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Falcons follow advice of their fallen coach to upend Erie
September 4, 2019

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The most trying season in possibly Fitch football history started positively last Friday night.

The Falcons, who have dedicated the 2019 season to the memory of their late head coach Phil Annarella, went up to Gannon University's McConnell Family Stadium and outscored Erie 48-26. The win marked the first in the head coaching career of Fitch leader Jon Elliot. More importantly, it gave the Fitch family something to smile about after a depressing offseason. The Falcons really appreciated participating in a game that counted for something.

"It's always nice to beat up someone else instead of just beating up each other (in practice)," said Elliott over the weekend.

Although Elliot's boys were anxious to get this season started, they never looked at what happened to Annarella as an encumbrance. In fact, the rookie head coach noted that the opening day jitters that sometimes accompany a team to the field were nowhere to be found.

"We never felt there was a burden and we were not nervous at all," Elliot said. "We never felt any pressure. I felt like I waited my whole life for this opportunity."

One thing the coach and his players couldn't wait for was to continue the great tradition originally established by Annarella. A lot of what Fitch's former boss laid down was remembered by this current group of Falcons last Friday evening in Pennsylvania.

"We discussed with coach his plan before he passed and we knew we had to keep it going," said Elliot. "The kids knew how to keep the train rolling. It was easy really."

It was easy because Fitch had fantastic junior quarterback Nate Leskovac leading the charge. Leskovac led the Falcons with 230 yards rushing and accounted for four touchdowns to pace a very strong Fitch rushing attack. Speedy senior running back C.J. Woodberry would add 114 yards on the ground. A lot of those yards were made possible by some terrific blocking by the Falcons front line.

"Our offensive line did a great job," said Elliot. "I told them they were the key. At halftime we made some adjustments that allowed us to score more in the second half."

Not only did the big boys do a bang up job blocking, but Fitch's wideouts also created some interference down field that enabled some extra yards to the Falcons' rushers.

"The wide receivers were also very good blocking," Elliot said. "We were actually a few extra blocks away from scoring even more. And our quarterbacks did a great job running too."

While Fitch's coach was thrilled with the offensive side of the ball, he was less than confident with his defense heading into the opener. He envisioned Erie's high-powered passing game posing some problems for his defenders. To say Elliot was pleasantly surprised with the outcome would be an understatement.

"I was worried with our pass defense, but we worked hard and only had one breakdown," said Elliot. "(On that breakdown) we actually had a kid out of position, so it really wasn't even his fault."

Fitch's rush defense was stellar as well allowing just 43 yards rushing.

The defense will attempt to continue its hot start when the Falcons host Ursuline on Friday night. The Irish were doubled up by Cleveland Benedictine in their season starter 52-26. That score isn't really indicative of this Irish squad because Benedictine is a state power. Ursuline is led by new head coach Dan Reardon. Reardon spent the past four seasons coaching at Canton McKinley, but prior to that, his greatest coaching accomplishments came at the North Side parochial power. Reardon captained the Irish to four straight Division V state title games with wins in 2008, 2009 and 2010. Elliot is very respectful of Reardon's coaching career.

"Ursuline is well coached," he said. "Coach Reardon is a great coach. Our schools are backyard rivals so the kids will be fired up to play."

The Falcons may be fired up, but according to Elliot if they want to come away with a second consecutive win on Friday night, they will need to shore up the special teams.

"We have to improve our kickoff team," he said on Sunday evening. "(Last week) the kids were not running in their lanes. Not running hard enough. We've made some changes and will stress better kickoff coverage this week in practice."

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