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Never-say-die Tigers rally past Iggy

By JOE SHAHEEN
Joe.Shaheen@IndeOnline.com

Four quarters.

Forty-eight minutes of football.

The Massillon Tigers felt as if they didn’t play a full game in their biggest win of the season, a harrowing 35-31 victory over Cincinnati Elder in Week Two. They gave up three fourth-quarter touchdowns in that one to turn a laugher into a nail biter.

The Tigers were determined that wouldn’t be the case on Saturday night at Byers Field in Parma with nemesis St. Ignatius providing the opposition.Trailing 9-0 after one quarter, 19-7 at halftime and 26-14 after three stops, the Tigers mounted a fourth-quarter rally that won’t soon be forgotten in Massillon to bring home a 29-26 win that at once exorcised a host of demons and touched off a celebration usually reserved for the end of a world war.

“We never gave up,” said Tiger coach Tom Stacy. “We established before the game started we were playing four quarters. We weren’t going to do what we did down at Elder when we went up big and they came back in the fourth quarter. It was our time to play four quarters and we did it.”

Massillon made a habit of jumping to big early leads in its first five games this season. On Saturday, it went the other way as St. Ignatius established field position early to set up a three-play 31-yard touchdown drive in the first quarter. The Wildcats then capitalized on a fumbled kickoff to get a safety and a 9-0 edge after one quarter.

But the Tigers were undeterred.

“We got off to a terrible start,” said Stacy. “Give them credit, they did a good job in the kicking game. That really cost us and I really felt if we could get back into it before the end of the first half that we’d have a chance.”

The Tiger comeback officially began with 8:03 showing on the second quarter game clock and the ball at the Massillon 11 following a St. Ignatius punt. Three plays later they were set to punt but an errant snap forced Shawn Weisend to improvise and when he finally stopped running the Tigers had a first down at the 27.

Junior quarterback Bobby Huth then found Zack Vanryzin for 14 yards and a first down, and the Tigers kept working their way downfield. A holding penalty set Massillon back to the St. Ignatius 28 but Huth hit Brian Gamble in stride along the right sideline and the junior running back had no trouble locating the end zone for six. Steve Schott’s point after made it St. Ignatius 9, Massillon 7 with 2:48 until halftime.

But St. Ignatius countered with a three-play 76-yard touchdown sprint that took all of 1:20 and followed with a 50-yard field goal at the break that seemed to swing the momentum away from Massillon.

“Our kids at halftime, they were just ticked off,” Stacy said. “They said ‘We’re going to get back into it.’”

And they did, taking the second half kickoff and moving from the Massillon 22 to the St. Ignatius end zone in 14 plays. A 20-yard Huth to Gamble pass play over the middle helped get the ball rolling on the second snap of the march. Then a bubble screen to Gamble four plays later moved it to the Iggy 42.

From there, Gamble carried the ball three times as did junior fullback Quentin Nicholson, who covered the final yard for the touchdown. Schott’s point after made it 19-14 Ignatius midway through the third period.

St. Ignatius did what all great teams do, returning the favor with a seven-play scoring drive, highlighted by a 61-yard Rudy Kirbus to Nick Secue screen pass. Secue scored from a yard out with 3:54 left in the third and the conversion made it St. Ignatius 26, Massillon 14.

Back came the Tigers, this time with a 90-yard drive. Huth and Vanryzin meshed for a 23-yard gainer along the right sideline on the second play of the march. An unsportsmanlike conduct call on the Wildcats on a third down play gave the Massillon drive new life and a fake punt yielded a 10-yard pass completion to Andrew Dailey for another first down.

Huth threaded the needle to Brett Huffman for 25 yards to the St. Ignatius 2. Two plays later the Massillon offensive line blew the Ignatius front into the end zone and Gamble walked in for the touchdown.

It was St. Ignatius 26, Massillon 21 with most of the fourth quarter still to be played..

St. Ignatius moved from its 20 to its 37 on the ensuing possession but on third-and-four from that point tragedy struck the Wildcats. Kirbus dropped back and hit Parris with a pass, only to see the ball dislodged on a thunderous hit by Gamble that left the Ignatius All-Ohio wideout sprawled prone on the Byers Field playing surface.

Coach Chuck Kyle and a trainer rushed to Parris’ side but he had to be removed from the game via ambulance with an ugly looking lower leg injury.

“We were moving the ball but Robby’s hurt,” Kyle said. “He’s hurt. It’s not good. It’s bad.”

Massillon got the ball back on the punt and moved from its 28 to the St. Ignatius 38 when a fourth-and-one bootleg run resulted in a 4-yard loss, giving the ball back to the Wildcats with just 4:00 to play.

