Things started slowly for the Fitch football team in its season opener last Friday night at Warren Harding.
Moving the ball at Mollenkopf Stadium seemed like a very difficult chore for both sides as each offense stalled without many first downs. That malaise ceased in quarter number two. Well, by one of the two teams anyway. Fitch scored 27 unanswered points in the second stanza to fuel its incredible 48-0 whitewash of the Raiders.
According to veteran Fitch head coach Phil Annarella, a lopsided decision like the one his team laid on Harding last week would not have been possible if it wasn't for a dominating performance by the defense.
"Our defense played tremendously well," said Annarella over the weekend. "It gave us short fields all night. We knew we needed to lean on (our defense) and we will continue to."
While coach Annarella was leaning on the defense, his defense was leaning on the Raiders. Harding was held to just four first downs and 56 total yards on offense by Fitch's ferocious defensive 11. Throw in a couple Raider turnovers and you had a defensive effort worthy of heavy recognition.
"You have to give a lot of credit to (defensive) coach (Wally) Hurdley and his staff," Annarella announced. "We gear our whole defense on our 3-5 system so we count on fast linebackers. The kids have picked it up. It's second nature to them."
Another thing that has been second nature lately to Fitch's football team has been multidimensional quarterback play. That aspect of the Falcons' offense is a little different this season due to the lack of experience Fitch has behind center. Senior quarterback Gabe Chepke has played a minimal amount of snaps as varsity signal caller and junior understudy Antwan Harris is just as green. Against Harding, however, both kids were called upon to lead the first unit and both did admirably.
"We wanted (other teams) to see us play two quarterbacks," Annarella said coyly. "Gabe managed the game well. He is a good decision maker and a heady player. He threw one interception, but he knew it was a mistake. Antwan played well for a quarter too."
Chepke got the Fitch offense started when he ran in for a 4-yard touchdown early in the second quarter. The quarterback would score again on the ground later in the same stanza. In between those two scoring plunges, Fitch's lefty senior signal caller opened some eyes when he hooked up with junior Desmond Gray on a fabulous 47-yard touchdown pass. Chepke would finish with 30 yards rushing and 61 yards passing.
Harris handled his quarterbacking duties more in the duel-threat style Fitch fans have been accustomed to over the past few campaigns. Harris had 128 yards rushing including a nine-yard touchdown run to kick off the third quarter.
Fitch's also received a rushing touchdown via the legs of Darrin Hall who danced 22-yards for a score that pushed the Falcons' point total over 40. Fitch's bell cow back had 16 carries for 81 yards. Senior Gary Gibson finished Fitch's scoring with a 3-yard touchdown run and also recovered a fumble for a touchdown right before halftime. The speed Gibson displayed as both a back and a linebacker was just a microcosm of how fast the Falcons played all night.
Even though Fitch seemed flawless in Warren there was one part of the team where coach Annarella is still looking for the right combination.
"We need to get some kids experience on the offensive line," said Annarella. "There were some mistakes (by the offensive line) that were not acceptable."
Seemingly, the only mistake that will be made this week will be by Akron Hoban if the Knights decide to take the trip to Austintown to play in the Falcons' home opener. Historically Hoban has been a fine football team, but it has struggled as of late. The Knights were knighted by Kent Roosevelt in their opening game 22-7. Still, coach Annarella is aware of what happens to teams that take opposing squads too lightly.
"There are no gimmies," Annarella explained. "When you think you have one, you get it handed to you."
The Falcons handed it to Hoban 49-9 in Week 2 last season and are expected to do the same this Friday.