Yet, for the second consecutive week the Fitch defense rose above its offensive brethren to lead the Falcons to a lopsided victory. Fitch used that humongous defensive effort to upend past playoff participant Poland 21-3 in the home opener at Falcon Stadium. In two weeks the Falcons’ offense has scored 49 points, but it was the total of 10 points allowed by the team’s defense that is extremely impressive.
“The defense did a good job again,” said Fitch head coach Phil Annarella a day after the game. “We need them right now.”
Coach Annarella is need of his defense because the offense has been sputtering coming out of the gate this season. Most teams would not complain about seven touchdowns in two weeks, but in Austintown where offense explosions happen more often than at a post-game fireworks display, that number is subpar. Fitch had multiple opportunities over the course of the contest because Poland either turned the ball over or committed costly penalties that killed drives.
Down 3-0 in the second quarter, the Falcons got a 2-yard touchdown run by quarterback Demitrious Davis to go ahead 7-3 at halftime. Seeing Davis on the field was a relief to Falcon Nation who watched junior Matt Futkos start the game. Futkos played decently during the first series in place of Fitch’s superstar signal caller, but coach Annarella assured everyone that the decision not to start Davis was strictly a strategic decision.
“We just wanted to mix things up,” explained Annarella about the early change at quarterback. “We actually scored on that drive (the touchdown was called out of bounds). If we get that touchdown it changes the whole complexion of the game.”
After halftime, another of Fitch’s sensational senior skill players changed the complexion even more. Tailback Will Mahone enhanced a three-play, 80-yard Fitch drive at the beginning of the third quarter with a 52-yard run to set up a touchdown. Mahone ended the night with 17 carries for 147 yards and two touchdowns.
The rest of the second half belonged to Mahone’s friends on the defensive side of the football. After taking a 3-0 lead midway through the first quarter, the visiting Bulldogs could not sniff the Fitch red zone again. Although the high-powered Poland offense led by senior quarterback Colin Reardon was able to move the ball on Fitch, it was not able to put the ball in the end zone. One player who has played a pivotal role in the Falcons’ defensive success so far this season is senior linebacker Will Harrington.
“(Harrington) had his second big week in a row,” mentioned Annarella. “He has done a solid job.”
Another player who has been solid in his senior season is defensive lineman Mike Stiffler. Stiffler recovered a Poland fumble at the Bulldogs’ 30-yard line setting up Mahone’s game-sealing fourth period score. While Stiffler’s big defensive play helped put last Friday’s game on ice, everyone and their mother knows Fitch will not go far this year if its offense doesn’t get back on track.
“We are struggling on offense,” said Annarella sullenly. “We are not executing well. I told the kids we are not sneaking up on anyone anymore. (Opponents) are game planning to stop our offense.”
The next team to game plan against the Falcons is St. Mary’s of Canada. Needless to say the Falcons coaching staff doesn’t have much tape of the visitors from across the border, but Annarella did speak to the St. Mary’s head coach last weekend.
“(St. Mary’s) is very similar to us,” Annarella said. “They play a similar defense. They are a young team though.”
Perhaps there is a rate of exchange when playing a Canadian team that will enhance Fitch’s point total. More likely, the Falcons will have to keep improving the only way coach Annarella knows how.
“We will try to convince the kids to prepare for the rest of the season,” said the coach. “We are still far from where we want to be (on offense).”
Photos by Ryan McMasters, Town Crier correspondent
The Fitch Falcons take the field for their home opener against Poland on Friday that ended in a 21-3 win for the Falcons.