Nobody in Falcon Nation would disagree that this was a fantastic season for their beloved football Falcons.
Never mind that Fitch's 12-game winning streak and its season came to an end with a 28-0 loss to Lakewood St. Edward in the regional semifinals of the Division I state playoffs. These Falcons set a school record for wins by administrating weekly beatings on opponents using an unstoppable rushing offense and dominating defense.
"We're proud of our season," said Fitch head coach Phil Annarella as he reflected this past Sunday night. "To go undefeated in the regular season and make the third round (of the state playoffs) you need a little luck and you need to be good. We were good a lot of the time."
Unfortunately for the veteran head coach, his team was not good enough against St. Ed's. Although the weather during Saturday night's season finale resembled everyone's wish for Christmas Eve, there was no surprise gift hiding in the corner of the room for the Falcons. Powerful St. Ed's pretty much had things going its way from the start. Only Fitch's heroic defense (a pair of interceptions), and possibly the foul weather, kept the Eagles from entirely blowing up the scoreboard. Meanwhile, the outstanding Eagles grounded Fitch's offense, which usually pounds teams on the ground. Fitch only ran for 90 yards, which is about 210 yards shy of its season average.
"It was not our normal game," Annarella announced. "Part of it was due to (the way St. Ed's) played. We had some of those self-inflicted wounds I always talk about and you can't do that against a team as good as (St. Ed's)."
Perhaps the saddest situation coming out of last Saturday's setback is that coach Annarella had to say some final words to a great group of seniors who ended their careers a few wins shy of a state championship. It's never easy to say goodbye and that was proven in the Fitch locker room at the University of Akron.
"I told (the seniors) that the biggest thing is to be proud of all they accomplished," Annarella said. "Nobody gave us much of a chance, but we made school history for wins and we were the only Fitch team to make back-to-back state playoff appearances."
While those 30 senior stalwarts were sent off last Saturday, the group of Falcons who are returning in 2014 will give everyone in Austintown hope that another trip to the playoffs are a possibility. Offensive stars like quarterback Antwan Harris, who was a force with the football in his hands once he secured the starting signal calling spot; running back Darrin Hall, who led all Fitch backs in rushing; and all-around weapons like Joey Harrington and Tyler Hewlett will be returning to keep the motor running next year. Rebuilding the defense and interior lines may be Fitch's biggest challenge, but Annarella feels confident he has the horses to do it with.
"We have plenty of skill coming back," Annarella said excitedly, "but we are losing a lot of linemen. We'll have some holes on defense too."
If those holes can be filled quickly, there is a good chance that next year's Falcons can add a third straight year of playoff football to their resume.