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Fitch defense takes over in second half


BY Tom Williams

williams@vindy.com

MANSFIELD

The Fitch High football team’s prospects for advancing to Week 13 appeared to be on the ropes late in the second quarter after the Falcons responded to a rare 10-point deficit with a three-and-out series.

But two plays after Nick Sheely’s punt, Falcons defensive back Rodney Smith blitzed into Westerville Central quarterback Jared Drake, popping the ball to linebacker Sam Ortz who returned it to the 21.

The turnover led to the Falcons’ third touchdown and a four-point halftime deficit. The Falcons then soared, outscoring the Warhawks 20-0 for a 40-24 victory in a Division I, Region 1 second-round game Saturday night at Arlin Stadium.

The Falcons, 12-0 for the first time in school history, will play Lakewood St. Edward in the next round. It’s the first time Fitch has been alive in Week 13 since 1986. St. Edward, the region’s top-rated team, advanced with a 42-7 victory over Cleveland Heights.

Approaching the line, Smith said sacking Drake was the only thing on his mind.

“Amazing because I knew I was about to hit him,” said Smith of zooming in from the blind side. “Then I hit him and saw the ball in Ortz’s hands.”

Ortz approached from the opposite side, knowing the collision was imminent.

“I knew he was going to hit him hard,” Ortz said. “I just grabbed it and said, ‘Let’s go.’ ”

The momentum surge carried over into the third quarter. The Falcons took the lead on an 80-yard march capped by Darrin Hall’s 17-yard touchdown run.

After a three-and-out and Drake’s 5-yard punt, the Falcons scored again on quarterback Antwan Harris’ third touchdown, this one on a 4-yard run for a 34-24 lead.

Sheely booted field goals of 38 and 25 yards in the fourth quarter to seal the victory.

Fitch head coach Phil Annarella credited defensive coordinator Wally Hurdley for the blitz call.

“It was a big turning point,” Annarella said. “It’s still defense that wins games. Tonight was a perfect example.

“The kids picked up their intensity level,” Annarella said. “To hold that team scoreless in the second half, that’s a pretty good feat.”

Westerville Central bows out at 10-2. Drake, who had more than 2,600 yards passing in his first 11 games, passed for 240. but just 38 came after halftime.

The Falcons stunned the Warhawks early when Gabe Chepke intercepted Drake’s second pass. After Harris ran 18 yards to the Warhawks’ 1, he scored on the next play for a 7-0 lead.

Chepke had another pickoff in the third quarter.

“Never,” said Chepke when asked if he had ever felt better after a football game. “The 10-0 win was amazing, but to say were going to Week 13 is amazing.”

The strong second half wiped out memories of a frustrating first half. One play after Harris’ first touchdown, the Warhawks tied the game as Cedric Frierson caught a short pass and raced 80 yards.

After Hunter Robertson’s 23-yard field goal put the Warhawks ahead, the Falcons responded when Joey Harrington caught a short pass from Harris, spun away from his nearest defenders and ran 70 yards for a 14-10 lead.

The Warhawks scored two touchdowns in the second quarter.

“We stayed calm, we knew what we had to do,” Ortz said of halftime. “It feels great — we love going this far. It’s something else.”

Harris rushed for 147 yards on 35 carries. Hall had 121 on 19 attempts.

“There’s room for improvement always and this week we’re going to get better,” Chepke said.

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