillon Jackson when it pummeled the Polar Bears, 35-7. Although it was nice that the Falcons were able to put up a boatload of points last week, Fitch coaches know that the route to a Federal League championship and a playoff berth goes through the team’s defense. In Massillon, Fitch’s defenders made as loud a statement as its offensive brethren have been making. The Falcons did not allow a touchdown until the game was in hand in the fourth quarter, scored a defensive touchdown, held Jackson to just over 200 yards of total offense and made a hero out of their defensive guru.
“Overall we are playing the best defense since we have gotten here,” said Fitch head coach Phil Annarella. “(Defensive Coordinator) Wally Hurdley does a great job with his defensive concept. You always have a chance to win if you play good defense.”
Although Will Mahone scored on a 37-yard interception return to jump start the second quarter for the Falcons, Annarella announced that it was a total team effort on defense last Friday night and it has been that way since day one this season.
“Everybody is doing their job,” said the coach. “We do not have any superstars (on defense).”
Annarella may not want to admit it, but he does have some super players on the offensive side of the ball. Led by quarterback Demitrious Davis and Mahone, the Falcons exceeded 200 yards rushing in the game. Mahone made his first touchdown of the game in the first quarter when he capped a Fitch drive with a 16-yard scoring run. The junior back would add to his touchdown total when he started the third quarter for Fitch with a three-yard run to pay dirt. Davis, meanwhile, contributed the two other offensive touchdowns with a 12-yard run and a beautiful 62-yard pass to Lucas Haupt that finished the scoring for Fitch. Davis ended the night with 98 yards on the ground and 120 through the air. Mahone had only five carries, but made those count with 43 yards and the two scores. Haupt’s 62-yard catch was his only one, but it paced the team. Cam Patterson picked up two catches for 22 yards.
Although the offense seemed to be in full throttle mode throughout the game, Coach Annarella was less than chipper when he discussed the offensive performance following the win.
“We didn’t play as well (on offense) as we would have liked,” Annarella said disgustedly. “We were not consistent on offense. I didn’t like how we threw the ball in the passing game. Not everyone executed well in the running game with run blocking. I didn’t like our overall execution.”
Before Fitch fans think that coach Annarella must not have been watching the same game last week that they were, he did point out that all of the errors made by his team were fixable.
“There weren’t any horrendous mistakes,” he said honestly. “Nothing was too glaring. A lot of the mistakes had to do with concentration. We have to keep focus and keep improving. We cannot get complacent.”
Complacency may be expected this week when the undefeated Falcons host the under .500 Vikings of North Canton Hoover. Hoover has had its turn on top of the Federal League heap, but now is trying to stay the course until more talent arrives. Although the Vikings are not quite vintage, the Falcons are not going to take it easy on them.
“We haven’t beaten (Hoover) since I’ve been (at Fitch),” Annarella said emphatically. “They had a great run, but they are in a rebuilding mode. They are playing a lot of young kids.”
One Viking who does have some experience is quarterback Austin Appleby. Appleby must have been eating good in the neighborhood growing up because the junior stands six-foot, five inches and weighs over 200 pounds. He has the powerful arm to match that big-time quarterback frame. Appleby had 235 yards passing and two touchdowns in Hoover’s 24-14 loss to Boardman in week six.
“Hoover is passing more than they run this year and it’s because of the quarterback,” Annarella said. “(Appleby) is an outstanding quarterback. He is a great thrower with great size. We will have to be ready to defend the pass.”
The way Fitch’s defense has been playing this season, that task should not be too hard to accomplish.