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Massillon outplays McKinley, but losses 9‑7
Pups’ big plays waste fine Tiger effort

Independent Sports Editor

The Massillon Tiger lockerroom was ripe with the stunned silence of a team that had just played its heart out, outplayed its opponent and lost.

Amid the hanging heads and wet eyes stood Tiger coach Mike Currence. The hurt he felt in his heart for his team showed on his face. “They’re all different,” he said.

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True to form, Saturday’s 87th Massillon‑McKinley game was different from all the rest. The Bulldogs’ 9‑6 victory before 22,828 fans in Canton’s Fawcett Stadium gave them their first perfect season since 1956 and puts them into the computer playoffs‑for the second year in a row.

Yet, except for one play, it was a game that seemed to belong to the Massillon Tigers.

That one play, however, was a big one. An 81‑yard pass from Bulldog quarterback Rick Worstell to end Nick Faulkner that wiped out a 6‑3 Tiger lead and proved to be the margin of victory.

It was just about the only defensive mistake the Tigers made all day. However, several offensive mistakes left the Bulldogs off the hook.

The Tigers won a decisive victory in the battle of the statistics, but the only stat that really counts is the one in lights on the scoreboard.

Massillon had 14 first downs to five for McKinley, and held the Pups to 55 yards rushing in 31 carries. McKinley gained only six yards rushing the first half, and didn’t get a first down rushing until just before the end of the third period.

Game action vs. Canton McKinley 1981

The Tigers piled up 265 yards to 163 for McKinley. Take away the one pass play, and the Bulldogs had only 82 yards total offense.

“It’s a tough one to lose, especially when you play as well as we played and control the ball the way we did,” Currence said.

“But we had some turnovers that caused us bad field position. That stopped us from working our whole offense, which stopped us from scoring more.

“I thought we moved the ball real well and I was never worried when our defense was on the field. I thought we would score in the second half,” he added.

But two fumbles and an interception haunted the Tigers in the second half, and the superior McKinley kicking game probably was the overall difference.

Game action vs. Canton McKinley 1981

Nick Xides had a school record 44‑yard field goal in the first half. The boot was a low line drive that was literally carried just over the crossbar by a strong wind.

However, Massillon’s Tim Manion had the wind at his “back when he got too far under a 30‑yard attempt and it fell short with 4:28 to go in the third quarter.

A short punt by Manion into the wind also helped set up field goal.

While Manion had his problems kicking, he played an outstanding defensive game, moving from linebacker to end and causing the Pup offense trouble all day.

He helped stop McKinley’s only – other serious – scoring threat late in the third quarter when he tipped a pass at the goal line that was intercepted in the end zone by Matt Hickey.

Perhaps the most crucial event of the game came with 1:53 left to play and the Tigers driving for what their fans hoped would be the winning score.

Starting at their own 15 after a clipping penalty on a punt return, the Tigers were grinding it out on the ground.

Game action vs. Canton McKinley 1981

Greg Grimsley gained four yards, George Roknich bolted for 10 and a first down, then Grimsley carried for 15 and another first down.

Roknich carried for five more, Larry Newman for two and Grimsley was stopped for a two‑yard gain on third-and‑three at the Bulldog 47.

On fourth‑and‑one, Tiger quarterback Rick Spielman lost control of the ball after the snap and McKinley middle guard Stan Jackson fell on it, ending the Tiger threat and insuring his team of a 10‑0 season.

Tiger tans were stunned. Their team had outplayed the Bulldogs all day and they were certain this drive would be the clincher.

It was ironic that Spielman would be victimized by the fumble. He had put the Tigers in the lead with a brilliant 21‑yard touchdown run in the second quarter.

Game action vs. Canton McKinley 1981

Facing a fourth‑and‑15 at the Pup 21, he dropped back to pass. He was almost; sacked in the pocket, but broke free and scrambled to the left. He broke another tackle and cut back across the middle of the field. He slipped through the grasp of another Bulldog tackler at the 15 and scooted around the right side all the way for a score. The Tiger offensive line also did a great job of blocking off the pursuit on the play.

The score, which came at 9:42 of the second quarter, gave the Tigers a 6‑0 lead.

But Xides booted his field goal at 3:45 and a Ross Rankin interception (his first of two for the day) stopped another Tiger drive at the Bulldog 19, and two plays later, Worstell and Faulkner hooked up on their game winning play.

