Massillon Tigers Black Letter Logo

Crusader defense keys 24‑6 victory
Moeller too much for Tigers to handle

Independent Sports Editor

AKRON ‑ For slightly more than three quarters Saturday night, the Massillon Tigers played almost as good as the best high school football team on earth.

Unfortunately, they were playing the team that is not only the best on our planet, but is out of this world: Cincinnati Moeller.

So to many it seemed like whistling past the graveyard for the Tigers to challenge this powerhouse loaded with big, strong, quick, highly skilled players. The Tigers not only challenged, they threatened.

Program Cover

Even the 23,950 who packed the Akron Rubber Bowl to see Moeller win its 36th straight game, 24-6, saw a glimmer of hope when the Tigers trailed only 10-6 at the half.

They had about given up the ghost when Larry Newman, with his team trailing 17-6, returned a punt 39 yards to the Moeller 33. That was the first time the Tigers started a drive outside their own 29 all night.

With 8:34 to go in the game, the fans were on their feet. The Tigers came out in the shotgun formation. But alas, Moeller would have none of this. Quarterback Rick Spielman’s pass into the right flat for Jim Geiser, was intercepted by Moeller’s Mike Plummer.

The game Tiger defense held, but a punt by Moeller’s Ken Harper bounced down the artificial surface to the one yard line. Spielman tried to sneak the ball out for some running room, but the Crusaders’ tough defensive line jarred the ball loose and linebacker Mike Harmeyer ‑ who caused the Tigers trouble all night ‑ recovered at the one.

Hiawatha Francisco, who gained 123 yards in 22 carries, scored on the next play and Moeller had its second straight victory over Massillon.

While Gerry Faust had his Notre Dame football team stung by Michigan 25‑7 Saturday, the program he built carried on nicely under the guiding eye of his successor, Ted “Baci” Bacigalupo.

The jubilant Moeller players, long after the game was over, stole their coach from a group of reporters and carried him off to the showers, chanting “Baci, Baci, Baci!”

In the quiet Massillon lockerroom, Tiger coach Mike Currence was asked the inevitable question: did he think there was any other team around that could beat Moeller?

“I haven’t seen anybody that could beat them,” he said.

For not only does Moeller have a great defense and a rugged, ball‑control offense, it has Harper. He not only boomed three kickoffs into the end zone and averaged 47.7 yards per punt, he kicked a key 36‑yard field goal with 27 seconds left in the first half to boost Moeller’s lead from 7‑6 to 10-6.

As much as any of the Crusaders, he was responsible for doing in the Tigers. His foot kept the Tigers deep in their territory all night. And against an excellent defense like Moeller’s, you just don’t drive 80 yards for a touchdown every time.

“Every drive we started with. bad field position,” Currence said. “Then we finally got good field position and we made a mistake. We had one good drive and we had them worried a little, but field position hurt us. We have to get out there where we’re not afraid to use our whole offense. Our defense was on the field too long and they were able to wear us down. Our defense played well enough to win the ball game, but you’ve got, to give Moeller credit,” he said.

Though the score was similar to last year’s state title game (won by Moeller 30‑7), the Tigers were not blown out, nor were they embarrassed. They were just outmanned. Moeller was too big and too good.

But the Tigers took the game to them. A fierce hitting defense held the Crusaders at bay in the first quarter and into the second, stopping Moeller’s first four drives.

Massillon’s fine defensive play made Moeller gamble early in the second quarter. With the ball on the Tiger 19, Tim Manion dropped back to punt on fourth-and-nine Moeller decided it needed a big play and massed 10 players on the line to go for the block.

They didn’t get. it, and instead were called for roughing the kicker. However, Massillon was called for illegal procedure on the play, and instead of a first down, they just ran the play over.

Moeller took over at the Massillon 45 and six plays later halfback Jeff Clouse broke through the left side of the Tiger defensive line and scampered 19 yards for a touchdown. Harper’s kick made it 7‑0 with 5:36 left in the half.

The Tigers took over at their own 20, and were facing a third‑and‑10 after an incomplete pass a screen pass to Michael Moore (which gained nothing because Harmeyer smelled it out and made the tackle).

