Entering last Friday night's game versus Cardinal Mooney, Fitch head coach Phil Annarella was the owner of 199 wins in his 32-year coaching career.
If Annarella's fabulous Falcons were able to win again against the defending Division III state champions, not only would it be win number 200 in the coach's column and win number 9 for his team this year, but it would also propel Fitch into the state playoffs. The Falcons took care of business on all fronts in style.
Quarterback Matt Futkos took part in four touchdowns and Fitch's offense racked up nearly 500 total yards as the Falcons flew past the Cardinals and into the Division I tournament with a decisive 49-7 victory. That triumph may have been a landmark win in coach Annarella's life, but it didn't mean any more to him than any other he garnered in the past.
Photos by Emmett King, Town Crier correspondent
Mooney's Joe DeCapita applies pressure on Fitch quarterback Matt Futkos.
"I'm just the one that gets acknowledged," said the modest Annarella who also ran the programs at Warren Harding, Warren Western Reserve, Rayen, Hickory and Niles. "I can't thank all of those kids I've coached and all of my co-coaches enough. I shouldn't get all of the recognition."
The other seven schools that are participating in the Region I playoffs better recognize that these Falcons are legit. Despite the disadvantage of playing as a Division I independent and battling the massive bite of the injury bug all season, the Falcons finished 9-1. Only a loss at Massillon Washington in week 7 separated Fitch from a perfect record, but considering all factors, coach Annarella considered this season near perfect anyway.
"It was extra special," said the longtime coach. "It was a special group of guys. The injuries didn't get us down. We had some overachievers who stepped up (for the injured kids). This is the type of team that keeps you in (coaching). We were blessed."
It's funny that Annarella used the word blessed because the Falcons may need the help of a higher power to get past their second parochial powerhouse in two weeks. Beating Mooney is always a tremendous achievement no matter what the Cardinals' record reads. There is one Catholic school in this state, however, that may even be mightier than Mooney and that is Fitch's playoff partner, Cleveland St. Ignatius.
The defending Division I champion Wildcats were ranked number three in the state and were winners of 15 consecutive contests heading into their annual showdown with Cleveland St. Edward's last Saturday. The Wildcats uncharacteristically made too many mistakes in the second half of that super clash and blew the lead in a 20-13 defeat.
"We were at that game, but we thought we would be playing St. Ed's (in the playoffs, not St. Ignatius)," Annarella said. "(St. Ignatius) was on a roll then they made a few blunders which hurt them. It would be nice if they made those same type of blunders against us."
While coach Annarella earned his 200th victory in the win over Mooney, statewide respected St. Ignatius head coach Chuck Kyle lost his chance at win number 300 with last weekend's setback. Kyle has adapted to the change of times offensively, but when the Wildcats are winning they are usually doing it thanks to the legs of running back Tim McVey. He had nearly 200 yards rushing against St. Ed's and has more than 1,000 yards this season. Fitch's defense has defended the run admirably all season and manhandling McVey will be a good way for the Falcons to pull off the upset. Of course, coach Annarella thinks there are other ways his team can win too.
"If we play (St. Ignatius) the way we played Mooney and Boardman, anything can happen," he said sternly. "It's a meat grinder in our region, but we need to play loose like we have nothing to lose."
Kickoff this Saturday night at St. Ignatius will be at 7 p.m.