Deja vu at the Rubber Bowl: Tiger win recalls ’89 thriller
By STEVE DOERSCHUK
Independent Sports Editor
It is almost as if the Massillon Tigers bottled the 1989 season, popped the cork, and are watching it spill over the 1991 landscape.
“It’s scary,” Massillon head coach Lee Owens was saying after Saturday’s 42‑21 playoff victory over Toledo St. John’s, “’how much this season, at times, has reminded me of 1989.”
Coming back from a 21‑7 deficit to beat St. John’s was just the latest leg in the Tigers’ trip down Deja Vu Boulevard.
The game was quite similar to the 1989 playoff win over Walsh Jesuit, in which the Tigers trailed 24‑7 before rallying for a 42‑24 victory.
Adding to the spookiness is the fact the Walsh Jesuit and Toledo St. John’s high school buildings are exactly the same ‑ built from the same blueprint, the same year.
The 1989 Tigers bounced back from a fourth‑week loss to Moeller and won four straight games, lost to a strong Catholic school team to snap the losing streak, then rode into the playoffs with a win over McKinley.
The 1991 Tigers have followed exactly the same course.
So why should they stop now?
Just as the ’89 Tigers advanced to the state semifinals against Cleveland St. Ignatius in the Rubber Bowl, so will the 1991 team.
Come to think of it, Owens said, now is the time to put an end to this replay business.
”As many similarities as there have been,” Owens said, “it’s time to write another script.”
The 1989 Tigers lost to Ignatius by the same 42‑21 score posted against Toledo St. John’s at the Rubber Bowl Saturday night.
“The only way we can approach it,” said Owens, “is to believe we have a much better shot at Ignatius this time around.”
The Tigers can hope the St. John’s game, witnessed by a crowd announced at 10,809, put foreshadowing in place of flashbacks.
The contest ended with backup fullback Dan Seimetz bashing his way inside the 1-yard line. The referee’s spot had the ball pushing against the goal stripe as time expired, symbolic of the momentum the Tigers established with ‘a blockbuster second half.
St. John’s scored on its first play from scrimmage in the second half on a wide‑open, 46 yard pass play from quarterback Dave Croci to split end Brad Vineyard. A wide‑open, two‑point conversion pass created a 21‑7 lead for the Titans, sparking memories not of 1989, but of 1990, when the Tigers were dismissed from the playoffs by Sandusky, 27‑7 at the Rubber Bowl.
However, there was still the question of St. John’s being able to contain Massillon’s running game.
Moments before Vineyard’s stunning touchdown, the Tigers had made a statement. Defying all convention, especially since they trailed by a meager 6 points at the time, they “went for it” on fourth‑and‑one from their own 29‑yard-line in the early moments of the third quarter.
“We wound up having to punt on that possession,” Massillon head coach Lee Owens said, “but we easily made the first down on the fourth‑and‑one. It was our way of saying, ‘We’re not having our way now, but we’re the better team.”
Travis McGuire was the man who ran for the first down on the fourth‑and‑one.
Falando Ashcraft would become the man who got the Tigers over the top, providing their first lead of the game with an 80‑yard touchdown run.
But it was McGuire who led the early part of the comeback,
It was McGuire who exploded for gains of 34 and 20 yards to set up a three‑yard smash by Ashcraft with 5:50 left in the third quarter, trimming St. John’s lead to 21‑7.
The Tigers’ next possession started on their own 18, but McGuire spinned and sprinted for 53 yards in two plays to quickly create a scoring threat Ashcraft smashed through the line for 18 to make a first‑and-goal at the 7.
On fourth down from the 2, Eric Wright came in as a blocking back, and McGuire dove over his block for a touchdown. The P.A.T. kick was wide right enabling St. John’s to keep a 21-20 lead with 33 seconds left in the third quarter.
A sack by “Rob” defensive end Jason Woullard set up a St. John’s punt, but the Tigers again had poor field position starting at their own 11 in the opening seconds of the fourth quarter. McGuire got the Tigers out of the hole with a nine yard gain to the 20, which led to a “free play” on which quarterback Nick Mossides tried to hit Marc Stafford deep down the right sideline. The pass sailed out of bounds, setting up a third-and‑one.
The give went to Ashcraft on, trap play.
“That was no surprise,” said Toledo St. John’s head coach Fred Beier. “The fullback trap and the tailback counter trey are their bread and butter.”
Ashcraft confirmed that St John’s read the play well however, he said his team’s offensive line also blocked it well.
“Travis turned the guy he was blocking out, and I went the opposite way,” Ashcraft said.
He broke into the clear, outrunning Titan defensive back Jason Dzierwa into the right comer of the end zone for an 80 yard touchdown. The play and McGuire’s two‑point conversion run gave the Tigers a 28‑21 lead with 9:49 left in the game.
“That was the game winner,” Owens said. “That’s the one that put us ahead.”
The kayo punch came seconds later, on St. John’s next play from scrimmage. Gadget plays had been kind to the Titans in the first half, including a fake field goal that produced a touchdown.
This time, a gadget play ‑ a double‑pass ‑ became a killer. Croci fired a quick out to Dzierwa, who in turn fired the ball upfield. By that time, the Tigers had switched from zone to man-to‑man coverage, and linebacker Brandon Turley easily intercepted the ball.
