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No state title, but what a season!

By STEVE DOERSCHUK
Independent Sports Editor

Disappointed?
Yes.
Depressed?
No.

“The season has been great,” Massillon co-captain Joe Pierce said a few minutes before midnight Saturday. “It’s been wonderful.”

Pierce was back in the Paul Brown Tiger Stadium locker room after his team had fallen 42‑21 to Cleveland St. Ignatius in the Division I state semifinals before a crowd of 18,206 in the Akron Rubber Bowl.

Every locker was plastered with a copy of the USA Today clipping that hyped Ignatius as the No. 1 high school football team in the land.

“If we had to lose,” Pierce said, “it might as well have been to the No. 1 team in the country.

“We hated to lose. But things just didn’t go our way.”

Robert Erickson, the Tigers’ team doctor had the same idea as Pierce as he watched the end of the game from the sidelines about 90 minutes earlier.

“They had a lot of fun this season,” Erickson said as Ryan Sparkman fought valiantly for an extra three yards, lunging backward with tacklers draped on him, as Ignatius led 42‑15.

“They accomplished a lot. They played hard. Heck, a lot of people said they’d never get past McKinley.”

Saturday’s game was played in bitter cold. The defeat kept the Tigers from reaching their goal of a first state playoff title to go along with 22 Ohio poll championships.

The mood around midnight in Tiger Stadium, however, seemed more warm than bitter.

Players talked quietly. Head coach Lee Owens seemed to take the loss hardest. He seemed lost in thought when a passerby gently clutched his arm.

Owens looked up and managed a smile.

Senior Lou LoCoco stopped to shake the coach’s hand just before leaving the locker room for the last time.

“I enjoyed it,” LoCoco said. “You meant a lot to me.”

When hindsight replaces the abruptness of Saturday’s defeat, it probably will become clearer that the 1989 season meant a lot to Tigertown.

It will be recalled that the learn made the playoffs for the first time since 1982 … that McKinley was defeated soundly … that a 42‑24 victory over Walsh Jesuit grew out of a 24‑6 halftime deficit and was one of the great comebacks in Tiger history.

It will be remembered that only two teams in Massillon history, the 1961 squad that went 11‑0 and the 1982 edition that went 12‑1, won more games than the 1989 crew that finished with a 10‑3 mark.

It will be noted the ’89 team’s two playoff wins were as many as were attained by the 1980 and ’82 teams that made it to the state finals, when only two victories were needed to do so.

It will be said that two of the teams to defeat the ’89 Tigers ‑ Moeller and Ignatius – met for the Division I state championship, and that the other, Cleveland St. Joseph, was a Division II state finalist.

Meanwhile, in the Ignatius camp, there was quiet celebration. The Wildcat starters showered in the Rubber Bowl visitors’ locker room, where there is barely room for a basketball team. The extras jammed an adjoining hallway.

Senior quarterback Joe Pickens is Ignatius’ best known star, but for whatever reason he undressed with the extras.

This kid stands 6 feet 4, weighs 210 pounds, and is going places. He says he has narrowed his college preferences to Ohio State, Illinois, Michigan State, Stanford, West Virginia, Alabama and Boston College.

On his way to the big time, the Tigers gave him a night to remember.

It’s different playing Massillon.” he said. “They have a different kind of crowd … they have a lot of fans. But we looked at it this way: We weren’t playing the Massillon town. We were playing the Massillon team.

“We had a good night. But Massillon is definitely a good team. They have a lot of quickness.”

Another Ignatius player headed for the bright lights, albeit two years from now since be is a junior, is 6‑foot‑5, 255‑pound tackle Trent Zenkewicz.

Zenkewicz said nobody was looking at Saturday’s affair as just another game.

“When we scrimmaged them in the pre‑season, they came out like it was a championship game,” Zenkewicz said.

“We’d won the state championship last year and I guess that fired them up. There was some taunting. It was an unusual scrimmage. We wanted revenge.”

Ignatius jumped to a 13‑0 lead in Saturday’s clash, held on for a 13‑7 halftime edge, their blew it open in the third quarter. Zenkewicz had his revenge.

Owens found it hard to swallow.

“I feel bad,” he said, “as though there’s something more I could have done.”

