Tigers fall in state final 35‑14
Moeller had ‘too many horses’
By MIKE HUDAK
Independent Sports Editor
COLUMBUS ‑ The place was the state capital, the date Nov. 27, 1982.
But for the Tiger head coach Mike Currence it might as well have been medieval Mongolia. Why? Because he must have felt like a villager seeing the rising cloud of dust marking the approach of Attila the Hun, with his only viable option left to mutter “there’s too many horses” and go down fighting as best as possible.
Saturday, Attila the Hun was Francisco Hiawatha and the rest of the Moeller Crusaders the Mongol Horde. Moeller captured the Division I state championship with a 35‑14 win, overcoming a fine first‑half effort by the Tigers, giving the Crusaders their sixth state title in the past eight years and 95th win in the last 97 games.
The Tigers’ first loss of the year made them settle for the title of “Ohio Public School Champs.” Sunday’s horrendous weather caused a postponement of the team’s “Recognition Day,” but festivities are reslated for tonight beginning at 7:30 in the school auditorium. The team, band and cheerleaders will all be honored, plus officers for next year will be introduced to the throng.
The weather for Saturday’s game was near perfect. It was a bit chilly but bright sunshine made conditions as conducive as possible for the contest, especially considering the sleet, snow and rain of Friday and Sunday.
Massillon received the opening kickoff, but on the second play from scrimmage, Tim Sampsel absorbed a hit which caused the ball to fly straight up in the air, where Moeller linebacker Shane Bullough pounced on the loose orb at the Tiger 38.
The Tigers sacked Moeller quarterback John Shaffer on the first play, but then D’Juan Francisco and brother Hiawatha took over, grinding out big chunks of yardage, particularly with end sweeps.
The first score came when D’Juan, the sophomore sibling, scored from four yards out with 7:26 remaining in the opening quarter. Rob Heintzman’s soccer‑style conversion kick was good.
The Tigers came right back to fill their thousands of fans with hope. Junior quarterback Brian DeWitz rolled out on a second‑and‑two play and found wide receiver Gary Conley open over the middle. Conley, the senior speedster, caught the ball on the dead run and ran unmolested into the end zone. Bronc Pfisterer added the conversion kick to tie the score with 3:13 left in the period.
It remained tied until the second quarter. Moeller had advanced to its own 42 on a 19‑yard pass from Shaffer to Steve Williford, then went the remaining 58 yards as Hiawatha broke up the middle and used his unbelievable speed to outrun the entire defense into the endzone. The kick was good with 8:19 left in the half.
The next time the Moe‑Men had the ball, they marched 70 yards for a score. The tally came with 4:03 left in the half as Scott Mahan took a 28‑yard pass into the endzone after evading a tackle at the point of the catch. The kick was again good for a 21‑7 lead.
But the Tigers still weren’t deflated. They used most of the remainder of the half, 15 plays to be exact, to march 80 yards for a touchdown.
There were three key plays in the drive. The first was a diving sideline catch by receiver Jim Geiser to give the Tigers’ possession on the Moeller 39 good for 18 yards. it appeared that Geiser had neither foot in bounds for the catch, but the Tigers’ weren’t about to quibble.
But it looked like the break would go for naught when Massillon was faced with a third and 16 with just 45 seconds until intermission. But DeWitz evaded a strong rush and scrambled 20 yards for a first down to the Moeller eight. On the next play, DeWitz led Geiser with a perfect pass to the right corner of the end zone, and Pfisterer’s kick made it 21‑14 at halftime.
Moeller received the second half kick and began another drive, but on a fourth‑and‑one most of the Tiger front line stacked up Hiawatha to give the Tigers the ball back on their own 35.
The Tigers started a drive of their own, but junior defensive back Byron Larkin ended the threat with an interception on the Crusader 30. This time the Crusaders used the running of fullback Dave Springmeier and the passing of Shaffer to move 70 yards for the score. The capper came on a 10‑yard run by Springmerier, followed by the kick. The play took 11 plays and ended with 3:53 left in the quarter.
The ball control antics of the Crusaders wore the Tigers down eventually. Moeller’s final score came in the fourth quarter on an 87‑yard drive in eight plays, including runs of 16 and 27 yards by brother D’Juan. The final 18‑yards came on a pass from Shaffer to Williford, followed by the kick, with 3:23 remaining on the clock, but no hope was left in the hearts of Tiger fans, who started to empty the stands and prepare for the long journey back to Tiger Town and cries of “wait till next year.”
Offensively, the Tigers’ offensive total of 282 yards compared favorably to how they performed against both Sandusky and Berea ‑ when they had the ball to work with a lot more.
But defensive was another story. Moeller racked up 479 yards of offense, including 326 on the ground and 153 more though the air on a nine‑of‑14 performance by Shaffer.
The problem was, the Francisco brothers were all they were cracked up to be, plus the others were better than feared. Hiawatha amassed 151 yards and D’Juan 123 more, while Springmeier was more than effective with 77 yards in 10 bolts. Williford was a killer on pass receiving with five glue‑handed grabs for 57 yards.
After falling behind early, the Tigers went almost exclusively to the pass in hopes of scoring quickly. The Tigers carried only 20 times for 79 yards, led by DeWitz’ 31 yards in eight carries and Chris Spielman’s 28 yards in five attempts. Passing, DeWitz hit on 13 of 31 for 200 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, while Spielman was one of two in the passing department. Spielman also had five catches for 60 yards, while Conley grabbed four for 78 yards and Geiser three for 47 yards.
First‑year coach Steve Klonne praised his senior dominated team, noting that they deserved “their day in the sun” after losing 13‑0 to McKinley in last year’s title clash while basically a junior‑oriented squad.
