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Falcons hope to rebound against Bears

Former longtime Fitch football defensive coach Bob Weiss gave Jordan Panucci a call last week after the Falcons’ season opening 62-26 loss to Rhode Island powerhouse La Salle Academy.“He wanted to make sure I was okay,” said Panucci, who had just completed his first game as Fitch’s new head coach. “You know, I didn’t think it was as bad as the final score made it look; we just need to get the little things right. We kind of beat ourselves against LaSalle.”

Panucci mentioned things like pad level, footwork and tackling, but it really comes down to this year’s group of seasoned seniors and untested sophomores playing more of what Panucci called “Blue Collar” football, the kind the Falcons have thrived on for decades.“It’s roll up your sleeves and get after them, fire off the line and dictate the pace,” Panucci said.

Panucci was also reminded of how Fitch defenses have had a knack for swarming to the football when former Fitch coach Mike Emery recently asked Panucci if he would convert some of Emery’s game films from the 90s to DVDs.“As I was watching the film, I noticed that no matter what the scheme or coach, there always seemed to be 11 black helmets and 11 black jerseys around the ball; they just never gave up on a play,” Panucci said. “I don’t think we are there yet, but we are working towards it.”

The work continues on Friday when Fitch (0-1) hosts Stonington (0-0) at 6:30 p.m. at Dorr Field.The Falcons have thrust several sophomores into lead roles, led by quarterback Robert Duncan, who threw for two scores against the Rams.

“We gave him the keys to the car and he has the maturity of a seasoned guy; when things go bad, he doesn’t hang his head or pout,” Panucci said.Senior De’Vante Anderson, last season’s starting quarterback, has been moved to wide receiver and safety to take advantage of his speed, height and great hands. Anderson was on the receiving end of both Duncan TD passes and had two interceptions.“He didn’t play one defensive down last year, but his wingspan and hands make him a force at safety,” Panucci said.

Seniors Bobby Johnston and John Moscal and junior Terrell Scholle anchor the Falcons rushing attack. Johnston and Scholle each ran for over 100 yards against LaSalle.Senior Joe Allyn has moved to center on a experienced offensive line which also features seniors Jordan Green and Tory Knaff.Anderson, linemen Green and junior Adrian Albo, linebackers Matt Wilkinson (senior), Xavier Crawford (senior) and Quinn Leuthy (junior) lead the defense.

Sophomore Del Blake replaces the graduated Ian Boyd, one of the best place kickers in school history, and Anderson will handle the punting duties. Johnston and Scholle should handle most of the kick and punt returns.“You could see the younger guys were nervous against La Salle; those sophomore mistakes were there right away,” Panucci said. “But if you put people in those spots, it forces them to grow up and see what it’s all about. Hopefully they don’t look like sophomores by the first quarter of the season.”

Volleyball shows its character

They may not yet have the volleyball experience they’ll need, but the Fitch girls’ volleyball team demonstrated in its first week of play that is has the athleticism and experience gained from other sports to make it a solid contender in the Eastern Connecticut Conference and State Class L playoffs.Featuring six seniors, three juniors and three sophomores on its varsity roster, the Falcons played three home matches on consecutive nights, a scheduling dilemma caused by squeezing in non-conference opponent Morgan between ECC meetings with Windham and Killingly.

Coach Steve Banks couldn’t recall playing three in a row in his 17 years at Fitch. “The schedule expanded to 20 games this season; we were all scrambling for matches and Morgan could only do the first Thursday of the season,” Banks said.

The Falcons split the first two matches on the homestand, sweeping the Whippets on Sept. 11, and surrendering a 2-0 lead in a 3-2 loss to the Huskies last Thursday.Watching a lead slip away against a program that went undefeated in the regular season and advanced to the state semifinals last year would be hard enough to swallow, even for the most experienced team let alone a group with two starters who had played in just one varsity match.

But Fitch wasn’t fazed the next night against Killingly.The Falcons raced out to a 15-0 lead in the first game, led by sophomore Mae Sefransky’s seven service aces, and won handily, 25-7.Then the momentum shifted.“Killingly improved,” Banks said. “Their serving improved and they came to play and we weren’t ready for the fight.”

The Redgals reeled off six straight points in the middle to game two to take a 17-10 lead before Banks called time out.“They picked it up and had a lot of great digs off what we thought would be good kills,” said senior tri-captain Megan Ivey. “We tried to relax, take a deep breath and go out and do it.”A few unforced Killingly errors and errant shots later, the Falcons had tied the game at 19.“We had a little communication freeze, so we starting talking and working together better,” said senior tri-captain Taylor Kelsey. “It’s all about playing well and playing our hardest.”

Fitch held off another Redgals’ rally to win the second game, 25-23. The third game belonged to role players such as secondary setter Colleen Dollard (11 assists) and outside hitter Alexus Oulette (six kills). The Falcons never gave up lead after Killingly scored the first point and closed out the match with a 25-20 victory.“This team is resilient; they are athletic; they know what it means to compete,” Banks said. “We are still trying to find out who is ready to play the big points; who is going to be that go-to person on the outside attack?”

Fitch hosts NFA on Friday at 5:30 p.m. before visiting East Lyme on Monday and Woodstock at home next Wednesday at 5:30.

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