With the large amount of star caliber skill players who graduated and the mystery of playing for the first time in forever without a conference affiliation, the Fitch football program is certainly at a crossroads in 2012.
Fitch has enough talent to reach the Division I playoffs, but without a league title to win, the road to week 11 will be laced with pitfalls. The first stop for the Falcons on that uncharted terrain was last Friday night when they hosted a wonderful Warren Harding outfit. Like the Falcons, the Raiders have visions of post-season play occupying their dreams at night so the experts predicted a sensational season starter. The game, especially for the predominantly Fitch favoring crowd at Falcon Stadium, was hardly disappointing.
Fitch held a 17-10 lead with just five minutes to play in the contest when Harding had a golden chance to score a game-tying touchdown. A nice Raider drive came down to a fourth and one play from Fitch's 29-yard line. Everybody in the house knew that Harding would hand the ball to its Boston College recruit LeShun Daniels to pick up the needed yard to keep the drive chugging along. Fitch, however, has its own Division I college recruit in future Ohio State Buckeye Billy Price. Like the proverbial "irresistible force meeting the immovable object," Daniels plowed into Price and the Fitch senior drove Daniels right back for no gain putting an end to Harding's 10-play, potential tying touchdown trip. That play by Price and the overall play of his defensive teammates was a great way for Fitch to kick off 2012.
"It was an excellent team effort," said a satisfied Fitch head coach Phil Annarella over the weekend. "The defense came up big (on that last stop)."
Just as enormous as Price's play on defense is what the Falcons did when they got the ball back. While the Raiders could not complete their fourth-quarter touchdown march, the Falcons were able to both kill the clock and put the game, played on a hot and humid late summer evening in Austintown, on ice. Senior quarterback Matt Futkos engineered a 14-play, 70-yard parade which ended with the first time full time starter sneaking into the end zone to give the Falcons an impressive 24-10 Opening Night win.
"Our offense came up big with two long drives (over the course of the game)," Annarella announced.
Futkos did everything coach Annarella asked of him this summer throwing for 86 yards and rushing for 51 more. He also guided Fitch's offense well enough to keep the team clean in the turnover column. Senior Tyreese Anderson is probably going to be the focal point of Annarella's offense this year and he responded in a grand way in week 1 with 140 yards on the ground. Billy Aaron had nearly 60 yards combined rushing and receiving. According to the coach, the most important number all night for the Falcons was the big zero under turnovers and penalties in the scorebook.
"For the most part we played a decent ballgame," said Annarella who once led Harding to a Division I state championship. "There were no mistakes that hurt us like turnovers and penalties. We've stressed since July that you can't turn the ball over."
Also playing a perfect game was Fitch's special teams unit especially senior kicker Ken Kilpatrick.
"Kenny did a nice job kicking off, with his field goal and on the extra points," Annarella said.
For Fitch to stay perfect on the season it will have to have another enormous defensive effort at Akron Hoban. The Falcons do not have much of a history with Hoban on the gridiron, which is one of the pitfalls of this year's schedule.
"We don't know a lot of the teams we are playing," grunted Annarella.
One thing the veteran coach does know about this week's opponent is that it possesses the same set of skills that one adversary from earlier in the summer does. That does not bode well for Fitch's defense.
"Hoban runs the same offense that Mentor (who Fitch scrimmaged against in August) does," stated Annarella. "They run five wide receivers and an empty backfield. entor gave us a lot of trouble with that so we will need to fix those areas. It will be a challenge for us this week."
Price and his defensive posse were up to the challenge against Warren Harding so a repeat performance this Friday on the road should not be too difficult.