Everybody in Austintown is familiar with the Falcons' high-octane offense and their ability to score points in bunches.
The fact that Fitch has scored 108 points in just three games this year proves that point. It may be time, however, to give some love to the players on the other side of the ball. Fitch's defense has only allowed 16 points in three weeks. Making that point total more impressive is that some of those scores have been surrendered by the Falcons' second unit during blowouts. Dominating defense was on display once again last Friday, Sept. 7 when Fitch destroyed equally offensively adept Brunswick 35-7 handing the Blue Devils their first loss of the year.
While lighting up the scoreboard is super for fans to see, keeping the competition out of the end zone is always the best way to win. That is why Fitch is now 3-0.
"Our defense sure has stepped up," said Fitch head coach Phil Annarella this past Sunday night. "The schemes we have been using on defense have been very good and our kids are doing a great job understanding those schemes."
Fitch's kids understood so well last week they were able to bedevil the Blue Devils into three turnovers. Two of those turnovers were interceptions by senior Tyler Grover and the other was a fumble recovery by junior C.J. Martini. All three of those Blue Devil miscues eventually resulted in Fitch touchdowns. Brunswick was kept below its season average of total yards by gaining just 340 all night and a lot of those came when the game was well out of reach. Most impressively, Fitch only gave up those seven points to a Brunswick team that came into the game averaging 40 points per contest.
While Fitch's defense has been doing its delightful thing for three weeks now, the Falcons' special teams unit has been sort of in the shadows. Well, that group emerged from the darkness in a big way last Friday night. The Falcons capped its bludgeoning of the Blue Devils with a beautiful 61-yard punt return for a touchdown by junior Kerrell Johnson right before the end of the third quarter. Good teams can do a couple of things well, but championship teams play extraordinarily in all phases of the game.
"When you get all facets working you will win a lot of games," said Annarella proudly. "Coach (Paul) Cassano is doing a great job with the special teams. We spend a lot of time on that part of the game and it paid off in a big way (against Brunswick)."
Also paying off was the real moneymaker of this Fitch squad, its sensational spread offense. Keith Lawrence caught a 43-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Matt Futkos to give the Falcons a 7-0 lead just two minutes into the game and a rout seemed destine from that point. Second quarter touchdown runs by Tyreese Anderson (13 yards) and Futkos (17 yards) pushed the Falcons lead to 21-0 before the Blue Devils scored their only touchdown of the night. Futkos would throw his second touchdown of the game late in the third quarter to Billy Aaron from 4 yards away. That would be Aaron's only catch, but he did have 73 yards rushing. Anderson ended the night leading the team with 82 yards on the ground. Lawrence lassoed in 72 yards through the air.
"I am very satisfied with our performance," Annarella said about both week 3's game and all three Fitch wins this year. "We expected good things to happen and the kids are coming through well."
Unfortunately, Annarella's kids will now have to deal with a huge setback. Leading rusher Anderson was injured against Brunswick with a fractured ankle and will miss at least five weeks. Coach Annarella is hoping that his team can react positively to this adversity.
"(Anderson's injury) is a killer," said the coach somberly, "but we need the next man to step up. Aaron is a good back and we hope to find another guy behind him too."
Fitch will be able to test those new rushers at Barberton this Friday. Barberton is usually a pretty solid squad, but are just 1-2 this year and have allowed 72 points in its two defeats. That doesn't mean the Falcons will be looking past this week's opponent and looking ahead to week 5.
"Nothing would make (Barberton's) season better than beating us down there," Annarella predicted. "They are a traditionally proud program that has fallen on hard times, but we can't take anyone we step on the field against lightly."
It will be hard to imagine the Falcons falling this Friday night, especially with the way they are clicking in all three areas of football, but just in case their coach offered three things that will be important for Fitch to accomplish in Barberton.
"We need to stay focused, limit turnovers and take care of our business," said Annarella bluntly.