Falcons meet defending state champion Saturday night
By Tom Williams
Austintown Fitch High football coach Phil Annarella knows Cleveland St. Ignatius (9-1) will be fired up on Saturday after suffering its first defeat in more than a year.
“They are going to be upset with that loss last week to St. Ed’s,” said Annarella, referring to the Wildcats’ 20-13 loss to Lakewood St. Edward in the regular-season finale. “They are going to come out spitting fire and we’re going to take their best shot early on.
“And we’ve got to withstand that and, of course, give a shot of our own,” Annarella said. “We’re looking forward to the challenge.”
Saturday night at Byers Field in Parma, St. Ignatius plays Fitch in a Divison I, Region 1 quarterfinal. The Falcons are the seventh seed and the host Wildcats the second seed.
The Falcons (9-1) expect Wildcats quarterback Michael LaManna will test their secondary. With Ohio State recruit Billy Price anchoring the defensive line, most teams find running on the Falcons difficult.
In the Wildcats’ season opener, LaManna torched Cardinal Mooney for 256 yards and two touchdowns in a 31-7 victory at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
“Coach [Chuck] Kyle does an outstanding job there,” Annarella said. “When I was [at Warren Harding], we faced each other [regularly] and I just have a lot of respect for the program.”
The Falcons have been studying video of the Wildcats’ 32-21 win over St. Xavier in Week 9.
“They did pass the ball [a lot], trying to expose St. Xavier,” Price said. “We are a primary run defense. To beat us [means] to spread us out.
“I assume they are going to pass — if they’ve seen [our] Massillon game, that’s where our weaknesses were and that’s what we’ve been practicing since that game.”
Price was referring to the Falcons’ 34-14 loss at Massillon in Week 7.
“It kind of shell-shocked some of us,” the senior defensive end said. “The atmosphere, you’ve got to get used to it.
“To be in an environment like that for first-time players, it’s a lot to take in,” Price said. “It taught us a lot about ourselves and how we need to handle adversity. And it showed us our weakness that over time, obviously, we got better at.”
The loss wasn’t all bad, quarterback Matt Futkos said. “[It taught us] that we’ve got to keep on working and not get caught up in hype,” he said.
The Wildcats’ defense reminds him of Massillon.
“They are a great team with tons of experience,” said Futkos, referring to the Wildcats’ Division I state title in 2011, their state-record 11th. “If we can beat them, it will give us tons of confidence.”
Annarella expects the Wildcats to mix the pass and run.
“When they can mix it, that’s when they are successful,” Annarella said. “I don’t think they want to be one-dimensional — they want to keep you off-balance. If we can force them to be one-dimensional, we’re going to have a better chance of winning the game.”
Annarella said the Falcons are not daunted by having to play the defending champs.
“Ours is as tough of a region as there is in the state,” Annarella said. “You all end up having to play each other at some point if you want to get out of the region.
”We’re facing a challenge right off the bat, but any of them would have been a challenge,” said Annarella, referring to other Region 1 teams St. Edward (10-0), Willoughby South (10-0), Mentor (9-1), North Royalton (9-1) and Warren Harding (9-1).
Harding’s loss was to Fitch (24-10) in the opener.
“It’s a big game,” said Price, adding that he hopes the Wildcats challenge with the run. “I hope they do.
“If not, you’ve still got to be able to make plays and make them change the offensive scheme by chasing down tackles.
Price isn’t satisfied with a nine-win season.
“I have all the confidence in the world in our team,” Price said. “We’ve played tough, playoff-caliber opponents week in and week out.”