Massillon Tigers Black Letter Logo

Tigers nip Bears in night at the races

Owens says key play ‘clearly’ a fumble; Schuetz modifies view to ‘inconclusive’

Independent Sports Editor

The big game was decided by the big race.

And, the big question: was if really a fumble?

Jaiye Murdock sped to victory in the first race. He served early notice the Jackson Polar Bears can run with the big dogs.

Jeff Perry won the last race. It was the one that provided the Massillon Tigers with a scream‑til‑the-­gun 21‑15 victory in the Division I high school football playoffs Saturday night at Fawcett Stadium.

Murdock and Perry were two of Stark County’s brightest track stars last spring.

Murdock was among Ohio’s top freshman sprinters. In Jackson’s final 1990 dual meet, against North Canton, he won the 100‑, 200‑ a 400‑meter dashes.

Football scouting reports said Murdock, now a 5‑foot-6, 150‑pound sophomore, was Jackson’s only burner, but might not be ready to prowl under pressure.

The report was half right. Less than 2 1/2 minutes into the game, Murdock lined up wide left, took an inside reverse handoff, and flew through a gaping hole that led to the right sideline. All‑county cornerback Chad Buck­land, Massillon’s fastest defensive player, put up a good chase but Jaiye (pronounced “hi”) turned on the jets and said goodbye. His 53‑yard run and Brian Parkison’s P.A.T. kick made it 7‑0 and left the crowd of 18,124 agog.

Parkison was victimized by a late (and penalized) hit that shook him up. He kept kicking but held an ice pack to the back of his head when not on the field.

The ice was long melted w it was Perry’s turn.

By early this May, Perry had emerged as western Stark County’s top‑ranked runner in the 110‑meter high hurdles. His football position was to be a shot‑put kind of job ‑ defensive end.

Perry has wound up playing outside linebacker. He lined up at the position early in the fourth quarter. Jackson led 15‑13 and was driving, Stark‑County MVP Jeff Morris dropped back to pass.

Massillon senior Mark Murphy, playing the end spot formerly manned by Perry, was unblocked.

“It was one of the few times they messed up,” Mur­phy said.. “They played tight. It was a helluva game. But on that play it opened up and I shot through.”

Murphy made a clean sack of Morris. Either the collision (the officials’ interpretation) or Morris’ impact when he fell (the Jackson camp’s opinion) separated the quarterback from the ball.

“I saw him (Murphy) cause the fumble and I saw the ball pop loose,” Perry said. “I grabbed the ball.”

But he stopped.

Murphy ran toward the north grandstand, packed with Massillon fans. He leaped and pumped his fists.

“I figured the play was dead,” Perry said. “Every­body stopped.”

Somebody in the press box screamed: “Was there are whistle?! ?” Apparently not. Perry caught himself and began running. Jackson’s Milan Herceg, who like everyone else had relaxed, recovered and got his hands on Perry. But the Massillon captain escaped and steamed toward a huge opening on the left sideline. All‑county running back Dan Craven gave chase but Perry expanded a 3‑yard cushion to 5 yards as he headed for I-77 and the east end zone.

It took a while for the fact to sink in among the fans, but the officials’ outstretched arms made it final: touchdown.

Falando Ashcraft’s two‑point conversion run over the right side made it 21‑15, Massillon, with 11: 43 left in the game.

The sequence will live in infamy at Jackson.

Jackson head coach Elmer Schuetz’s home was flooded with calls Sunday from fans who thought it was a bad call. Many asked the same question: What can we do about it?

They already knew the answer: nothing.

Massillon head coach Lee Owens said he had a clear lock at the play and judged it to be a true fumble. He said game films confirmed it was a fumble.

Either of two men had authority to make a ruling on the Murphy‑Morris‑Perry play ‑ referee Ed Miltko or umpire Dale VanHose. Miltko allowed the touchdown to stand.

It was a night of controversy for Miltko, who did not call intentional grounding against Tiger quarterback Barry Shertzer on an early play that appeared to war­rant such, but did flag Morris for grounding on a fourth ­quarter play that looked like a carbon copy.

Schuetz was initially emphatic in stating Morris should have been ruled down.

He modified his view after poring over his camp’s game film.

“You can’t tell concretely what happened,” he said. “We think it happened one way and Massillon thinks it happened the other way.

“I was mad last night. Part of that came from frus­tration. You hate to lose on a play like that. It was a game between two good football teams, both of which are capable of advancing beyond the next round.

“Again, I was mad, but I take nothing away from Massillon. They played a good game and I wish them luck.”

