By Brandon Judeh
If defense truly wins championships, then the Fitch Falcons may be on the path to something special.
Falcon linebacker Sam Ortz and company shut out the East Panthers, 39-0, Friday night at Falcon Stadium.
Ortz name was called early and often. Ninety seconds into the game the senior put points on the board by recording a safety and the Falcons (6-0) never looked back.
“I just ran down the field and saw the returner muff it, so I knew I had to get in there and either grab the ball or cause a safety,” Ortz said.
Ortz wasn’t finished, minutes later he recovered a Panther fumble on their 10-yard line, setting the tone for the Falcon defense.
“Our defense right now has so much chemistry, we have a bond that no one can break,” Ortz said. “We have been playing together for so long and we have so much depth that if someone goes down we have someone who can come in and play.”
Though Fitch’s defense dominated, the offense struggled early, fumbling the ball five times in the first half and giving the ball back to the Panthers (1-5) two of those times.
“I have no idea how we clean that up,” Fitch coach Phil Annarella said. “We work so hard on that stuff and it’s mindboggling how much we struggled with it tonight.
“The offense wasn’t very good tonight, but thankfully the defense was impressive.”
Despite the turnovers, Fitch still found itself on top 9-0 at the half thanks to a 47-yard touchdown run by quarterback Antwan Harris.
The Falcons’ offense picked things up in the second half as star running back Darrin Hall led a drive that ended with a 5-yard touchdown run by Tyler Hewlett to give Fitch a comfortable 16-point lead.
The Panthers were unable to muster much on offense, in large part to 12 penalties for 71 yards. East head coach P.J. Mays said that is a sign of inexperience.
“We have been doing this all season, but that’s the mark of a young team that’s not ready yet,” Mays said. “But we did play well in the first half and did a great job of matching their tempo.”
Mays and his team experienced a scary moment with 2:25 left in the third quarter when De’bray Walker laid motionless on the field for several minutes after a helmet-to-helmet hit.
“It was a scary moment, but was more precautionary than anything,” Mays said. “I want to thank the Austintown medical staff for taking all of the extra steps to make sure our kid was all right.”
After the delay the Falcons kept soaring as senior defensive back Gabe Chepke intercepted a Bobby Jefferson pass and returned it 10 yards for a touchdown.
Also chipping in for the Falcons were Hewlett who scored twice, Rehmaan Rafique added a safety and outside linebacker Gary Gibson had an interception.
East wide receiver Daryl Anderson Jr. had 40 yards receiving and Jawuan Jones contributed 60 yards rushing.