By: Chris Manning | August 26, 2023 / Photo: Chris Manning
CANTON - The option hasn’t always been Ben Fitch’s friend but on Friday night he ran it like a pro, leading Canton to a 42-0 win over Sayre in their season opener.
"When I was a freshman I remember my first practice running the option coach told me it was just about time to pack it up, because I was not running it well, but I think I've definitely improved over time," remarked Fitch.
That improvement showed against the Redskins as he ran for 137 yards and three touchdowns on nine carries, as the Warriors ran for 233 yards on 32 touches overall. Through the air Fitch was efficient, going 4-for-5 for 87 yards and two touchdowns.
"I'm glad my coaches put in a good game plan," he said. "They got me open reads, told me routes they thought were going to be open, and they were executed very well. It was a great team win."
Despite the final score Canton didn't quite fire on all cylinders. They led just 7-0 after the opening quarter as Sayre had the ball for over eight minutes on their initial drive, with the Warriors' defense unable to get off the field.
Canton did force a goal-line turnover as, in the first half, their defense bent but didn't break twice to preserve the shutout. In the second half they made the necessary adjustments to hold the Redskins to just 12 yards of total offense.
"We started out a little shaky, but I thought once we got things rolling it was a good win," said Canton coach Tyler Sechrist. "I think we executed pretty good for a first game. Some of the mistakes early I chalk up to some youth a little bit, and inexperience. I just told them we're going to make mistakes, we've just got to learn from them, and keep getting better as the year goes on."
Hudson Ward had himself a game, as well, with a 15-yard rushing touchdown, a 25-yard receiving touchdown, a fumble recovery, and a sack in the end zone for a safety. He led the team with eight tackles on the day.
Michael Davis had six carries for 32 yards while hounding Sayre quarter back, Tanner Green, all night for 2.5 sacks as part of his six tackles.
Aydin Holcomb had two catches for 23 yards, Rylan Wesneski ran the ball five times for 45 yards, and Bailey Gardner added 28 yards rushing on four touches.
Green had some success in the first half, going 10-for-16 for 154 yards, but that well dried up in the second half as he finished just 12-for-25 for 169-yards with the on pick.
Nick Pellicano had a strong game for Sayre, with eight catches for 127 yards - all in the first half - while Karter Green added two catches for 27 yards.
"They had a good timing route with him, that's the biggest thing they hurt us with," Sechrist said about the Green to Pellicano pass plays. "They got us a few times with that, but we never broke - we bent but we didn't break - and I was happy to get the shutout."
The 'Skins weren't able to get a ground game going as they ran for negative-6 yards on 24 carries. Kaden Bennett had 16 yards on five touches to lead them.
Canton took the ensuing kick-off with Ward running it all the way down to the Sayre 20-yard line. Two plays later Ward finished off the drive with a 15-yard scoring run. Alexis McRoberts added the point after for the 7-0 lead 50 seconds into the game.
Sayre's first drive last nearly the entire quarter, a 15-play drive that went from their 40-yard line to the Canton-1.
After nearly going 3-and-out a Canton offsides on a 4th-and-5 Sayre punt gave them new life.
Three plays later, on third-and-12, Green threw it up for Pellicano, who came down with a 19-yard catch.
The two continues to show chemistry as three plays they hooked up for a 28-yard catch on third-and-17 to get down to the Canton 12-yard line.
A pass interference call in the end zone on second down, followed by a 4-yard Green run on third set up first-and-goal at the one.
That's when Canton's defense dug in. Sayre was stuffed on the quarterback keeper on their first try, then fumbled on the second down.
On third down they fumbled again, but this time it was Ward landing on top of it, giving the Warriors the ball back at their 2-yard line.
"That was a big stand down there," Sechrist remarked. "We put a guy on the nose just to get a little pressure and the center had trouble snapping, so that helped us, and they fumbled it a couple times."
Despite being backed up Fitch would orchestrate an 8-play, 98-yard scoring drive.
Early on Sayre got Canton in a third-and-six from the Warrior 6-yard line, but Davis ripped off a 16-yard run for a new set of downs.
Fitch followed with a 14-yard run to get them to the Sayre 36-yard line.
Then on third-and-five Fitch ran 20-yards to keep the drive alive, getting to the Sayre 39-yard line.
That’s when he hooked up with Colton for a 39-yard scoring strike. McRoberts added the point after and it was 14-0 with 9:45 left in the half.
Sayre would take the ensuing kick-off, and used a big 25-yard hook up of Green to Pellicano to get to midfield, but their drive fizzled out.
Then, when they tried to punt, the snap was high, forcing the punter to try and make something happen. He would evade the Canton tacklers, but his pass was incomplete, giving the Warriors the ball on the Sayre 44-yard line.
It took Canton just five plays to hit pay-dirt this time, with Fitch pounding it in from 7-yards out.
The key players were a Fitch to Holcomb 12-yard hook up to get a new set of downs, followed by Fitch rumbling 19-yards to inside the Sayre 10-yard line.
McRoberts’ kick was good and it was 21-0 with 3:37 left in the half.
Sayre’s next drive ended after three plays as Holden Ward picked off a deep pass.
Canton would score on their first play from scrimmage as Fitch broke six tackles, and carried a Sayre defensive back into the end zone from 45-yards out.
The kick was no good but Canton led 27-0 with 1:34 remaining in the half.
Sayre made it a very interesting last minute and a half, though, taking over at their own 27 yard line.
After two incompletions to start Green would hit Karter Green on back to back passes to get out near midfield.
Two plays later he found Pellicano for a 17-yard strike down to the Canton 28-yard line.
After spiking the ball Green went back to Pellicano, who hauled in a 23-yard pass to the Warrior 5-yard line.
However, before they could spike the ball time ran out on the clock.
Sayre took the kick-off to start the second half, and went 4-and-out, turning it over on downs at their 25-yard line.
On Canton’s first play of the ensuing possession Fitch hit Ward for a 25-yard strike. The point after was no good but the Warriors now led 33-0 1:05 into the third quarter.
Sayre took over at their 20-yard line after the kick-off, but back to back sacks from Davis and Hudson Ward resulted in a safety for a 35-0 lead with 10:11 left in the third.
That put the game the mercy rule.
Canton got the ball back, but turned it over off a fumbled pitch. Sayre then went 4-and-out give Canton the ball back at the Redskin 34-yard line.
Fitch opened the drive with an 11-yard pass to Holcomb, then followed that up with a 23-yard run to the house. McRoberts split the uprights and Canton led 42-0 with 4:02 left in the third.
“Last year he would have been a starter on probably any other team in the NTL, most of them anyway,” Sechrist said. “It’s his time now. We knew what he could do, and now he gets to showcase it. He’s a tough kid, he runs hard, he throws well, we’re excited for him his junior year.”
For the junior this is a moment he’d been waiting for.
“At the beginning I was a little nervous,” he explained. “I mean, the first varsity start. When I came out I saw the fans, I was really nervous. I’m not used to playing in that forum in front of that many people on JV. But, once the game started going on, I started feeling better on the ball, and I got a lot more confident.”
Neither team threatened to score after that as the JVs took the field in the fourth quarter.
Canton gets another home game next Friday as they host NP-Mansfield, and they have some things they’re going to work on.
“We’ll look at our line, we want to keep them coming along,” Sechrist said. “They’re young and improving. Defensively, we’ve got a lot of improvement to do to get where we want to be. And just keep on trying to throw some new wrinkles in as the kids can handle them. We’re trying to keep it simple, and execute, and then we’ll got on to the next thing.”