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Madcap night in Middletown

Steve Doerschuk
Independent Sports Editor

MIDDLETOWN – The Massillon Tigers spent Saturday night at the Holiday Inn, but first they went to the funhouse.

When the park closed they had a souvenir, a 17-7 high school football win over the Middletown Middies. That was very nice, since it put their record at 3-0, but it was almost incidental to the numerous sideshows that put nearby Kings Island to shame.

Among them:

The jungle beast – Massillon’s Ed Annen held one end of the leash as Obie XX, the live Tiger mascot, playfully wrapped his paws around the knee of those whistle-toting zebras.

The chopper – The game ball arrived in a TV news helicopter that buzzed Barnitz Stadium then touched down at the 20-yard line. Massillon head coach Lee Owens screamed (although no one could hear him) to get the bird back in the air because his players could not come out on the field.

“We’d hoped to have Paul Brown (the ex-Massillon coach now living in nearby Cincinnati) in the helicopter,” Middletown head coach Jim Place said. “Unfortunately, he was tied up with the Bengals.”

The roller coaster – On fourth and nine in the second quarter, Tiger quarterback Lee Hurst hurled a bomb toward the left corner of the end zone. Receiver Troy Manion maneuvered through two defenders, ran as fast as he could, reached as far as he could, and fingertip snagged the ball for a 31-yard touchdown and a 17-0 lead. On the next play from scrimmage, Middletown tailback Jeff Cothran raced 68 yards for a touchdown.

Zebras on parade – After Cothran’s run, the Tigers roared back. Ryan Sparkman’s strong run put the ball on the Middletown 30. But wait. Clipping! But wait again! Unsportsmanlike conduct for an editorial comment on the clipping. Fifteen more yards. Next play, holding, Tiger. Instead of a first down on the Middie 30. It’s third and 45 on the Tiger 15. You know any good plays?

The male cheerleader – Usually, only college football has them, but Middletown featured a strapping fellow dressed in purple pants, who after Cothran’s long TD run, leaped and bounded along the sideline, wildly gyrating as he exhorted the Middie faithful to stand up and cheer. The cheerleader was Place, the Middie coach.

“It’s that way every game down here,” Place said. “All of our games are wild and crazy.”

The light show – It was 83 degrees and sunny at kickoff time. By halftime, it was dark, except for streaks of lightning, and a fierce wind kicked up.

Something flashed behind the home grandstand. Two stands of lights went dark, one on each side of the field. Few among the 8,000 spectators noticed, but a transformer had caught on fire.

The great debate – Wait for the lights to come back on? Or keep playing under the four stands of lights still shining? The game stopped for 10 minutes as a debate raged. The verdict: Play on, but only on the half of the better lit field. Play resumed with 2:50 left in the half. The Tigers got the ball back and Ryan Sparkman rushed nine yards to midfield. Had he kept going, he’d have run into the dark side of the field. After the play, officials pointed the Tigers the other way, as if the quarter had changed.

“The situation was to our disadvantage,” Owens said later. “If we’re driving into the darkness, the wind is at our backs and that helps our passing game. But we have to drive into the light. Middletown is a running team, and it’s no big deal for them to have to drive into the wind, into the light.

“I didn’t want to go along with it. But I didn’t have much choice in the matter.”

Band on the run – With lightning came rain. It started shortly after band No 1, the one that plays Tiger Rag, strutted. It got wet and juicy at the end of the “Marching Middies” turn. It rained so hard that band No. 2 disdained decorum, running helter-skelter off the field.

The lock-up rooms – A regular in the Middletown press box eyed the lightning and shook his head.

“Two football players died in the country within the last couple of weeks because of lightning strikes,” he said.

“Football people are being awfully careful.” The Tigers were back on the field only seconds when Owens, having surveyed the skies, herded them back to the locker room. Halftime wound up lasting an hour. Massillon had nearly as many fans as Middletown at the start. Most Middletown rooters didn’t return for the second half, when Tiger fans outnumbered their hosts. They hadn’t driven 4 ½ hours to spend the second half at Taco Bell.

The scare – Ambulance lights flashed behind the Massillon grandstand throughout the intermission. The rumor mill went to work. Middletown radio station WPFB reported that two fans apparently had been struck by lightning. It was a false report. Paramedics actually were treating fans who had suffered heat exhaustion. Despite the fact the “fall sport” was into its third week, the temperature at kickoff was 83 degrees.

In the end, they got the lights fixed and played another half of football.

It was an uneventful second half, but all that transpired earlier made you wonder. The Barnitz fellow wose name is on the stadium. Is there a Barnitz and Bailey circus, too?


First downs rushing 4 10
First downs passing 9 1
First downs by penalty 4 3
Totals first downs 17 14
Yards gained rushing 119 244
Yards lost rushing 20 16
Net yards rushing 99 228
Net yards passing 199 29
Total yards gained 298 249
Passes attempted 27 12
Passes completed 16 3
Passes int. by 0 1
Times kicked off 4 2
Kickoff average 50.0 47.5
Kickoff return yards 43 54
Punts 4 5
Punting average 38.0 28.6
Punt return yards 0 20
Fumbles 2 1
Fumbles lost 4 3
Penalties 10 10
Yards penalized 136 88
Number of plays 67 47
Time of possession 26:01 21:59
Attendance 8,000

Individual Statistics
(Mas) Dixon 18-76, Sparkman 11-31.
(Mid) Calhoun 15-11, Cothran 14-112, Gerguson 4-11.

(Mas) Hurst 16-27-0, 189.
(Mid) Ferguson 2-10-1, minus – 3. Calhoun 1-2-0 20.

(Mas) Manion 6-67, Martin 5-39, Carpenter 1-25, Dixon 1-8, Harig 1-28, Brown 1-21, Sparkman 1-1.
(Mid) Mason 1-24.

Middletown 0 7 0 0 7
Massillon 10 7 0 0 17

Mas – FG Miller 24
Mas – Manion 7 pass from Hurst (Miller kick)
Mas – Manion 31 pass from Hurst (Miller kick)
Mid – Cothran 68 run (Caldwell kick)

Rameir Martin