Fitch flattens Tigers 21-19
Ex-Tiger Hartman: “Words can’t describe the way I feel”
BY STEVE DOERSCHUK
Independent Sports Editor
MASS ILLON – The magic that was a win over Barberton get flattened by a Fitch fist Friday night.
Austintown‑Fitch, whose lumberjack linemen have to grunt to squeeze into jerseys marked “extra‑large,” had a tight squeeze on the scoreboard, trimming the Massillon Tigers 21‑19. But this was no cheapie, Fitch led 333‑182 in total yards.
The Tigers, who overcome a 20‑9 halftime deficit and beat Barberton 30‑20 last Saturday, went flat in the second half against Fitch, losing a 12‑7 edge at the intermission, falling to 4-2 on the season and going on the critical list of playoff contenders.
Fitch improved to 5‑1, winning its third straight since a 21‑12 loss to McKinley.
“Words can’t describe the way I feel about winning here,” said Fitch head coach David Hartman, who was a senior on the unbeaten 1964 Massillon team.
Words came hard to the conquered coach, the Tigers’ John Maronto.
“We had a chance to win, even as poorly as we played at times, but we didn’t rally when we had to,” Maronto said. “They probably deserved to win. That was the best football team we’ve played. And their quarterback is one excellent athlete.”
The quarterback was Dave Phillips. Maybe he has something to do with Phillips 66. He was slippery enough.
Late in the third quarter, with the Tigers nursing their 12‑7 lead, Fitch had the ball with a fourth‑and‑inches 15 yards away from the Massillon endzone. While many among the throng of 10,988 in Paul Brown Tiger Stadium followed fullback Leo Hawkins as be leaped into the middle, presumably with the ball, Phillips kept and sprinted 15 yards around right end to a score.
He also ran for a two‑point conversion, and Fitch led 15‑12 with 10 seconds left in period three.
Hartman decided to go for the jugular, ordering an onside kick.
The move backfired royally. Massillon’s Tim Carpenter pounced on the high‑bouncing squibber, and the Tigers marched 53 yards to regain the lead. A 23‑yard ran by Michael Harris on a fake‑reverse and a 20‑yard pass play to tight end Daimon Richardson were the big plays that set up a one‑yard TD blast by Norris.
Norris’ kick made it 19‑15 with 9:56 left in the game.
In defense of the onside kick, Hartman said, “The defense was playing extremely well, and we’d rehearsed that play a lot, I thought we had a 50-50 chance. We just didn’t get a good kick.”
Instead, Fitch got a kick in the pants. But the Falcons got back up and started slugging away with their ground game again.
Norris ‘ kickoff was high, but short, giving Fitch premium field position eight yards short of midfield. Using the same factor, deception, that resulted in the previous Fitch touchdown, the Falcons turned a pair of fourth‑and‑one situations into big plays that set up the winning touchdown.
Wingback Pat Starch went 17 yards on a dive option on fourth‑and‑inch from the 48. Tailback Fred Smith picked up 11 yards on fourth‑and‑one from the 35.
But Fitch still needed to get into the endzone, trailing by four, and things were looking up far the Tigers when Smith was stopped for no gain at the 19.
The Falcons were looking at a third‑and‑five, but a late hit was called on the play, an unusual flag considering the critical time in the game and the apparent lack flagrant contact.
The ball was marched half the distance, to the 9. Hawkins was stuffed for only a yard gain, but Phillips then took matters into his own hands, keeping and wriggling through the right side for eight yards and a score.
Mike Wilson made a big play when he blocked the PAT kick, keeping the score at 21‑ 19 with 5:05 left.
The kickoff went to the man the Tigers hoped would get the ball, but Wes Siegenthaler could negotiate his way only to the 24 on the slippery turf.
On first down, Michael Harris gained five yards, but on second down quarterback Paul Fabianich fired the ball toward Smrek, but Wilson sniffed out the play, stepped in front of the receiver and picked off the ball. He raced 40 yards up the right sideline, picked up a good block that knocked Phillips out of the way, cut to the middle and streaked into the end zone on an electrifying 85‑yard touchdown trek.
The PAT run failed, but the Tigers had seized the lead and the momentum one minute before halftime.
Hartman thought his team could shake loose Smrek for a touchdown on the play that backfired. The Tigers, he explained, had been lining up Wilson as a monster back to the strong side of their formation.
