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Fitch blasts Harding on opening night

August 31, 2013
By MIKE McLAIN - Tribune Chronicle ( , Underthelights

WARREN - If anyone said they saw Austintown Fitch's 48-0 dismantling of the Warren G. Harding Raiders coming, don't ever believe another word they speak.

From all accounts of preseason scrimmages, it appeared to be an even match of non-conference rivals. The biggest question was whether or not either offense could manage much scoring against two supposedly stout defenses.

The Falcons answered that question with a 27-point output in the second quarter Friday at Mollenkopf Stadium. They went on to generate 374 yards of offense behind the quarterback tandem of Gabe Chepke, who started and played the first half, and Antwan Harris, who played the second half.

Article Photos

Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple
Austintown Fitch quarterback Gabe Chepke (10) rushes into the end zone carrying Warren G. Harding’s Javon Provitt (72) on his back for the first score of the game. Fitch blasted Harding, 48-0.

The Raiders showed no signs of life on offense. Much of the credit goes to Fitch's defense, which limited the Raiders to 31 yards and didn't allow them across midfield until the 6:16 mark of the fourth period.

"They sent a message the whole game defensively," Raiders coach Steve Arnold said. "Not early; they sent it for four quarters. You win the game up front on both sides of the ball. They kicked our tail up front on both sides of the ball. That was disappointing because we thought our O-line was our strength."

The Raiders did themselves no favors by turning possession over four times on fumbles and once on an interception. The biggest miscue occurred when running back Keemari Murry fumbled after taking a screen and scampering 10 yards for what would have been a first down. Fitch's Gary Gibson scooped up the ball and returned it to the Harding 7, but a penalty brought the ball back to the Raiders' 47.

On the next play Chepke connected with a wide open Kody McCreary for a touchdown as the Falcons stretched their lead to 14-0.

"You can't have four turnovers in a half," Arnold said. "It steamrolled. It kept going."

Arnold started Hasan Muhammad at quarterback in place of normal starter Lamar Carmichael, who had recent foot surgery after being hurt in a scrimmage. Arnold put Carmichael in early in the second quarter but with little success. Carmichael left early in the third quarter with another lower-leg injury.

Arnold defended his decision to play Carmichael. He said the senior will be okay.

"You can look at it now and say it was a regret," Arnold said. "It's one of those things. I take responsibility for it. He said he was okay. We made a collective decision to play him, and someone stepped on his foot."

Falcons coach Phil Annarella had plenty of good days at Mollenkopf as Harding's coach, including leading the Raiders to the 1990 Division I state championship. Last night's performance by the Falcons has to rate high on Annarella's list of favorite moments. Fitch has now won three straight in the renewal of the rivalry.

"We came to play football," Annarella said. "We knew they were going to be fired up after the last couple of years. We said we better be revved too, and they were. My staff did a tremendous job in preparing them. I can't give my assistants enough credit, and I can't give my kids enough credit."

Annarella made good use of his two quarterbacks. Chepke worked his way through an early interception by Harding's John Coleman in the Raiders' end zone and came up big on the touchdown pass to McCreary. Harris brought the element of speed in the second half, rushing nine times for 127 yards and one touchdown.

"I know everyone's been questioning our quarterback situation as being iffy," Annarella said. "I think our two kids tonight showed it's not iffy."

Chepke ran 4 yards to give the Falcons a 7-0 lead early in the second period. After McCready's touchdown made it 14-0, Fitch stretched its lead to 20-0 on a 1-yard run by Chepke three plays following a fumble by Murry that was recovered by Sam Ortz at the 3. The point-after kick failed.

On Harding's next possession Carmichael, lined up in the shotgun formation, was unaware of a center snap. The ball, which was on the Raiders' 20, sailed over Carmichael's head and into the end zone, where it was recovered for a touchdown by Tyler Hewlett.

Harris ran 9 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter as Fitch's lead grew to 34-0. A Harding fumble by Muhammad that was recovered by Fitch's Drake Marinelli set up a 22-yard scoring run by Darrin Hall. Gibson ran 3 yards to close out the scoring.

Harding hosts Howland Friday. Fitch hosts Akron Hoban the same night.