It’s rare for a high school football team preparing to play in a regional tournament semifinal to be labeled as a group of overachievers, much less a squad ranked second in the latest Associated Press Division I state media poll.
But that is exactly how seventh-year Austintown-Fitch High School head coach Phil Annarella describes his Falcons, and he does so with unabashed pride.
“They’re very coachable,” Annarella said. “They’ve just done everything we’ve asked them to do.”
The Falcons adopted “As brothers, we will succeed” as their mantra for the season and have validated the statement each game night this fall.
“It’s a group of very unselfish men who have played very hard together for each other,” Annarella said. “We’ve won every week with different guys stepping up. It really has been a team effort.”
Already having recorded the program’s first perfect 10-0 regular season, Fitch (12-0) heads into Saturday night’s Division I regional tournament semifinal contest against St. Edward at the University of Akron’s InfoCision Stadium looking to advance to the state semifinals for the first time since 1992.
Fitch has outscored its opponents by a combined score of 434-146 employing a run-heavy spread offense and a blitzing 3-5 defensive scheme.
Junior tailback Darrin Hall has rushed for a team-high 1,445 yards and has scored 13 touchdowns. Senior quarterback Antwan Harris has run for 1,436 yards and 20 scores while also throwing for 431 yards and three touchdowns.
The Falcons opened their playoff run with a 31-21 home win against Marysville and defeated Westerville Central 40-24 last week at Arlin Field in Mansfield.
Seniors Ryan Sayers and Tony Behanna serve as the team’s captains.
Annarella praised the two linemen for their leadership.
“They, along with our entire senior class, have really set a great example and shown great leadership,” Fitch’s head coach said.
The last time the Falcons played a team from Northeast Ohio, they saw their 30-14 lead against Massillon Washington with four and a half minutes left in the game turn into a narrow 30-27 Week 7 win because of quick scores by the visiting Tigers.
Annarella knows Fitch must avoid similar mistakes against the Eagles if they expect to upset Region 1’s top seed.
“We can’t turn the ball over and we can’t have any self-inflicted wounds because St. Ed’s will certainly take advantage,” Annarella said. “We’ve got to play our ‘A’ game from the start.”
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
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