Through five games this season, Fitch head football coach Phil Annarella still felt that his team was in need of some improving.
Despite sporting a 5-0 record, coach Annarella believed his Falcons were still having problems in the passing game and along the offensive line. A good way to bolster those spots was by playing a game against a less than stellar opponent. Enter 1-4 Youngstown East last Friday. Fitch may not have fixed all of its ailments, but its 39-0 pummeling of the Panthers helped a ton.
One part of the Falcons' football team that is not in need of tinkering is its fabulous defense. The visiting Panthers could not reach 150 total yards even though they played most of the night in catch-up mode. East only had nine first downs and turned the ball over twice. Fitch's defense even recorded a safety when senior linebacker Sam Ortz recorded a safety just 90 seconds into the game. That early two-pointer was a harbinger of what was to come for Ortz and his defensive mates all game. Moments later, Ortz was in the middle of the action again when he recovered a Panther fumble. Historically, the Falcons may be known for having an outstanding offense, but this 6-0 streak has been set up all year by the boys on the other side of the ball.
"The defense gets all the credit in the world," said head coach Phil Annarella emphatically. "They are saving us, but that will catch up to us."
What the coach meant by "saving us" was that the Fitch defense has been bailing out its offensive brethren almost every game. Sure, the Falcons feasted on a weak East defense and put up 39 points, but a lot of those points were set up by big defensive plays. The Falcons also fumbled the ball on numerous occasions turning it over twice. Those are unforced errors that coach Annarella wouldn't accept if his team won 99-0.
"We stunk on offense," grumbled Annarella. "We had three fumbled snaps in the first half. We need to address these things and hope we can get them fixed. I'm very concerned."
Certainly, a lot of other coaches in the area would love to have those "problems." The Falcons gained 335 yards on the ground led by Darrin Hall's 150. Tyler Hewitt had a pair of rushing touchdowns from 5 and 15 yards out. Antwan Harris had a 47-yard touchdown run and Joey Harrington hurt East with a nine-yarder.
In the end, it was Fitch's defense that sealed the contest with a Gabe Chepke interception return for a touchdown at the end of the third quarter and another safety recorded by senior Rehmaan Rafique near the end of the game.
Scoring at will despite shoddy plays on offense will not come easily this week when the Falcons play perhaps their toughest game of the season. This Friday at Falcon Stadium it will be a showdown between 6-0 Fitch and equally undefeated Massillon Washington. It's legend in Massillon that when male babies are born a Tiger football is placed in that child's crib. No doubt, the Tigers will be trying to put the Falcons' 6-0 streak to bed this Friday night.
"(Massillon) is really good," said Annarella in an understatement. "They are very balanced and have beaten some good opponents. If we don't play our 'A' game in all facets, we won't win."
One Tiger who has been playing at the top of his game is quarterback Danny Clark. Now, a Massillon quarterback having a good season is no surprise, but it is shocking when the signal caller in question is a true freshman. Clark is the first frosh in the 122-year history of Massillon football to start as varsity quarterback and he's in that position because he can chuck the pigskin.
"(Clark) has a great arm," Annarella marveled. "I guess if he didn't he wouldn't be starting. (Massillon) has a huge offensive line, too, that protects him well."
Annarella's boys didn't do too well when these two schools hooked up in Massillon on Oct. 5 of last year. The Tigers humbled the Falcons 34-14, which has this year's bunch from Austintown looking for payback on their home turf.
"We got our butts handed to us (last year) and I reminded the kids of that," said Annarella. "We know we'll have a great crowd behind us so we do not want to disappoint them."