A staple of the Hartley football team since Brad Burchfield took over as coach in 2008 has been its ability to progress during the second half of the regular season.
The Hawks defeated St. Charles 30-7 in their CCL opener Oct. 4 and are 5-1 entering their first meeting with host Austintown Fitch on Friday, Oct. 11.
"I'm happy with where we are in terms of wins and losses, and we've played a tremendous schedule, but now we need to drive ourselves to get better," Burchfield said. "We need to continue to stay healthy and learn from mistakes that we've made during the first half (of the season). We all have a model in which we expect to make great improvements."
Austintown Fitch is 3-3 and coming off a 55-7 loss on Oct. 4 to Massillon Washington, which was the Division II state runner-up last year and is 6-0. The Falcons also lost 42-27 on Sept. 27 to Cleveland Benedictine, which is 5-1.
Austintown Fitch was a Division I, Region 1 playoff qualifier last season but now competes in Division II, Region 5. The Falcons have attempted to navigate a difficult schedule with a sophomore, Devin Sherwood, and a junior, Nate Leskovac, as their top offensive playmakers.
Sherwood is a multi-threat quarterback who had rushed 77 times for 420 yards and six touchdowns and was 41-for-66 passing for 489 yards through five games. Leskovac, who sees time at quarterback and running back, had 67 carries for 601 yards and 10 scores through five games.
Christian Armstrong, a 6-foot-1, 270-pound senior, anchors the defense at tackle.
"They have a great team and a great tradition," Burchfield said. "It will be a tremendous challenge to get them on the road."
Against St. Charles, the Hawks built a 23-0 lead by halftime. Treyvhon Saunders returned a fumble 25 yards for a touchdown and Jalan January ran for a 6-yard touchdown to give the Hawks a 15-0 lead by the end of the first quarter.
January added a 1-yard scoring run in the second quarter and finished with 105 yards on 17 carries. Quarterback Miles Fleming rushed for 154 yards on just 10 attempts and Marcelis Parker added a third-quarter touchdown run.