Owens said Miltko made “a great call.” He said he closely studied a clear video account of the play filmed by veteran camera man Ron Prunty.

“You can clearly see the ball coming out before Mor­ris hits the ground,” Owens said. “The ball rolled around and basically was pulled off Murphy’s back by Perry.”

Owens said players may have relaxed because of Murphy’s gesture of celebration.

“A lot of them probably saw Mike Martin go up to Mark where he was celebrating and thought the play was over,” Owens said. “Mike turned around and made a block that helped Jeff get free.”

Miltko never indicated the play was anything but alive. He maintained his crouched posture, watching the action, as the entire scene unfolded.

Playoff officials are basically all‑star crews. Hun­dreds of officials apply to the OHSAA for the privilege of working in the playoffs. The best 100, in the OHSAA’s eyes, are selected.

Saturday’s crew consisted of Miltko, a Steubenville resident with 25 years of experience; VanHose, a Col­umbus resident, 19 years; linesman Emerson Payne of Mount Vernon, 37 years; line judge Dave D’Annabal of Steubenville, 13 years, and back judge Bob Graf of Men­tor, 22 years.

Polar Bears and not zebras were all anybody noticed in the early minutes of the game.

The Tigers won the opening coin toss and attempted to send a message by deferring. That is, they chose to play defense first and kick off to Jackson. In essence, they were telling the Bears: We think we can stop you.

Instead, Jackson drove 75 yards for a touchdown. On third‑and‑seven, Morris and all‑county wide receiver Shawn Lutz hooked up on one of their pet plays, a side­line pass that takes advantage of Lutz’s 6-foot‑6 frame and soft hands. It went for 18 yards. Murdock scored.

The game’s next three series were “three‑and‑punt,” but Jackson won the battle of field position and started on the Massillon 32‑yard line after a 15‑yard punt return by Craven. Another inside reverse to Murdock and a run by Craven netted 11 yards.

Then, on second‑and‑six, Morris went over the middle on a well‑timed throw to tight end Brent Bowen for 21 yards and a touchdown.

P.A. T. holder Beau Schuetz, the coach’s son, scored a two‑point conversion on a fake and it was 15‑0, Bears, with 5:28 left in the first quarter.

The scene at the end of Schuetz’s run said a lot about why the game was so close. Tiger cornerback Dan Hackenbracht got in Schuetz’s face in the end zone. Schuetz didn’t back down, and neither did the Bears at any point in the night.

But then, neither did the Tigers, who went on to dominate the second quarter.

After one period, the Bears led 123‑21 in total offense.

In the second quarter, the Tigers outgained Jackson 88‑22.

Massillon drove 66 yards to the 8‑yard line before running out of downs on its first possession of the second period.

The Tigers got the ball and consumed most of the rest of the quarter on a 68‑yard scoring drive. Massillon had begun to win the war in the trenches and Ashcraft was picking up steam en route to a 126‑yard rushing day that left him with 1,091 on the season.

But it took a 6‑yard end‑around run by Marc Stafford, on fourth‑and‑goal to get the touchdown. Ryan John made his 30th straight point‑after kick and it was 15‑7 with 2:36 left in the half.

The Bears made a statement by scoring the first time they had the ball. The Tigers sent a similar message or the first series of the second half. Gary Young delivered a frisky 43‑yard kickoff return to give the Tigers posses­sion at midfield.

On second and eight, Ashcraft followed a strong lead block by Travis McGuire and shed several would‑be tacklers on his most impressive run of the night, a 41­yarder to the 6. Ashcraft scored two plays later behind a strong block by Duane Scott.

Bowen intercepted a Troy Burick pass on an attemp­ted two‑point conversion, and it was 15‑13 with 9:51 left in the third quarter.

The Bears did not go into hibernation. Their next six plays included gains of 4, 14, 15 and 17 yards. On second-and-eight from the Massillon 26, though, all‑county linebacker Eric Wright snuffed out the drive with an interception.

All‑county (yes, there were a lot of all‑stars in this game) punter Chris Roth looked the part with a 50‑yard boomer to Jackson’s 15. The Tigers soon got the ball back near midfield on a punt, but they could not capitalize on the field position because Jackson’s Bryan Scheetz intercepted a tipped bomb intended for Stafford. He returned it 43 yards to the Massillon 40 and the Bears were in good shape with the game growing old.

