The undefeated Fitch football team has played nearly perfect games throughout its 10-game regular season winning streak.
Nobody really expected that to change when Fitch started the Division I playoffs at home against undermanned Marysville. Well, the Falcons weren't perfect but they were successful as they advanced to the second round with a 31-21 victory.
"It was a little bit sloppy," said Fitch head coach Phil Annarella, "but a win is a win."
Despite some shoddy play by the Falcons, which saw them reach double digits in penalties and lose two fumbles, the home team still built a 31-6 lead midway through the third quarter. The reason for that lead, as has been the case for most of Fitch's leads this year, was a punishing running attack. The Falcons foiled any plans of a Marysville upset by humbling the Monarchs defense with nearly 450 yards rushing. All of that ball control kept the up-tempo Monarch offense off the field for most of the game. The only time Marysville was able to mount any offense was when the game was well out of hand. Having such a comfortable lead allowed coach Annarella and his boys to breathe much easier than a squad squaring off in a playoff game usually is afforded. Then, he started worrying again.
"We got up 31-6 so we thought we were doing well," said Annarella. "Some things then started falling apart."
Fitch's world may have completely collapsed if it wasn't for its steamrolling rushing unit. Leading the way on the ground for the Falcons was quarterback Antwan Harris who ran for 198 yards on 20 carries. Harris also had a 9-yard touchdown run. Junior Joey Harrington ran for a 15-yard touchdown and had two catches. Fellow junior Tyler Hewlett had 70 yards rushing including a 15-yard touchdown run. Although he was kept way under his usual rushing numbers, junior Darrin Hall kicked off Fitch's scoring night with a 29-yard touchdown jaunt a few minutes into the contest. The ability to run the football was a direct result of Fitch's offensive line opening up space against an ineffective Monarch front seven.
"We had some nice holes," Annarella mentioned. "(The offensive line) did some things right."
Kicker Nick Sheely was right all evening as he was successful on a 33-yard field goal in the second quarter and was perfect on all four of his extra point tries. Conversely, field goals were the only thing Marysville could muster in the first half while Fitch was building its huge advantage. The Monarchs' mighty high-paced passing game was held to 220 yards with most of that total coming in garbage time proving once again that Fitch's defense is championship caliber.
Step two on that road to the title will be this Saturday night against Westerville Central. The 10-1 Warhawks smacked Solon in their opening playoff game 55-7. Westerville is averaging about 50 points per game and has scored at least 30 points in every game this season save one when it scored 29 yet still won. In fact, the Warhawks only setback was a 57-50 barnburner to New Albany in Week 2. Scoring should come in bunches when the fourth and fifth seeds in the region collide this weekend.
"(Westerville) has lots of skill on both sides of the ball," said Annarella shortly after watching his upcoming opponent on film. "They are pretty complete. They have an outstanding quarterback (senior Jared Drake) who is about 220 pounds. He is a good runner and passer."
One reason why Drake never has to start from the bottom of the turf is because he is kept upright by a mammoth offensive line. It is a front five that is comparable to Fitch's Week 7 opponent Massillon in bulk. Of course, the Falcons had little trouble against that group so their coach hopes it will have the same success this Saturday.
"(Westerville) is big up front," Annarella noted. "We are not overly concerned with their size, but execution is tough when the other team is bigger."
The Falcons may not have been bigger than a lot of their foes this season, but they definitely have been better. A win in Mansfield this Saturday night over Westerville puts Fitch into a regional round showdown with either Cleveland Heights or top seed Lakewood St. Edward. Kickoff for round two is at 7 p.m.