By Ryan Buck
Austintown Fitch stepped onto the field of storied Paul Brown Tiger Stadium Friday night, hoping to continue its undefeated season against perennial state power Massillon.
But the Tigers — physically and nearly flawlessly — overwhelmed Fitch in a 28-point first half and rode the lead at intermission to a 34-14 victory over the Falcons, who were unable to match Massillon’s team speed in all three phases.
Both teams are now 6-1.
“Massillon’s an excellent football team and an excellent program,” said Fitch lineman Billy Price. “All the credit goes to them. They out-played us tonight and did what they had to do to get a victory.”
Massillon’s high-powered offense and embarrassment of riches at the skill positions had the Falcons’ defense on its heels all night. Senior quarterback Kyle Kempt completed 18 passes to six different receivers for 308 yards and four touchdowns.
Tigers receivers Gareon Conley and Marcus Whitfield, who will both play major college football, combined for 11 catches, 234 yards and three scores against the overmatched Fitch secondary.
They had a plan to stop the pass rush of Ohio State recruit and Fitch standout lineman Price.
“They knew our kind of defense,” Price said. “The quarterback got the ball out quickly and that affects our defense and how we play, so credit to them.”
On its third possession, Massillon drove 93 yards in 10 plays, culminating on a 32-yard Kempt slant to tight end Beau Huffman for a 7-0 lead.
Fitch senior quarterback Matt Futkos responded with a gritty drive of his own. He hit wideout Tyler Grover on a long pass down the left sideline for 41 yards. Two plays later, Futkos got into the end zone on a read-option keeper to tie the game.
That was as good as it got for Fitch.
Whitfield took a Kempt swing pass 57 yards for a score on the Tigers’ next possession as the first quarter ended.
Then, with 5:03 left in the first half, Kempt again hit Conley on an 18-yard fade to push the lead to 21-7.
Just one play after Fitch running back Dylan Hewlett fumbled in Fitch territory moments later, Conley ran under another long pass from Kempt to put the game out of reach. Those two plays were a microcosm of Fitch’s night.
“That was definitely a game-changer,” said Fitch running back Billy Aaron. “It was something that didn’t motivate us too much.”
The Falcons’ offense, which came into the game averaging 44 points, had no answers after their first-quarter score.
“They just came out and executed,” Aaron said. “The holes they hit, they worked. There wasn’t much more we could do. We tried making adjustments at halftime and then we didn’t execute. They were a bigger and stronger team than us, something we hadn’t seen yet this season.”
Fitch’s running back duo of Aaron and Hall, effective all season, combined for 75 yards on 23 carries. Hewlett’s 7-yard touchdown run capped an 80-yard Fitch drive with 4:37 left in the game.