TIGERS SIGNATURE WIN COMES AT PRICE
By JOE SHAHEEN
When the Massillon Tigers return to the gridiron Friday against the Mansfield Tygers, they will do so with a 2-0 record, the knowledge they have knocked off one of the very best big school programs in the state and – in all likelihood – without the services of starting defensive end Dirk Dickerhoof and starting outside linebacker Quentin Paulik.
Dickerhoof and Paulik, both seniors, suffered injuries to the shoulder/collarbone area in the Tigers’ 35-31 upset of Cincinnati Elder on Saturday at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati. Both had their arms in a sling in the second half of the game, though head coach Tom Stacy did not immediately know the extent of their injuries. It is feared Dickerhoof may have a separated shoulder.
While the loss of two of the Tigers’ top defenders did not put a damper on Massillon’s stunning performance in the third game of the Prep Classic, the way the game went after the locals took a 35-7 lead into the fourth quarter nearly gave Stacy and his coaching staff a group coronary.
Elder scored three touchdowns in the final stanza – two within a span of 40 seconds – to make what appeared to be a Tiger blowout victory into a nailbiter that went down to the final play.
“We’ve got to finish,” Stacy said shaking his head. “We didn’t finish last week and we didn’t finish this week. Now, we got two wins and that’s the positive part. But when you continue to play good teams like we play down the road and you get in this situation, we better learn to finish it off.”
Leading 35-14 midway through the fourth quarter, the Tigers were knocking on the door but failed to score from point blank range.
“The fact we didn’t finish it off is the offense’s fault,” Stacy said. “We get down there on the one-foot line, we’ve got to stick it in and finish the game off and we didn’t do that. It darn near cost us. That’s on the offense. That’s on me as the offensive coach. We’ve got to get that corrected.”
Compounding the Tigers’ failure to find the end zone one final time was an unsportsmanlike conduct call against them after they were stopped by the Elder defense.
“We lost our composure,” Stacy said. “You can’t lose your composure. It’s something we’ve been trying to work on during camp, during two-a-days. We have to continue to work on it. We can’t lose our composure.
“Our kids are really, really competitive and they play really hard. There’s a lot of pressure on them to win at Massillon. But that doesn’t give them an excuse to lose their composure. We’ve got to get that corrected as a coaching staff.”
Even senior cornerback Troy Ellis, who set a Massillon Tiger single game record with five – that’s right, five – interceptions, was disconsolate about how the game nearly got away from the Tigers.
“When Elder recovered the first onside kick, it was like a heart job,” he said. “It was scary but we pulled it out.
“This win is real big. The last two years we started 0-2 and 1-1. Now we’re 2-0 and it gives the team a lot of confidence.”
As for his thievery, which included a fumble recovery and 20-yard return for a touchdown to open the scoring on the afternoon, Ellis admitted he had no premonition he was going to have the game of his life on such a grand stage.
“I had no clue this was going to happen. No clue,” he said. “The coaches put me in a position to make plays. They gave me great coverage calls and I was just back there playing the ball. It was fun throughout the whole game. It was fun all the way around.”
Ellis was voted the game’s Most Valuable Player for the media.
Tiger junior tailback Brian Gamble must have been a close second in the voting after rushing for 173 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries. His first score of the afternoon came in the first minute of the second half on an off tackle run that appeared to be bottled up. But Gamble turned to his right, found the Elder defense out of position and bolted 60 yards to the end zone to put the Tigers up 21-0.
“That was a great run,” Stacy said. “It was just a power off tackle play and Brian Gamble broke it.”
Gamble refused to take any credit for his heroics.
“It’s not me,” Gamble said. “Our line has been blocking excellent and we’ve got Lanale Robinson running the football, too.”
Now, Gamble says, people around Ohio are going to sit up and take notice of the Massillon Tigers once again.
“That put us on the map,” he said. “It will get us a lot of respect. People were underestimating us and I think we came out here and proved what we had to prove.
“The way it ended teaches us a great lesson. Come playoff time or big games we have to learn to finish, to suck it up. Hopefully we’ll do a better job next time.”
After Ellis’ fumble return put the Tigers up 7-0 at 5:57 of the first quarter, the Elder offense was unable to get anything going and was forced to punt.
A 37-yard Gamble burst on the second play of the drive moved the ball to the Elder 33. Six plays later, junior quarterback Bobby Huth ran the bootleg keeper around the left end and galloped into the end zone. Steve Schott’s point after made it 14-0 Massillon at 1:18 of the first quarter, leaving the purple-clad Elder throng in stunned silence.
Elder marched from its 28 to the Massillon 22 on its next possession and appeared to have regained the momentum. But on second-and-two, Ellis made his first interception of the day at the 4-yard line, then returned it to the 17 to give the Tigers some breathing room.
On Elder’s next possession, following a Tiger punt, the Panthers drove from their 35 to the Massillon 5. But the Tiger defense stiffened and Elder turned the ball over on downs late in the second quarter.
Massillon then drove to the Elder five before time ran out in the first half.
Gamble opened the second half with his long touchdown run.
After a Massillon offside penalty on a punt gave Elder a new set of downs, Ellis made his second interception of the afternoon and ran the ball back to the Elder 12. Junior fullback Quentin Nicholsen went over left tackle on first down and found the end zone to break it open at 10:13 of the third quarter. Schott tacked on the point and Massillon was running away at 28-0.
Massillon’s final touchdown was set up by yet another Ellis pickoff. Six plays later, Gamble went in from the two and Schott’s conversion closed the Tigers’ scoring … but not the excitement.