An 8‑yard pass to Craven, a 5‑yard run by Morris, a 3‑yard run by Craven and a 1‑yard gain by Craven hammered the ball to the Tiger 23, where it was third and six. The next play was the controversial one that produced Perry’s touchdown.

Midway, through the fourth quarter, the Bears penetrated Tiger territory. On third and three, defensive end Mike Martin grounded Murdock for a 3‑yard loss and the Bears had to punt.

Jackson never threatened again, although the Bear got the ball back deep in their own territory with the hope of getting another big play. Linebacker Jason Woullard’s interception with a minute left ended a doubt.

Jackson fumble
lifts Tigers

Repository sports writer

CANTON ‑ Half of western Stark County loves’ referee Ed Miltko and the other half probably wishes his mug would turn up on the side of a milk carton.

The rest of the football fans who saw Satur­day’s Division I, Region 2 semifinal game between Massillon Washington and Jackson just plain enjoy­ed the ups and downs of Massillon’s 21-15 victory over the Polar Bears.

The victory, which came in front of a noisy 17,124 fans at Fawcett Stadium, moved the 8‑3 Tigers into next Saturday’s Region 2 championship game against 11‑0 Sandusky at a site to be determined. Sandusky beat Toledo St. John’s 21‑15 in overtime Saturday.

While the Tigers go on to play for their second regional title, the 9‑2 Polar Bears are left with hav­ing to deal with The Fumble.

That one call, a questionable fumble on the first play of the fourth quarter that resulted in a 72‑yard return by defensive end Jeff Perry for the game­ winning touchdown, left Miltko as the most despised referee in the history of Jackson football.

Here’s what happened:

Leading 15‑13 and looking at third‑and‑four at the Massillon 23, Jackson quarterback Jeff Morris was sacked and stripped of the ball by Massillon tackle Mark Murphy.

Perry scooped up the ball at the 28 and stood there with it for about a second or two. All the players reacted as if the play had been called dead, but finally realized it was a live ball.

There was some question of: 1) whether Morris already was down before the fumble, 2) whether Perry was down after picking up the fumble and 3) whether the official had blown the play dead.

Perry did the smart thing, darting down the right side of the Field for the touchdown. He says he’s been clocked at 4.4 in the 40 and it looked that way as he pulled away from three Polar Bears down the stretch.

Falando Ashcraft added the two‑point conversion to give the Tigers the win.

But the question remained. What happened?

Here’s Jackson’s side of it.

“It may have been a fumble, but the ref’ blew the whistle, and he knows it,” Morris said. “He even came up to me and said, ‘I’m sorry, I blew it.”

Miltko couldn’t be reached for comment after the game.

Jackson head coach Elmer Schuetz didn’t hear Miltko apologize for making a bad call.

“I’m glad I didn’t hear that or I’d have really been upset,” said an very hot Schuetz. “It was a terrible call, a terrible one. It’s a shame. Our kids deserved better than that.”

Here’s Massillon’s side of it:

“It definitely was a fumble,” Perry said. “I grab­bed the ball and I stood there. But then I said to myself’, ‘I haven’t heard the whistle.’ That’s when I took off.”

“It seemed like I was the only one in the stadium who saw the ball come out and realize it was a live ball,” Massillon head coach Lee Owens said. “I saw the whole thing beginning to end and I be­lieve it was the right call.”

To argue the point any further is ridiculous. Massillon played well enough to win, regardless of the call. Meanwhile, Jackson didn’t play poorly enough to lose.

Jackson took a 15‑0 first‑quarter lead on a 54‑yard touchdown run off an inside reverse to sophomore Jaiye Murdock and an excellently placed 21­yard TD pass from quarterback Jeff Morris, over linebacker Jason Woullard and into the hands of tight end Brent Bowen.

Massillon was outgained in total yards, 246‑207. Ashcraft led all rushers with 23 carries for 126 yards, including a 32‑yard run in which he broke a bundle of tackles to reach the Jackson 6 and set up the Tigers’ second score.

Morris completed 9‑of‑23 passes for 117 yards, one TD and two interceptions. Dan Craven and Murdock both had 62 yards rushing, while Bowen caught four passes for 70 yards.

Massillon 0 7 6 8 21
Jackson 15 0 0 0 15

J ‑ Murdock 54 run (Parkison kick)
J ‑ Bowen 21 pass from Morris (Schuetz kick)
M ‑ Stafford 6 run (John kick)
M – Ashcraft 5 run (Pass intercepted)
M – Perry 72 fumble recovery (Ashcraft run)

Records: Jackson 9‑2. Massillon 8‑3.

Chad Buckland