Tiger lament: Missed opportunities
Massillon falls 21-6, but score not indicative of tilt
By JOE SHAHEEN
Independent Sports Editor
When your offense gets inside the “red zone” against the rugged Akron Garfield Golden Rams defense, it had better put some points on the scoreboard.
The Massillon Tigers learned that lesson the hard way, squandering two “golden” scoring opportunities in the first half and falling to the defending Akron City Series champions 21‑6 Friday night in front of 15,772 at muggy Paul Brown Tiger Stadium.
The defeat drops Massillon to 2‑1 on the season with the Mansfield Tygers scheduled to visit next Friday. Garfield improves to 2‑1.
The Tigers had all the better or it in the first half, but failed to put any points on the board. Garfield recharged its batteries at halftime and dominated play in the third and fourth quarters.
Massillon took the opening kickoff and marched to the Garfield 10 before stalling.
The drive was keyed by senior tailback Leon Ashcraft, who returned the kickoff 43 yards to the Rams 45‑yard line. Ashcraft found a hole over left guard and picked up 12 more on the second play of the drive to move the ball inside the 30.
On fourth‑and‑four, quarterback Willie Spencer gave the drive life by hitting Ryan Shanor over the middle for a first down at the 16. Vinny Turner picked up three yards on first down and Spencer added three more on second down.
But Ashcraft was stuffed for no gain on third‑and‑four at the 10 and Garfield’s Antoine Winfield came up with an interception in the end zone on fourth down to end Massillon’s first threat.
“When you get backed up your own goal line,” said Garfield coach Bill McGee, “sometimes character comes through and our guys had character tonight. I was real pleased we got solid and tough when we had to. Of course, you don’t have to defend as much ground, so it gets easier.”
Garfield’s next three possessions and the Tigers next two series ended in punts.
Brennan Rohr returned the Rams’ third punt of the evening from the Tiger 35 to near midfield and Massillon would mount its second serious march of the night from that point.
Ashcraft got the orange‑and-black started by picking up 11 yards on first down. Then, on second‑and‑nine from the Garfield 40, the Massillon line opened up a hole over left guard and tackle, and Ashcraft burst 18 yards to the Rams’ 21.
Turner picked up eight more on first down, prompting Garfield head coach Bill McGee to call for time out. It didn’t help much as Spencer rolled around right end for 10 yards to the three‑yard line two snaps later and it looked like the locals would draw first blood.
But with first‑and‑goal at the three, Massillon’s second opportunity to put up points went by the boards. Ashcraft was tackled for a loss of two on first down. Spencer lost four on a rollout on second down, then was sacked by Damon Turner for an 11‑yard loss on third down.
After a delay of game, Massillon faced a fourth‑and‑goal from the 26 and Spencer’s pass went out of the end zone for a Garfield touchback.
“Against a team the caliber of Garfield, you can’t miss those opportunities,” said a dejected Jack Rose in the Tiger locker room. “That was a big series for them when we got it down there and didn’t get in right before the half. It kind of took the momentum away from us a little bit. If we had punched it in there, it would have been a different ballgame.
“Give Garfield a lot of credit. They really controlled the line of scrimmage down there. We just couldn’t block them.”
Despite failing to score in the first 24 minutes, Massillon had the better of things. The Tigers out gained Garfield 100‑to‑65, recorded eight first downs to the Rams’ four, and owned a time of possession advantage of 14:26 to 9:34.
But the most important statistic, the score, was still 0‑0 and Massillon’s inability to put up any points proved fatal.
“I was happy to be 0‑0 at halftime, especially the way we played offense in the first half,” McGee admitted. “I knew we wouldn’t play that way the entire game.”
Obviously, he was correct. The Rams opened the second half by driving from their 22 to the Tigers 38 in eight plays. But Spencer fell on a Garfield fumble on the 29 yard line to quell the incursion.
Again the Tigers marched, sparked by runs of 14 and 31 yards by Ashcraft, who finished the night with 142 yards on 19 carries. Massillon had first-and‑10 at the Garfield 25, but failed to gain any yardage on the next three downs. On fourth-and‑10, Damon Turner sacked Spencer for an 11‑yard loss.
On the ensuing series Garfield moved from its 36 to the Massillon 47, where it was second‑and‑five. Desmond Bell took a handoff and attacked the middle of the Tiger line. He burst through a small seam as if he were launched by a rocket didn’t stop until he struck paydirt. The kick made it Garfield 7, Massillon 0 with 4:04 to play in the third.
Massillon coughed up the football at their 30‑yard line on its next possession and Garfield went for the kill. Winfield and Bell took turns blasting into the Massillon line. Then fullback Eric McKinstry took three handoffs in a row, diving in from the one on fourth‑and‑goal at 11:22 of the fourth quarter. The PAT made it 14‑0 Garfield.
Massillon came back with a 13‑play, 79‑yard march. Ashcraft had bursts of 19‑ and 14‑yards to move the ball to the Garfield 40. Spencer hit Rohr for 13 yards and then found Turner for 10 more to the Rams’ 2. The senior quarterback culminated the drive by scoring on a rollout around left end, making a superb cutback at the 3‑yard line to elude a final defender.
The Tigers tried for a two point conversion, but the pass was intercepted and it was a 14-6 game at the 5:28 mark.
There was still time for the locals and the comeback looked possible when Garfield faced a second‑and‑20 at its 10‑yard line. But Winfield dashed the hometown hopes by slashing up the middle and dashing 73 yards before Courtney Herring dragged him down from behind all the way down to the Tiger 17‑yard line.
Six plays later, Alonzo Wallace kept the football on the option play and swept around right end for the icing‑on‑the-cake TD with just l:50 to play.
“I thought our defense did a great job,” Rose said. “They couldn’t have played any better. Take a couple of plays out of there and we really shut them down. That last run of Winfield’s for 72 yards … up until then we had him contained. But a great player makes great plays in big games, and he made a couple on offense and defense. ”