Tigers unrelenting in The Game
By CHRIS EASTERLING
MASSILLON, OH —
If a piece of meat is dangled in front of a hungry tiger, that tiger is sure to pounce on it. Likewise, the Massillon Tigers were hungry for a trip to the playoffs as they walked into Paul Brown Tiger Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Seeing the opportunity for just such a trip, the Tigers pounced on it, and in the process tore apart archrival McKinley as well.
With a nasty defense setting the tone, and J.T. Turner continuing his strong season-ending push, the Tigers rolled over the Bulldogs 17-0 in front of 16,935 fans at sun-splashed Paul Brown Tiger Stadium on Saturday.
It is Massillon’s first shutout of McKinley since a 7-0 win in 1982, and the first shutout in the series by either team since 1996. The Tigers have also won four straight against McKinley, matching the sixth-longest win streak by a team in the series.
“It’s just a ton of pressure taken off your chest,” Tiger outside linebacker Brian Arelt said.
That win, coupled with Lorain Admiral King’s win over Lorain Southview, pushed Massillon into the playoffs after a one-year absence. The Tigers – 6-4 on the season – will now prepare for a trip to North Canton next Saturday evening to meet Hoover in the first round of the Division I, Region 2 playoffs.
“Knowing that if we win, we’re in the playoffs, it put an extra chip on our shoulders for McKinley just to go out there and rock some heads,” Tiger junior tackle Jeff Myers said.
Myers and his offensive line mates certainly did just that, as they controlled the line of scrimmage and allowed J.T. Turner to rush for 208 yards on 28 carries. It was Turner’s only touchdown of the afternoon – a 26-yard run with 7:38 remaining – which salted the game away and sent most of the red-clad portion of the crowd toward the parking lot.
“It was special,” said Turner, who had a first-quarter touchdown run negated by penalty. “Every time I score a touchdown, they usually take it back. I saw that the first time, and then I got in there the second time, and I knew it was a rout from there.”
Of course, it wasn’t so much Turner’s running and it was his hitting which set the tone for Saturday’s game. On three of McKinley’s first four plays, Turner delivered the blow to the Bulldog ballcarrier, forcing a punting situation.
When McKinley tried to fake the punt, it was Turner there again, blowing up the play and forcing a five-yard loss. That gave Massillon the ball at the Bulldog 31, field position it turned into a 3-0 lead on a 33-yard Jeremy Geier field goal with 1:57 left in the first quarter.
“I just knew I had to lead this team to victory,” Turner said. “Everybody was on my shoulders, so I just led the team to victory. And we were able to come out with a 17-0 victory.”
The Tigers’ first scoring drive may have also set the tone for the kind of game it was offensively for Massillon, one which was mired with penalties and turnovers. An illegal procedure penalty on a second-and-1 play from the Bulldog 2 pushed the ball back five yards, and eventually led to the Tigers having to kick the field goal.
Massillon had another promising drive short-circuited by what amounted to a 22-yard illegal block penalty, one of five penalties for 70 yards in losses for the Tigers. That doesn’t account for the four turnovers as well, two of which came on fumbles immediately after the Tigers had regained possession from McKinley, once on an interception and another time on a punt.
Those self-inflicted wounds were a big reason why Massillon was only able to take a 10-0 lead into the locker room at halftime, a lead it gained when Bo Grunder caught a 26-yard touchdown pass from Robert Partridge with 6:48 left in the half.
“We were a little disappointed, because I thought we weren’t able to take advantage of all of our opportunities,” Tiger coach Jason Hall said. “We shot ourselves in the foot a couple of times. I think walking off the field at halftime, I thought we took control of the game.”
And the Tigers can thank their defense for that fact. With the front seven providing the pressure, McKinley was unable to consistently get anything going on offense, a fact reflected by the 97 total yards it mustered in the game.
“We were just going to make a point that they can’t do anything on us,” Tiger defensive end Matt Rose said. “We just bowed up and showed them what we’re made of.”
