Last week, the Fitch football team rekindled its relationship with a former friend from the Federal League.
This week, the Falcons will follow up with an old buddy from their Steel Valley Conference days.
Hanging above those reunions are the playoff hopes of these gritty 2012 Falcons.
A loss last week at home to Division I Uniontown Lake would have possibly stuck a fork in the post-season plans of the Fitch kids. For now, at least, that silverware must be put back in the kitchen drawer. The determined Falcons would not allow the visiting Blue Streaks to build any momentum all night as they comfortably won, 28-6. At 8-1, and with a showdown with defending Division III state champion Cardinal Mooney acting as the final hurdle, the Falcons are in good position to play week 11.
"We'll approach the Mooney game like it's a playoff game already," said Fitch head coach Phil Annarella. "We need to go out and win. We have a lot of reasons to win."
The Falcons earned a win last Friday before they even took the field. Fitch welcomed back senior starting quarterback Matt Futkos after a brief injury absence last week and despite being a tad bit rusty, Futkos controlled the offense with his usual precision. He directed four Fitch scoring drives and capped one of them off with a short touchdown run. Having Matt manning the signal caller spot again was a relief to Annarella.
"It took a little longer than usual for our offense to get things going," Annarella said, "but Matt eventually did a good job. I wasn't sure I wanted to let him play, but he talked me into it. He's a competitor, a tremendous athlete and a tremendous kid."
One Falcon who has been tremendous at pinch-hitting this season has been sophomore running back Darrin Hall. Hall has done everything his coach has asked of him including helping to put the game out of reach against Lake. Nursing a 14-6 lead in the third quarter, Futkos handed the ball off to his young backfield mate and Hall zipped 12 yards up the middle to stretch the Falcons' lead to an insurmountable 21-6. Hall would also set up Futkos' fourth-quarter touchdown tote with a 23-yard scamper to set the Falcons up inside Lake's five yard line. The combination of Hall's shiftiness and the power of his brawny offensive line has been a savior for Fitch's injury-riddled campaign.
"It took some time, but in the end the offensive line was good," Annarella stated. "That group has done a good job for us all year."
While the big boys on the offensive side of the ball have been blowing open holes for the running game, their defensive counterparts have acted as a stabilizing faction for Fitch since week 1. Although the Blue Streaks sport a subpar record in 2012, they still have good players at the skill positions. Lake was slowed down in Austintown last week because the Fitch defense absolutely refused to crumble. All of Lake's six points were scored in the first half and once Hall hit pay dirt in the third period, the Blue Streaks scantly had a chance to mount a comeback. Lake also lost the ball seven times.
"Anytime you force seven turnovers your defense is doing a phenomenal job," said Annarella. "Lake played well in the first half and I don't think the game should have been that close, but our effort was good."
There is no guarantee that another good Fitch effort this Friday will push the Falcons into the Division I tournament, but it is a certainty that a loss will keep them out. Mooney has not played a game at Falcon Stadium since the 2009 playoffs when it defeated Poland 24-7 en route to another state title. The Falcons and the Cardinals haven't hooked up since a 28-7 Mooney victory in 2003. The Cardinals are having an uncharacteristic three-win season, but they are like a cobra that can strike at any time.
"Sometimes things go together in a season, sometimes they don't," analyzed Annarella about Mooney's miserable campaign. "I just hope they don't decide to pick it up against us so we can send our seniors out a winner."
The Cards dominated the Steel Valley Conference when these two schools were members winning the conference championship more than 20 times. It may be a little late for Fitch to gain revenge for some of those SVC beatings, but it is time for these Falcons to make an impression on the computers who pass out the playoff points.