Turnovers were the key in the Falcons' defeat of Boardman.
By JOHN KOVACH
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
AUSTINTOWN -- A steady rain, wet and muddy field conditions, turnovers and field position were the main factors that told the tale of the Austintown Fitch-Boardman regular season finale Friday night at Falcon Stadium.
And Fitch got the better of Boardman in all of these decisive factors of the mud-splattered showdown, to avoid last place in the Federal League standings.
The Falcons scored three of their four touchdowns after Boardman turnovers to register a 28-7 victory.
Fitch's first three TDs came after Spartans' turnovers deep in their own territory, with sophomore quarterback Chris Smaldino accounting for two of the scores on runs of 43 and 3 yards, and Keane Boyd getting the other tally on a 1-yard plunge. Brad Hrinko kicked three of his four extra points as Fitch jumped to a 21-0 lead in the second quarter.
Then after Tyler Amendola raced 62 yards to Boardman's only TD in the second period and Erick Johnson added the placement, Fitch got the game's final score in the fourth quarter on a 4-yard run by J.J. Pankewicz to climax an 11-play, 65-yard drive.
Turnovers determined outcome
"Turnovers were the key tonight. We got three scores to put them behind the 8-ball," said Fitch (4-6, 2-5 FL) coach Neale Kopp. "But the key thing was we didn't turn the ball over."
Boardman (3-7, 1-6 FL) coach D.J. Ogilvie said his team didn't handle the bad playing conditions very well.
"The field conditions caused the turnovers. They were a big factor. That played a part in the loss. We were playing with a wet ball on a wet field."
Fitch scored on its second and third possessions of the game after capitalizing on turnovers.
First, Shane Price recovered a Boardman fumble at the Spartans' 43 to set up Smaldino's 43-yard scoring dash on the first play of the series. Smaldino made a great fake hand-off and ran to the right to fool the defenders and then streaked the distance.
Then on the Boardman's next offensive series, with the Spartans back at their 23 to punt, the center snap sailed over the punter's head and was downed by Fitch at the 3-yard line. J.J. Pankewicz got two yards and then Boyd dove over from the 1-yard line.
And early in the second quarter, with Boardman at its 34 and back to punt again, Fitch blocked the attempt and Doug Hurdley recovered the ball at the Spartans' 15. Fitch covered the distance in three plays, Pankewicz getting 11 yards on the second play to the 3-yard line to set up Smaldino's second TD run.
Smaldino leads Fitch attack
Smaldino rushed for 78 yards in 10 carries while Pankewicz added 63 yards in 15 carries and Boyd 21 yards in nine runs to power Fitch's running attack.
Kopp said Smaldino has "been our starter since the Canton McKinley game for 41/2 games. He has been executing and running the option."
The coach also pointed out, "We controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides."
But apart from turnovers, Smaldino's leadership and great line play, Kopp said a change in strategy also helped the Falcons.
"We took our best defensive players and put them on offense and they played both ways. That's why we started to get points," said Kopp.
"We couldn't do that during the season because of the heavy Federal League schedule, but we did it for the last game."
Kopp said injuries hurt his team this season.
"We were decimated by injuries after week five. We were forced to go with younger players," said Kopp. But, "Our defense gave us a chance to win games."
Amendola led Boardman's attack with 71 yards rushing in 15 carries while Bob Bovara added 33 yards in 13 attempts.