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Ten years later, History repeats as St. Ignatius
Iggy trips Tigers again; Tops Massillon for berth in state title game

By JOE SHAHEEN
Indenendent Sports Editor

Massillon was in this very same spot ten years ago, playing St. Ignatius in the Division I state semi-final game.

The Tigers dropped that 1991 contest by a single point, 14‑13.

On Friday night, the outcome was the same. Only the point totals were different.

The St. Ignatius Wildcats ‑ a team that lost four of five games during one stretch this season ‑ once again had too many bullets in the gun for Massillon and handed the Tigers a 49‑20 defeat in a Division I state semifinal game in front of an announced crowd of 29,871 at the Akron Rubber Bowl.

Two big plays went against the Tigers and the snowball effect was a 29‑point defeat in a game that was in doubt until the final six minutes of play.

Key play No. 1 came with a minute left in the first half and Massillon trailing 21‑14. St. Ignatius’ All‑Ohio linebacker John Kerr forced a Tiger fumble and teammate Ryan Franzinger fell on the football in the end zone to give the Wildcats a two‑touchdown cushion at halftime.

Key play No. 2 came after the Tigers had cut the lead to 28‑20 deep in the third quarter and needed a defensive stop to really put some pressure on the Wildcats. St. Ignatius faced a third‑and‑nine deep in Tiger territory but converted a first down on a pass interference penalty against Massillon.

Three pays later Franzinger bucked over left tackle and into the end zone from three yards out to re-establish a two‑touchdown St. Ignatius lead.

Massillon would get no closer the rest of the way.

“The fumble right before the half, it did hurt us because it was just like the first meeting.” lamented Tiger coach Rick Shepard referring the St. Ignatius’ 40‑26 victory in Week Four of the regular season. “Something stupid before the half that gives them a cheap touchdown.

“That series after we scored to cut it to one touchdown, that was key for them as well.”

But Shapes stressed it isn’t so much about the plays St. Ignatius makes in a big game, as the mindset of some of the Tigers.

“We have a lot of great kids but they just struggle with confidence sometimes,” Shapes said. “We work harder on that than we do the X’s and O’s because that’s what it comes down to.

“St. Ignatius isn’t a complicated team. They’re fundamental. They go out and execute and they play with great confidence. We’re working toward that. We’re four years into this program. When you get to this point, you’d like to take it further I just have to remind myself that it’s only four years.”

As always seems to be the case in a big game, St. Ignatius jumped out to an early lead. The Wildcats faced a third‑and‑three situation at their own 22 after taking the opening kickoff. Quarterback Nate Szep dropped back to throw and zeroed in on junior wideout Tony Gonzalez at midfield.

Gonzales screened the defender away from the ball, made the catch and was off to the races for a 78‑yard touchdown. Phil Gibbs drilled the extra point and Iggy led 7‑0 at the 10:26 mark of the first quarter.

Massillon marched from its 22 to the Ignatius 39 but was forced to punt. The Wildcats failed to move the ball after three snaps and punted back to the Tigers.

Craig McConnell’s 7‑yard return set Massillon up with a first down at midfield. David Hill picked up a couple of first downs on runs of three and six yards. Ricky Johnson went up the middle for seven yards and a first down at the St. Ignatius 8 as the Tigers ran the football effectively.

On second‑and‑goal from the 7, Zwick pump faked and zipped a pass to Stephon Ashcraft in the left corner of the end zone for the touchdown. David Abdul’s kick was true and Massillon had tied the game 7‑7 at 2:32 of the first quarter.

St. Ignatius reclaimed the lead with a 10‑play, 80‑yard drive. The big play in the march was the final one. On third‑and‑10 from the Massillon 40, Szep found senior wideout Matt Miller open at the 30. Miller eluded the cornerback and went down the sideline, diving into the end zone for the touchdown after being hit at the 2.

Gibbs added the conversion kick and St. Ignatius was back on top at 14‑7 with 11:48 to play in the first half.

“We really felt good about the way our defense was playing the last three weeks,” Shepas said. “But they find out a way to jump out at 7‑0. I thought we answered well. We were hanging in there. They come out and score another touchdown on a crossing route. Just some things busted on us early.

“It’s kind of like trying to plug the dike sometimes. I just wish some of these kids would go out and feel the confidence I have in them.”

After two punts, a missed field goal attempt and another punt, Massillon took over at its 32‑yard line midway through the second quarter.

A Zwick to Devin Jordan sideline pass was good for a first down at the Massillon 43. Two plays later, Jordan ran a hitch and go and Zwick dropped the ball in his hands for a 29‑vard gain to the St. Ignatius 20.

Ryan Boyd picked up five yards on an inside handoff and Johnson added seven more on the same play to set up the Tigers with a first-and‑goal at the 9.

