That offense sputtered in the early rounds of the Division I playoffs last season sending Fitch home unfulfilled. If Fitch wants to go further in the post season this year it will need the offense to pair with a much more stout defense. If last Friday’s season opening performance by Fitch’s defense is any indication then a long run into early December may not be farfetched. The Falcons’ defense dominated a very talented Warren Harding squad and came home from Trumbull County 1-0 thanks to a 28-7 victory.
“I can’t compliment the defense enough,” said veteran Fitch head coach Phil Annarella. “Our game plan (every game) is for our defense to step it up.”
Coach Annarella’s other game plan is for his high-powered offense to perform on all cylinders. Unfortunately the offense was inept for Fitch standards at the beginning of its season starting game. Both of Fitch’s first drives ended in punts. Yet, each time, there was the Falcons defense ready to rescue their offensive counterparts. Senior Justin Fooks intercepted a pass to stall Harding’s first drive then a fumble deep inside Fitch’s red zone ended the next drive. All total, the Raiders turned the ball five times with most of those happening inside the Fitch 20 yard line. Senior Chris Davis had a 32-yard interception return for a touchdown as well as a fumble recovery. Fellow senior Kyle Betts had three of Fitch’s six sacks to punctuate the demolition on defense.
“The whole first half (Harding) was on our side of the field,” Annarella said. “We responded really well.”
It may have taken more time than usual, but the Falcons’ offense finally started responding too late in the first half. Super senior running back Will Mahone had three consecutive runs of plus 10 yards to set up his own 9-yard touchdown run to give the Falcons a 7-0 halftime lead. That TD drive was a direct result of Fitch picking up the tempo with a no-huddle offense. Coach Annarella didn’t take much credit for the change in offensive strategy he just praised his offense as a whole instead.
“We did a few minor things to get (Harding) off balance,” Annarella explained. “It’s all about tempo (with our offense). We stayed the course. We usually get to people eventually with our offense.”
Fitch’s running game got to the Raiders in the second half as well. With Mahone finding his stride the Raiders had to account for him on each play. That made it easier for Annarella to unleash junior Tyreese Anderson, who should play a larger role in Fitch’s offense this season, on the Harding defense. Anderson had touchdown runs of 23 and 2 yards in the second half to give Fitch its final large margin of victory. It was a victory that was extra special for coach Annarella since he spent so many years winning so many huge games as head coach at the Warren school. Naturally, he wouldn’t admit to that sense of satisfaction.
“Other than it being our first win of the year it wasn’t really that special,” said Annarella sheepishly. “They were up for us and said some things about us in the papers so that had us ready to play.”
The Falcons will need to be very ready to play again this week when they host powerful Poland in their home opener. The Bulldogs are a lot like a Division III brand of the Falcons in that they are well stocked with incredible athletes. Quarterback Colin Reardon is a three-year starter who is the number one player Fitch’s defense will have to defend.
“(Reardon) is very talented,” admitted Annarella. “He is very athletic and makes good decisions. The running back is very good too.”
The running back the coach was referring to was senior Jerry Lawman who hounded Hubbard all evening in those two school’s first game of the year last week.
Rekindling a rivalry with Poland is good for Fitch since it will need to fill a more independent schedule starting next season. It is uncommon for two potent playoff caliber teams to meet locally in a non-league setting.
“It is nice to have a close rival other than Boardman,” said Annarella.
It will also be nice for the Falcons if their defense batters the Bulldogs as much as it ripped the Raiders in week one.
Austintown’s Billy Price stops a Harding runner in the Falcons' 28-7 victory in their season opener.