Some day the loss will melt into the big picture. The coach should feel better when he steps back and takes a look at that.

Title dream ends
Tigers can’t make comeback last after nearly taking halftime lead vs. Ignatius

By STEVE DOERSCHUK
Independent Sports Editor

AKRON ‑ Team Comeback struck again, but this time the rally came too fast and didn’t last.

The Massillon Tigers punched their way out of a 13‑0 corner Saturday to nearly take a halftime lead on Cleveland St. Ignatius. They got lost in a black hole of a third quarter on whose other side was a 42‑21 defeat in the Division I state football playoff semifinals.

Ignatius, which had never faced Massillon, stretched its winning streak to 28 and headed for a Sunday state championship showdown against Cincinnati Moeller.

The Tigers left the 1980s with a 10‑3 season record and an 81‑27‑1 mark for the decade.

Massillon had a controlling share of Saturday’s crowd ‑ 18,206 in the ice‑cold Rubber Bowl, where snow was caked on the sidelines after a pregame scrape job.

“We’re in it!” a Tiger fan making a coffee run yelled after his team ralled from a 13‑0 deficit to trail 13‑7 at halftime.

And why wouldn’t he think so?

Team Comeback had rebounded from a loss to Moeller with a convincing win over Austintown‑Fitch. It rallied from a stunning loss to Cleveland St. Joseph to dominate McKinley. It came back from the dead of a 24‑6 halftime deficit against Walsh Jesuit to win a playoff opener 42‑24.

As far as the fans were concerned, it was play‑it‑again‑Sam time.

Ryan Sparkman’s one‑yard touchdown run with 2:37 left in the half set up a 13‑7 game. Moments later Tiger end Jeff Perry creamed Ignatius quarterback Joe Pickens and Massillon tackle Scott Sirgo pounced on the resulting fumble near midfield.

Ignatius end Matt Cooney, pesky as a gnat all night, had a bear hug on quarterback Lee Hurst’s legs on fourth and five, but Hurst amazingly flicked a strike to Rameir Martin to keep the drive alive.

When Hurst connected with Martin for 12 yards to the nine with more than 30 seconds left, Team Comeback had its fans humming.

“A great play by their defensive back” is what head coach Lee Owens said kept the Tigers from converting a touchdown pass that could have created a halftime lead.

The Tigers had to hurry their field goal unit in place and the half ended with Gary Miller’s 28‑yard field goal attempt sailing wide right.

“We thought we should have had an extra timeout in there, but they charged us with one we don’t believe we took,” Owens said. “We came out of the huddle on one play and were ready to roll when they charged us with a timeout. They never did explain who asked for the timeout.”

On the opposite sideline, Ignatius head coach Chuck Kyle was smiling.

“They had their chance and they didn’t put it in,” he said.

Owens remembers the second half starting to his liking.

”We kicked the ball exactly where we wanted it,” he said, “Deep in the corner away from No. 48 (Tim Kennedy), who returned one for a touchdown against Euclid last week.”

Nonetheless, deep man Peter Fitzpatrick proceeded to rearrange the game, skirting right around the coverage wall and running 71 yards to the Tiger 24‑yard line.

Five players later, Fitzpatrick followed the block of 6‑foot‑3, 236‑pound tight end John Jaeckin into the end zone on a 10‑yard scoring play. A Pickens‑to‑Jaeckin conversion pass made it 21‑7.

A Tim Ruddy interception and a 48‑yard “junk play” touchdown – Pickens lateraling to split end Pat Friend, and Friend throwing a bomb to a wide‑open Jaeckin made it 28‑7.

A Massillon fumble on its own 24 set up Fitzpatrick’s third touchdown and a 35‑7 Ignatius lead with 11: 12 left in the game.
Still, Team Comeback wouldn’t roll over.

“I had a good feeling after we cut it to 35‑15,” Owens said. “We had more than nine minutes left (after Hurst’s 40‑yard scoring bomb to Doug Harig). And we got the ball right back (on Chad Buckland’s interception).”

Unfortunately, Cooney got in the way on third‑and‑11, intercepting a screen pass and scoring easily on a 21‑yard run to make it 42‑7.

