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Win punches Tiger’s ticket

By CHRIS EASTERLING
Chris.Easterling@IndeOnline.com

Football isn’t a game of life-or-death. That is, unless one is talking about a team’s playoff life or an offseason spent wondering “What if?”

The Massillon Tigers didn’t fall asleep Saturday night pondering that question. They didn’t have to, after knocking off previously-undefeated McKinley 10-7 in front of 17,950 at Paul Brown Tiger Stadium earlier in the day.

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“I’m really proud of this group of kids,” Tiger coach Tom Stacy said. “It’s really special, because they fought and they fought. We’ve been so close all year to winning a big game. To finally able to do it against your archrival, and an undefeated team, is big.”

The win punches Massillon’s ticket back into the Division I playoffs, sending the Tigers to Perry to face the 9-1 Panthers in a Region 2 quarterfinal game.

There was a chance – a good one – Massillon could have qualified for the postseason, even with a loss to McKinley. But, for the 6-4 Tigers, Saturday’s win was certainly a confidence-builder – as players puffed up their chests and sprinted across the turf to take the Victory Bell back from the Bulldogs.

“This is probably the best win I’ve ever experienced in my life,” said senior linebacker Antonio Scassa. “We beat McKinley and we’re going to the playoffs and we’re going to make a run. It’s the best feeling I’ve ever had.”

The record will officially state that it was Steve Schott’s career-long 47-yard field goal with 6:38 left in the third quarter which won the game for the Tigers.

But, the Tiger defense deserves a lot of the credit.

The Tigers forced three Bulldog turnovers, held All-Ohio running back Morgan Williams out of the end zone and set up both Massillon scores with big plays.

“We just figured we had to come out and play defense,” Tiger senior free safety Darion McGuire said. “The defense always says that we can win the game ourselves. No putting down our offense, but we know that they can’t win if they (the other team) can’t score.”

McKinley scored on its third play of the game, when fullback George Tabron ripped off a 23-yard touchdown scamper on a simple trap play. Tabron ran through a gaping hole and wasn’t touched until his teammates swarmed him in the end zone.

Zack Campbell’s extra point made it 7-0 Bulldogs with 9:31 left in the first quarter.

The Tigers wouldn’t give McKinley many more chances to score. In fact, the closest the Bulldogs would get to the Massillon end zone was the Tiger 35 in the fourth quarter, a drive which ended on an incomplete pass on fourth down.

Not that McKinley didn’t move the ball on Massillon. Williams, who rushed for over 300 yards combined in two games against the Tigers a year ago, looked well on his way to another huge performance in the first half.

The Bulldog senior rushed for 131 yards on 17 first-half carries. Because of Williams, McKinley took at least one snap in Massillon territory on four of six first-half possessions.

Williams found the sledding much tougher in the second half. He would only muster 29 yards after halftime on 12 carries.

“It’s hard to keep Morgan in check if you just play regular football,” McGuire said. “If you play off of your emotion and heart, then you can keep any running back or any offense in check. … Everybody just played with a lot of heart today.”

It was the Tigers’ ability to change the field position with a big defensive play that made all the difference. All three of Massillon’s fumble recoveries were made in McKinley territory, including one by Cody Colly at the Bulldog 47 which set up Schott’s go-ahead field goal.

“You can’t beat your sister if you turn the ball over three times,” said McKinley coach Brian Cross. “A couple of those were pretty good hits, but a couple of those, we just didn’t secure the ball. That’s the name of the game.”

But it was a big play in the special teams department which got Massillon back in the game in the first half. After McKinley was forced to punt at their own 45, Corey Hildreth swooped in up the middle on the rush and blocked the kick, and Colly fell on the ball at the Bulldog 30.

It was Hildreth’s second blocked punt of the season. He also blocked one, which he returned for a score, against Moeller.

“It was a totally different scheme (than against Moeller),” Hildreth said. “There was totally different blocking up front, so we had to do a totally different scheme. The blocking for our team was amazing. It opened the hole right up, and I just came right through.”

Two plays later, Bobby Huth hit Trey Miller down the right sideline for a 29-yard touchdown pass at the 7:21 mark of the second quarter. Schott’s PAT tied the game at 7-7.

“We run a lot of outs, quick outs and stop routes,” Stacy explained on the call. “When we get opportunities in the red zone, we like to go over the top some. People overplay those routes sometimes. We had an opportunity to do it. Bobby put it up there, and Trey ran underneath it. I think their defensive back slipped. That was a big play for us.”

From there, it became a chess match of sorts. Neither team could get an edge on the other – until Scassa forced the fumble early in the third quarter.

The Tigers took the fumble recovery and moved the ball to the Bulldog 27. But a sack pushed the ball back, and Massillon slowed to a halt at the McKinley 30.

That brought Schott on to kick the 47-yarder while the wind swirled through the stadium. But the junior got plenty of leg on it, and the ball – which seemed in slow motion as it sailed through the air – cleared the crossbar with a little room to spare to give the Tigers the lead.

“Right off my foot, I knew it was good,” Schott said. “I didn’t have any second-guesses about that.”

No doubt, some may have second-guessed Stacy late in the game when he elected to go for it facing a fourth-and-3 at the McKinley 27. A field goal there, and it’s a six-point game.

“We talked about it,” Stacy said of kicking the field goal. “The thing I didn’t want to have happen was them block it and have a chance to return it. If they were going to win it, they were going to have to earn it by driving the football against our defense. Obviously, our defense, the way they played in the second half, had a pretty good chance to stop them even if we didn’t get it.”

