Massillon Tigers Black Letter Logo

Gonzaga, come on down!

Offensive line, defense lauded in Tiger romp

Independent Managing Editor

MASSILLON – Gonzaga Prep of Washington D.C., has quite a bit to think about on the trip to Tigertown for Friday’s game.

Following Massillon Washington’s 44-0 drubbing of Newark before 8,445 fans in Paul Brown Tiger Stadium, Gonzaga must concern itself with:

— A Tiger offensive line that has jelled into an awesome high school unit. They go by the names, left to right along the line, of Jason Collins, Don Elvasky, Dave Morelli, Scott Hendershot and Darrell Strickling.

Program Cover

— A Massillon defensive squad so stingy the second and third stringers have learned lessons well and tightened their teamwork to stop foes who think they might have it easier. Some of their names can be found later in this story. But like the offensive line, the defense is a team concept, not a group of individuals.

— Craig Johnson, Chris Spielman and Brian DeWitz, who, despite rain, sloppy fields and knee braces, perform consistently each time they hit the field.

Johnson scored four touchdowns on runs, in order, of 2, 37, 78 and 13 yards and gained 166 yards in14 carries – and he didn’t really get started until the second quarter and left the game to a deserved standing ovation with 2:28 left in the third quarter.

Spielman scored the Tigers’ first touchdown on a playbook-perfect-plus 21-yard pass in the left flat from DeWitz. Playbook-perfect-plus because Spielman ran his pattern deeper against the coverage, got behind the linebackers to catch the pass and from there, it was clear sailing into the end zone as he bowled over Newark defensive backs as if they weighed 140 and 150 pounds, which a couple of them did.

DeWitz was six of 14 for 134 yards, but should have had glossier statistics. He received excellent front-line support, but could have sued his receivers for non-support. Several passes found receivers’ hands, but were dropped.

But the standouts of the night in which the Tigers earned their fourth victory against one loss were the offensive line which helped the Tigers pile up 488 yards of total offense (284 running and 204 passing) and the defense, which posted the shutout.

“Newark were playing on our big players, Spielman and Johnson, and taking their middle linebacker out of the middle and putting him where they thought we’d run a play, a guessing game,” Tigers’ Coach Mike Currence said.

“The first few times Brian saw this, he didn’t know what he saw. But we thought the misdirection and counter plays would work well and they did and that’s a credit to the offensive line.”

After Spielman scored the initial touchdown, the teams exchanged punts with Massillon getting the better of the deal, pinning Newark in at its own 8-yard-line. A penalty moved the Wildcats back to the four and three Dave Jones rushes later, Newark punted with Spielman fair-catching the ball at the Newark 39.

From there, the Tigers moved backwards on a pair of penalties and a sack until they faced a third-down-and-27 situation at the Newark 44. Several Newark defenders chased the backpedaling Dewitz back into Massillon territory before the senior quarterback lofted the ball over their heads to the waiting Spielman near the left sideline.

Behind a cordon of blockers, Spielman rolled 31 yards to the Newark 13 and four Johnson bursts later, the Tigers led 14-0 as Johnson dove in from two yards out.

Newark then stalled at its own 15 and Kirk Ivan took a fair catch on the ensuing punt at the Newark 49. Then, Johnson went off tackle for two yards; Spielman went off right tackle and cut back for seven yards and then dove off tackle again for three yards. This repetition set up what was one of the prettiest plays of the game.

Dewitz faked a handoff going right and then gave it on the counter to Johnson, who slid off tackle and then headed for the left sideline, dragging tacklers the last five yards into the end zone.

But let Darrell Strickling, spokesman for the offensive line, tell it.

“On the counter play, the defensive tackle on the left side sets up the end and the right tackle comes across and pulls for the running back,” Strickling said.

“A play like that keeps the defense honest. But the offensive line got on our blocks and stuck with them until we got the job done tonight. We’ve been coming up to the stadium on weekends and working, especially on our pass protection. We’re working together.

Newark picked up its initial first down of the first half with 4:50 left on a pass from Trey Balding to Jones swinging out of the backfield. But the Newark drive stalled at the Massillon 25 as Tom Gruno, Tim Sampsel and Spielman simultaneously hit or put pressure on Balding’s fourth-down pass attempt to end the threat.

The teams each had short-lived drives – Massillon’s ending on an interception, Newark’s with a punt. Currence and his coaching staff instructed the Tigers to decline a Newark illegal procedure penalty on the kick and take the ball at their own 22 with 1:02 left rather than make the Wildcats kick again to possibly gain better field position.

