There is an old saying in football that when a starting player gets injured, the next player on the depth chart must "step up" and assume the duties of his fallen teammate.
That mantra is a favorite of veteran Fitch head coach Phil Annarella. When starting running back Tyreese Anderson went down a couple of weeks ago with what now is feared to be a season-ending injury, Annarella turned to senior Billy Aaron to get the bulk of the rushing plays. Last week, prior to Fitch's clash with crosstown rival Boardman at home, Aaron also fell victim to injury. The "next man up" theory would be put to the test once again in Austintown and thankfully for the Falcons that man was sophomore rusher Darrin Hall. Hall had some flashy runs in Fitch's week 4 win at Barberton, but it wasn't certain how he would react in his first varsity start against bigger Boardman. As the students who make up Falcon Nation might say, "no worries." Hall harassed the Spartans' defense all evening totaling 173 yards on 18 carries including touchdown runs of 9, 43 and 8 yards as Fitch bullied Boardman 52-7 to remain perfect on the season and nearly perfect in the eyes of coach Annarella.
"We weren't perfect, but we were darn close," said Annarella with a bit of a chuckle. "As a coach, it's the same every week, you hope to see a game plan executed. The kids were very focused and executed the game plan well. That doesn't happen all the time."
It's also rare to slide the third-string running back into the starting lineup and have him slice through a strong defense as Hall did last Friday night. Hall may have even shocked his coach a little with his output.
"(Hall) played better than I expected," said Annarella. "We preferred not to start him in a game of that magnitude. To get his first start in a big game like that and do the job he did was huge."
Another sophomore, Tyler Hewlett, relieved Hall in the second half and had the game of his life as well. Hewlett hammered the Spartans for 50 yards on just 10 carries and had a 10-yard touchdown run. It seems as if it really doesn't matter who is toting the pigskin for the Falcons this season. For the night, the Falcons easily eclipsed 250 yards on the ground thanks to the enormous holes opened by their equally large offensive line. That unit made up of senior center Matt Mullins, senior guards Andrew Lamancusa and Tyler Bell, senior tackle Mike Koch and junior tackle Chuck Zaborsky may not get all of the headlines, but they sure do a good job of butting heads with opposing defensive players. That group may have also had the memory of what happened to the Falcons last year in Boardman ringing in their heads as a little extra motivation.
"Our offensive line gets overlooked," said a dismayed Annarella. "They are probably the least mentioned part of our team. They didn't perform particularly well last year (against Boardman) and were manhandled. Those kids remembered last year's game."
Boardman's players will remember last Friday night's game too for more than just Fitch's offensive line and running back play. Fitch quarterback Matt Futkos was once again on target most of the night hitting 9 of 12 passes for 185 yards. One of those connections was with senior Keith Lawrence from 15 yards away to give Fitch a 38-7 third quarter lead.
Annarella's Army also did well for the fifth week in a row on defense. After a long touchdown run by Boardman's Nathan Jones cut a 14-point Fitch lead in half, the Falcons defense grew stingy and only allowed 47 yards the rest of the game. Fitch's "D" has now given up just 23 points this season for a miniscule average of 4.6 points per game.
Junior Gary Gibson also blocked a Boardman punt in the first quarter setting up Hall's first touchdown run of the contest. A team has no shot of starting the season 5-0 without the help of each entity of the team.
"We have been playing well in all three phases of the game," Annarella announced.
Fitch will try to make it 6-0 this Friday when it hosts upstart Youngstown East. The 2-3 Panthers are well coached by Youngstown native Jim Vivo who is able to build a big program with almost any kid who lives in the city. Perhaps that is the reason the Panthers are such a sizeable squad.
"(East) is a huge team," Annarella admitted. "Their offensive line has kids that go 275 (pounds), 280, 300 and they have a tremendous running back."
One may think that after such an emotional high emanating from the win over Boardman, the Falcons may be in line for a letdown against a school it shares a lesser history with. If coach Annarella senses any of that lethargy this week in practice he will make his boys sit through one of East's game tapes from earlier this season.
"East was beating Ursuline 18-0 at halftime (in week 1)," said Annarella adamantly. "That's proof there should not be any reason for a letdown. Our kids trust me enough that if I say I'm concerned (with playing East) they'll listen."
If we've learned anything so far about this Fitch outfit, we know that if one Falcon doesn't do what his coach asks of him, Annarella will find that "next man up" who will.