As many as six Fitch starters were out due to injury and even some of the backups who were being counted on to spell some of those starters were hurt as well. That meant that Fitch head coach Phil Annarella had to play some sophomore reserves who are not accustomed to taking the field in such a large game. Even with all of that drama against them the Falcons put up a valiant fight, but still lost in double overtime, 42-41. That setback was Fitch’s third in a row after starting the season 3-0.
“What can you say?” said a grim Annarella over the weekend. “We make no excuses. Injuries are part of the game and the kids filling in did well in the first half.”
In fact, the Falcons did so well over the first two quarters they carried a 28-7 lead into the locker room at halftime. Fitch junior running back Billy Aaron playing in place of starter Will Mahone made the most of his opportunity with 166 yards rushing and two touchdowns in the first half to help stake the Falcons to their huge advantage. All things seemed right in Austintown until the second half whistle blew.
“I maybe made a mistake (at halftime) by complimenting the kids on how well they played in the first half,” Annarella said with a forced chuckle. “The whole team laid down in the second half. I was not happy with the overall effort in the second half.”
Considering that the Polar Bears scored three unanswered touchdowns after halftime you can see why Annarella was so annoyed. Jackson’s comeback was spearheaded by quarterback Cooper Merrill who ran for 130 yards and threw for 150 yards in the second half including a game-tying touchdown pass with eight and a half minutes left in the ballgame.
Meanwhile, Fitch’s offense was sputtering as quickly as Jackson’s was ascending. The Falcons only garnered three first downs over the final 24 minutes with most of their yards coming on the ground. The only bright spots for the Falcons were Aaron and quarterback Matt Futkos who finished with over 200 yards and 100 yards rushing respectively.
“Our offensive line opened some holes,” Annarella said. “Billy ran well in a difficult situation. Matt played one of his best games. He worked tremendously hard all week. He played up to his abilities.”
Each team had the ability to win the game in the first overtime, but a pair of short touchdown runs nullified each other. Jackson scored first in overtime number two, but the Falcons came back on an 8-yard run by Aaron. Only the extra point by Ken Kilpatrick, who was perfect all night on PAT’s, separated the Falcons from another extra session. That point after try was blocked, however, and instead of sitting through a thrilling seventh period, the Fitch faithful was sent home tired, rain soaked and disheartened.
“We got shoved over,” Annarella explained about the blocked extra point. “Then big number 77 got his paw up and blocked it. We had a lot of substitutes in on that extra point try (due to the injuries).”
Hopefully, the Falcons can substitute some of their varsity starters for those substitutes this Friday at North Canton Hoover. It is unknown how many first string Falcons may return this week, but one thing that is certain is that Annarella will not rush anyone back into action.
“We will never jeopardize any young kid’s future for one game,” Annarella said assuredly. “We will listen to what the doctors say and go from there.”
Perhaps those Fitch doctors can order up a prescription for some pain meds because helmets are sure to be crashing when the two former Federal League foes hit the field at Hoover.
“It will be a battle (this Friday),” said Annarella about the matchup with the Vikings. “We have to play sound the whole game and not turn the ball over. Hoover will be ready for us and we’ll line up Friday and be ready to play too.”
Fitch’s Billy Aaron shuffles throught the Massillon defense.