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Falcons start season by rebuilding offense

August 31, 2017
By Nik Zirounis , The Town Crier

For the first time in a few seasons, the Fitch football team is working toward rebuilding its offense.

That shortness in strength was showcased in the team's season opener at home Aug. 25. The Falcons were futile with the ball in their hands most of the night and succumbed to Hudson, 20-7. Last weekend's loss marked the third straight season the Falcons have fallen to the Explorers in Week 1.

Things seemed to be going Fitch's way on its first drive of this new season when the Falcons marched 53 yards into field goal range. An uncharacteristic missed kick, however, by usually dependable Dylan Correia kept the home team off the scoreboard. A 3-0 early lead could have gotten the Falcons' season off on the right foot, so to speak.

"If we scored on that first drive it could have changed the complexion of the whole game," said veteran Fitch head coach Phil Annarella last weekend.

It seemed as if the only thing Fitch's stalled march did was spur the Explorers. After the missed field goal, the visitors scored 17 unanswered points to take an insurmountable lead into the fourth quarter.

Although the Falcons were fighting to sustain any semblance of consistency on offense, they never gave up. Quarterback Joey Zielinski, in his first full year as Fitch's starting signal caller, capped a 16-play, 78-yard drive with a four-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter to cut Hudson's lead to 17-7. That was as close as the Falcons would get, but Annarella was happy with the way his boys battled.

"The kids played hard," the coach said. "They didn't quit even when we were down 17-0. We just made a few too many mistakes. You can't do that - especially versus a good team."

One of the bright spots on the evening for the Fitch kids was the way they owned the ground game. Fitch outrushed its opponent by over 100 yards and finished with 188 for the game. Zielinski led the team with 80 yards on 17 carries. Running backs Jakari Lumsden and Randy Smith were next up with 58 and 50 yards respectively. Annarella would appreciate it if his two stud backs topped 100 yards on the ground each game, but they spend a lot of time doing other work.

"(Lumsden and Smith) both start on defense so they are in on a lot of plays," Annarella admitted. "We need to get them rest at times."

When the dynamic rushing duo is taking a breather, it will be up to Fitch's senior signal caller to pick up the slack. Aside from his nice night running the football, Zielinski hit on 6 of 15 passes. His coach felt as if he's ready to settle in behind center and lead the Falcons all season.

"We threw him in there the last couple games last season," said Annarella. "It's his team now. He showed great leadership and he's only going to get better."

The entire Fitch group will need to get better if it is to avoid starting this season 0-2. This Friday, the Falcons will face equally 0-1 Brunswick on the road. The Blue Devils were downed by Highland High School 28-14 in Week 1, but Fitch's boss warns to take that final score with a grain of salt.

"Highland beat (Brunswick) by two touchdowns, but Hudson beat Highland by two touchdowns in a scrimmage so what does that tell you?" Annarella asked. (Brunswick) is tough. They have a new coaching staff, it's their home opener and they're revved up and ready to go."

If Fitch can eliminate some of the turnovers and mistakes it made versus Hudson then the coach says that his boys have a fighting chance to pick up win number one. That's why he didn't institute any drastic changes in practice this week.

"We need to stay the course," Annarella said. "Maybe the ball will bounce our way this week."



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