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Tigers work extra for win. Willoughby’s QB sneak gives Massillon victory over McKinley in OT

By CHRIS EASTERLING
The Independent

The track record wasn’t good for the Massillon Tigers. Four times in the first nine weeks of the season, they trailed in the fourth quarter. All four of those times, they ended up on the wrong end of the scoreboard.

So as the Tigers entered the fourth quarter Saturday at Fawcett Stadium looking at a 10-point deficit, they had two opponents staring back at them: history and the McKinley Bulldogs. And they decided to disregard both, sending the orange-clad portion of the 14,642 in attendance home jubilant with a 23-20 overtime victory.

It marked just the third overtime game in the 116 meetings between the rivals. The Tigers have won all three – in 1988, 1994 and Saturday.

The Tigers would not hold the lead in the game until Chris Willoughby fought his way in from a yard out in overtime to give Massillon the win and a 6-4 final record.

“When it was 17-7, we knew there were 12 minutes left in the game,” said Willoughby, who said it was his first quarterback sneak attempt since his freshman year. “We knew we still had time to come back. We had to keep together as a team and play hard and good things would happen, and it did for us.”

The good things were mostly happening for McKinley in the first three quarters, starting with an 83-yard Christian Griffin touchdown run for a 7-0 first-quarter lead. The Bulldogs seemed to have the big-play magic in the third, when Jordan Evans hit Ramon Brown for a 23-yard touchdown for a 17-7 lead with 50 seconds left in the half.

Justin Turner would begin to turn momentum in Massillon’s favor with a kickoff return to the Bulldogs 41. A McKinley personal foul penalty on the play pushed the ball closer to the goal line, at the Bulldog 26.

Buoyed by the short field, Massillon made it a one-possession game on a 5-yard DeVoe Torrence scoring run at the 10:38 mark of the fourth quarter. Torrence finished with a game-high 134 yards on 35 carries, with a pair of touchdowns.

“Boy, you’re down 17-7 over here, it didn’t look good,” said Tiger coach Tom Stacy, whose team was tied 7-7 at half. “J.T.’s kick return was big. It was really a turning point. We were able to come back from that and score, that was big.”

Massillon appeared to see its chances disappearing when it was stopped on a fourth-and-1 at the McKinley 25. But that’s when the second good thing happened for the Tigers.

Faced with third-and-9 from its own 26, McKinley attempted a short sideline pass. Tiger cornerback D.J. Spencer read the play perfectly, jumping the route and intercepting the ball at the Bulldog 31.

All of the sudden, Massillon’s hopes were resuscitated with 3:36 showing on the fourth-quarter clock.

“I felt like I had an opportunity to get it,” Spencer said. “I missed the first one down there around the 20. I seen that (the quarterback) was kind of floating the ball, so I felt like I could get it.”

Massillon would get a shot at a 37-yard field goal to tie, but was whistled for a false start as the kick was going through the uprights. Moved back to a 41-yard try, Steve Schott calmly knocked the ball through to square things at 17-all with 1:10 remaining.

“I kind of knew after I made the first one before the penalty that I wasn’t going to miss the second one,” said Schott, whose fourth-quarter field goal a year ago lifted the Tigers past McKinley. “I was kind of in the zone there. My confidence was up after making the first one. I just knew that once I got the second opportunity that it was going to be good.”

McKinley struck first in overtime, as Andrew Gage – whose 37-yarder in the third quarter gave the Bulldogs a 10-7 lead – kicked a 35-yard knuckleball for a 20-17 edge. But the Tigers came back, moving to the Bulldogs 2 when Willoughby, with a defender in his face, hit Torrence on a swing pass for a 21-yard gain.

“That play’s worked for us in the past,” Willoughby said. “Coach Stacy calls great plays. That was a great call, and it turned out good.”

Not as good as two plays later, when Willoughby plunged into the end zone and set off the Tiger celebration.

Turner’s return is ‘special’ play for Massillon

By CHRIS EASTERLING

The Massillon Tigers had just given up a big play to fall behind by 10 late in the third quarter, and all of the momentum was swinging on the side of the McKinley Bulldogs on Saturday afternoon. But as soon as the subsequent kickoff nestled into the hands of Justin Turner, the momentum shifted back more toward Massillon with each yard he picked up.

By the time he was forced out of bounds, he was at the Bulldogs 41. An extra 15 yards tacked on for a personal foul penalty against McKinley gave the Tigers the ball at the Bulldogs 26.

The Tigers would convert that drive into seven points, cutting their deficit to just three with over 10 minutes left in regulation. They would go on to force overtime, where they would prevail 23-20.

“I gave up a big play on defense and they scored off of it,” Turner said. “I wasn’t reading my keys. Then I looked at the clock and realized I had to go out and make a big play.”

That Turner did. Then again, Turner – and the rest of the Tiger kickoff return team – was doing that just about all season long.

Turner came into the game with 252 yards on seven returns, an average of 36 yards per return. As a team, the Tigers were averaging over 27 yards per return,

For much of the game up to that point, McKinley had kept Turner in check on kickoffs. The best starting field position the Tigers had until then following a Bulldog kickoff was their own 30 to start the game.

“I just had to be patient,” Turner said. “We’ve been returning kicks all year. It was just that time, I had to do it.”

While McKinley had kept Turner under wraps for much of the game, Massillon’s coaches felt like he was on the verge of getting free at least once before.

“We told him the one before, we said ‘You hit it too quick,’” Tiger special teams coordinator Jamey Palma said. “We said ‘Be patient and let you’re wall set up. Just be patient, find your seam and go.’ He just did a great job of being patient and making a big play.”

