By Marty Gitlin
The goal of any football coach is to call a pass when the defense is expecting a run and call a run when the defense is expecting a pass.
St. Ignatius coach Chuck Kyle has been confusing opponents for 30 years. That’s one reason why he’s won 11 state championships. And he did it again at a critical moment in a 35-26 victory Saturday night over plucky Austintown Fitch in the first round of the Division I regional quarterfinal.
The Falcons had just cut the deficit to 28-20 on a 28-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Matt Futkos to wideout Tyler Grover. Only four minutes remained in the game. Everyone at Byers Field expected the Wildcats to try to run out the clock.
That is, everyone but Kyle. On the second play of the next possession, Ignatius quarterback Michael LaManna fired a perfect strike to wide receiver Rocky Zingale, who had separated over the middle on a slant pattern in single coverage. Zingale sprinted into the end zone for a 69-yard response score that all but clinched the win.
Futkos, who racked up 120 yards rushing and 102 passing in the second half, added an 11-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Grover with just over a minute left, but a missed extra point killed the last hope for Fitch.
“I can’t explain it — I’m sick to my stomach,” said Futkos, his voice choking with emotion. “I know we played our hearts out. I love everyone on this team. It’s a shame it ended like this. To step on this field and compete with these guys means a lot. We know what kind of team we have now.”
And if the Wildcats hadn’t surprised everyone in the stadium by throwing a pass with four minutes left, the Falcons might still be playing for a Division I title.
“Honestly, I was not expecting it,” said veteran Fitch coach Phil Annarella. “They got us on that one.”
The Falcons were held to two first downs and zero passing yards in the first half. If not for a 45-yard interception return by Grover that led to a Futkos score, Fitch might have been doomed by halftime. Wildcats superback Tim McVey (31 carries for 201 yards) blasted for one first down after another in the first three quarters.
A critical strip sack by Wildcats defensive lineman Kevin Kavalec and fumble recovery by Nicholas Chapek led to a McVey touchdown that gave their team a 21-7 lead heading into a wild fourth quarter.
The Falcons played like they had nothing to lose in the fourth quarter. After they converted on fourth down, Futkos scored to cut it to 21-13. A 55-yard run by McVey set up the first of two LaManna-to-Zingale touchdowns before the Grover scoring reception closed the gap to 28-20.