By Steve Ruman
With just three starters returning on offense, many wondered if Austintown Fitch would be able to put up numbers similar to what it did a year ago when the Falcons averaged 40 points a game.
Four games into the season, the question now is, who can stop the high-flying Falcons?
Fitch lifted its record to 4-0 on Friday with a dominating 41-7 win over previously-unbeaten Dover. The Tornadoes entered the game as the No. 3-ranked team in Division III.
Junior running back Darrin Hall rushed for 246 yards on 29 carries for the Falcons, who are averaging 36 points per game.
“There were a lot of area fans who thought we might be down this year, and that gave us some great motivation heading into the season,” Hall said. “We have a great senior class, and a lot of people didn’t realize that our younger class is also made up of a great group of players.
“I think our biggest advantage is that we have an experienced defense. They are always making big plays, and what they do really helps set us up offensively.”
Hall, who rushed for more than 900 yards as a sophomore, said he felt “obligated, but not pressured” to step up his game this year.
“I felt like I owed it to my teammates to take the next step, to do even better,” Hall said. “But at the same time, we have so many playmakers. A number of guys on this team can step up and make a big play at any moment.”
Hall has rushed for 562 yards through four games. On Friday he fell just short of breaking Fitch’s single-game rushing record of 262 yards, set a week ago by senior quarterback Antwan Harris.
“I had no clue how many yards I had when I went out,” Hall said. “The important thing is, we got the win. I’ll take wins over personal numbers all the time.”
STREAKS ENDED / EXTENDED
The area’s two longest regular-season winning streaks ended Friday.
Crestview lost for the first time since Aug. 26, 2011 when the Rebels fell to South Range 49-35. That ended a 22-game winning streak. Brookfield, meanwhile, saw its 17-game winning streak snapped with a 26-7 loss to Struthers.
The Valley’s longest win streak belongs to Western Reserve — 12 straight after a 43-24 win over Jackson-Milton.
Western Reserve will put its streak on the line Friday when it visits McDonald. Western Reserve hasn’t lost a league game since the end of 2010 when it fell to McDonald, 15-13.
Canfield owns the area’s longest losing streak at 10 straight.
The Ohio High School Athletic Association on Tuesday will release its first set of computer rankings. The rankings determine which teams will qualify for post-season play.
This is the first year the tournament will include seven divisions. There were six divisions for the past 14 years.
The schools with the 10 percent largest enrollments are splint into a pair of Division I regions. The remaining 644 schools are divided evenly to comprise the next six divisions (four regions per division).
The top 16 teams in each of the two D-I regions will qualify for the playoffs, with the top eight in each region owning home field advantage in the first round. The top eight teams in all regions Division II through VII will qualify, with the top four earning a home game to start the postseason.
Divisions II, III, IV and VI playoffs will be at 7:30 p.m. on Fridays and Divisions I, V and VII will be at 7 p.m. on Saturdays. The tournament will conclude Dec. 7.
The seventh division means the state finals will add another day for a championship game. The extra title game will be held on Dec. 5. The Thursday title game will come from either Division II, III, IV or VI and will be determined following the state semifinals.
Unlike in years past, game times of specific division title games will not be announced until after the state semifinals are complete. Division I title games in the past have been played at 8 p.m. However, this year’s Big Ten title game will also be played the evening of Dec. 7. It is believed that the OHSAA would not want its D-I title game to coincide with the Big Ten championship if Ohio State is a participant.
Of the 72 schools in Division I, Youngstown East – with a 9-11 boys enrollment of 608 – is the smallest. Mason (1,266 boys) is the largest. ... Mahoning County is one of eight counties represented in all seven divisions. Others are Butler, Cuyahoga, Franklin, Hamilton, Lake, Montgomery and Stark. ... Lake County has at least one school in each division despite having just 11 fotball-playing schools. ... During the 14-year run in which six divisions participated in the playoffs, Trumbull County was the only county to ever be represented in the post-season by all six divisions in the same year. ... There are 715 football-playing schools in the OHSAA. ... Thirty-one Mahoning Valley schools dropped down a division, while two schools (Brookfield and Newton Falls) dropped two spots.