Chaney's coach said his players became a team in the second half.
By JOHN KOVACH
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
AUSTINTOWN -- It was a "Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde" kind of game between the Austintown Fitch and Chaney High football teams Friday night at Falcon Stadium, as both squads changed personalities at halftime in their season opener.
Fitch dominated the first half with 225 total yards, including 217 rushing, and nine first downs, and built a 15-0 lead, almost adding a third TD before halftime before Chaney held at its 9-yard line.
But the Cowboys bounced back to monopolize the second half, preventing the Falcons from getting a first down while launching three offensive drives.
But Fitch maintained one consistent trait all night -- its defense came up with the big plays at the right time -- and that enabled the Falcons to turn back two late Cowboys' drives to preserve a 15-8 win, in the inaugural Tommy "Coach" Brown Memorial Game between the two West Side rivals.
Brown was a former Fitch equipment manager and longtime Falcons' fan who died recently, and the school is honoring his memory by instituting the award.
Fitch defense clicks
"We did a great job preventing the big play," said Fitch coach Neal Kopp. "Fortunately we came up with the big plays."
Chaney coach Ron Berdis said his team gained confidence by stopping Fitch near the goal late in the first half, and then later by stopping them every time in the second half.
"That was huge [near halftime]. Our defense really rose to the occasion and got us different field positions to make plays. Our kids became a team in the second half," said Berdis.
Dane Stilgenbauer scored one TD on a 1-yard plunge and also ran for the conversion after quarterback Matt Ruble's 7-yard TD dash, while Derek Brendlinger kicked the placement after Stilgenbauer's TD, to account for all of Fitch scoring which came in the second period.
Stilgenbauer rushed for 126 yards in 24 carries while fullback J.J. Pankewicz added 66 yards in 11 carries and Ruble 44 yards in eight runs to lead Fitch.
Ruble's TD capped an 11-play, 54-yard drive at 11:18 of the second period, while Stilgenbauer's TD finished an 11-play, 43-yard advance at 3:41 that was set up by a Chaney punt.
Chaney repels threat
Fitch almost scored late in the second, driving 81 yards in four plays, 78 of the yards coming on Stilgenbauer's nifty run to the 9, but Chaney held and the Falcons' 26-yard field goal attempt failed.
That defensive stand seemed to give the Cowboys more confidence in the second half, and they forced Fitch to punt four times. Then Chaney got its offense untracked behind the passing of junior quarterback Antwan Rice, who was making his first start.
Rice, who has a strong arm but was missing on long throws in the first half, began connecting on short tosses to Kory Jackson and several other receivers to get the drives moving, and the Cowboys' running attack began helping out, too.
After Chaney forced Fitch to punt the third time, the Cowboys scored on Terrell Tomlin's 1-yard plunge with 27.2 seconds remaining in the third period to cap a 12-play, 61-yard drive, while Rice hit Jackson on the conversion pass.
Rice keys drives
Rice's passing then keyed two more Chaney drives, but the Falcons stopped both of them with big plays. Chaney drove to the Fitch 28, but Fitch's Donny Olson deflected Rice's pass to kill the bid.
Then after the Cowboys forced Fitch to punt again, they moved to the Falcons' 38, but Rice was sacked to preserve the win for Fitch.
Rice completed 12-of-27 passes for 112 yards, and Jackson caught six of his throws for 45 yards.