Brunsiwck's Dakota Lavinder (left) and Aaron Tofil (right) tackle Austintown Fitch's Alex Smith Jr. in the first quarter at Brunswick. JUDD SMERGLIA/GAZETTE
BRUNSWICK — How important was the Brunswick football team’s 24-14 non-league victory over Austintown Fitch on Friday at Brunswick Auto Mart Stadium?
“It was more important than breathing,” said coach Mark Pinzone, who took over a program that went 2-8 a year ago and lost to Highland in its season opener. “I felt like we weren’t believing. From the offseason and through last week, it was tough. Now we have life.”
The Blue Devils (1-1) have life because junior quarterback Josh Stacho had touchdown runs of 8, 3 and 6 yards in the first half and their defense made big plays when it mattered.
The 6-foot-1, 190-pound Stacho finished with 73 yards on 18 carries and completed 10-of-17 passes for 149 yards. The rest of the Blue Devils rushed 14 times for 28 yards, with a long of 5 yards and six attempts that went for zero or negative yards.
The disparity was even greater in the first half, when Stacho rushed 10 times for 69 yards and completed 5-of-8 passes for 110 as Brunswick took a 21-7 lead. The rest of the team had seven rushes for 11 yards.
“I thought he played fantastic,” Pinzone said. “He’s still learning as a quarterback, but each day and each week he’s getting better.”
Unfortunately for the Blue Devils, Stacho suffered a shoulder injury late in the game and was being attended to by trainers afterward.
“I think he should be OK,” Pinzone said. “I hope he’s OK. He’s extremely important to us.”
The defense was equally vital for Brunswick. Fitch quarterback Brock Zielinski rushed 21 times for 128 yards and two short scores, but the rest of his team managed just 71 yards on 23 attempts.
“We were the more physical team, and the more physical team won,” 6-1, 205-pound Brunswick linebacker Lukas Lemons said.
The Blue Devils limited Fitch to 7-for-20 passing for 83 yards. Jake Vadini, Lemons and Aaron Tofil had sacks, Ben Mewhinney had a fumble recovery and Zavier Romano, Vadini, Lemons, Garrett Laverty and Dakota Lavinder added tackles for loss.
“We had a lot more incentive this week,” Lemons said. “We played better in the second half last week and we had a great week of practice. We played a lot more physical. We were ready for everything.”
The biggest defensive play of the game came with Brunswick leading 21-14 and Fitch facing fourth-and-2 at the Blue Devils 41-yard line in the fourth quarter. Zielinski gave the ball to Austin Weekley on a read option left, but Tofil read the play perfectly, got some help from Lemons and Weekley was stuffed for no gain with 3:30 left.
Brunswick then got a 21-yard field goal from Nick Demonte, who was perfect on three extra points, with 41 seconds remaining to ice the game.
“This is going to set us up for next week and the weeks after that,” Lemons said.
Stacho’s three touchdowns were all set up by key plays.
Brunswick went 71 yards in seven plays on the opening possession of the game, but the Blue Devils would have gone three-and-out were it not for a pass interference penalty on third-and-11.
Stacho’s 64-yard completion to 6-5, 220-pound tight end Zak Zografos, who spun out of a tackle and rumbled about 45 yards to the 3, set up the second TD.
The Blue Devils’ third score was made possible by Mewhinney’s fumble recovery at the Fitch 43. Four rushing plays later — Stacho had three carries for 38 yards — Brunswick led 21-7.
Fitch dominated the third quarter and the beginning of the fourth, but had only Zielinski’s second 2-yard TD to show for it.
Stacho then set up Demonte’s clinching field goal with a beautiful 25-yard completion to Ethan Flanigan (5 catches, 71 yards) on third-and-7 from the Fitch 38.
“I’m very happy with our defense,” Pinzone said. “We gave up a few plays, but I thought we played lights out when we really needed to make a play.”
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him @RickNoland on Twitter.
Brunswick 24, Fitch 14
FITCH 0 7 7 0 — 14
BRUNSWICK 14 7 0 3 — 24
B — Josh Stacho 8 run (Nick Demonte kick), 8:23.
B — Stacho 3 run (Demonte kick), 0:47.
F — Brock Zielinski 2 run (Nathan Correia kick), 8:53.
B — Stacho 6 run (Demonte kick), 5:28.
F — Zielinski 2 run (Correia kick), 4:14.
B — Demonte 21 field goal, 0:41.