By Ryan Buck
Austintown Fitch football coach Phil Annarella is a precise man. Like any successful coach — he has compiled a 211-126-3 career record — he has his expectations and standards.
Even as the unbeaten Falcons rolled up 448 yards and built a commanding 31-6 lead midway through the third quarter of their Division I, Region 1 first-round game with Marysville, he felt his team left much to be desired.
The good news is, they have another week to impress him as they outlasted the Monarchs, 31-21, Saturday night.
“It wasn’t the prettiest, but it was a victory and that’s all that matters,” Annarella said, shaking his head. “We have a lot of things to fix, that’s for sure.”
Despite a dominating running game that controlled the clock and the tempo from the pass-happy Monarchs, Fitch (11-0) committed 11 penalties and allowed Marysville (7-4) to make things interesting with 15 unanswered points to end the game.
“We’ve got to improve our level of play considerably if we want to be able to compete next week,” Annarella said.
Like he has been all season, Falcons quarterback Antwan Harris will have to be the catalyst.
The junior ran the Falcons’ offense with precision and earned 198 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries.
After starting running back Darrin Hall scored the game’s opening touchdown and left the game with an apparent injury in the first quarter, Harris’ role immediately increased.
“We were kind of leaning on him a little bit,” Annarella said. “He did a terrific job for us.”
The Monarchs cut the Fitch lead to 10-6 late in the first half with a 17-play drive. Sam Ortz gave Fitch great field position with a 50-yard kick return. On first down from the Marysville 42, Harris twisted his way for 15 yards, then hit Kerrell Johnson for a 9-yard gain to set up Tyler Hewlett’s 15-yard scoring run.
“I just had to step up when Darrin went down,” Hewlett said. “I saw the hole and hit my burst, like Coach always says.”
On the first drive of the second half, Harris and Hewlett alternated carries down to the Marysville 15, where Joey Harrington finished the drive on a well-designed jet sweep.
Harris then gave the Falcons a 31-6 lead with 6:07 left in the third quarter on a quarterback draw through the Monarchs’ line.
Even with Hall out, the Falcons present a potent running attack.
“Fortunately we can distribute the ball to a few different people and that’s always going to pose a defense problems,” Annarella said.
Marysville quarterback Matt Mulholland drove his team in for a score with 4:30 left in the third.
With 5:54 left in the game and Fitch having all but sealed the win, the Monarch’s blocked Nick Sheely’s punt and recovered at the Fitch 14. Tight end Kyler Cline caught an obvious incomplete pass for a bizarre touchdown on the next play and Marysville’s two-point conversion was good to make the score 31-21.
Fitch’s night was encapsulated on their next drive. After two straight penalties, Harris weaved his way for what looked to be a game-sealing first down on third-and 17 at the Marysville 31 before fumbling on the very next snap.
With 1:20 left in the game, Fitch defensive back Damien Gray recovered Logan Roston’s fumble to effectively end it.