Late touchdown pass lifts Fitch over WGH; Falcons stay perfect
AUSTINTOWN — The finishing touch came at just the right time for the Austintown Fitch High School football team.
It was a 46-yard strike from junior Devin Sherwood to senior Todd Simons for six with 8:53 left in the contest. The Falcons secured the score they needed, and the undefeated Falcons came back after being down late in the contest to move past the Warren G. Harding Raiders, 25-21, at Austintown Falcon Stadium.
It was the Falcons’ first win over the Raiders since a 35-20 victory on the road in 2017.
“Honestly, it feels like a hump.” Fitch coach TJ Parker said. “We definitely felt like we were the better team, and they (Warren) came out with a great game plan, we didn’t practice for that all week. They completely changed things up and you saw the effect it had on us.
“But we kept telling our kids, just keep chipping away and chipping away. They remember, they’ve seen the stats of the last five years and that doubt starts to creep in and we erase that and got over that hump, and I can’t lie to you, it feels pretty good.”
Sherwood read the game-winning play well.
“Well, they played cover zero against us, they (were) manned up across the board,” he said. “So, I kinda knew where I was going with the football. I gave a little play action fake and (Simons) just beat his guy 1 on 1”
Harding got the scoring started early on a 6-yard TD run from Brysen Powell to give Harding an early 7-0 lead. It didn’t take long for Fitch to respond as Jamell James ran in from 32-yards out to make it a 7-6 game after Jabari Felton blocked the Falcons PAT.
With 8:42 left in the second quarter, Elijah Taylor connected with Curtis Dorsey on a 30-yard score to put the Raiders up 13-6 following a muffed hold on the PAT. A few minutes later, Cam Smith fell on the ball in the end zone after Fitch blocked a Harding punt to make it a 13-12 game still in favor of the Raiders.
“I was dropping back, I see Dan Evans, he’s running a slant, Evans knocks the ball out, I see the ball on the ground and knew I had to hop on it and give the offense an opportunity,” Smith said. “It feels good (to beat Harding) because coming into this game we knew that they played some good teams, they’ve played Massillon and Benedictine, and they were close with those teams for the whole game.
“We knew it was going to be a tough game, but we knew we had to play sound and knew we had to come out and play aggressive to get the deal done.”
Late in the second quarter, Austintown moved down the field with a drive that was capped off by a 1-yard touchdown run by Nate Leskovac. Smith intercepted a Raiders pass moments later to end the first half, and the Falcons went into the intermission leading 18-13.
Harding retook the lead with a 10-yard run from Marco Petierno to make it a 21-18 game in favor of the Raiders after Emari Burgess hauled in a successful two-point attempt.
The connection from Sherwood to Simons was the next score of the contest, and for Simons, who had 62 total yards, this game meant more.
“Last year I actually got injured and knocked out of that game (against Harding), so it meant a lot to me to come back and make a big play for the team.”
The Raiders (1-3) marched down the field late in the game and made it to the 10-yard line but failed to find the end zone. A pass to the corner of the end zone on fourth-and-8 was just out of the reach of the intended receiver with 1:30 left in the game, and Fitch ran out the clock.
With as much buzz as there is surrounding the Fitch offense, Parker credits play on the other side of the ball for the win.
“It’s not just the last drive, it’s all season,” he said. “Our offense is so explosive that a lot of people want to focus on how good our guys are on offense and what we’re doing on offense. But our defense has always been a Fitch defense and this one is no different. They know how to buckle down and they made plays all night and they got it done when they had to, and I’m so proud of them. Coach (Nico) Mancuso and coach (Joe) McMahon just dialed it up all night and it was awesome.”
Sherwood ended 8-of-20 passing for 114 yards with 32 yards rushing. Jamell James led the Falcons on the ground with 73 yards and a touchdown.
Elijah Taylor was 12-of-23 passing for 152 yards and a score. Powell led Harding with 149 yards on the ground. Harding outgained Fitch, 361 to 218.