The Fitch football team is now 2-0 this year against teams with Harding in its school name.
Seven weeks after opening the season with 48-0 whitewash of Warren Harding, the Falcons hosted and manhandled Marion Harding 63-7. Fitch celebrated Senior Day in Austintown by improving its season record to 8-0.
"I'm really happy for the kids," said Fitch head coach Phil Annarella after the victory. "We were able to get all the seniors into the game and got everyone on the field."
One senior who Annarella really wanted to get into the game was quarterback Gabe Chepke. Thanks partly to the game plan and partly to a leg injury to starter Antwan Harris, Annarella was able to chalk Chepke's name into the starting lineup. As a thank you, Chepke managed the game well by not turning the ball over. He also combined for 65 yards and a 2-yard touchdown run.
"I had planned to play Chepke all along," said Annarella, "and he did a good job. He works hard and we'll be in good hands should Harris be out much longer."
Of course, Chepke's main duty on the dreary Saturday afternoon was to turn around and make sure the ball was placed safely into the hands of running back Darrin Hall. Although Hall has one more year remaining at Fitch, he treated last Saturday afternoon as if it was his last home game. Hall scored the first touchdown of the game on a 31-yard run three minutes into the contest. He then scored twice more before the end of the first half from 3 yards out and 68 yards away. Hall was the bell cow of a Fitch rushing attack that amassed 442 yards with 180 yards rushing on 14 carries. Another junior, Tyler Hewlett, had a heroic offensive game as well running for 91 yards and two touchdowns that totaled 63 yards. Three other Fitch rushing scores came from Sam Ortz (34 yards), Dwayne Howell (48 yards) and Kyle Kent (20 yards).
Winning last Saturday's game as easily as Fitch did was extra impressive because the team was coming off an emotional win over undefeated Massillon Washington a week earlier. Going through the motions against the undermanned Marion bunch could have been simple for the Falcons, but coach Annarella had his kids focused.
"Overall they responded well and played a good game," said Annarella about his boys. "We didn't look back to last week and instead looked forward to the job at hand."
The job for the Falcons this week is to go on the road and stay undefeated against Uniontown Lake. Fitch is familiar with the Blue Streaks from the time the two teams spent together in the fierce Federal League. Lake has a 5-3 record after shutting out Canton GlenOak 20-0 last Friday and are even harder to handle on its home turf.
"We got a chance to go down there and watch (Lake) beat GlenOak and they played a great game," announced Annarella. "(Going on the road and winning) will not be an easy task."
Making that task more difficult is the way the Blue Streaks treat opposing offenses. Lake's "D" may not be in Fitch's class, but it is awfully close.
"They are noted for having a good, fundamental defense," said Annarella. "We're familiar with those defenses in the Federal League. They're all good."
The Blue Streaks are in the first season under a new coaching regime, but have seemingly not lost a beat. Lake is averaging slightly more than 24 points per game so that may pose a bit of a challenge to Fitch's vaunted defense. Coach Annarella is just hoping his club can keep the strong attitude it has played with the last few weeks.
"Hopefully we'll respond as well as we did last week," said the coach.
It was unknown at the beginning of this week if Harris will respond to treatment and return to the starting quarterback spot. Of course, Annarella was noncommittal about his quarterback's ailment anyway.
"We're still not sure," answered Annarella sheepishly when asked if Harris would be ready to play. "I wish we didn't have to worry about this stuff, but injuries are a part of football."