The Tigers took “over on the Titans’ 32 with nine minutes left in the game. A 17‑yard run by Ashcraft helped set up a one-yard flip into the end zone by McGuire with 6:04 left in the game. Brown’s kick made the score 35‑21.
It was “stick a fork in the Titans” time when cornerback Ron Roberson intercepted a Croci pass moments later. Roberson made a short return to the St. John’s 6.
Ashcraft’s two‑yard run and Brown’s kick made it 42‑21.
Sophomore Mike Danzy, who would have been the starting quarterback had Mossides been unable to play (coming off a concussion suffered in last week’s Akron Ellet game) finished out the game.
Had Seimetz gained another foot on the final play of the game, the Tigers would have scored close to 50 points in a game it had looked like they might well lose.
St, John’s got off to a good start when Vineyard found a seam in the middle of the field and returned the opening kickoff 65 yards to the Tiger 28.
“That threw us off balance a little,” Ashcraft said.
On that possession, Dan Maidlow, who kicked a game winning, 40‑yard field goal against Barberton the previous week, lined up for a 42‑yard attempt. The Titans set up for the field goal with three receivers on the right side of the field ‑ the fake was on. Croci, an all‑district quarterback who wound up completing 13 of 20 passes for 212 yards, was the holder on the play. He straightened up, rolled right, and easily connected with Dzierwa on a 24-yard TD pass. Maidlow’s kick made it 7‑0 with just 97 seconds gone in the game.
The Tigers then drove 50 yards to the Titans’ 14, where it was fourth‑and‑five, They, too, went for the fake field goal, but holder Jerry May’s run was stopped, setting up an 86‑yard St. John’s touchdown drive that featured the “trips” (three receiver) formation and 52 passing yards by Croci.
“They were giving us some cusion with their defensive backs at that point, and we took advantage of it,” Beier said.
Running back Jon Beier, the coach’s nephew, ran seven yards for a touchdown. Maidlow’s kick was wide right and it was 13‑0. St. John’s, with just over eight minutes gone in the game.
The Tigers’ later adjustment to tight, man‑to‑man coverage and heavy blitzing worked. However, Owens contended there was another factor in the early part of the game.
“St. John’s had probably never played in front of a crowd this big under this kind of pressure against a ‘name’ team like Massillon,” he said. “We’ve seen it many times before. A‑team will come out against us riding a wave of adrenalin and make great play after great play. That’s what seemed to be happening.
“One thing we tell our players is that a team riding that big, early, emotional wave will probably burn itself out. We tell our guys to just keep playing their game.”
The Tigers’ second and third possessions ended in punts; conversely, so did St. John’s third and fourth possessions.
Midway through the second quarter, the Tigers staged a 49-yard scoring drive. The march started with McGuire fumbling and losing four yards, but he gained 18 yards on a screen pass on the next play. The Tigers ran the next eight plays for 35 yards, the last of them a three-yard, third‑and‑goal touchdown run over the right side bv McGuire. Brown’s kick made it 13‑7 with 4:37 left in the first half, and that score stood up at intermission.
“We were fired up at half time,” said Tiger offensive, tackle Brandon Jackson.” We knew what we had to do.”
Certainly, the Tigers looked like they knew what they were doing throughout the second half.
ST. JOHN’S 21
First downs rushing 16 4
First downs passing 1 4
First downs by penalty 0 0
Totals first downs 17 12
Yards gained rushing 442 87
Yards lost rushing 4 28
Net yards rushing 438 59
Net yards passing 29 212
Total yards gained 467 271
Passes attempted 10 20
Passes Completed 3 13
Passes Int. by 0 2
Times kicked off 7 4
Kickoff average 43.4 44.5
Kickoff return yards 39 152
Punts 3 5
Punting average 43.3 42.6
Punt return yards 44 16
Fumbles 3 1
Fumbles lost 0 0
Penalties 4 5
Yards penalized 50 62
Number of plays 67 40
Time Of Possession 27:52 20:08
St. John’s 13 0 8 0 21
Massillon 0 7 13 22 42
SJ ‑ Dzierwa 24 pass from Croci (Maidlow kick)
SJ ‑ Beier 7 run (kick failed)
M ‑ McGuire 3 run (Brown kick)
SJ ‑ Vineyard 46 pass from Crocl (Dzierwa pass from Grocl)
M ‑ Ashcraft 2 run (Brown kick)
M ‑ McGuire 2 run (kick failed)
M ‑ Ashcraft 80 run (McGuire run)
M ‑ McGuire 1 run (Brown kick)
M ‑ Ashcraft 2 run (Brown kick)
(Massillon) McGuire 29‑229, Ashcraft 18‑16S, May 1‑0, Wright 3‑7, Danzy 2‑24, Seimetz: 2‑6, Copeland 1‑3.
(St. John’s) Clark 7‑35, Croci 8‑20, Beier 3‑13.
(Massillon) Mossides 3‑10‑0 29.
(St. John’s) Croci 13‑19‑2 212.
(Massillon) McGuire 1‑18, Ashcraft 2‑11.
(St. John’s) Dzierwa 6‑64, Maidl