Again Zwick handed the ball to Boyd and the senior running back slashed up the middle. He was hit at the two by the Wildcats’ Kevin Stanek but dragged him into the end zone for the touchdown. Abdul’s kick was true and the Tigers had again tied the game at 14‑14 at 4:38 of the second quarter.

But St. Ignatius reasserted control of the game, taking the ensuing kickoff and driving 76 yards in nine plays. Chuck Flanagan’s 16‑yard burst up the middle on the first play set the tone. Then Franzinger came up with a big first down, picking up three yards on a fourth‑and‑1 from the Massillon 43.

On the very next play, Szep hit Gonzalez down the right sideline for 28 yards to the 12. Two snaps later Szep sneaked into the end zone from a yard out. Gibbs’ conversion kick split the uprights and the Wildcats were right back on top 21‑14 at 1:07 of the first half.

Disaster struck the Tigers on the second play after the ensuing kickoff. On second‑and‑10 from the Massillon 23, Zwick was pressured by Kerr, who batted the ball out of the quarterback’s hand. A wild scramble ensued and when the players unpiled, Franzinger had the football for a St. Ignatius touchdown with 44 seconds until the band show.

Gibbs again converted the point‑after and St. Ignatius carried a 28‑14 lead into the lockerroom.

“That was big,” agreed St. Ignatius coach Chuck Kyle. “You need the defense to get turnovers certainly, but that was an added bonus.

“That was one of those plays that seem to take forever.”

Massillon had to punt on its first possession of the second half but the Tigers got the ball back when Keith Wade drilled Szep and caused a fumble that Andy Alleman recovered at the Massillon 32.

A Zwick‑to‑Jordan pass earned a first down at the 42. Five plays later another Zwick‑to‑Jordan aerial netted another first down at the St. Ignatius 26. A pass interference penalty gave Massillon a first down at the Wildcats 13.

Then Hill took an inside handoff, bounced off Kerr at the 10 and jaunted into the end zone. The extra point failed but Massillon trailed by just one score at 28‑20 with 4:43 to play in the third.

St. Ignatius proved its mettle by taking the ensuing kickoff and driving 63 yards in 12 plays ‑ with the aid of a third‑down pass interference call ‑ to reclaim the momentum Massillon had sought from the game’s opening moments. The Wildcat touchdown came with 11:55 to play and made it St. Ignatius 35‑20.

Massillon moved to midfield on its next possession but the drive stalled and the Tigers turned the ball over on downs. That, essentially, was the ballgame.

“We play a good schedule but we played the big boys twice,” Shapes said of the eight‑time state champions. “We weren’t able to get these two and we’re just going to have to work on it. It is something we have to overcome as a program and as a community as well.”

Szep was sensational once again for St. Ignatius, completing 13 of 25 passes for 273 yards and two touchdowns. The senior signal caller also ran for a score and did not throw an interception all night long.

“He’s a good player,” Shepas said. “I didn’t think he’d play as well the second time around. I thought we’d get to him more than we did but we didn’t.

“We didn’t get a bad push on the front. We didn’t have the coverage behind it we worked on.

“Winners make things happen. It might look like they’re getting breaks, they’re just doing what they do. They’re making plays. That’s the way it should be really.”

IGNATIUS 49
MASSILLON 20
M I
First downs rushing 11 8
First downs passing 9 9
First downs by penalty 4 2
TOTAL first downs 24 19
Net yards rushing 173 171
Net yards passing 186 272
TOTAL yards 359 343
Passes attempted 42 25
Passes completed 20 13
Passes intercepted 1 0
Punts 3 3
Punting average 31.3 30.3
Fumbles/Lost 2/1 1/1
Penalties 3 6
Yards penalized 40 78

MASSILLON 7 7 6 0 20
IGNATIUS 7 21 0 21 49

SCORING
I ‑ Gonzalez 78 pass from Szep (Gibbs kick)
M ‑ Ashcraft 7 pass from Zwick (Abdul kick)
I ‑ Miller 39 pass from Szep (Gibbs kick)
M ‑ Hill 8 run (Abdul kick)
I ‑ Szep 1 run (Gibbs kick)
I ‑, Franzinger recovered fumble in and zone (Gibbs kick)
M ‑Hill 13 run (run failed)
I ‑ Franzinger 2 run (Gibbs kick)
I ‑ Welo 20 run (Gibbs kick)
I ‑Welo 29 run (Gibbs kick)

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS
Massillon rushing: Johnson 14-71, Hill 9‑42.
Ignatius rushing: Welo 15‑101, Franzinger 10‑35.

Massillon passing: Zwick 20‑42‑186 1 TD, 1 INT.
Ignatius passing: Szep 13‑25‑273 2 TDs.

Massillon receiving: Jordan 11‑110, Ashcroft 4‑27 TD, Jovingo 2‑21.
Ignatius receiving: Gonzalez 5‑152 TD, Miller 4‑75 TD.


Justin Zwick