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Fitch’s defense stops Westerville Central

November 17, 2013
By MATT WAGNER - Tribune Chronicle (mwagner@tribtoday.com) , Underthelights

MANSFIELD - Westerville Central quarterback Jared Drake had the Austintown Fitch defense's number when it came to blitzes for most of the first half, beating the Falcons for big gains off screens.

While most defenses adjust and try to curb overaggressive play, Fitch defensive coordinator Wally Hurdley called up a corner blitz with around 2 minutes remaining in the first half and the Falcons down 10 points with the Warhawks at their own 43-yard line.

Off the edge rushed Rodney Smith untouched, drilling Drake and forcing the ball to pop out. Linebacker Sam Ortz caught the ball in the air and returned it to the Central 21. Four plays later, Antwan Harris scampered for a 1-yard touchdown run to pull within four points.

"A lot of games, you can be going, going and going, a drive killer will happen, and then the team gets the momentum," Ortz said. "On that play, we got the momentum back."

That play changed the entire flow of the game, as the Falcons scored 26 unanswered points to defeat the Warhawks, 40-24, at Arlin Field in Mansfield.

The Fitch (12-0) defense paved the way for the Falcons, forcing five Central (10-2) turnovers (three in the second half).

"I always get asked the questions about the offenses and this and that - it's still defense that wins games," Fitch coach Phil Annarella said. "Tonight was a perfect example of that. Coach Hurdley and our defensive staff did a phenomenal job."

Drake and the Warhawks had their way against the Falcons for much of the first, as the Central quarterback went 11 of 17 for 202 yards and two touchdowns in the first 24 minutes.

The second half, however, was a different story, as the 6-foot-2, 210-pound senior threw more interceptions (two) than completions (one). The Falcons held the Warhawks scoreless over the entire second half.

"That's what we take our pride in as a football team," Fitch's Gabe Chekpe said. "In the second half, we really had to come together, and it really meant a lot to us to hold them to that 24."

With the defense shutting down Central in the second half, the offense got a boost from junior running back Darrin Hall, who galloped for 102 of his 121 during the final two quarters. He used a combination of power on the inside and agility to gash the Warhawk defense.

To go along with Hall's performance, Harris added 74 of his game-high 147 yards on the ground in the second half.

"Darrin was due," Annarrella said. "I think he woke up a little bit, and he was ready to play. He ran the way Darrin Hall is capable of running."

The 2013 Falcons are now the first team in school history to record 12 wins in a season and have become the first team since 1986 to qualify for Week 13.

"It's amazing," Smith said. "We're 12-0 now. No other Fitch team has done it, and we did it."

While making history is great, Ortz said the team is trying to focus on keeping this season going, especially with a game against state powerhouse St. Edward up next. The Falcons play the Eagles, who beat Cleveland Heights, in next Saturday's Division I, Region 1 semifinal at a site to be determined.

"We love going this far, and it's something else," Ortz said. "We just need to keep moving on."