“Faulkner came up with the key play,” Bulldog coach Terry Forbes said afterwards in a joyous McKinley lockerroom. “We went deep a couple of times and that was the only time we connected all day.”

Forbes said the Pups made some minor adjustments at halftime to counteract the Tiger air attack, which had accounted counted for 81 yards in the first half. Massillon didn’t complete a pass in the second half, with Rankin picking off Spielman’s only pass in the third period, and the Tiger senior quarterback going 0‑for‑4 in the final period.

But Currence said the Tigers hadn’t planned to pass much in the second half anyway. He and his coaches felt they could move the ball on the ground against the McKinley defense.

They were doing just that prior to the fumble on their final series.

Spielman ended the day with seven completions in 20 attempts for 81 yards while Worstell had five completions in 14 attempts for 108 yards.

Leading receivers for the Tigers were Roknich with two catches for 38 yards, Robert Oliver with three for 23 yards and Newman with three for 20 yards.

The Tigers totaled 184 yards rushing, with Grimsley gaining 80 yards on 14 carries and Roknich picking up 41 yards on six carries to lead the way.

Forbes had praise for the Tigers’ effort, though he wouldn’t say they were the best team his Bulldogs played all year.
“We’ve played some fine football teams and Massillon ranks right up there with the best.”

Except for a few plays on this sunny November Saturday, no comparisons would have been necessary.

Winter arrives early
for Tiger grid faithfull
Independent Sports Editor
The air was warm and the sun shone brightly as it set on the first day of winter Saturday afternoon in Massillon.

Forget the calendar, winter started with the sounding of the gun which ended the annual season finale between the Massillon Tigers and the McKinley Bulldogs in Canton’s Fawcett Stadium.

You see, the score stood at nine points for the Bulldogs and but six for the Tigers.

So, for the first time since 1975, winter in Massillon has started a month and a half early.

And for the first time in his six seasons as the Tigers’ head coach, Mike Currence won’t have the glow of victory over McKinley to warm his football thoughts until spring.

For most of the early afternoon on Saturday it had appeared otherwise. The Tigers, undaunted by the Bulldogs’ 9‑0 record, had come to play.

And play they did. Even McKinley fans agreed afterwards that the Tigers had played the better game.

But luck was on the side of the Bulldogs this day, and they made the big plays the Tigers couldn’t.

Except for an 81‑yard touchdown pass from quarterback Rick Worstell to end Nick Faulkner, in which Tiger defensive backs Grady Robinson and Rodney Hill missed tackles, the Tigers controlled the game.
Even despite the pass, the Tigers could have won had they not turned the ball over four times.

Indeed, Currence played down the Bulldogs’ big play.

“Those things happen sometimes,” he said of the Tigers misreading the coverage and then missing the tackle. He said he felt the four turnovers were what hurt the most. That and bad field position. The Tigers were able to roll up a lot of yards, but produce only six points. They needed 10.

The game was hard fought, and the 22,828 fans in the stands received more than their money’s worth. It was anybody’s ball game right to the end, when the Bulldogs’ Stan Jackson recovered a fumble at his own 49 to kill the Tigers’ final threat.

It was sweet revenge for Bulldog fans. The Pups had lost four straight to Mike Currence coached teams until last season, when they won 16‑7. That didn’t last long, however, as the Tigers turned around and upset McKinley 14‑6 the following weekend in a quarter‑final playoff game. The Tigers went on to finish second in the state, the Bulldogs stayed home and prepared for the sudden winter.

There will be no rematch this time. The Bulldogs will play Parma Normandy Saturday night in Canton’s Fawcett Stadium in the playoff quarter‑final match.

After Saturday’s game had ended, McKinley coach Terry Forbes paid a visit to the Tiger lockerroom to congratulate Currence on the fine game his team played.

The coaches exchanged compliments and shook hands.

“Good luck in the playoffs,” Currence said. “Our people will be here next week rooting for you. Beat Moeller.”

And so ended the Tigers’ season. The 7‑3 record marks the first time the Tigers lost more‑than twice under Currence. It also means the Bulldogs, after four straight losses, have won two of the last three from the Tigers.

It was a disappointing season, but for awhile on Saturday afternoon it looked like it was going to have a happy ending.

As it turned out, Tiger fans found themselves muttering those four words they had almost forgotten: wait until next year.

Tim Manion