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End of the road

St. Edward halts Austintown Fitch's playoff run

November 24, 2013
By MIKE McLAIN - Tribune Chronicle ( , Underthelights

AKRON - Phil Annarella's wish almost came true Saturday night.

The Austintown Fitch Falcons coach wanted it to snow like it was Christmas Eve. The colder and slipperier the turf at Infocision Stadium, the better the chance of trying to slow down the passing attack of the Lakewood St. Edward Eagles.

Annarella got enough snow to make the conditions resemble a Grey Cup in the Canadian Football League. Unfortunately, the conditions weren't quite bad enough to throttle the Eagles, who combined the timely passing of quarterback Brett Kean with a stifling defense to blank the Falcons, 28-0, in a Division I, Region 1 semifinal.

Article Photos

Tribune Chronicle / Michael Taylor
Austintown Fitch’s Antwan Harris runs for a short gain as St. Edward’s Troy Dipre, left, and David Dowell purse Harris during Saturday’s Division I, Region 1 semifinal in Akron.

"I was hoping for a blizzard, to be honest with you," Annarella said. "It slowed down there enough in spots where he (Kean) didn't have to worry too much about that wind. When he didn't (worry about the elements), he took advantage of it. He's a good quarterback."

Kean, working with a tail wind in the second quarter, broke a scoreless tie with touchdown passes of 23 yards to David Dowell and 10 yards to Dan Lentz. Kean was 11-of-25 for 210 yards and three touchdowns for the game.

The Falcons, who finished 12-1, weren't able to generate much offense against a talented Eagles defense. Fitch was limited to 146 yards, including 89 on the ground. Falcons quarterback Antwan Harris, a catalyst for a potent ground attack during the season, was held to 26 yards on 18 carries.

"It (the wind) was pretty fierce early on," Eagles coach Rick Finotti said. "Then we finally get into the second quarter and it snows real bad. It was just unpredictable. We knew whoever was going to get their ground game going was going to win."

The Eagles (12-1) added 149 rushing yards to Kean's passing total. The yards were evenly split among Andrew Dowell (56), Kean (44) and Brad Shaver (45).

The Falcons defense was stout in the first quarter, forcing two punts and getting a fourth-down stop at the Fitch 35. Eagles kicker Matt Ramser was wide right on a field-goal attempt of 31 yards early in the second quarter.

The course of play changed when the Eagles had the strong wind at their back in the second quarter. Kean's scoring pass to Dowell completed a four-play drive of 67 yards. His touchdown pass to Lentz put the finishing touches on a seven-play 77-yard march.

The key play on the second scoring drive came when the Falcons were penalized 5 yards for encroachment when the Eagles were lined up to punt on fourth-and-1 near the midfield line.

"You wouldn't think we practice that, but we practice it all the time by sitting in and don't give them the first down," Annarella said. "Everyone we've played the last few weeks have had fake punts in or long counts to draw you offside."

The Falcons advanced to the Eagles' 36 on the opening possession of the third quarter. Annarella called Harris' number on fourth-and-4, but he was stopped 2 yards short of a first down.

Fitch regained possession when Gabe Chepke intercepted Kean at the Falcons' 27 four plays later, but a three-and-out followed. The Eagles then took a firm grasp on a win when Kean hooked up with a wide open Crawford on the third play of the next possession.

The final blow came when Kyle Hegedus returned a punt 73 yards for a touchdown at the 3:04 mark of the third quarter.

The Falcons had more scoring chances in the fourth quarter but were stopped on downs three times.

While the defeat was difficult to accept, it didn't hide the fact that it was arguably the best season in Fitch history. The Falcons went undefeated in the regular season for the first time ever.

"It's not going to hit home tonight; tomorrow probably," Annarella said. "Eventually you (the players) will realize you had one great season. Our coaches and a lot of other people are tremendously proud of you."

The Eagles will play Mentor for the Region 1 title Saturday.