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Knowing their role

Falcons have big test in St. Eds

November 21, 2013
By MIKE McLAIN - Tribune Chronicle (mmclain@tribtoday.com) , Underthelights

AUSTINTOWN - From the moment the Austintown Fitch Falcons opened the season against the Warren G. Harding Raiders, there was always something to prove.

If a 12-0 record and a final ranking of second in the Division I AP poll means anything, the Falcons have been successful in stating their case. They'll get another chance Saturday in a Region 1 semifinal against the Lakewood St. Edward Eagles at Infocision Stadium in Akron.

"That hasn't been a problem all year, and there won't be a problem this week, either," Annarella said of generating confidence. "They are a great group of kids. We've been the underdog all year. We're too small or too this, and that's fine. We'll take that on and we'll see what happens. It's nothing new to us. I don't think the kids are fazed in the least bit by it."

Article Photos

Tribune Chronicle / Michael Taylor
Austintown Fitch’s Antwan Harris (18) breaks free from the grasp of a Massillon player earlier this season. Fitch will take on St. Edward on Saturday night in a Division I, Region 1 semifinal.

The 10-1 Eagles were singled out before the season started as perhaps the best team in Division I. They breezed to six straight wins before falling to arch-rival Cleveland St. Ignatius, 23-17. The Eagles finished the regular season with two more wins before routing Shaker Heights, 49-0, and Cleveland Heights, 42-7, in the first two rounds of the tournament.

St. Edward finished first in the Region 1 computer rankings, with Fitch checking in at fourth. You'd be hard pressed to find many fans outside of Austintown that would favor the Falcons.

"It's nothing we haven't seen all year," Annarella said. "One week to the next, we haven't played a good enough schedule or we're too little, but here we are among the final eight teams in Division I. Our kids must be doing something right."

Fact Box

Division I regional semifinal

WHO: Fitch vs. St. Edward

WHEN: Saturday, 7 p.m.

WHERE: University of Akron InfoCision Stadium

RADIO: WKBN 570 AM

The Eagles gave up 42 points in a win over defending Division I state champion Cincinnati Moeller and 40 in a win over Eastern Christian Academy of Maryland to close out the regular season. It's been a different story defensively in the first two rounds of the tournament.

"They're a great team, no question about it," Annarella said. "They're remarkably talented. They're everything they've been given credit for. I've been very impressed with them. They're big, strong, physical kids and are well-coached. We'll have our work cut out for us."

The Eagles offense is paced by junior quarterback Brett Kean, who passed for 218 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the win over Cleveland Heights.

"He's a thrower and a good one," Annarella said. "He has a great arm and he can run. He's not as good a runner as the kid we saw last week for Westerville Central, but he has good feet. He's certainly not a lumbering type of young man back there. He can take off with the ball."

Standout running back Andrew Dowell didn't against Cleveland Heights after rushing for 133 yards and two touchdowns against Shaker Heights. St. Edward coach Rick Finotti didn't explain Dowell's absence.

The Eagles managed quite well on the ground without Dowell. Two-way standout and University of Michigan recruit Shaun Crawford shared the load with Brett Shaver. The two combined for 239 yards on the ground, led by Shaver with 160.

"Honestly, their running game isn't quite as important to them as is their passing game," Annarella said. "They like to throw to their big receivers a lot, and they do it well. We have our 5-6 and 5-7 corners. I'm sure they'll try to take advantage to exploit that situation."

The Falcons showed resolve in a come-from-behind 40-24 win over Westerville. Fitch trailed 24-14 late in the second quarter when Rodney Smith forced a fumble that was recovered by the Falcons. Fitch quarterback Antwan Harris then scored on a 1-yard run to cut Westerville's lead to 24-14 at halftime and set up a big second half for the Falcons.

"We scored 26 unanswered points and shut them down in the second half," Annarella said. "They had been averaging 50 points a game. Obviously we'll have to play our 'A' game this week, and we all know that. These guys just believe and play as a team. When you have those things going for you, anything can happen."