For the first time in the history of the program, the Fitch football team is 12-0.
The Falcons found their 12th win in Mansfield on Nov. 16 in the second round of the Division I state playoffs. Fitch won 40-24 over Westerville Central last Saturday setting up a showdown with legendary Lakewood St. Edward at 7 p.m. this Saturday in Akron. Eliminating St. Edward from the tournament is akin to walking into a mega Vegas resort and taking down the casino, but Fitch head coach Phil Annarella feels that at this point his team is playing with "house money."
"We just have to go out and play our game now," said Annarella late Sunday evening. "We're going to show up and play a darn good game and fight hard."
It seemed for a while last weekend that the Falcons would never make it to their meeting with the Lakewood kids. After falling behind 14-10, Westerville whammed the local kids with two touchdowns to take a 10-point lead late in the second quarter. With the Falcons' season seemingly on the ropes, it was time for the team to call on its superhero to come to the rescue. If coach Annarella were Commissioner Gordon he would have some sort of Falcon Bat Signal to shoot into the sky alerting his defense that it is time to save the night. Fitch has made that call time and time again this year en route to its perfect season and that "D" answered the bell once again to help slay the Warhawks.
"Defense is the name of the game," said Annarella. "We didn't make as many adjustments as people may think. We just have a great group of players and we played our game."
The defensive domination started after the Falcons gave the ball back to the Warhawks late in the second quarter. Two plays after regaining possession, Westerville quarterback Jared Drake was dumped by Fitch defensive back Rodney Smith, popping the ball into the hands of linebacker Sam Ortz. The great field position allowed Fitch quarterback Antwan Harris to sneak in from a yard away to make the score a manageable 24-20 at halftime. The Falcons forged ahead halfway through the third quarter thanks to a 17-yard Darrin Hall touchdown run. Holding a 27-24 lead, Fitch's defense was allowed to pin back its ears and deal with Drake. Westerville's very talented signal caller was rushed into four interceptions as he valiantly attempted to put his team back in the lead. Meanwhile, the Falcons were able to rush the ball with abandon, which is something they are very used to doing. Harris would pick up his third rushing touchdown on the night when he capped a nice Falcon drive with a 4-yard run giving his team a 34-24 lead with 5:00 left in the third. Harris would end the game with 35 carries for 145 yards. Hall was just as effective when toting the rock carrying it 19 times for 121 yards and that one third quarter score. Fitch rambled over the Warhawks for 340 yards on the ground equaling Westerville's total offensive output.
"We're continuing to advance because we are running the football," Annarella mentioned. "We have a special group of kids who epitomize a team."
While Fitch has had minor trouble in its first two playoff encounters, this week's tussle with Lakewood St. Ed's should be nothing but trouble. The Eagles are 11-1 and are a touchdown shy of 500 points for the season. Included in the Eagles' victory list is a 41-14 mashing of Cardinal Mooney on Oct. 5. Only arch rival Cleveland St. Ignatius has upended the Eagles this season and, of course, St. Iggy's could possibly be next on Fitch's agenda if things fall correctly this weekend. St. Ed's is ranked second in the Midwest so coach Annarella may need to say a few Hail Mary's before battling the Catholic juggernaut on Saturday.
"There are no easy games," Annarella said sternly. "They are all tough games in this round."
When talking to coach Annarella about this upcoming contest one can sense a bit of an edge in his voice. That attitude is directly a result of the lack of respect the veteran coach feels his team is getting as it advances into the third round.
"A lot of people think we aren't big enough and this is a David versus Goliath game," Annarella shouted. "I think it's about time our kids get the credit they deserve."
A win over the Eagles this Saturday will get the Falcons all the respect in the world.