St. Edward shuts down Falcons’ running game;
Eagles QB throws three TD passes in victory
By Ryan Buck
There was nothing endearing or nostalgic about the snow globe that was the University of Akron’s InfoCision Stadium Saturday night for the Austintown Fitch football program.
For a hypothetical gift for a loyal fan who braved the heavy snow, the cold and the swirling winds, it will likely be repaid with a lump of coal.
The most successful season in the school’s history came to a disappointing end there in a Division I state quarterfinal.
State power Lakewood St. Edward methodically wore down the Falcons in a 28-0 demolition.
The Eagles’ defense held Fitch, which came into the contest averaging 300 rushing yards, to a mere 89 rushing yards and dominated on offense, defense and special teams.
Brett Kean threw for 210 yards and three touchdowns, the big plays that stood out amidst a struggle both teams had with the elements.
Fitch coach Phil Annarella knew his team needed to play a near-flawless game, and felt a bit more confident once he saw the evening forecast lent itself to a game destined to be won on the ground.
“I was hoping it was gonna be a blizzard, to be honest with you,” he said. “It slowed down there enough in spots where they didn’t have to worry too much about the wind and they took advantage.”
Once it was clear eight and nine Eagles defenders at the line of scrimmage were stifling any running room for Fitch quarterback Antwan Harris and running backs Darrin Hall and Tyler Hewlett, Annarella knew his team was in trouble.
“They were good, they were good,” Annarella said of the St. Edward defense, which has allowed only one touchdown in three postseason games. “They took away what we do best, which is our running game and then when we did try to throw it, we dropped a few that we could have used.”
After a scoreless first quarter, the Eagles picked and popped their way with short passes from Kean and first-down runs from Andrew Dowell.
On first-and-10 from the Fitch 23, Kean found David Dowell across the middle for a 7-0 lead with just over eight minutes left in the first half.
Two possessions later, Fitch appeared to stop St. Edward on third-and-1 and would likely take over with good field position and a chance to tie.
Annarella and his staff implored the Falcons’ punt return unit to be ready for a fake, which they had seen earlier playoff opponents attempt.
“We’re screaming on the sidelines,” he said. “We practice that all the time when we’re sitting in on short yardage, don’t give them the first down.”
Kean, who also punts, left the Fitch punt block team hang for what seemed an eternity. Finally, multiple Falcons jumped before the snap for a five-yard penalty and a first down.
Kean hit David Dowell for a long gain into Fitch territory. On the next play, Dan Lentz hauled in Kean’s pass over the middle and walked into the end zone with 58 seconds left in the half.
I don’t know if it was necessarily planned,” St. Edward coach Rick Finotti said of the quick score after Fitch’s miscue. “We called the play from the sideline and we thought it was the best play for that moment.”
Down 14-0 and reduced to a one-dimensional offensive attack, Fitch was hamstrung.
“You take [Harris and Hall] out of the game, especially with that wind, because that is not our strength,” Annarella said. “A mix of things just didn’t work out quite the way we had planned.”
With 4:25 left in the third, after stopping another Fitch drive in three downs, Kean looked deep. He rolled out and found Shaun Crawford completely uncovered down the left sideline to put St. Edward ahead 21-0.
Fitch let its linebackers and safeties race to the line of scrimmage often, hoping to pressure Kean. St. Edward’s taller receivers outmatched the smaller Fitch secondary.
“I think you have to give their offensive line credit because they picked up all of our stunts,” Annarella said. “We didn’t get to that quarterback very often and we knew we had to do that just because we didn’t match up.”
After another three-and-out forced on Fitch’s next drive, the St. Edward punt return team cleared the way for Kyle Hegedus’ 76-yard touchdown return.