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Fitch knows what to fix

November 13, 2013
By MIKE McLAIN - Tribune Chronicle (mmclain@tribtoday.com) , Underthelights

AUSTINTOWN - If Austintown Fitch Falcons coach Phil Annarella didn't get his message across last Saturday, a film session might have sealed the deal.

Annarella was pleased that the Falcons advanced out of the first round of the playoffs with a win over Marysville, but he wasn't pleased with the overall performance. There's little doubt that a sub-par effort in a Division I, Region 1 quarterfinal game Saturday in Mansfield against the Westerville Central Warhawks would likely mean the end of what has been a perfect (11-0) season for the Falcons.

"They sure heard about it," Annarella said of his frustrations after the Marysville game. "After we looked at tape of Westerville, we saw why we need to fix some things because they're good. They're averaging 50 a game, and it's not because they're lucky."

Annarella would have been more satisfied with the 31-21 win over Marysville if the Falcons hadn't taken off the final 18 minutes. They had a 31-6 lead before the Monarchs rallied for two touchdowns and were driving for another possible score when they fumbled away the ball.

That's the second time this season the Falcons almost let a seemingly comfortable second-half lead slip away. They had a 30-14 lead on Massillon in the fourth quarter before the Tigers put up two touchdowns in less than 1 minute and then scored what would have been the game-winning touchdown, only to have it negated by a penalty.

"I don't know if we get complacent with a lead," Annarella said. "We were winning 31-6 (against Marysville) and all of a sudden self-inflicted wounds started surfacing. You can't do that in the playoffs. Not at this time. You're playing too many good teams. They'll take advantage of that."

That includes the 10-1 Warhawks, who are averaging 49 points per game. They've scored 50 or more points seven times, including a 69-point outburst in a win over Hilliard Bradley.

Last Saturday the Warhawks made it look easy in a 55-7 first-round win over Solon. They had a 35-7 halftime lead.

"I hope we don't (get in a shootout) or we're going to be in trouble," Annarella said. "They're real good. That (win over Solon) says a lot."

Most teams at this stage of the playoffs have a talented quarterback, and the Warhawks are no exception. Jared Drake makes the explosive attack click with accurate passing and an ability to avoid pressure and gain yards on the ground.

"He's a dual threat," Annarella said. "He kind of reminds me of Ben Roethlisberger in college. He's a big, strapping kid and he eludes the pass rush and breaks tackles and seems to keep plays alive all over the place. We'll have to do a great job of tackling and keeping him contained."

Asked about the Warhawks' ability to put up big numbers, running back Benny Snell was quoted in The Columbus Dispatch as saying they like to watch film of the University of Oregon for inspiration. Oregon is known for running plays in quick succession and lighting up the scoreboard.

Unlike Marysville, which relied heavily on the passing of quarterback Matt Mulholland, the Warhawks are more balanced. Snell leads the ground game, and Drake has several big targets to work in the passing game.

"What makes it tougher is you can't gear in on one phase of it," Annarella said. "He (Drake) throws when he needs to throw. They'll do what they need to do to win the game."

Annarella expects Falcons running back Darrin Hall to play after suffering a mild injury against Marysville. Having Hall on the field removes some of the rushing burden from quarterback Antwan Harris.

"I think he's OK," Annarella said. "We rely on the trainer and the physician when we have injuries. I've done that since way back in Warren (at Western Reserve and Harding)."

It gives Annarella comfort to know the Falcons are a mature group. The players knew they didn't finish strong against Marysville. There was no need for Annarella to read them the riot act.

"After the game it wasn't like after the Massillon game where everyone was excited," Annarella said. "It was more subdued. Not that everyone was quiet, but when you looked at the seniors' faces, they knew they didn't play to the level they're capable of playing."

That bodes well for Saturday night.