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Tigers finish street fight on top 13-3

Independent Sports Editor

MASSILLON ‑ It was a street fight with white lines instead of double yellow, the Massillon Tigers’ 13‑3 victory over Akron St. Vincent‑St. Mary Friday night.

“If you ever saw a good fighter get up after he was knocked down…” John. Maronto’s clause had punch enough to render a sentence unnecessary.

The Fighting Irish ‑ just the right nickname ‑ were knocked down all right 2‑4 coming in.

The game, which left the Tigers at 6‑2 going out, left no hearts stopped. The non-allure of a team with a losing record produced a season‑low crowd of 9,243.

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But inside the binoculars, and down at ringside, there was plenty of Ali‑Frazier in this.

“There was some serious hitting,” said Tiger linebacker Jerrod Vance, who was doing his slugging for the Irish a year ago, then decided to transfer to Massillon.

“I don’t think they were as good as some of the other teams we’ve played. But they were more pumped up. Part of it was because of me, I guess.

“I was getting weird feelings from those guys, with all the hitting and all the talk down there. But that’s the way it had to be.”

In the end, the Tiger, took the best punch the Irish could muster, and knocked them out before it could go the distance.

“In the end, you could tell they were getting up slow,” Vance said.

The Tigers must make their celebration fast. They now must prepare for an invasion by the 6‑2 Perry Panthers, who are stinging from an overtime loss to Midpark.

Massillon heroes abounded Friday. The defense, wearing down the Irish by keeping fresh linemen in the game, had its knees buckled but punched mightily off the ropes.

The special teams were just that.

The offense did just enough, and The Union, alias the offensive line, got a chance to fine tune its touchdown dance.

The Tigers have been living on the edge ever since losing to Austintown‑Fitch three Fridays ago. One more loss and they’re out of the playoff off race, and you know what that’s like around here.

The edge is where they were living in the fourth quarter Friday.

They were nursing a 6‑3 lead based on Mike Norris’ 26‑yard touchdown run, but the Irish were driving near midfield.

On second and eight from the 48, eight fullback Ken Wayman dropped a pitch, and the ball bounced the funny way footballs do, out of his line of flight and into the arms of streaking Tiger linebacker Todd Perdue.

The Tigers got the ball on the Irish 41. On fourth and goal from the 1, Cornell Jackson plowed over the left side, putting six points on the board and the game out of reach with 4:18 left. Norris’ PAT cemented the final score.

The win wasn’t as easy as a shallow view might have foreseen ‑ the Irish were 2‑4, weren’t they.

But outlasting a team that beat Akron Garfield and should have defeated Cincinnati Moeller means never having to say you’re sorry.

“I want to tell yon something,” said Maronto, the Tigers’ head coach, “I’m proud of this team. We’ve been through three tough game in succession, There comes a time when you’re not as concerned with how big you win as with showing the determination to get the job done … and we got it done.”

An early knockout looked like a good possibility when Wes Siegenthaler returned the opening kickoff 41 yards to the Tigers’ 49‑yard line.

A six‑yard sideline completion from Paul Fabianich to Siegenthaler on the left, a 16‑yard sideline completion to Siegenthaler on the right and a three‑yard ran by Derick Newman put the ball on the 26.

On second and seven, Norris lined up in a one‑back set and ran on a trap play into the right side of the line, which became a Union Gap. Norris ran downfield five yards then cut to the right sidelines, outrunning two Irish defenders on his 26‑yard TD bolt.

“Joe Luckring, Tony Lambert and Lance Hostetler (Union members) drew their guys off the line real well, and I did my best to try to get to the end zone,” Norris said.

Norris changed shoes but missed the PAT kick, and the Tigers led 6‑0 just one minute and 18 seconds into the game.

Little was seen of the Tigers’ offense the rest of the half.

St. Vincent‑St. Mary drove to the Massillon 25 and stalled when safety Bart Letcavits knocked away a would‑be TD pass on fourth down.

On their next possession, the Irish plowed to the Massillon 31 but were stymied by Hoagy Pfisterer’s diving interception.

The next time they had the ball the Irish made it to the Tiger 37 before a Mike Wilson hit forced fourth‑and‑long and a punt.

The punt, which died at the 3, enabled the Irish to break the ice. The Tigers wound up punting from deep in their own territory, giving St. Vincent field position that led to a 28‑yard field goal by Vince Lobelle with 2:41 left in the half.

With two minutes left in the half, Ken Hawkins nailed a 47‑yard punt that landed at the 3, but the Irish made a first down and survived the half without further damage.

The Tiger Swing Band had the field as long as the Tiger offense. At the intermission, the Irish led 169‑91 in offensive yardage and 15:15 to 8:45 in time of possession.

The defenses controlled the third quarter, in which the offenses mustered 82 yards.

A key play was mad by Tiger nose guard C.J. Harris, who stuffed quarterback Rick Davis for no gain on fourth and one at the Tiger 40 with 1:45 left in the third quarter.

The Irish made their last run at a win early in the fourth quarter.

Taking over on a punt on their own 20, they pushed to near midfield on a facemask penalty.

Perdue made his big fumble recovery two plays later.

Now the Tigers had a chance to put the game away.

They did, behind three big plays. On fourth and two from the 34, Cornell Jackson dropped a pitch but picked it up on the bounce and ran seven yards for a first down.

But Jackson then lost three yards, and it was second and 13.

“They were playing their corners tight, and their linebackers were playing the sweep,” Maronto said.

“He sent Letcavits outside the cornerbacks, down the left sideline. Letcavits cut back toward the hashmarks as he reached the 15 and was open as he gathered in a nicely thrown Fabianich pass for a 27‑yard gain to the eight.

Jackson’ a fourth‑down TD run was the big play that iced the game.

Injuries shaded the look of both teams. The Tigers’ were without defensive tackle Duane Crenshaw for the first time this season, one factor in St. Vincent’s gaining 203 rushing yards, at 4.5 a carry.

The Irish didn’t have Carl McDougal, an outstanding back nursing an ankle injury and made sophomore Rich Sparhawk their workhorse, giving him his first carries of the season … but also his last.

After gaining 62 yards in 11 totes, Sparhawk suffered a broken collarbone near the end of the first half.

With several running backs having fallen victim to injury, the Irish found themselves using Davis, the quarterback, at halfback an several plays.

The Tigers used Siegenthaler at quarterback on several plays for the second straight week, but the Irish handled the switch better than Cleveland St. Joseph had the week before, limiting Siegenthaler to four yards in four rushes and one pass completion, an 11‑yarder to Letcavits.

The Irish passing attack was contained by the Tigers. Davis and Mark Lenz combined for six completions in 19 attempts for 85 yards.

Fabianich completed five of nine tosses far 61 yards.

Norris gained 61 of the Tigers’ 121 rushing yard,, in just six carries.

Jackson, in his second game coming off knee surgery, carried nine times for 42 yards.

Newman was held to 12 yards in 10 carries.

Even though his defense did a decent job of containing them, St. Vincent coach John Cistone cited the Tigers’ offensive backs as the strength of the team.

“Massillon’s a good team, and I thought we did well against ’em,” the 26th‑year Irish boss said. “We played hard. It’s just a matter of us running out of backs we can use.

“And it seems like every time we came down here we have trouble in the first quarter.”

That early trouble set the tone for the game. But after that … hey, it was a streetfight.

Duane Crenshaw