“There wasn’t much time left anyway and we needed a big play to get down into better field position,” Currence said in explaining his decision. “Besides, the rain made it difficult to run back any punt. So we ran our first trap play of the game. With the trap play, you have as good a chance of breaking a big play as on any play.”

Behind the skilled work of the offensive line, Johnson shot through the initial mass of bodies and headed to the right sideline free and clear. He then turned on the jets and wrapped up a 78-yard touchdown run, giving the Tigers a 27-0 halftime lead and thoroughly demoralizing Newark.

“We could see Newark getting a little tired on us,” Strickling said. “We were playing heads-up ball.”

Johnson still had the fire burning inside him as the teams lined up for the second-half kickoff. He took the return up the middle, then dashed to the left for a 95-yard return into the end zone. But no score. There was the small matter of a penalty flag for a clip which, after the yardage was marked off, put the ball back on the Massillon 44.

No problem; the Tigers went back to the methodical way of moving the ball 56 yards to a touchdown, scoring in five plays with the fifth play Johnson’s final TD on a 13-yard run, breaking past the befuddled Newark defenders on the same counter play he scored upon in the second quarter. Who says lightning doesn’t strike twice?

“Johnson played a great game,” Currence said in the understatement of the 1983 season.

After Bronc Phisterer’s fourth of five successful extra point kicks, the 34-0 lead held up until 7:36 remained in the game when Pfisterer added a 29-yard field goal. Junior Irwin Hastings took a 12-yard pass from junior quarterback Mike Scott before Pfisterer notched the final point with 45 seconds left.

The defense, particularly the front four of John Brown, Gruno, John Franke and Tim Sampsel, was sterling. And when Neward mounted its last attack with less than seven minutes left, the Tiger defensive subs got into the act, too.

Newark moved the ball following Pfisterer’s field goal from its 35 to the Massillon 24 and had a second-and-five at that point. But Balding made an unwise pitch back to tailback Jay Redman and Redman was swarmed under by a gang of Tigers for a five-yard loss back to the 29.

Then Baldking went back to pass and was smacked by Massillon senior Jim Hendricks just as he released the ball, which floated into the arms of Tiger senior defensive back Kevin Shepherd. It was a fine piece of teamwork and fitting that a pair of seniors who see limited playing time were the ones to hook up in stopping Newark.

“The defensive coaches are always after a shutout,” Currence said. “It’s a moral victory for them. Team defense is really what makes a team great. They’re all individuals and they’re concentrating on playing their own position, not thinking about playing another position and that’s the team concept.”

Bill Biggers, coach of the Newark squad which fell to 1-3-1 had another concept of his team. “We were poor,” he said. “Jones runs the ball hard, but our offensive line stunk. Jones is a very good back, but we can’t seem to open anything up for him.

Perhaps Biggers and his staff should ask Currence, offensive coordinator Nick Vrotsos and offensive tackle coach Chuck Utterback to conduct a clinic.

Or he could just ask Collins, Elvasky, Morelli, Hendershot, and Strickling – the Tigers who get down and get themselves dirty.

‘Johnson played a great game’

Those were the words used by Massillon coach Mike Currence to describe the game Craig Johnson played in Friday nights’ 44-0 victory over Newark in Paul Brown Tiger Stadium. Johnson scored touchdowns on runs of 2, 37, 78 and 13 yards and gained 166 yards in 14 carries.

First downs rushing 10 2
First downs passing 8 3
First downs by penalty 1 0
Totals first downs 19 5
Yards gained rushing 307 57
Yards lost rushing 23 24
Net yards rushing 284 33
Net yards passing 204 84
Total yards gained 488 117
Passes attempted 21 18
Passes completed 10 8
Passes int. by 2 1
Yardage on pass int. 6 0
Times kicked off 8 1
Kickoff average 46.8 55.0
Kickoff return yards 39 151
Punts 2 8
Punting average 39.0 34.4
Punt return yards 26 0
Punts blocked by 0 0
Fumbles 1 0
Fumbles lost 0 0
Penalties 4 4
Yards penalized 34 39
Touchdowns rushing 4 0
Touchdowns passing 2 0
Miscellaneous touchdowns 0 0
Number of plays 60 42
Time of possession 26.02 21.58
Attendance 8,445

NEWARK……………….0 0 0 0 – 0
MASSILLON……………7 20 7 10 – 44

M – Chris Spielman 21 pass from Brian Dewitz (Bronc Pfisterer kick)
M – Craig Johnson 2 run (Pfisterer kick)
M—Johnson 37 run (Pfisterer kick)
M – Johnson 78 run (kick failed)
M – Johnson 13 run (Pfisterer kick)
M – Pfisterer 29 field goal
M—Irwin Hastings 12 pass from Mike Scott (Pfisterer kick)

Chris Spielman