Hoover 26 - Austintown Fitch 12
October 4, 2003
Hoover survives at Fitch
Todd Porter, Canton Repository
AUSTINTOWN If anyone in North Canton was waiting to fall in love with these Vikings, there are no more reasons left.
The love affair between the players and their fans started Friday night at Falcon Stadium. With a stiff wind blowing the thermometer around 40 degrees, and raindrops so hard they felt like needles on the skin, the Hoover faithful gave their boys a standing ovation.
In a remarkable second-half turnaround, Hoover beat Austintown Fitch 26-12 after the Vikings’ heart and courage were questioned at halftime.
“Basically, we came in at halftime, and the coaches challenged our heart,” said running back Mike Wright, all 5-foot-8, 160 pounds of him a pulsating heart. “In the locker room we decided before we went out on the field in the second half we were going to take this place over. We wanted to win. We wanted to stay unbeaten.”
Today the Vikings are the last undefeated Division I team in Stark County.
Because of great coaching adjustments?
“Defensively, we didn’t make any adjustments and offensively we only made a few,” head coach Don Hertler Jr. said. “It comes down to who wants to block and tackle and in the second half, our guys did.”
Fitch dominated Hoover’s defensive line in the first half. The Falcons pushed North Canton’s front five back on most every snap and kept doing it. The advantage in the trenches was so, obvious, Fitch ran the football 35 times in 37 first-half plays. The Vikings gave up 196 yards rushing.
It was odd watching Hoover’s 50 defense get pushed off the line of scrimmage. And it, too, was mentioned in the halftime locker room.
North Canton Hoover teams just don’t play like that.
“We’re not big enough, we’re not talented enough, and we’re not enough of a lot of things,” Hertler said. “That’s why we have to come out and play hard. Each guy on our team has to play harder than the guy across from him.”
That wasn’t happening in the first two quarters.
Austintown’s first drive of the game was a bruising 13-play, 72-yard effort that did not worry about third-down conversions. The Falcons converted two fourth-and-short plays inside the Hoover 20. Eric Chine, who gained 108 of his 120 yards in the first half, scored from the 3.
North Canton came back with a drive of its own, but stalled inside the Fitch 15. Andrew Dahl got the Vikings on the board with a 29-yard field goal into a stiff Mahoning County wind.
Despite physically dominating North Canton in the first half, Fitch was able to get into the end zone just twice and led 12-3 at halftime. The second score came after the Falcons fumbled and Hoover’s Kyle Watts scooped up the ball. North Canton failed to turn it into points.
Fitch’s second scoring drive was another pounding drive that lasted 13 plays and 80 yards. Chine scored from a yard out. Instead of kicking the PAT, the Falcons went for 2 points and lost a bit of momentum just before halftime.
That is when the attitude of Hoover changed.
The defensive line shut down the Fitch running game. The Falcons managed just 34 total yards in the second half after gaining 196 in the first half. On the ground, there was little running room.
“All we told the kids is if they want to win this game, it’s blocking and tackling,” Hertler said. “There are two halves to a football game and the kids get all the credit for winning this game. You win games with good players and great kids, and that’s what we have.”
Hoover started the second half kicking into a strong wind. The Vikings pooched the ball and Fitch had trouble catching the kick. North Canton recovered the kick, but did not score.
However, the Vikings nailed the Falcons inside the one on a J.C. Heighway punt.
On North Canton’s second possession of the second half, the Vikings essentially ran four running plays and alternated giving the ball to Alex Ramsey and Wright. Fitch keyed on Ramsey. A play fake to the senior usually drew two or three defenders toward him.
That opened up the game for Wright. He finished with 185 yards on 15 carries and 144 of those yards came in the second half. He scored a pair of touchdowns in the third quarter.
His first score came on a 7-yard run, but that wasn’t the most impressive play of the drive. Perhaps the biggest play of the game came on third-and-7 from the North Canton 27. Wright took a delay counter around the left end and broke a tackle in the backfield. Then he went 27 yards to the 50.
Three plays later, quarterback Sam Cerreta dropped back to pass and nearly lost his footing. He kept his balanced a threw a strike to Brian Drukenbrod for a 21-yard gain to the Fitch 7. Wright scored on the next play and Fitch’s lead was cut 12-10.
“That was important,” Hertler said. “Our kids were playing hard and they were rewarded.”
On the next drive, a key third-down play, Wright’s number was called again. He took the same delay counter, but this time he didn’t stop until 65 yards later into the end zone. He outran Miles Williams, an Ohio State recruit, the final 35 yards into the end zone.
Hoover had the lead and the momentum. The Falcons were wondering what happened.
“At halftime, they had kicked out butts,” Hertler said. “We found out what this team is made of tonight. This is the first time we’ve had to face any adversity. We have courage and we have heart, and in the second half, we dominated. That’s what I learned about this team.”
In the fourth quarter, North Canton tacked on another score for good measure. Wright gained 46 yards during that drive, which started at the Hoover 33. Ramsey powered his way into the end zone on first-and-goal.
Most of the Fitch fans were leaving.
Across the field, with wind blowing and rain pelting their faces, the North Canton fans were falling in love.
“These kids play the game the right way,” Hertler said. “This has been a long haul for seven straight wins against very grueling opponents. But these kids just compete and they have heart.”