A big reason for that was the aforementioned pressure Massillon was able to get on Bulldog quarterback Kyle Ohradzansky, who regularly found himself ducking and dodging Tiger defenders when he dropped back to pass. Ohradzansky was sacked six times on the afternoon, three of those in the fourth quarter.
By the end of the day, the beating he was taking was starting to show on the sophomore quarterback, who took longer and longer to get up off the ground with each hit.
“Personally, at the end of the game, I felt bad for him a little bit,” Arelt said with a smile.
But not bad enough that Arelt and his teammates weren’t celebrating another win over McKinley – as well as a return to the playoffs.
at Paul Brown Tiger Stadium
McKinley 00 00 00 00 00
Massillon 03 07 00 07 17
Mas – Geier 33 FG
Mas – Grunder 26 pass from Partridge (Geier kick)
Mas – Turner 26 run (Geier kick)
First downs 10 16
Rushes-yards 45-50 48-287
Att.-Comp.-Int. 7-10-1 3-5-1
Passing yards 47 48
Fumbles-lost 3-3 4-3
Penalty yards 8-50 5-70
Turner 28-208 TD;
M. Williams 31-97;
Partridge 3-5-48 TD, INT.
Ohradzansky 7-10-47 INT.
Grunder 1-26 TD;
M. Williams 1-(-3).
Tiger defense makes a big impact, early and often
By DAVID HARPSTER
MASSILLON, OH —
It didn’t take long for the Massillon Tiger defense to announce its presence in Saturday’s 117th renewal of the Massillon-McKinley rivalry at Paul Brown Tiger Stadium.
Actually it only took the first few plays of McKinley’s opening series, when Massillon senior cornerback J.T. Turner came up and laid consecutive loud hits on McKinley tailback Monterae Williams. The tone had been set and the Tigers followed Turner’s lead by swarming to the ball and attacking relentlessly in what was an eventual 17-0 victory over their archrivals.
“Justin set the tone early with a couple big hits,” Massillon coach Jason Hall said. “It looks like (Williams) might have some room to run and then, bam, Justin comes in with a big hit. Stuff like that really sparks a defensive group and I was a defensive guy, so I’m jumping around on the sidelines after that.”
Added safety Cooper Ivan, who summed up McKinley’s first series pretty succinctly: “We tried to come out and smack them in the mouth on the first play of the game and that’s what we did. It helped set the tone for the game.”
By no means was keeping McKinley off the scoreboard an easy task for the Massillon defense, as the Tigers had to contend with sudden changes in momentum after their four turnovers. Each time, though, Massillon was able to find a way to repel the Bulldogs by making a big play when it was necessary.
“That’s always one of our goals: No touchdowns in sudden change situations,” defensive coordinator Steve Kovacs said. “That’s something that you work on and you try to prepare for them as best you can. McKinley’s a good football team and they had some guys who we were worried about getting loose. They just weren’t able to get loose today.”
Turner kept up the heat early by following up his big hits with a rush that led to McKinley’s punter being tackled for a loss, helping to set up an early field goal. Turner then stripped the ball from McKinley’s Alaun Morrow following a short reception, a turnover that led to Massillon’s first touchdown of the game and a 10-0 lead.
But Turner was far from the only Tiger doing damage on defense.
Ivan flew around the field with his usual reckless abandon, in the process notching a pair of sacks and a forced fumble. If Ivan wasn’t getting to the quarterback on safety blitzes up the middle, then Jamison Heath-Gates or Matt Rose or Brian Arelt or another Tiger was making life miserable for McKinley sophomore quarterback Kyle Ohradzansky.
“The best pass defense is pressure, so every game we go into, regardless of who the quarterback is, we’re going to find ways to pressure him,” Kovacs said. “Our guys did a good job and we’ve got some good quickness up front.”
Once one Massillon player got his name in the sack column, it appeared to be an open race to see who would be the next Tiger to take down Ohradzansky. The McKinley quarterback become the Tigers’ own personal chew toy in the second half, as he was sacked six times for 46 yards in losses while also absorbing countless other hits from rampaging Massillon defenders.