But Spielman found Dan Ricker open and hit him for 11 yards and a first down and the Tigers had some confidence. Robert Oliver took the next pass for 18 yards and first down at the 49.

On third and 14, Spielman threw down the middle and George Roknich made a fine catch, hanging onto the ball after a hard hit by Moeller’s Rob Brown. The fans came alive as Massillon had a first down at Moeller’s 31.

Spielman hit Bob Catlin for six yards to the 25, then passed to Roknich down the right side. Roknich broke two tackles and scored with 2:53 on the clock. Pandemonium reigned in the stands. Bob Larkin broke “through to block Manion’s extra point kick, and Moeller clung to a 7‑6 lead.

Spielman’s passing was almost all of Massillon’s offense, as he completed nine of 21 for 100 yards. The Tigers totaled only 19 yards rushing.

The Crusaders then started a drive at their own 25 and picked up two quick first downs, the second on a roughing the passer penalty that moved the bell to the Tiger 46.

Massillon’s defense stiffened, and Moeller faced a third‑and‑10 situation. Mike Willging, who completed only three of 12 passes in the game, hit Clouse for 23 yards and a first down at the Tiger 23.

Moeller pushed the ball down to the 19, and Harper split the uprights from 36 yards out with just 27 seconds on the clock.

“That field goal hurt,” Currence said. “And the interception that set up their score hurt. We lost a little confidence in our ability to win the game after that.”

The interception he was talking about came on the third play of the second half. On third‑and‑eight at his own 31, Spielman scrambled away from the Moeller rush and threw long down the left sideline. Brown intercepted the ball at his own 38 and returned it 26 yards to the Tiger 36. Nine straight running plays produced a touchdown as Dave Springmeier covered the last four yards. Harper’s kick made it 17‑6 with 6:21 on the third‑quarter clock.

Moeller got the ball back following a punt and drove deep into Tiger territory again. They made their only big mistake of the night when Clouse fumbled the ball and Grady Robinson recovered for Massillon at his own 12.

Manion got the Tigers out of a hole with a 70‑yard punt that rolled dead on the Moeller nine. The Crusaders punted, and Newman returned it to the Moeller 33. That’s when the shotgun misfired and Plummer intercepted on first down to knock the wind out of the Tigers.

The Crusader defense proved too much for Massillon in the second half, denying the Tigers a first down. Their fierce pass rush kept Spielman scrambling all night.

“In the second half, we just didn’t execute well and the kids lost a little confidence in winning the ball game,” Currence said.

I’m still proud of the way we played against them,” Currence said. “We played like Tigers. We just made some mistakes.”

And even a Tiger can’t afford mistakes when its playing the best high school team in the universe?

Moeller 24
Massillon 6
First downs rushing 0 13
First downs passing 5 2
First downs by penalty 0 1
Total first downs 5 16
Yards gained rushing 28 257
Yards lost rushing 9 14
Net yards rushing 19 243
Net yards passing 100 37
Total yards gained 119 280
Passes attempted 21 13
Passes completed 9 4
Passes intercepted by 0 2
Yardage on pass interference 0 27
Times kicked off 2 5
Kickoff average 51.0 56.0
Kickoff return yardage 32 32
Punts 7 6
Punting average 42.4 47.7
Punt return yardage 46 7
Fumbles 3 1
Fumbles lost 1 1
Penalties 2 2
Yards penalized 30 10
Touchdowns rushing 0 3
Touchdowns passing 1 0
Number of plays 39 66
Time of possession 18:16 29:44
Attendance 23,950

MOELLER 0 10 7 7 – 24
MASSILLON 0 6 0 0 – 6

Mo ‑ Jeff Clouse 19‑yard run (Ken Harper kick)
Mass ‑ George Roknich 25‑yard pass from Rick Spielman (kick failed)
Mo ‑ Harper 36‑yard FG
Mo ‑ Dave Springmeier 4‑yard run (Harper kick)
Mo ‑ Hiawatha Francisco 1‑yard run (Harper kick)

Tim Manion