The Tigers drove 93 yards and Sparkman scored his second touchdown with 1:24 left to create the final, score.

The stats were considerably more even than the score.

At halftime, Ignatius led 157‑133 in total offense. The late, long scoring drive gave the Tigers a 354‑272 lead in total offense for the game.

Pickens, a 6‑foot‑4, 210‑pound senior who is expected to make first team All‑Ohio and possibly wrestle this year’s Mr. Football award a way from incumbent Robert Smith of Euclid completed just

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ST. IGNATIUS 42
MASSILLON 21
*****************************
I M
First downs rushing 9 7
First downs passing 4 12
First downs penalty 0 1
Total first down 13 20
Net yards rushing 149 122
Net yards passing 123 232
Total net yards 272 354
Passes attempted 15 36
Passes completed 5 17
Passes intercepted 1 5
Fumbles/lost 1‑1 1‑1
Punts 4 3
Punting average 28.8 29.7
Penalties 8 3
Yards penalized 83 31
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St. Ignatius 7 6 15 14 42
Massillon 0 7 0 14 21
*****************************

I ‑ Fitzpatrick 19 run (Hearns kick)
I ‑ Spear 1 run (kick failed)
M ‑ Sparkman 1 run (Miller kick)
I ‑ Pickens 10 run (Pickens pass to Jaeckin)
I ‑ Friend 42 pass to Jaeckin (Hearns kick)
I ‑ Fitzpatrick 2 run (Hearns kick)
M ‑ Hurst 40 pass to Harig (Hurst pass to Carpenter)
I ‑ Cooney 21 Pass interception return (Hearns kick)
M ‑ Sparkman 1 run (pass failed)

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Individual Statistics

Rushing
(I) Fitzpatrick 21‑102, Pickens 6‑33 Kennedy 6‑18, Spear 2‑3.
(M) Sparkman 18-81, Dixon 9‑28, Hurst 4‑13.

Passing
(I) Pickens 4‑14 1 81, Friend 1‑1‑0 42.
(M) Hurst 17‑35‑4 232, Manion 0‑1‑1 0.

Receiving
(I) Jaeckin 4‑86, Ruddy 1‑37.
(M) Martin 6‑86, Sparkman 4‑28, Harig 3‑82, Manion 2-20, Carpenter 1‑9, Dixon 1‑7.

Kickoff returns
(I) Fitzpatrick 1‑71, Kennedy 1‑28,
(M) Blake 5‑72, Ashcraft 2‑28.

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four of 14 passes for 81 yards. Hurst, the MVP on the coaches’ all‑county team, completed 17 of 35 passes for 232 yards, but with four interceptions.

“Their quarterback did an outstanding job, considering the pressure we had on him,” said Ignatius’ 6‑foot‑5, 255‑pound junior tackle Trent Zenkewicz.

Fitzpatrick wound up with 102 rushing yards in 21 carries. Sparkman produced 109 yards, 81 on the ground in 18 carries, and 28 more on four receptions.

The Tigers’ Martin and the Wildcats’ Jaeckin each gained 86 yards, Martin on six catches and Jaeckin on four.

Harig caught three passes for 82 yards.

The Tigers tried to compensate for their size disadvantage by mixing up the defense.

“They were bringing people the whole game,” Kyle said. “We stopped their inside blitz then they started coming from the outside.

“They kept shifting their defense back and forth,” said Pickens. “We called a whole lot of audibles.”

Ignatius countered the Tiger blitzes with draw plays that were keys in building the 14‑0 lead.

The Tigers didn’t get untracked on offense until trailing by that margin.

“It took a while to figure out what they were doing,” Owens said. “They had No. 76 (Jenkewicz) going to whatever side Ray (Kovacsiss) was on. They hadn’t done that sort of thing before.”

A 30‑yard pass to Harig loosened up the defense late in the half.

But Ignatius regained control with two touchdowns within the first five minutes of the second half.

Tigers-Wildcats
Here’s a drive‑by‑drive account of the Massillon‑Cleveland St. Ignatius state semifinal football game Saturday night.

FIRST HALF

MASSILLON ‑ Start on own 30 after opening kickoff. Ryan Sparkman runs 19 yards on second down. Three more plays gain two yards. Punt.