When it came time to make that big play, Turner did so. And because of that, the Tigers brought the Victory Bell back to Massillon with them after the game.

Torrence answers call for Massillon

By CHRIS EASTERLING

When DeVoe Torrence transferred from Canton South to Massillon last spring, it was for moments like the one he experienced on Saturday afternoon at Fawcett Stadium playing in the 116th edition of the Massillon-McKinley game. Once he got his chance, he wasn’t about to not capitalize on that opportunity.

Torrence gained 134 hard-fought yards on 35 carries, yards which helped the Tigers pull out a 23-20 overtime victory over the Bulldogs.

“It was wild,” Torrence said. “Just being my first time being a Massillon Tiger playing in the McKinley game, it meant a lot to me. We went out there, I stepped up, Steve Schott stepped up, I mean, we all stepped up. We just got it done.”

For all the big-name opponents Torrence faced for the first time this season, teams like St. Ignatius and Mentor, there is still nothing like the atmosphere surrounding a Massillon-McKinley game. But he wasn’t about to let that effect him.

“There were no jitters,” Torrence said. “(Tiger coach Tom) Stacy got us coached up and had us ready to play.”

The Ohio State-bound senior came into the game needing just 72 yards to top the 1,000-yard plateau. He did that by halftime, when he had 81 yards on 17 carries as the two teams went into the locker room tied at 7-7. He finished with 1,062 yards and 11 touchdowns, after scoring a pair against McKinley.

“DeVoe is just a heck of an athlete,” Tiger center Blake Seidler said. “I give him all the credit in the world. He got over that 1,000-yard mark today, so what’s that tell you.”

Torrence did so despite the fact McKinley was attempting to key on him every time he touched the ball. He only had three plays over 10 yards or more, as he had to fight – like the rest of his Tiger teammates – for just about every yard.

“DeVoe’s a warrior,” Tiger quarterback Chris Willoughby said. “He has heart and he runs the ball hard every play. He did a great job.”

Not that Torrence and the Tigers weren’t used to seeing a defense keying on the run. While the Bulldogs kept Massillon’s offense out of the end zone on all but two drives in regulation, there was little they were doing differently than what the Tigers’ nine previous opponents had been doing.

Still, Massillon was able to gain 233 yards on the ground as a team.

“It was just a case of more guys in the box,” Torrence said. “That was what teams have done all year. They’ve just put guys in the box.

“It came down to who was going to be the most physical,” Torrence added. “We felt like we showed that.”

Torrence and Willoughby burned that defensive scheme for the biggest play of the game in overtime. After Torrence had been dropped for a 3-yard loss on the Tigers’ first play from the McKinley 20, Willoughby threw a swing pass to the tailback – just ahead of the Bulldog pass rush – which turned into a 21-yard gain to the Bulldogs 2.

Two plays later, Willoughby ended the game with his game-winning touchdown plunge.

“We almost didn’t get it off,” Torrence said. “Chris, he got it up there in time. I was just thinking ‘I’ve got to catch this ball.’ I just caught it.”

And the Tigers – and Torrence – have the win to show for it.

Spencer is latest Tiger to step up in big game

By CHRIS EASTERLING

Five weeks ago, D.J. Spencer wasn’t even in the Massillon Tigers’ starting lineup. Today, he is just the latest in a long line of unlikely heroes to emerge in the ancient rivalry that is Massillon-McKinley.

With 5:15 left in regulation in Saturday’s 116th installment of the rivalry at Fawcett Stadium, things looked bleak for the Tigers. They had just given the ball back to McKinley on downs at the Bulldog 25 down by three points.

However, Spencer – a senior cornerback – jumped an out pattern on third-and-9 to get an interception at the McKinley 31. That would lead to the game-tying field goal, and Massillon went on to get the 23-20 overtime win.

“My team needed a play, and it was clutch time,” Spencer said. “We had to buckle down. Coach was telling us that that was the time and the crucial point.”

Spencer hadn’t seen a whole lot of time through the first half of the Tigers’ season, as he was behind Kevin Massey at cornerback. However, when Massey was sidelined for the Buchtel game in Week Seven due to a concussion, that opened the door for Spencer to get his chance.

The senior has more than held his own since getting the chance. He hasn’t left the starting lineup since that game, even though Massey returned to action the very next week.

“He didn’t start for us at the beginning of the year,” Tiger defensive backs coach Jamey Palma said. “I remember it was about Week Four or Five, I had a meeting with him, and I said ‘Just hang with us, you’re going to help this team.’”

And he did.

“Right after the St. Ignatius game, we started playing him a lot more. He’s played excellent. He’s going to remember that play for the rest of his life.”

Spencer is just the latest Tiger to go from relative unknown to hero because of what he did in the McKinley game.

A year ago, it was Corey Hildreth getting a blocked punt to help set up a Tiger score. In 2001, it was Craig McConnell whose interception helped to seal a hard-fought Massillon win.

In other years, it has been a Victor Redrick or a Dave Sheegog. Whoever it is, they instantly become immortalized for making a play which turned the tide in favor of the Tigers.

“We’ve got great kids with a great mentality,” Palma said. “They never quit. D.J. is one of those kids. We were down 17-7, we needed to make a play, and he has a great mentality.

“They don’t think about the negative, they’re thinking ‘Let’s make a play’ and go ahead and do it. It’s great for him. He’s a great kid, and people are going to remember him forever here.”

GAME STATS