Massillon capitalized on Fitch's breakdowns to snap the Falcons' three-game winning streak.
By JOHN KOVACH
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
AUSTINTOWN -- Offensive and defensive breakdowns by the Austintown Fitch High football team led to all of Massillon Washington's points Friday as the Falcons, after taking a 7-0 lead, dropped a 24-14 decision to the Tigers at Falcon Stadium.
Ricky Johnson, a senior running back, scored two touchdowns on runs of 3 and 4 yards, while Terrance Roddy, a senior running back, tallied on a 5-yard dash.
Massillon used its speedy backs and powerful defense -- and several costly Fitch mistakes -- to climb out of an early hole and win for the third time in four games.
The Tigers, who bounced back from their first loss of the season to St. Ignatius last week, also got a safety.
Fitch (3-1), whose three-game winning streak was snapped, took control early in the game by making the most of a Massillon error. Davanzo Tate recovered a fumble at the Tigers' 41, and a penalty on the play gave Fitch the ball at the 26.
The Falcons covered the distance in eight plays with quarterback Jason Aikens going the final yard at 5:55 of the first quarter, and Shea Stewart adding the placement.
The tide turns
But it was all Massillon after that until Fitch managed to get some strong passing and leadership from substitute quarterback Mo Hassen late in the game, and then scored on Dallas Root's 2-yard run.
Root's tally capped a 34-yard, 5-play drive while Stewart added the placement to make it 24-14.
After Aikens had put Fitch ahead early, Massillon got a safety on a bad pass from center on a punt situation at the Falcons' 22 near the end of the first quarter.
"Our long snapper [Shane Roche] twisted his knee against GlenOak," said Fitch coach Carl Pelini, noting a sub was doing his best to make the snaps.
Then the Tigers took the ensuing free kick at the Fitch 45 and scored in six plays, Johnson going the final 3 yards and Steve Hymes running for the conversion for a 10-7 advantage at 9:22 that held until intermission.
"The punt [free kick] went 50 yards in the air, but they [Massillon] got a 25-yard return and that didn't help," Pelini said. "In hindsight, I would have placekicked the ball."
Fumble foils chance
But the game's tide-turner occurred after Massillon went ahead by 10-7, because Fitch drove to the Tigers' 17 but fumbled away the scoring opportunity to Massillon's Brandon Fogle at the 32.
"That play turned the tide in the game. The kids lost confidence in what we were doing," Pelini said. "We could have been up by 14-10. We were running the ball down the field."
The Tigers then drove to Fitch's 8 but missed a 40-yard field goal just before the first half ended.
In the third quarter, Massillon got a nifty 64-yard run from Roddy to the Fitch 5 to set up his score on the next play at 5:11, and Eric Smith hit the placement for a 17-7 lead.
Ballard blocks punt
Then in the final quarter, with Fitch back to punt at its 21, Jamaal Ballard broke through to block the punt and recover the ball at the 5, to set up Johnson's 4-yard scoring dash two plays later at 5:57 and Smith's placement for a 24-7 command.
Pelini said an inaccurate snap from center caused the block.
"It was a high snap and he [the punter] had to move to his right to get it. When he stepped to the right, that's where the block came from," said Pelini.
Pelini said the reason Fitch didn't pass more to counteract a rugged Massillon defense against the run was, "Because I knew we could have run the ball on them. We are just learning how to run."
Hassen hit a 14-yard pass to Miles Williams at the 2 to set up Root's TD, right after Hassen had hit T.J. Parker on an 8-yard toss.
Hassen shows potential
Pelini said Aikens is still Fitch's No. 1 quarterback, but believes Hassen to be comer.
"He's still learning to play quarterback. He's going to be a good one," said Pelini of Hassen.
Coach Rick Shepas of Massillon, a Cardinal Mooney and Youngstown State graduate, said the Tigers capitalized on Fitch's breakdowns.
"That's always big to capitalize," said Shepas, who felt that Fitch was weakened without injured tackle Mike McGlynn (6-6, 310) in the lineup.
"They were playing without their big lineman," Shepas said. "And their quarterback [Aikens] was a little banged up."