Select Page

ON TO THE PLAYOFFS
Tigers overcome mistakes, McKinley in 13‑9 win
James runs over, around, through Bulldogs

By JOE SHAHEEN
Independent Sports Editor

It wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t especially impressive, but the Massillon Tigers came up big in the fourth quarter to post an uneven 13‑9 victory over the McKinley Bulldogs in front of a capacity crowd of 17,957 Saturday afternoon at Paul Brown Tiger Stadium.

Program Cover

The Tigers trailed their arch‑rivals 9‑7 with 10:45 to play when they began the game‑winning march at their own 9‑yard line. With everyone in the crowd looking for the vaunted Massillon passing game to come into play, head coach Rick Shepas instead turned to 1,000‑yard rusher Perry James, and the senior responded in a big way.

Massillon’s resulting 11‑play scoring drive included no fewer than nine running plays, including a 38‑yard burst by James that moved the football from the Massillon 37 to the McKinley 25.

James put the football in the end zone on a sweep around the right side of the Massillon offensive line, which did its job so well that the Tiger running back was never touched on the play.

Massillon’s pass for the two‑point conversion failed, but the Tigers were up by four points with just 5:43 to play.

After the ensuing kickoff, a sack of McKinley quarterback Ben Palumbo by Tiger defensive end Brian Leonard doomed the drive, and the Bulldogs were forced to punt the ball away. Canton would get the pigskin back deep in its own territory with less than 30 seconds to play, only to see a Justin Princehorn interception seal their fate.

The victory gives the Tigers an 8‑2 regular season slate and improves Rick Shepas’ three‑year record at Massillon to 22‑9. Up next is a home playoff game Saturday against 8‑2 Marion Harding.

The Tigers first touchdown Saturday came on Robert Oliver’s eight‑yard run that capped off a nine‑play, 56‑yard drive at 8:29 of the second quarter. David Abdul’s kick made it 7‑0.

A McKinley 23‑yard field goal in the final minute of the first half made it 7‑3 and the Bulldogs took a 9‑7 lead on Chad Anderson’s one‑yard vault into the end zone at 10:50 of the fourth quarter.

The Pups then kicked off to Massillon and the Tigers had to begin their march at their own 9.

That only prolonged the agony for McKinley as the orange‑and‑black rang the victory bell in the 107th all-time meeting between the Ohio high school football powers.

Sideline moods
told game story

By MIKE KEATING
Independent Sports Writer

With 10:50 left to go in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s game between the Massillon Tigers and McKinley Bulldogs, a sense of urgency rippled along the Massillon sidelines.

The Tigers had just fallen two points behind on a one‑yard dive into the end zone by McKinley fullback Chad Anderson.

“Let’s go, right now,” Massillon head coach Rick Shepas said to his offensive unit. “We have to pick it up.”

The Massillon offensive line, which had been neutralized by the smaller McKinley defensive front, received a tongue‑lashing from tackles coach Frank Page.

“You guys have to come off the ball better,” he said, while looking at each member of the interior line in the eye. “You have to move.”

The Tigers listened and responded, driving 91 yards in 11 plays for the game‑winning touchdown. Perry James’ 12‑ yard touchdown run with 5:43 to go reclaimed the lead for Massillon, which overcame three turnovers and 60 yards in penalties to finish 8‑2 in the regular season and earn its second straight playoff berth.

When James crossed the goal‑line at the northeast corner of the field, the Massillon players erupted with jubilation.

“Way to block, baby,” sophomore linebacker Shawn Crable yelled to senior center Kreg Rotthoff, who had just trotted off the field with the rest of the offensive unit.

“This is our game, now,” added offensive tackle Jamarr Moore, who hobbled over to talk with sophomore tackle Reggie McCullough.”

The jubilation was tempered a bit, however, as McKinley prepared to receive the ensuing kickoff.

There was still plenty of time for the Bulldogs to rally.

Nobody knew that better than senior defensive lineman Mike Burchell, who paced the sidelines between the 40 and 50, reminding his defensive teammates to maintain their concentration.

“This game isn’t over yet,” he screamed. “We still have to stop them.”

Just in case Burchell’s words weren’t heeded, defensive tackles coach Gary Wells issued one simple message to the defense as McKinley began the possession on its own 13.

“Hold them to three‑and‑out,” Wells said.

The Massillon defense responded, forcing McKinley to punt from its own end zone as the clock wound down under 4:00.

The Tigers regained possession at their 33 with 3:47 showing. Sensing victory, several Massillon players on the sidelines enthusiastically supported the offense.

“Let’s go, ‘O’! Let’s go, ‘0’” they shouted. “Let’s move the ball!”

Once again, Massillon responded. Six running plays and a personal foul penalty flagged on McKinley helped the Tigers move the ball from their 33 to the McKinley 25.

While the Bulldogs stopped the Tigers on a fourth down running play, they had only 30 seconds to move 75 yards for the game‑winning touchdown.

Massillon defensive coordinator Chris DiLoretto strode confidently along the sidelines, but said nothing.

He was content to watch the defense try to make a play to cement the victory.

With fans for both teams roaring, the Massillon defense made the big play.

Anderson’s option pass was picked off by linebacker Justin Princehorn near midfield, setting off a wild celebration along the Massillon sidelines.

“Now,” smiled sophomore offensive tackle P.J. Simon. “It’s over.”

In the first half, the mood on the Massillon sideline was businesslike.

When one Massillon receiver failed to catch a long pass in the waning seconds of the first quarter, Shepas waited for the player to come off the field, then calmly said a few words to him.

“That was a catchable ball,” Shepas said. “Just relax.”

The game was scoreless for most of the first half. The Massillon sideline was relatively quiet, observing the action, waiting for the “Air Raid” offense to sustain a drive.

Massillon did, moving 55 yards on eight plays. Quarterback Justin Zwick’s 14‑yard scramble to the McKinley 8 was greeted with thunderous applause from his teammates on the sidelines.

“It’s gonna happen,” Crable said.

The “it” ‑ an anticipated Massillon touchdown ‑ came two plays later on an eight-yard run by Robert Oliver at the 8:29 mark of the second quarter, a score that broke a scoreless tie.

“Great job, offense,” Shepas said calmly.

Shepas was anything but calm, however, on‑the second of two pass interference penalties that moved the ball to the Massillon 16 during a drive that began at the McKinley 12. He pointed a finger at the side judge and gave him an earful of opinion on the call.

McKinley went on to score on a 29‑yard field goal by Matt Prendes, and seemed energized by that three pointer.

The Bulldogs refused to go away the rest of the game. As the third quarter was winding down and McKinley driving for its first and only touchdown, the Massillon sideline grew quiet.

Strength and conditioning coach Steve Studer noticed the silence. It irritated Studer, an All‑Ohio center for the Tigers in 1970. He understood what the McKinley rivalry meant.

“You guys are dead on this sideline,” he yelled to the players. “Let’s show some life. Let’s make something happen.”

In the fourth quarter, the Tigers made things happen on both sides of the football. When the clock hit three zeroes in the fourth quarter, Studer smiled as he listened to the Massillon players whoop it up, celebrating a hard‑fought victory.

Kreg Rotthoff