As for Currence, he concluded, “We played better than we did in 1980 against them down at Dayton. I just wish we could have won it all, but the great thing about sports is, there’s always next year.”
First downs rushing 3 14
First downs passing 8 7
First downs by penalty 1 0
Totals first down 12 21
Yards gained rushing 91 362
Yards lost rushing 12 36
Net yards rushing 79 326
Net yards passing 203 153
Total yards gained 282 479
Passes attempted 33 14
Passes completed 14 9
Passes int. by 0 2
Yardage on pass int. 0 0
Times kicked off 3 6
Kickoff average 41.0 51.3
Kickoff return yards 91 10
Punts 4 3
Punting average 36.0 44.7
Punt return yards -3 20
Punts blocked by 0 0
Fumbles 5 1
Fumbles lost 1 0
Penalties 6 7
Yards penalized 30 75
Touchdowns rushing 0 3
Touchdowns passing 2 2
Miscellaneous touchdowns 0 0
Number of plays 54 64
Time of possession 20:34 27:26
Attendance 42,000 (est)
MOELLER 7 14 7 7 35
MASSILLON 7 7 0 0 14
Moe ‑ D. Francisco 3 run (Heintzman kick)
Mas ‑ Conley 58 pass from DeWitz (Pfisterer kick)
Moe ‑ H. Francisco 58 run (Heintzman kick)
Moe ‑ Mahan 29 pass from Shaffer (Heintzman kick)
Mas ‑ Geiser 8 pass from DeWitz (Pfisterer kick)
Moe ‑ Springmeier 11 run (Heintzman kick)
Moe ‑ Williford 18 pass from Shaffer (Heintzman kick)
Title hopes die hard in Columbus
Tigers, fans gave it their all
By DENNY HIGHBEN
Independent Staff Writer
COLUMBUS ‑ There’s a savage splendor about the Ohio State Stadium, which boldly thrusts its massive ramparts into the heavens.
On the floor of this storied arena, American gladiators have battled with all their strength and wit for the rush of glory that comes with conquest; and for that screaming, cheering worship from the spectators.
Every schoolboy in Buckeyeland who puts on the pads dreams of playing in that landmark along the Olentangy. The best, on rare occasions, get their chance.
That’s how it was Saturday, with some 42,000 spectators there. But they were more than just spectators. They were part of the battle, so intimately attached to the struggle that they were one with the young warriors below.
The Tigers of Massillon and the Crusaders of Cincinnati Moeller were locked in battle, and the energy created in the stands was so powerful it had a life of its own. It swept down from the maelstrom of its birth to join the struggle, growing as it rolled down through row after row, wave after wave of explosive emotion.
The emotion which erupted Saturday had been building for a long time, especially for the Massillon faithful. Many things contributed: years of watching the state championship elude the Tigers, usually to turn up in Cincinnati; two previous losses to Moeller; and the final insult of watching Massillon’s arch‑rival, McKinley, knocking off Moeller first and for the state crown to boot.
When the Tigers drilled Berea in the semifinals, the fuse was lit. And the site change to Ohio Stadium seemed to add even more fuel to the Tiger’ fans’ fire.
One man, at least, didn’t like the change. We would fill Nippert Stadium in Cincinnati he said. But as big as OSU stadium is, even 30,000 fans would be “lost” in the bowels of that concrete‑and steel canyon.
But 42,000 showed up and they were far from lost. The crowd was something to behold. The size, the colors, the noise, the energy … To step back and take a hefty drink of the surroundings made you tremble with excitement.
The OSU officials were shaken, too. obviously, such a following for a high school game was not considered. Only the main gate was open for admission of those with tickets and for ticket sales. When it was undeniable that one gate couldn’t handle the crowd, others were opened.
Still, however, some fans didn’t get inside until the first period of battle was well under way. And it wasn’t because the fans were late. Not for this game. Oh no! Not for this game.
In the first half, the hopes of the Massillon fans blossomed and withered time and again. From a seven‑yard gain by the Tigers on the first play to a fumble recovered by Moeller on the second play, ecstasy and misery traded shots within the hearts of the legions from Tigertown. Moeller turned that fumble recovery into a score, but the Tigers came back and tied it with a lightning bolt strike when Brian DeWitz passed the Gary Conley.
Boom‑Boom. Two touchdowns behind, time running out in the half and 80 yards away. But they did it, pushed the ball down the length of the field for another score. The reaction of the fans was awesome. They knew the Tigers had the stuff to win.
“Hey, Moeller’s tough, but we’re still in the game. We can do it!” one man said to no one and everyone within hearing distance at halftime. His sentiments belonged to the thousands in black and orange.
Perhaps the most powerful outburst of emotion ‑ even bigger than Moeller’s final victory cheer, came early in the third quarter. The mighty Crusaders were stopped on a fourth‑and‑one Hiawatha Francisco, that cross between a tank and a gazelle, was stopped cold.
But, victory was not to belong to Massillon on this day. It turned very cold towards the end; bitterly cold, it seemed. And the temperatures made the burden of losing harder to bear; Moeller dominated the second half. There was still hope until late in the fourth quarter, until Moeller built a three touchdown lead. The outcome could not be denied after that touchdown, and the Massillon loyalists had to endure.
The disappointment was uncontrollable for many, fans and players alike. For they all had given it everything they had.
It was a day for heroes, and though Moeller left no doubt who the champion was on Saturday, every Massillon fan knew this small town had just as many heroes on the field as Mighty Mo.
And as the final minutes ticked away, many a perplexed Tiger fan had to resist the urge to sneak up behind a Moeller player and lift up his jersey. What was really under those blue‑and‑gold shirts: muscle and bone or armor plate and high‑impact plastic?
As one dismayed Tiger fan put it, “They ain’t human.”