NORTH CANTON — The Fitch High football team rallied from an early 14-0 deficit, but couldn’t overcome two failed scoring drives inside the North Canton 10 and a huge game from Erick Howard.
The Falcons scored with 9:49 left in the contest to close to within four points, but Hoover put things away with Howard’s fourth score of the night with 1:21 left to seal a 31-20 victory Friday night.
The setback dropped Fitch (5-2, 2-2) two games behind GlenOak in the Federal League standings. Hoover (5-2, 3-1) is one game back.
“You can’t spot a team 14 points and expect to win in this league,” said Fitch coach Phil Annarella. “We did it tonight and we did the thing two weeks ago against GlenOak. North Canton is a great team and they played well, but we really helped their cause with some self-inflicted wounds.
“We had a couple of opportunities in the red zone and we didn’t capitalize. We just waited too long to start moving the football. When we get into a rhythm, we’re pretty good; we just took too long.”
There was nothing secretive about North Canton’s offensive attack. The Fitch defense got a steady diet of 2008 Mr. Football Erick Howard, who rushed for 225 yards and four touchdowns to become Stark County’s all-time career rusher. He eclipsed the old mark of 5,177 but Canton McKinley’s Morgan Williams.
The Vikings started quickly, scoring on their opening possession. Howard carried the football on all nine plays, scoring from 2 yards out to give North Canton a 7-0 advantage with 6:16 left in the first quarter.
The Falcons’ offense was stuck in reverse for most of the first half. Two drives starting at their own 10 didn’t help, nor did a couple costly penalties. Fitch didn’t manage its first first down until 7 minutes left in the second quarter.
But that’s when things began to roll.
After a drive that included four first downs stalled at the Hoover 9, Fitch got back into the red zone on its next possession.
Taking advantage of prime field position at the Hoover 34, the Falcons mixing the pass with the run, and marched to the 5. Backup quarterback Shane Stevens did the rest. After a 4-yard run to the Hoover 1, the junior connected with Dion Matthews for a 1-yard dump pass over the middle to trim the deficit to 14-7 with 13 seconds remaining in the half.
On the opening drive of the third quarter, Fitch again backed itself up with a penalty on first down.
But sophomore Will Mahone provided a spark on the next play, turning the corner for an 84-yard touchdown run to tie the contest at 14-all with 10:08 left in the third quarter.
Howard again delivered, carrying five times for 28 yards on Hoover’s next drive, which ended with a 4-yard score from Howard, which broke the rushing record and put North Canton back in front 21-14.
An A.J. Sarbaugh 25 field goal made the score 24-14 at the 4:59 mark of the third quarter.
Fitch drove to Hoover 4, but fumbled the ball over on second down in the final seconds of the third quarter, trailing 24-14.
“You just can’t have that fumble,” said Annarella. “It was totally our fault and they didn’t even cause it.”
After forcing a North Canton punt, the Falcons offense again moved the ball down the field. Ballard completed three-of-three passes and rushed for 16 yards during a seven-play, 64-yard scoring drive.
Stevens scored from 1-yard out with 9:49 left in the game to trim the deficit to 24-20. The PAT was wide left. Howard’s 11-yard touchdown with 1:21 left clinched Hoover’s fourth win in the last six games against Fitch.
“Anytime he [Howard] gets any kind of footing, he gives everyone trouble,” said Annarella. “We’re two games back now, so it’s tough. We have three games left and we’ll just playing for pride. We just have to focus on Perry next week.”