Last Friday night's gridiron showdown between unbeaten Austintown Fitch and equally undefeated Dover was billed as a battle of two unstoppable offenses.
In the end, it became a showcase event for one very underrated Fitch defense. Dover scored a tying touchdown in the second quarter then was simply shutdown by the Falcon defenders the rest of the game as Fitch torched the Tornadoes, 41-7. Once again, the Falcons have started the season 4-0 and head coach Phil Annarella knows exactly where the credit deserves to go.
"It was an outstanding job by our defense," said Annarella last weekend. "(Dover) is used to moving the ball all over the field, but aside from one big play we took the rest of the field away from them. It's a tribute to our entire defense."
That one big play coach Annarella was referring to was a 79-yard touchdown bomb a few seconds into the second stanza. That breakdown in coverage by Fitch's defensive backs was the only one of the night because that group only allowed Dover's potent passing game 73 more yards the rest of the evening.
"The whole secondary did a great job," Annarella mentioned. "They were very successful as a unit."
Another reason why the Tornadoes got twisted in Austintown was because Fitch's normally high-flying offense became a ground and pound band. Quarterback Antwan Harris began Fitch's running barrage with a 45-yard touchdown scamper in the opening quarter. After Dover dove back to tie the game, the Falcons scored on three straight runs. Darrin Hall busted loose from 41 yards to give Fitch the lead back a minute and a half after Dover tied it, then Tyler Hewett and Joey Harrington followed with runs of one and 24 yards to make the score 27-7 in favor of Fitch at intermission. The bludgeoning of Dover's defense continued in the second half when the Falcons got rushing touchdowns from Harris (32 yards) and Hall (two yards). The usually quick-paced Falcon attack held an enormous margin in time of possession thanks to 530 yards of rushing offense.
"When I heard at the end of the game (about the rushing statistics and time of possession) I was befuddled," said Annarella chuckling. "To a degree we wanted to control the clock, but it certainly wasn't our game plan. Things played well last week."
While things were playing out methodically on offense, Fitch's offense made quick work of the heretofore-terrific Tornado tossing attack. Sophomore Damien Gray, who stepped up to varsity recently, got his first interception to set up Harrington's second quarter touchdown trip. Linebacker Gary Gibson had Fitch's other pick and was joined by fellow backers Sam Ortz, Tyler Hewlett and Brandon Emery as Fitch defensive players who had large efforts. Defensive linemen Ryan Sayers, Tony Behanna and Drake Marinelli were other Fitch defensive stars according to their head coach.
"We have a few three year starters on defense so they know what to do," said Annarella. "Coach (Wally) Hurdley did another fantastic job getting these kids ready for another huge challenge."
The challenge for the Falcons this week may not particularly come from their opponent. This Friday, Fitch travels to Boardman to play the crosstown rival Spartans. Against Dover, it was a match of two teams looking to stay undefeated, but against Boardman it will be a battle with a team looking to snag their first win of the season. Although the Spartans are slumping, it doesn't mean they are not chomping at the bit to beat up the Falcons.
"It would make (Boardman's) season if they beat us," Annarella announced sternly. "This is their playoff game. They have nothing to lose and nobody expects them to win. That makes them dangerous."
Coach Annarella's job this entire week was to make sure his boys realize how dangerous an 0-4 team like Boardman can be.
"We already talked to the kids about not looking ahead," Annarella said on the eve of this practice week. "And we talked to them about taking care of business."