“The entire defensive line, it was just like we weren’t going to let him get the ball off,” Rose said. “We all just wanted to punish him when he dropped back to pass. We just wanted to show him what Massillon Tiger football was like.
“We had him dazed and wondering where it was coming from there at the end. They were pretty confused about where the rush was coming from and all our blitzes were working.”
Hall chalked up McKinley’s general confusion on offense to Massillon’s ability to hide its defensive schemes for the most part.
“The defensive game plan that Steve and the staff put together, they did a great job disguising a lot of things,” Hall said. “I don’t think their quarterback could figure out what we were doing. We’d disguise some of our blitzes and we got some free hits today. Anytime you can do that, then the quarterback is thinking about where it’s coming from.”
The pressure not only resulted in four McKinley turnovers and the first Massillon shutout of McKinley since 1982, but also put the Bulldogs in numerous long-yardage situations on second and third down. McKinley was 1-of-12 in third-down situations.
“Not many offenses, at any level, are going to be good when it’s third-and-10 or third-and-15 all game long,” Hall said. “I thought our defense did a great job all game making them fight out of a hole from a down and distance standpoint.”
Tigers KO Pups, now look to playoffs
By CHRIS EASTERLING
MASSILLON, OH —
Like a boxer, the Massillon Tigers have been knocked to the mat more than their share of times over the last 10 weeks.
They have taken body blows, and haymakers; uppercuts and jabs. They have stood on legs of jelly and have looked out of eyes swollen and bruised.
Yet, they managed to get back up on their feet. Their most faithful fans never counted them out. And on Saturday afternoon, the referee lifted the Tigers’ hand in victory.
Despite all of the punches the Tigers have taken, all the stumbles to the mat, they have emerged on top. It may not be the mountaintop, but they can at least see it from where they stand now.
For the Tigers find themselves with a chance to play for the championship, a chance to put together five more weeks of inspired football. Seven days ago, that chance was on life support; on Saturday, after delivering a 17-0 knockout punch to archrival McKinley, that chance is beating strong as ever.
A team that couldn’t seem to shake .500 for most of the season has done just that, and finds itself in the playoffs.
“We just bounce back every week, win or lose,” senior safety Cooper Ivan said. “It’s Massillon-McKinley and it’s always going to be a good game. I love playing football with these guys.”
The memories of questionable officials’ calls and disheartening losses are just that now – memories. They now serve as a foundation from which the Tigers can build to be a stronger football team as they prepare to take that next step, which is the playoffs.
“You have to handle adversity when you play football,” junior linebacker Spencer Leno said as his teammates celebrated with family and fans after the game Saturday. “It’s all about how you handle it and how you bounce back.”
The Tigers handled it by not falling apart, not pointing fingers or fracturing the locker room. They pulled even closer together.
The team that found itself in a literal fight at a camp at end of the summer showed the figurative fight of a champion at the end of the season.
“We have that team now,” senior outside linebacker Brian Arelt said. “We’ve been missing that the past couple of years. We just have that close bond where we’re one big happy family most of the time.”
Even within Saturday’s game, the Tigers didn’t let the events on the field tear them apart. When the defense found itself on a number of occasions having to go right back out onto the field after one of the four Massillon turnovers, there was no complaining or criticizing.
Instead, the defense just took its intensity up another level, ratcheting it up another octane, as each minute ticked off the clock. By the end of the game, that defense had beaten McKinley into a state of confusion.
Yet, there was no confusion on the Tiger sideline. Only celebrating and congratulating among teammates, among a band of brothers who were reaping the rewards of months of work, months of blood and sweat and tears.
“Our team is close together,” said J.T. Turner, who rushed for 208 yards on Saturday, while adding a fumble recovery and at least seven big hits on defense. “We’ve been with each other since December, so we’ve just been rolling together. We proved it today.”
And like the triumphant boxer, the Tigers stood at the end of the day with their arms raised to the sky, pointing the way to the top. Now, they get to take the next step in the journey to get there.