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Tigers nip Central‑Hower 7‑3
Emotions run high after Tiger defense rises to new heights

By MIKE HUDAK
Independent Sports Editor

MASSILLON ‑ An emotional win does different things to different people.

Friday night at Paul Brown Tiger Stadium, the locals remained unbeaten by downing a stubborn Akron Central‑Hower squad 7‑3. A big factor in the contest was senior defensive end Derrick Johnson, who twice broke through the offensive line to record sacks late in the game while the visitors attempted a final surge towards the Tiger goal.

Afterwards, friends surrounded his locker, squeezing the big senior with bearhugs of joy. But Johnson was too emotionally spent to laugh or talk or celebrate. All Johnson could do was sit and cry tears of joy.

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There may not have been a lot of scoring in the contest, but the 8,114 fans who sat through four quarters of a chilly autumn rain didn’t feel cheated, and certainly didn’t exit until the final gun assured Massillon of victory.

The rain certainly had an effect on the game, but it certainly wasn’t the deciding factor.

“Basically, we lost to a very good team tonight,” said Ram coach Tim Flossie, whose squad drops to 1‑2 on the year after going 10‑1 last season. “I thought both teams did an excellent job under the conditions; had the weather been ideal it just would have meant both teams would have been a bit more effective offensively,” insinuating that the Tigers would have won no matter what was failing out of the sky.

“We threw the ball well tonight, but the rain caused us to drop some passes we may have caught,” said Tiger head coach Mike Currence. “Of course, the wet field caused our running backs to lose their footing several times, too.

“But in the end, everyone did their job tonight. If they didn’t, we wouldn’t have won.”

It was a battle of the trenches from the beginning. The Tigers took the opening kick but had to punt. The Rams then used up most of the first quarter with a 14‑play drive that went 46 yards before the Tigers stopped Eric Mosley inches short of a first down on the Massillon 34‑yardline on a fourth down option pitchout from the quarterback. Earlier, the Rams had proved their intentions of gaining victory at all cost by going for the first down on a fourth‑and‑one situation on their own 34 and making it.

The Tigers then reciprocated with a drive to the C‑H 33 that ended when Brian DeWitz endzone bomb was intercepted by the Rams Paul Miller. But the Rams’ gave the ball back moments later when the Rams’ wishbone offense stumbled at an inopportune moment ‑ an option pitch was fumbled and recovered by Tiger linebacker Chris Spielman after an eight‑yard loss on the Ram 29.

Massillon capitalized on the break with the only touchdown of the night. The seven-play drive saw Spielman tote the final 14 yards on three consecutive carries, the capper a six‑yard run with 6:04 remaining in the half. Bronc Phsiterer’s kick was good for a 7‑0 lead.

it appeared that the Tigers might score again before the half. A beautiful coffin corner punt by DeWitz bounded out of bounds at C‑H’s 2, where they were stymied and had to punt ‑ a short boot that the Tigers took over on the Ram 26 with about two minutes remaining.

The Tigers soon found just three yards short of paydirt with 51 seconds remaining. But two cracks into the line failed, and on fourth down, an incompletion gave the ball back to C‑H.

Most of the fans were wondering why the Tigers didn’t stop the clock and try the field goal ‑ what they didn’t know is that the Tigers were out of time outs, their final clock‑stopper having been used without official notification to the pressbox or stands.
Tigers stay perfect!
“I used the last time out to attempt to save time for us,” explained Currence. “I thought for sure that we’d be able to punch it in in one or two cracks, and I was stunned when we didn’t; we had been blowing them out at the line. But one thing they did was move 205‑pound Troy Rackley over from defensive end to tackle when we weren’t expecting it, and he really plugged the hole.”

The Rams actually switched a lot of personnel around for the game, including switching 220‑pound Destin Scott to the middle guard spot, when the Tigers were expecting a 160‑pounder there!

“We had been preparing for this game for two weeks,” admitted Flossie. “The defensive switches worked well for us; I was especially pleased with the play of our interior linebackers.”

The second half was more great defense on both sides. The Rams almost broke the opening kickoff, returning it to the C‑H 42, and proceeded to drive to the Tiger eight, where it was second‑and‑seven.

But Ram quarterback Ray Jackson was hit for a two‑yard loss on the next play, followed by a great defensive play by the Tigers’ Marcell Stephens, the 160‑lb. defensive back, who stopped an endzone pass with a great hit.

“The play was a tight end out cut, and I was back‑peddling on the coverage,” said Stephens. “The footing was terrible and I lost my balance momentarily, but I caught the ball out of the corner of my eye and regained my balance to stick him good just as the ball arrived.”

The Rams then had to settle for a 26‑yard field goal by Kelly Clark with 5:58 left in the third quarter, cutting the Tiger lead to 7‑3. The scoreboard never changed again.

The Rams threatened again when Miller grabbed his second interception and returned it to the Tiger 18.

“The receiver broke the pattern; it was supposed to be a curl and he decided to change it. If the quarterback had been able to read the move it might have gone for a long‑gainer, but it was too late and only the defensive back ended up where the receiver was supposed to be.”

But the defense stiffened, regaining possession on the 18 when a pass was overthrown into the endzone. The Tigers then moved 67 yards themselves before losing the ball on downs at the Ram 18. A key play in the clock‑eating march was a 41‑yard pass play from DeWitz to senior receiver Jim Geiser on a third‑and‑12 situation.

“I told the coach I could beat the guy deep, and he, ‘let’s take the risk, “‘ reported Geiser, the team’s leading receiver on the year.

“That was a great catch,” added Flossie. “Our guy was right there, but it was just a great catch.”

After the Tigers’ drive ended, the Rams had two more chances to score. The first possession ended in a punt after a clipping call and a sack by the Tigers’ Junior Neff forced the boot.

Central‑Hower’s final chance saw Johnson’s fierce rush put the final icing on what was hardly a piece of cake.

Statistically, Massillon outgained C‑H 230‑119, including a 126‑0 advantage in the air. DeWitz completed 9‑of‑19 tosses on the night, with Spielman catching four passes for 26 yards and Geiser three passes for 63 yards. Spielman led the Tiger ground attack with 20 totes for 95 yards.

“Massillon jut didn’t make mistakes, they’re a helluva team,” concluded Flosie, who might have been beaten but left Massillon with the respect of all who watched his team.

MASSILLON 7
CEN‑HOWER 3
M 0
First downs rushing 8 8
First downs passing 5 0
First downs by penalty 0 1
Totals first downs 13 9
Yards gained rushing 131 156
Yards lost rushing 27 37
Net yards rushing 104 119
Net yards passing 126 0
Total yards gained 230 119
Passes attempted 19 4
Passes completed 9 0
Passes int. by 0 2
Yardage on pass int. 0 17
Times kicked off 2 2
Kickoff average 55.0 54.0
Kickoff return yards 22 32
Punts 2 3
Putting average 32.5 26.0
Punt return yards 18 0
Punts blocked by 0 0
Fumbles 1 2
Fumbles lost 0 1
Penalties 3 2
Yards penalized 35 25
Touchdowns rushing 1 0
Touchdowns passing 0 0
Miscellaneous touchdowns 0 0
Number of plays 57 51
Time of possession 25:14 22:42
Attendance 8,114

Cen‑Hower 0 0 3 0 3
Massillon 0 7 0 0 7

M ‑ Spielman 6‑yard ran. (Phisterer kick)
CH ‑ Clark 26‑yard field goal.

Jeff Boerner