But the Tigers went for it, and the move paid off when Huth hit fullback Tommy Leonard in the flat for an eight-yard gain to the 19. From there, all that was left was the countdown to the playoffs for the Tigers.

Tiger offense makes good on pledge:

No turnovers

By CHRIS EASTERLING

Chris.Easterling@IndeOnline.com

The Massillon Tigers finished Saturday’s game with 140 yards of total offense. Or, to put it differently, 20 yards fewer than Bulldog All-Ohioan Morgan Williams rushed for in the game.

But, when the dust settled in the 115th installment of the “The Game” at Paul Brown Tiger Stadium, the only numbers that mattered at all to the Tigers were illuminated on the scoreboard. Those numbers read, Tigers 10, Bulldogs 7.

“I don’t care if you win by a point in this game,” Tiger coach Tom Stacy said. “It doesn’t matter. A win’s a win. I can’t reiterate enough, I thought both teams played outstanding defense.”

And while the Massillon offense may not have worn out the lights on the scoreboard, it did something even more important, something which was critical to the Tigers’ success.

It took care of the football.

“No turnovers,” Tiger senior Brian Gamble said with a smile in the locker room afterwards.

“No turnovers” was a mantra for the Tigers in the days leading up to the McKinley clash. That’s because, in the seven games prior to it, Massillon had turned the ball over 21 times.

But on a day in which the weather was typical Ohio – dreary, then rainy, then snowy, then sunny, all the while windy and cold – Massillon took care of the football like it was its first-born.

“We emphasize it every week,” Tiger senior Andrew Dailey said. “We talk ball security, ball security. People stepped up in the big game. We played to our potential.”

The Tigers struggled to get the big play on offense for much of the day.

The first such play came in the midpoint of the second quarter, after Massillon blocked a Bulldog punt and recovered at the McKinley 30. On the second play of the series, Bobby Huth rolled to his right, avoided the rushing defender, and threw downfield.

Trey Miller, who had run an out pattern, turned up field and got by the Bulldog defensive back. About the time the defender fell down, Miller hauled in the pass and raced into the end zone for the game-tying touchdown.

Amazingly enough, that was one of only three plays which went for more than 10 yards for Massillon all game long. That doesn’t count a 33-yard touchdown pass to J.T. Turner which was called back due to a penalty.

In fact, the Tigers only amassed 46 yards in the second half. But, considering the way they were protecting the football, and the way their defensive counterparts were taking it away from McKinley, it was more than enough.

“We certainly didn’t play well enough on offense,” Stacy said. “That’s to the credit of their defense. I just thought they played tremendously. They have a tremendous defense. You just have to give their staff a lot of credit.”

“We had trouble moving the football period in the second half. I’m just thankful we got a pass there for the first down to run the clock out. That was big.”

As big as the numbers on the scoreboard which recorded the Tiger victory.

Bottom line for Dogs: ‘We didn’t execute’

By GREG KOHNTOPP

Greg.Kohntopp@IndeOnline.com

McKinley had already wrapped up a playoff berth and a first-round home game by the time it traveled to Paul Brown Tiger Stadium to face rival Massillon in Saturday’s 115th showdown between the two storied programs.

Massillon, on the other hand, was fighting for its playoff lives.

It would be easy to say Massillon just wanted it more, but don’t tell that to McKinley head coach Brian Cross after the Tigers’ upset No. 3-ranked McKinley 10-7.

“That had nothing to do with it,” the fourth-year coach said after his team fell to 9-1. “We turned the ball over, and we didn’t get the job done. We had a lot to play for, too. We played for pride, and that’s bigger than anything else. That’s what this game was about. It’s pride. You have to live with it for 365 days, so they had nothing more to play for than we did.”

The Bulldogs lost three fumbles and had a punt blocked, leading to all 10 of Massillon’s points.

The Tigers’ first seven points came immediately following Corey Hildreth’s blocked punt, which was recovered at the McKinley 30. It set up a Bobby Huth to Trey Miller 29-yard touchdown strike with 7:21 remaining before the half.

The final three points came after Massillon linebacker Antonio Scassa blitzed McKinley quarterback Danny Grimsley in the third quarter, chased him back 12 yards then stripped the ball. Fellow inside linebacker Cody Colly fell on the loose ball at the McKinley 47. From there, the Tigers only penetrated to the 30-yard line, but it was close enough for Steve Schott to split the uprights for a 47-yard field goal for the winning points.

“We had two turnovers lead to those 10 points,” said Cross. “That’s the name of the game. That’s what it’s all about. You have to give them credit for forcing those.”

There is no doubting how big of an impact the turnovers had. But it was more than turnovers that put the Bulldogs on the short end of the score. McKinley put the ball on the turf two more times and also had a muffed punt, which the Bulldogs recovered on their own three yard line. Then, there was the 2-of-12 passing for 21 yards for McKinley.

“We didn’t throw the ball well,” Cross said. “We didn’t execute and that’s the bottom line. We had guys open and we didn’t make plays. We have got to do a better job throwing the ball.”

If there was a bright spot in the defeat, it was how well the McKinley defense played. That unit held the Tigers to just 57 yards rushing on 40 carries and 83 yards through the air.

Linebacker George Tabron was a part of 14 tackles and defensive end Martavian Thigpen was also in on several plays, including a pair of sacks.

“Looking at the stats, I thought our defense played really well,” said Cross. “We held them to 40 rushes and 57 yards. You can’t play much better than that.

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