WARREN - Giving the Austintown Fitch Falcons one turnover can be risky.
Giving them five without getting any in return is downright dangerous.
The Warren G. Harding Raiders did exactly that and paid for it dearly in losing, 28-7, in Rick Rios' debut as coach Friday night at Mollenkopf Stadium.
Tribune Chronicle / Chuck?Rogers
Warren G. Harding running back?LeShun?Daniels (28) is sandwiched by Fitch defenders Lucas Haupt (6) and Will Harrington (21) on a first-half carry Friday night. The Falcons’ Kevin?Betts (16) also gives chase. Fitch won, 28-7.
"We had way too many opportunities and came up empty," Rios said. "We turned the ball over three or four times in the red zone, and you can't do that. The one thing I said coming in was that we had to run the ball, stop the run and not turn the ball over. In the first half we were pretty good at running and stopping the run, but we turned the ball over and hurt ourselves."
The Raiders were the winner in the battle for field position in the first half, but each time they approached the goal line something bad happened. LeShun Daniels had a fumble at the Falcons' 12. Josh Martz had passes intercepted deep in Falcons' territory twice, including at the 1.
Despite those turnovers, it was a defensive play by Falcons lineman Mike Stiffler that stood tall. Accurately reading a fake punt, Stiffler was in place to bring down Justin Magazine, who took the ball on a short direct snap, for a 1-yard loss at the Falcons' 38.
Nothing was the same the rest of the game. The Falcons came to life on offense, marching 62 yards on seven plays to score on a 9-yard run by Will Mahone 51 seconds before intermission. Mahone, who rushed for 106 yards on 25 carries, carried the ball five times for 54 yards on the drive.
Ken Kilpatrick kicked the extra point.
"We tried to pick up the tempo offensively, and we did," Fitch coach Phil Annarella said. "That made a big difference getting that score at the end of the first half. The momentum seemed to be in our favor, and it continued in the second half."
The third quarter was all Fitch, which added three touchdowns to take a 28-0 lead. The defense that struggled early to control the powerful Daniels shut down everything the Raiders tried offensively. Martz took a physical pounding before being replaced by Jimmy Rumple, who finished the game.
The Falcons simply wore down the Raiders in the second half.
"The big thing I was a little disappointed with in the second half is they hit a couple of plays and we put our heads down," Rios said. "All of a sudden they hit second one and we put our heads down and there's a third one.
"I thought we played almost flawless football in the first half. In the second half we put our heads down and they're standing in the end zone. Then we threw the pick-six, and that was a killer. Just way too many first-game mistakes."
Tyreese Anderson broke free on an inside run and turned it outside to score from 22 yards out in the third quarter as the Falcons extended their lead to 14-0. Anderson scored on a 2-yard run on the Falcons' next possession to increase the lead to 21-0.
Both scoring drives were the result of Fitch finally coming out ahead in the field-position battle. The first drive covered 37 yards, and the second march started at the Raiders' 46.
The decision was all but sealed when Chris Davis intercepted an overthrown pass by Rumple and returned it 32 yards for a touchdown.
Daniels, who rushed for 198 yards on 23 carries, made sure the Raiders weren't blanked by scoring on a 16-yard run.
Annarella, who coached in the Warren school system at Western Reserve and Harding, knows he has to be patient with his offense.
"It's called tempo," Annarella said. "When you're running this style of offense, that's the key. When we first put it in guys who told me how to run it said 'don't worry about the play call. You're going to have some plays when you're going to be blown up, and then you have to get them on their heels.' "
Annarella accepted the congratulations of several fans that knew him from his time in Warren. Did that make the win more special to him?
"It's good to win anywhere, whether it's home or away," Annarella said. "It was good to see some old friends."