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Austintown Fitch enters playoffs in style

By Joe Scalzo


Austintown Fitch’s sourdough roll of a coach — crusty on the outside, soft and warm on the inside — was standing just outside the celebratory end zone scrum Friday night, using up a month’s worth of grins after his team administered the biggest beatdown anyone has given Cardinal Mooney in a decade.

“Well, you beat Mooney like that ...,” Phil Annarella said.

The 49-7 win over the Cardinals was the 200th of his 32-year career — the cheerleaders were holding up hand-painted signs to prove it — but when Annarella was asked about the milestone, he doused it as quickly as his players had done in the game’s final minutes, when the Falcons thought it might be fun to empty the water cooler just a few minutes early.

“You know, people overplay that stuff too much,” said Annarella, who has also coached at Warren Harding (winning the 1990 Division I title), Warren Western Reserve, Rayen, Hickory and Niles. “I’ve been involved with 200 wins because I’ve been associated with tremendous young athletes and because I’ve had tremendous coaching staffs.

“I’m just a part of that whole thing and, for whatever reason, they pin it on you.”

His 200th win was one of the most dominant of his career as the Falcons scored on their first seven possessions to hand the Cardinals their worst loss since Warren Harding beat them 42-0 in 2002.

“I said something to the kids tonight before we came out,” said Annarella. “I said, ‘We’re going to win this game tonight because we’re a team and you’ve played like a team all year.’ And that’s why we’ve been successful and it held true again.

“You know, a lot of that sounds corny, but it’s reality.”

Matt Futkos threw for 152 yards and a touchdown and ran for three others, while Darrin Hall added 139 yards rushing and two TDs for Fitch, which led 42-0 midway through the third quarter.

“We just came out and executed today,” said Futkos. “It definitely gives us a lot of confidence and momentum going into the playoffs.”

“We didn’t want to limp in,” added Annarella, who then broke into a grin. “And I don’t think we did.”

Fitch (9-1) clinched its second playoff spot in three years and will likely have a first-round game at the loser of tonight’s Lakewood St. Edward-Cleveland St. Ignatius game.

The Falcons accomplished what last year’s team was expected to do before injuries derailed the season.

“We had a lot of injuries last year,” said Futkos, who became the starter on last year’s 6-4 team after Pitt recruit Demetrious Davis got hurt. “A lot of guys had to step up but we had experience coming into this year. We just needed to know we could do it ourselves.”

Nebraska recruit Marcus McWilson ran 12 times for 104 yards for the Cardinals (3-6), who entered this season with plans to repeat as Division III champions only to be overwhelmed by a schedule that included six Ohio playoff teams, including four in Division I. The Cardinals, who were playing without linebacker Courtney Love (another Nebraska recruit), finished with their first losing season since going winless in 2001.

“We did pretty well tonight,” Annarella said. “I certainly can’t complain.”


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