IGNATIUS ‑ Start on own 26 after 23‑yard punt. Drive 74 yards in 13 plays capped by Peter Fitzpatrick;s 19‑yard touchdown run. Big plays: 12‑yard draw play to Fitzpatrick on third‑and‑10; 12‑yard scramble by quarterback Joe Pickens on second‑and‑eight Graham Hearns’ kick good at 4:41 of first quarter.
Ignatius 7, Massillon 0

MAS ‑ Start on own 27 after kickoff. Three plays. Punt.
IGN ‑ Start on own 44 after 21‑yard punt. Drive 61 yards in six plays capped by Brian Spear’s 1-yard run on first play of second quarter. Big plays: 37‑yard pass completion on second‑and‑15; 15-yard pass to tight end John Jaeckin on second‑and‑10. Hearns’ kick pressured by Don Blake, no good at 11:58 of second period.
Ignatius 13, Massillon 0

MAS ‑ Start on own 31 after kickoff. Three plays gain no yards. Punt.

IGN ‑ Start on own 29 after 40‑yard punt. Three incompletions. Punt.

MAS ‑ Start on own 42. Four plays, including 10‑yard Lee Hurst‑to‑Desmond Carpenter pass, to the Ignatius 35. Tim Ruddy intercepts deep pass for Wildcats on next play

IGN ‑ Start on own 9. Five play to Tiger 22 capped by Kevin McGuesack sack of Pickens forcing punt.

MAS ‑ Start on Ignatius 47 with 4:40 left in half. Third‑and‑11 throw back pass to Harig covers 30 yards to Ignatius 18. Sparkman caps six play, 47‑yard drive with 1‑yard TD plunge. Gary Miller’s kick good at 2:37 of second quarter.
Ignatius 13, Massillon 7

IGN ‑ Start on own 48 after kickof f and late‑hit penalty. Lose ball on Scott Sirgo fumble recovery with 1:50 left in half.

MAS ‑ Start on Ignatius 45. Sparkman gains 13 yards on Hurst pass on first down. Drive inside 10 before half ends on missed 28‑yard field goal.

Halftime: Ignatius 13, Massillon 7

SECOND HALF

IGN Start on Tiger 24 after Fitzpatrick’s 71‑yard kickoff return. Score in four plays on 10‑yard Pickens run. Pickens passes to Jaeckin for two‑point conversion at 9:10 of third quarter.

Ignatius 21, Massillon 7

MAS ‑ Start on own 29 after kickoff. Lose ball on Ruddy interception on second play.

IGN ‑ Start on own 45. Score on fourth play, 42‑yard pass from split end Pat Friend to Jaeckin. Hearns’ kick good at 7:01 of third quarter.

Ignatius 28, Massillon 7

MAS ‑ Start on own 29 after kickoff. Martin catches 36‑yard pass from Hurst on third‑and‑15. Ruddy intercepts two plays later.

IGN ‑ Start on own 35. Three plays. Punt.

MAS ‑ Start on own 25. Lose ball on fumble on attempted hook‑and‑ladder
ladder play.

IGN ‑ Start on own 24. Score on seventh play, a 2‑yard run by Fitzpatrick. Hearns kick good at 11:12 of fourth quarter.

Ignatius 35, Massillon 7

MAS ‑ Start on own 30 after kickoff. Drive 70 yards in five plays capped by Harig’s 40‑yard TD recep­
tion from Hurst. Key play: 11‑yard reception by Troy Manion followed by late hit penalty. Carpenter catches two‑point conversion pass from Hurst at 9:33 of fourth quarter.

Ignatius 35, Massillon 15

IGN ‑ Start on own 49 after onside kick. Lose ball on Chad Buckland interception.

MAS ‑ Start on own 13. On third‑and‑13 Matt Cooney intercepts screen pass and runs 21 yards for touchdown. Hearns Kick good at 6: 15 of fourth quarter.

Ignatius 42, Massillon 15

MAS ‑ Start on own 7 following kickoff. Drive 93 yards in 15 plays, capped by Sparkman’s 1‑yard TD plunge. Two‑point conversion pass broken up in back of end zone at 1:24 of fourth quarter.

Final: Ignatius 42, Massillon 21

Rameir Martin