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Eye of the Tigers

Massillon big‑play offense shines against neighborhood rival Perry

By CHRIS EASTERLING
Chris.Easterling@lndeOnline.com

Kudos were tossed in the direction of the Massillon Tiger defense for getting the team in the playoffs with a stifling performance in the regular‑season finale against McKinley. The offense can now take a bow for helping the Tigers advance into the second round.

Behind an efficient offensive effort, Massillon made its first trip to Perry Stadium a successful one, outscoring the never‑say‑die Perry Panthers 41‑20 in a Division I Region 2 quarterfinal game on Saturday night.

The sold‑out throng of more than 7,000 that packed the stands and wrapped around the field had to be surprised to see the scoreboard change as much as it did. But they weren’t the only ones stunned to see a game between the two backyard rivals result in a combined 61 points and 776 yards of offense for both teams.

Massillon finished with 428 offensive yards in the game. Perry, meanwhile, racked up 348 yards in defeat.

“I didn’t think it would be this high‑scoring,” said Tiger coach Tom Stacy, whose 7‑4 squad will now meet Toledo Whitmer in this Saturday’s regional semifinal at Parma’s Byers Field. “We knew we were capable on offense; we just had to start making some things happen. I think throwing the ball really helped our running game. We were able to throw it, and that really helped our running game.”

It was a running game that suffered a major blow on the next‑to‑last play of the first quarter, when Tiger senior tailback Brian Gamble re-injured his ankle while playing defense. Gamble spent the remainder of the game on crutches, but Stacy was optimistic he will be able to play against Whitmer.

With Gamble on the sideline, the onus of the offense shifted to senior quarterback Bobby Huth, and Huth delivered. The two‑year starter completed 11‑of‑16 passes for 260 yards and three touchdowns, two of those on beautifully‑thrown balls to Giorgio Jackson and the other a 36‑yard strike to a wide‑open Andrew Dailey which gave Massillon a 7‑0 lead just 1:36 into the game.

“I was kind of in a zone,” Huth said. “Giorgio made a lot of great plays for me. He went up and got the ball.”

Huth also benefited from having time to find his receivers. Stacy spent much of the week talking about the necessity of his offensive line to elevate its game after a disappointing showing against McKinley, and the line responded by keeping Huth clean for much of the game.

“Coach pretty much came to the line this week ‑ both (offensive line coach Matt) Leisure and Coach Stacy ‑ and said, ‘We need to get this done,”‘ Tiger center Blake Seidler said. “‘We’ve been having trouble lately. We haven’t produced the way we wanted to.’ Pretty much, it was a challenge, we were either in or out. We were either going to make it and make a run, or not.”

Perry’s hopes for a long playoff run after a 9‑1 regular season were dashed by the Tiger offensive explosion. But that doesn’t mean the Panthers went quietly into the cool Saturday evening.

Twice Perry cut the deficit to one touchdown ‑ at 14‑6 with 3:30 left in the first half and at 21‑13 less than two minutes into the second half ‑ on Eric Magnacca runs of 40 and 59 yards.

“That’s what got us here,” Perry coach John “Spider” Miller said of the running game. “At halftime, we said ‘Let’s run our double tights with our double wing and we’re going to run it.’ That’s what we did, and we got back into the ballgame.”

Both runs came on similar off‑tackle runs in which Magnacca ‑who finished with 192 of Perry’s 304 rushing yards found a crease in the Tiger defense and then simply outran the defenders to the end zone. He would add a third touchdown run of 29 yards in the fourth quarter.

“It’s a lot of (responsibility breakdowns), Tiger linebacker Antonio Scassa explained. “We messed up a couple of times. We didn’t get off the blocks, he found a seam and he took it.”

The problem for Perry was that Massillon had a counterpunch for everything the Panthers did. Massillon scored on the subsequent possession after all three Perry scores, preventing the Panthers from getting any sort of momentum.

In the first half, after Magnacca’s initial scoring run, the Tigers marched right back down the field. Buoyed by a pair of big Huth‑to‑Trey Miller pass plays, Massillon moved to the Panther 5, where K.J. Herring made it a two‑score game again at 21‑6 with his lone touchdown run of the game at the 1:46 mark of the first half.

After Magnacca cut it back to an eight‑point game on the first drive of the third quarter, the Tigers came right back down the field. This time, it was J.T. Turner ‑ the other half of the tandem filling in for Gamble ‑ doing the honors, scoring on a 20‑yard run with 7:19 remaining in the third.

The extra point was wide left, keeping it at 27‑13.

“Our kids would answer, and then their kids would answer,” Perry’s Miller said. “You can’t go back‑and‑forth like that. We needed to punch another one in or eat the clock up and keep the ball away from them. That’s what you’re supposed to do. That’s what we tried to do. That’s what we wanted, and that’s what we’ve done all year.”

Massillon would get the three‑score breathing room it needed on its next possession. On the second play of the drive, Huth lofted a perfect throw down the right sideline to Jackson, who broke clear of the Panther defense to catch the ball in stride and race into the end zone for a 70‑yard score with 4:56 left in the third quarter.

“The (route) was an out-and‑up,” said Jackson, who had a game‑high 114 receiving yards on three catches. “We just called it, the guy was a little bit in front of me, I saw I could make a play and just outran the rest of the defenders.”

Magnacca gave the Panthers momentary hope with his third long touchdown run of the game ‑this one a 29‑yarder ‑ to cut it to 34‑20 with six seconds left in the third. But Jackson sealed the Panthers’ fate with a leaping 32‑yard touchdown catch over a Perry defender in the end zone with 8:56 left to provide the final margin.

“(Scoring) 41 points is awesome,” Tiger inside linebacker Cody Colly said. “We hadn’t really been able to do that all season. We finally did it.”

And because of it, the Tigers live to play another day.

GAME STATS