- COACH — MIKE ELLIS JR. (4th year, 19-12)
- CONFERENCE — ECC Division I
- PLAYOFF CLASS — L (594 boys enrollment)
- HOME — Dorr Field, Groton
- 2017 RECORD — 10-1, ECC Division I champions, lost to Masuk in Class L quarterfinals
- 2018 OPENER — Sept. 7 at Hamden, 7 p.m.
- TEAM WEBSITE — MaxPreps | TWITTER — @football_fitch
- TYLER NELLI, Sr. QB/FS (5-11, 170)
- SAL AIELLO, Sr. SE/CB (5-9, 160)
- KENNARD TATE, Sr. RB/SS (5-10, 170)
- HAMEAR STEPHENS, Sr. RB/CB (5-11, 185)
- PEDRO MOJICA, Sr. FB/LB (6-1, 190)
- AUSTIN BEEBE, Sr. OL/DL (6-1, 200)
- NICK HELBIG, Sr. OL/DL (6-1, 220)
- DANIEL MOJICA, Sr. OL/DL (6-2, 220)
- BRANDON HAMILTON, Sr. TE/LB (6-1, 180)
- DANIEL BRATHWAITE, Sr. FB/LB (5-10, 190)
Fitch’s 2017 season was a long-time coming. The once-mighty Eastern Connecticut power had fallen on some pretty lean years over the last decade, the nadir was a 0-11 mark in 2014.
Mike Ellis, the former Waterford mentor who’d been hired to stop this slide into irrelevance, quickly turned things around. It culminated last year in a glorious 10-0 regular season — the school’s first since its last state championship season in 2000 — and earned the Falcons a No. 4 seed in the Class L playoffs, their first postseason appearance since 2006.
But Fitch’s banner season came to an an abrupt end in the state quarterfinals: The Falcons were run off their own field by eventual finalist Masuk, 43-7.
It was tough result to swallow, especially since it ran counter to the way the Falcons had played all season. Ellis said it has motivated the returning players throughout the offseason.
Though Fitch lost the services of a host of All-ECC performers, particularly speedy back Hollis Scott and receiver Zach Letellier, the lion’s share of last year’s breakthrough squad returns to, perhaps, atone for last year’s bitter finish.
“I think just goes to show, and I hope the kids learned, the difference between a team that understood what it means to be there, and another team that didn’t quite get it, that was happy to be there,” Ellis said. “We’ve stressed the importance of staying healthy and staying great shape. Putting in a lot of work in offseason is what lasts into end of November and beginning of December. Masuk was on team mission, and we were just limping through end of season.
“Hopefully this year, if we’re lucky to get ourselves back into that positon, we’ll be better prepared.”
Seven starters are back on an offense that averaged 35 points per game last season, including quarterback Tyler Nelli and four of five starting linemen, including All-ECC seniors Austin Beebe and Nick Helbig.
They were pushed around in the quarterfinal loss to Masuk, and have pushed themselves to become a better unit. “Those five worked extremely hard in offseason,” Ellis said. “We could always count in weight room.
“It’s one of biggest and fastest O-lines I’ve ever had. They’re athletic, they can move, they’re strong and I’m hoping we’ll be in better position to push people around.”
Running behind them in Fitch’s flexbone offense will be Kennard Tate, Hamear Stephens and Pedro Mojica. Though Scott and his breakaway speed is gone, Ellis believes his team will continue to run the ball effectively. “We do have some guys we feel good about,” Ellis said of his run game “They’re still untested. The big question is can they last a season taking a beating out there.”
One of Ellis’ main concerns is developing a receiving threat to keep opposing defenses honest. Fitch lost a reliable target in Letellier and will look to Sal Aiello, Stephens and end Brandon Hamilton when it goes to the air.
Fortunately, Nelli returns for this third year running the Fitch option. “Thing I’ve seen so far, which is nice, is that he understands the offense,” Ellis said of Nelli. “He’s comfortable in it. He’s not pressing. He’s going through doing what he has to do for us and everything comes easy for him. I think he’s in a good place right now, in his third year running the option, that he’ll have good feel for it and just juke some guys out out there.”
Ellis is confident his defense, which allowed 145 points last year, will be strong. Despite the graduation of Dean Faulise on the defensive line, returners Beebe, Helbig and Dan Mojica should be a formidable front.
Helbig, when he’s not playing saxophone for the Fitch band, was an All-ECC defensive line selection last season. “I’m hoping he can become a dominant force that controls the line,” Ellis said.
The linebacking unit returns another All-ECC defender in Pedro Mojica. But, overall, Ellis says Fitch is inexperienced on the outside, especially after the graduation of Letellier.
Aiello, Nelli, Tate and Stephens will lead the Falcons’ defensive secondary.
“We’re strong in places, but untested in others,” Ellis said. “Our hope is, after a week of scrimmages, we can begin to address those spots.”
Fitch’s schedule is markedly different than a season ago. The Falcons kick off the season with a pair of two, long road trips into the SCC when it faces Tier 2 programs, Hamden and Harding. Fitch also plays host to its third SCC opponent, Wilbur Cross, toward midseason.
The meat of their schedule includes road games at ECC rivals New London, Norwich Free Academy and a non-conference game at Capital Prep/Achievement First. Fitch wraps up the season with showdown with rival East Lyme and, of course, vs. Ledyard on Thanksgiving.
- Sept. 7 — at Hamden, 7 p.m.
- Sept. 14 — at Harding, 7 p.m.
- Sept. 21 — WATERFORD,* 6:30 p.m.
- Sept. 29 — at New London,** 1 p.m.
- Oct. 12 — WILBUR CROSS, 6:30 p.m.
- Oct. 19 — BACON ACADEMY,* 6:30 p.m.
- Oct. 26 — at Norwich Free Academy,** 6:30 p.m.
- Nov. 2 — at Capital Prep/Achievement First, TBA
- Nov. 9 — EAST LYME,** 6:30 p.m.
- Nov. 22 — LEDYARD,* 10 a.m.
Home games in CAPS