Now it was fourth‑and‑seven with 45 second left. Fabianich’s pass to the right sideline was complete, but fell far short of the first down.
Fitch took over with 40 second, left, and the game was history.
“Passing hasn’t been an integral part of Massillon’s offense,” noted Hartman. “We got hem into a position where they had to beat us by passing, and that’s not what they do best.”
Nor is it what Fitch does best.
The Falcons were in position to take firm control of the game, leading 7-6 and moving the ball effectively they arrived at a third‑and‑three on the Massillon 21.
Phillips dropped back to pass and bobbled the snap, and the Tigers were fortunate to recover his fumble.
Now it was third‑and‑five. The Tigers gambled on the big play, sending Jerome Myricks down the right sideline on a fly pattern. Fabianich’s bomb was out of his reach at the 40.
With just under four minutes left, Ken Hawkins punted to the Fitch 41. Fitch stalled on three plays, and the Tigers regained possession on a punt at their own 31 with 1:27 left.
The situation dictated pass, Maronto hoped to cross up the Falcons with a couple of runs, but Harris gained only a yard on first down, and Norris was stopped after two yards on a second‑down draw play.
The Tigers gambled with the bomb again on third down, but Bart Letcavits couldn’t catch up to Fabianich’s missile.
“They crossed us up when the monster wound up playing the weak side when we threw that pass,” Hartman said. “It was either a fortunate accident by them or a very good guess.”
The game began with both teams moving the ball well. Fitch’s initial drive stalled on the Tigers’ 31, and Massillon’s first possession ended with Norris kicking a low line drive on a 32‑yard field goal attempt. Norris was handling the place‑kicking as a result of Todd Manion having been injured when he was hit by a practice kick during pregame warmups.
Fitch turned its second possession into a score, driving 80 yards in 10 plays, with Smith going the final 10 yards on a sprint draw. Chris Berni’s PAT boot made it 7‑0 with 8:02 left in the first half.
Harris made a sparkling return on the ensuing kickoff, and the Tigers set up on their own 44. Four nice runs by Harris and a 20‑yard Fabianich‑to‑Siegenthaler completion to the 11 led to a two‑yard TD burst by Norris. Norris hit the PAT kick badly, and the score stayed at 7‑6 with 4:29 left in the half.
A short kickoff triggered another Fitch drive, but Wilson’s interception intervened.
Manion’s loss was not a clear blow initially. Norris has shown great promise as a kicker.
“I was kicking the ball well before the game,” Norris said. “It wound up being just one of those nighs.”
Fitch wound up with a 225‑132 lead in rushing yards, a statistic under-scored by Fitch’s lead of 29:47 to 18:13 edge in time of possession. Hawkins led the way with 91 yards in 19 carries.
Harris led he Tiger ground game with 96 yards in 19 trips, but the other Massillon backs were held in check.
Phillips completed six of 14 passes for 108 yards, Fabianich four of eight tosses for 50 yards.
“Phillips was a great quarterback,” said Tiger defensive tackle Duane Crenshaw. “They made some good plays. We made some good plays. It was one of those games where it looks like the last team that has the ball will win.
“Now we’ve got to regroup. We’ll come back.”
The Tiger’ remaining games are against Cleveland St. Joseph (4‑1), Akron St. Vincent‑St. Mary (2‑3), Perry (5‑1) and McKinley (5‑1).
The comeback won’t be easy.
First downs rushing 8 13
First downs passing 2 5
First downs by penalty 1 1
Total first downs 11 19
Yards gained rushing 139 246
Yards lost rushng 7 21
Net yards rushing 132 225
Net yards passing 50 108
Total yards gained 182 333
Passes completed 4 6
Passes int. by 0 1
Times kicked off 4 4
Kickoff average 40.5 42.5
Kickoff return yards 59 57
Punts 3 2
Punting average 38.3 34.0
Punt return yards 1 3
Punts blocked by 0 0
Fumbles 1 1
Fumbles lost 0 0
Penalties 5 10
Yards penalized 52 73
Touchdowns rushing 2 3
Touchdowns passing 0 0
Miscellaneous touchdowns 0 0
Number of plays 43 63
Time of possession 18:13 29:47
FITCH 0 7 8 6 21
MASSILLON 0 12 0 7 19