Falcons believe their history together
will come in handy against St. Ed
By Tom Williams
Members of the Austintown Fitch High football team understand why many believe top-seeded Lakewood St. Edward (10-1) is expected to advance to the state semifinals.
That doesn’t mean the fourth-seeded Falcons (12-0) are ready to concede Saturday’s game in Akron and their shot at a first state appearance.
In fact, the Falcons treasure something they feel the perennial parochial powerhouse lacks.
“We have something that they don’t have — a big heart [and a sense of] brotherhood,” Fitch senior defensive lineman Tony Behanna said Thursday. “They have people coming in from all over the place to play while we have people who have been playing together since we were little.
“I think that makes a big difference in a fight.”
Senior center Chuck Zaborsky agrees.
“We really have been playing together ever since we were on the Austintown Little Colts and Little Falcons,” Zaborsky said. “When you play with everyone for years, you really [create a] bond and actually become a family, brothers with one another.
“With St. Ed’s, they come from different [feeder] schools, they come from different communities where they don’t have that bond that we have.”
After last Saturday’s 40-24 comeback victory over Westerville Central in Mansfield, the Falcons say life has been pretty good. The Falcons wiped out a 24-14 deficit to become the first 12-0 team in school history.
“Being down in any situation can be tough, but knowing how much we come together as a family, as a team, it made us stronger because we had something to fight for,” senior defensive back Gabe Chepke said. “This is what we live for, moments like in Week 12.”
Behanna said advancing to the third round has been “a big topic around the school. Everybody is talking about the playoffs.
Zaborsky said celebrating the win has been “exciting — everyone congratulating you and patting you on the back for a good game.
“We’re very thankful to be the first Fitch team to go to the playoffs in back-to-back seasons.”
The Falcons also are grateful for kicker Nick Sheely, the team’s unsung hero.
“Nick Sheely is a big part of the team,” Behanna said. “Special teams are important. He really gets the defense going when he kicks the ball in the end zone and he [punts] the ball between the 20 and the end zone. He gets us excited, he gets the crowd excited.”
Almost all of Sheely’s kickoffs land in the end zone.
“I love the ‘Sheely Shock’ [cheer] that people say whenever he kicks into the end zone,” Behanna said. “That’s pretty cool.”
Sheely’s punts also have played an important role in the unbeaten season. In the Falcons’ tightest game (a 30-27 victory over Massillon in Week 7), Sheely had three punts downed at the 5-yard line or deeper.
“We love it when he pins [other teams] because we’re always yelling, ‘We’ve got to get the safety,’ ” Behanna said. “It takes a lot of pressure off of us.”
Falcons head coach Phil Annarella cited Sheely’s clutch field goals.
“One [against Westerville Central] was for 38 yards, it was no gimme,” Annarella said. “Nick’s done a great job for us all year. He’s been consistent — no question he’s been a big weapon for us.”
A locker room visitor can’t help noticing how many of the players dyed their hair white before the Week 10 game against Cardinal Mooney. Behanna said the seniors came up with that scheme.
“We thought it would be cool because we all play like one — [going] blond was just another thing to show that we play together.”
And how did his family react?
“It was quite a surprise for my Mom and Dad,” Behanna said. “ My brother got a kick out of it. He thought it was pretty funny.”