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Mud, guts and defeat at Fitch
Tigers fall 14‑10 on touchdown with six seconds left in‑game

STEVE DOERSCHUK
Independent Sports Editor

AUSTINTOWN ‑ One minute the Massillon Tigers were singin’ in the rain. The next minute this game was mud.

Now there were seven minutes left, and the Tigers had the ball with a 10‑0 lead. Now it was fourth‑and‑goal from the 2‑inch line, and Leo Hawkins was diving into the end zone with six seconds left to give Austintown‑Fitch a 14‑10 high school football victory Friday night before 5,000 waterlogged fans.

It ended so quickly. And it hurt so bad.

It left the Massillon camp in shock.

Hoagy Pfisterer, the senior linebacker, slumped on a bench, helmet off. His face was a mask of mud from a field spoiled by a vicious rain that lasted through the first half.

Andre Horner, the senior nose guard, clutched his helmet and slammed it three times to the squishy turf. He spun around deliriously. He could not accept what had just happened.

What happened was the greatest win in Fitch football history, all things considered. And one of the bitterest Massillon defeats.

“Everybody played all out,” said Jerrod Vance, the senior linebacker, after it had all sunk in. “It just didn’t work out. It was a tough one to lose.”

The loss sank the Tigers to 4‑2, their record a year ago after Fitch’s 21‑19 victory in Massillon. Fitch climbed to 6‑0 and chanted, “Mooney, Mooney, Mooney” ‑ next week’s opponent ‑ in the locker room.

Smiling widely in that room was David Hartman, a backup center for Earle Bruce’s Massillon Tigers in 1964. He lives in Austintown now, and coaches the Fitch team.

“It was a big thing to beat them down there last year,” Hartman said, standing amid a mud‑slimed celebration that may not get cleaned up by Thanksgiving. “But this may have been more special. Nobody up here thought we could win. And sure, it means something to me personally, because of where I’m from.”

It was a tough loss for John Maronto, the Massillon coach whose Michigan offense hasn’t had numerous Tiger fans warming up to it. But he believes in it steadfastly. And he believed it would win his team this game.

“The kids played their guts out, what else can you say?” the second year Massillon mentor said.

Anticipating reactions to the conservative game plan the Tigers used on offense after getting the 10‑0 lead, Maronto said, “When you have bad weather, and you’re backed up into the field position we had, you’ve got to play it the way we played it. Unfortunately, they were able to take advantage of some things.”

It was the Tigers who seized the advantages in the first half.

On the first play of Massillon’s second offensive series, center Todd Feemster, guard John Woodlock and tackle Lance Hostetler parted the brown sea on the right side of the line for tailback Jerome Myricks, who stormed out of the I, hit the big hole, and simply outran the safety for a 61‑yard touchdown run in a pouring rain. Lee Hurst’s kick made it 7‑0 with 6:34 left in the first quarter.

Later, several Fitch players would say they thought the Falcons moved the ball well in the first half, that it was only “a matter of time.” Such was not the case. The Tiger defense stuffed the Falcons in the first two quarters, holding them to 41 total yards in the half.

Massillon, meanwhile, amassed 146 first‑half yards, 39 of them on a double‑reverse gallop by wingback ‑Mike Wilson. That led to a fourth‑and‑one from the 10 with 43 seconds left in the half.

Maronto called a timeout and sent in the field goal unit. Fitch called its own timeout, but freshman Lee Hurst stayed calm and kicked a 27‑yard field goal straight down the middle.

That gave the Tigers a 10‑0 halftime lead.

The rain, utterly miserable at times and omnipresent in the first, quit while the Tiger Swing “Band was on the field at intermission.

“That may have worked to our advantage,” Hartman said.

That was not apparent in the third quarter, when both teams stuck to the ground and neither budged much.

The same pattern held into the middle of the fourth quarter. But things changed when a Tiger fumble gave Fitch the ball near midfield and kept the Falcons from spending the rest of the night in bad field position.

Although Fitch failed to advance on that possession, the Tigers got the ball back in poor field position after a punt, and couldn’t move themselves. Now they had to punt.

Hartman huddled with his special team.

“We told our guys to go for the return,” he said. “We’d been going for the block all night, and it hadn’t keen working.”

Ken Hawkins’ 35‑yard punt sailed to Hawkins, a 189‑pound senior who leads the Steel Valley Conference in rushing. The return strategy worked. He followed a wall of blockers for a 25‑yard return that took the ball to the Massillon 33‑yard line.

On the next play, Hawkins slipped out of the backfield and capitalized on an old football dictum ‑ on a wet field, the receiver has a greater advantage, because he knows where he’s going and the defender doesn’t.

The problem with the dictum is the quarterback is at a disadvantage. A muddy football is the proverbial greased pig. But senior quarterback Eric Luckage managed to get off a pass that landed softly in Hawkins’ hands as he broke across the 15. His trip into the end zone was uncontested. Chris Berni’s PAT kick was good, making it 10‑7 with 5:41 left.

It was hard to get a grip on the ball,” Luckage said. “But I got it away, and Leo made a super catch.”

The Tigers were still in control when they started from their own 25 after taking the kickoff. One first down would wipe out enough of the clock to kill Fitch, considering field conditions.

On second and nine, Mike Norris went off right tackle for no gain. On third and nine, Myricks tried right end. Again no gain.

With 3:20 left, Ken Hawkins had to punt. Leo Hawkins made a short return to midfield.

On second and eight, Hartman sent in the same play that resulted in the touchdown pass. Hawkins was open again, this time catching Luckage’s pass for a gain to the 30. Tiger linebacker Todd Perdue came in a half‑second late on a backup hit. The game films should show that Perdue was a bit late. Under the circumstances, the late‑hit call against him, and subsequent 15‑yard penalty seemed too harsh.

Now it was first‑and‑10 from the 15 with 2:20 left.

Hawkins battered the ball to the goal fine in four carries and went around the left side for a score with six seconds left. Berni’s kick made it 14‑10. The Fitch players mobbed each other, rolling happily in the slop.

The ensuing kickoff was a squib job. Vance picked it up, but there was nowhere to run, and no one to lateral to. He was bowled over on the Massillon 40 after the clock had already hit 0:00.

While the Tigers ruled the first half statistics, Fitch dominated in the second half, leading 104‑41 in yards amassed in the third and fourth quarters.

Hawkins finished with 60 yards in 19 carries. Myricks was the game’s rushing leader with 90 yards in 12 attempts. Norris added 51 yards in 13 carries.

“They were a very good team,” concluded Hartman. “But tonight , we were better.”

MASSILLON 10
FITCH 14

M O
First downs rushing 4 4
First downs passing 0 2
First downs by penalty 0 1
Totals first downs 4 7
Yards gained rushing 194 98
Yards lost rushing 70 80
Net yards rushing 187 90
Net yards passing 0 55
Total yards gained 187 145
Passes attempted 1 6
Passes completed 0 3
Passes int. by 0 0
Yardage on pass int. 0 0
Times kicked off 0 0
Punts 7 8
Punting average 33.4 31.9
Punt return yards 0 26
Punts blocked by 0 0
Fumbles 4 0
Fumbles lost 1 0
Penalties 4 3
Yards penalized 30 14
Time of possession 19.39 28,21
Attendance 5,000

FITCH 0 0 0 14 14
MASSILLON 7 3 0 0 16

MASS ‑ Myricks 61 run (Hurst kick)
MASS ‑ Hurst 27 field goal
FITCH ‑ Hawkins 33 pass from Luckage (Berni kick)
FITCH ‑ Hawkins 1 run (Beni kick)

Jerrod Vance