The Tiger defense had no margin for error and it came through, forcing a St. Ignatius punt after just three plays.

“Third-and-three, third-and-four,” Kyle said. “We didn’t convert a couple of those and that hurts. That hurts. You have to make a play at that point. They did. We didn’t.”

Beginning at their own 29, the Tigers got a big play as Gamble broke free for 19 yards on an option pitch around left end. Then senior running back Lanale Robinson picked up 10 more on a counter play to the Iggy 37.

On an incomplete pass, however, Huth was dinged and wobbled off the field with the aid of trainers. That brought in Weisend, who – two snaps later – was faced with a fourth-and-15 situation.

“Shawn Weisend never batted an eye, never batted an eye,” Stacy said. “He looked at me and said ‘Coach, I’m going to get it done,’ and he did.”The unflappable senior hit Vanryzin across the middle on a broken play for a 26-yard gain to the host’s 17-yard line.

“It was a busted play, I had to scramble,” Weisend recalled. “He wasn’t open at first. I was scrambling and I saw him going across the middle and I threw him the best ball I could.”

On second down Weisend threw a quick slant to Vanryzin who didn’t stop churning his legs until the ball was at the 4.

A pass interference call on St. Ignatius set up first and goal from the 2. After a loss of three yards on first down, Weisend took the shotgun snap, sprinted left, saw an opening and dashed for the pylon and the game-winning touchdown with just :10 on the clock.

“Their offense started doing some nice things, counters, hitting those little passes, just to keep us off balance,” Kyle said. “Hey, they’re on a roll. Tom’s doing a great job. They got the momentum going. You’ve got to give them credit.

“They were still running the counter and started finding a seam through there. And then rolling out, they were getting outside the contain. And even on the touchdown, we thought we were in a good call. We were coming from way outside and coming in. I have to see why the guy didn’t pin him in because we were coming from way outside and coming in.”

“What a great high school football game,” Stacy said. “That’s a big win for us.

“We’re a good football team. I think we’ll learn a lot about our team on tape. But we beat a really good football team. I don’t think there’s any question about that.”

Stacy admitted the Tigers got a monkey off their back by finally getting past St. Ignatius for the first time in nine games.

“Our kids believed they could do it,” he said. “If that hadn’t been the case, there was no way they could come back from 11 down at halftime. We couldn’t have done it. But our kids believed all week they could do and you can see the end result.

“The thing that impressed me was how hard both teams played and our resolve. Our resolve to get it done was unbelievable. I haven’t been around that kind of resolve probably since the Galion state championship game in 1985. Our guys wouldn’t back down.”

Massillon limited St. Ignatius to just 83 total yards in the second half to make the comeback possible.

“(Defensive coordinator) Steve Kovacs made some great adjustments at halftime,” Stacy said. “He kept his cool and made some great adjustments and I’ve got to give him a lot of credit.”

Backup QB proves big

By JOE SHAHEEN
Joe.Shaheen@IndeOnline.Com

In the long and storied history of Massillon Tiger football, Shawn Weisend has written his number into a chapter all to himself.

The senior back-up quarterback came off the bench with less than two minutes to play after an injury to starter Bobby Huth and completed the game-winning drive that carried Massillon to an improbable 29-26 victory over St. Ignatius on Saturday at Byers Field in Parma.

The Tiger win snapped an eight-game losing streak to St. Ignatius and lifted a weight off the program’s back that had reached crushing proportions in the last several years.

With tears of elation streaming down his face after scoring the game-winning touchdown, Weisend tried to express his emotions.

“I can’t explain how it feels,” he said amidst a joyous on-field celebration. “They called my number and I did the best I could. They all had faith in me and faith in the offense.

“Before I was in, Bobby was in, there was 7:10 left and I said ‘It’s going to come down to seconds. Let’s take this game home.’ We did it.”

Trailing 26-21 and facing a fourth down-and-15 from near midfield, Weisend received a critical block from tackle Brendon Smith to elude a fierce pass rush and threw a strike to senior wideout Zack Vanryzin for 25 yards – and a first down – to the St. Ignatius 17.

On the next play, Weisend hit Vanryzin on a quick slant at the 10 and Vanryzin scratched and clawed his way to the 4-yard line.

Four plays later, from the St. Ignatius 5, Weisend rolled left, dove into the left corner of the end zone and victory was Massillon’s.

What was going through Weisend’s head minutes earlier when he was summoned into such a huge game with the outcome hanging in the balance?

“I’m not going to lie to you,” he said. “I was more focused than I ever was in my life. I knew I had to do it and I did it.”

GAME STATS

Antonio James