Back on track
Tigers bounce back with a convincing 24‑14 triumph over Austintown Fitch
By WILLIAM R. SANDERSON
Independent Sports Writer
It wasn’t one of those patented seven‑ or eight‑touchdown wins some folks have come to expect, but the Massillon Tigers were able to wear down the Austintown Fitch Falcons for a 24‑14 victory on Friday night at Falcon Stadium. The 4‑1 Tigers took advantage of an errant snap on a punt and a couple of big runs by Ricky Johnson to survive the Falcons, who fall to 3‑2 on the season.
Johnson ran the ball for 91 yards on 16 carries and scored two touchdowns, but it was the 6‑foot, 193‑pound senior’s blocking that made Massillon coach Rick Shepas especially happy. With Johnson playing a role in paving the way, senior Terrance Roddy actually led the Tigers in rushing with 140 yards and a touchdown on 11 totes.
“Ricky has been doing a nice job on a banged up ankle,” Shepas said. “There is no one showing more courage on our football team then Ricky Johnson. He’s very unselfish. He did a very good job blocking for Terrance Roddy, who had a nice game himself.”
Johnson credited Roddy and his backfield mates for his success. “We’ve got three or four good backs,” Johnson said. “If they key on one, the other will hurt them. That opens the other backs. It goes both ways. I won’t let him absorb a hit, just like he won’t let me absorb a hit.”
While the Tigers were able to run the ball for a collective 278 yards, Austintown Fitch made sure that none of it would be easy. In fact, the Falcons let Massillon know right away that nothing was going to be easy.
The Tigers took the opening kickoff and pounded their way to the Fitch 21‑yard line when they fumbled a snap out of the shotgun. Austintown’s Robert Hill scooped up the ball and ran it 30 yards. Eight plays later Jason Aikens plunged through for a one‑yard touchdown at the 5:55 mark of the first quarter.
Fitch stopped the Tigers on the ensuing drive, but returned the favor at the end of its next possession when a snap went over the punter’s head. The Falcons’ Shea Stewart alertly kicked the ball out of the end zone for the safety. The Tigers ‑ trailing 7‑2 ‑ were able to take advantage of the free kick.
Johnson broke off a 21‑yard run to set up his own three‑yard touchdown jaunt two plays later. Steve Hymes ran in a two‑point conversion to but Massillon up 10‑7 at the 19:22 mark.
“That was the turning point,” Shepas said. Fitch drove right back down the field and was threatening to retake the lead, when the Falcons gave Massillon another gift by coughing up the ball after reaching the Tiger 17. Brandon Fogle covered the fumble for Massillon.
Massillon had a chance to build some tremendous momentum in the closing minutes of the first half. A couple of Matt Martin passes to James Helscel moved the ball into the Falcon end. After getting inside the Fitch 10‑yard line, a sack and a couple of incomplete passes brought on the field goal unit. But Fitch’s Davanzo Tate came up with the block to keep it a three‑point ball game.
Any positive momentum that Fitch had going into the second half after the blocked field goal dissipated when the Tigers sent them three‑and‑out on their first three possessions of the third quarter.
After Aikens had run for 55 yards in the first half to lead the Falcons, Massillon held him to just 11 more after the band show. “They made some adjustments, but I don’t think we gave the plays a chance to develop,” Fitch coach Carl Pelini said. “They started pressing and starting pressing, cutting back and doing things that we haven’t done this year. They made some adjustments, but it was nothing that we couldn’t have adjusted to.”
Another big Johnson run helped the Tigers to another touchdown midway through the third quarter. He broke a 62‑yarder down the left sideline that put the ball on the Falcon 5. Roddy scored on the next play to make it a 17‑7 spread at that point.
The Falcons continued to struggle offensively and Massillon’s Jamaal Ballard blocked an Austintown punt and fell on it at the Falcon 5‑yard line. Johnson punched the ball in on the next play. Eric Smith’s second extra point of the game gave the Tigers a commanding 24‑7 lead at the 5:57 mark of the fourth quarter.
Austintown did score in the closing minute of the game to make the final a little more respectable. A three‑yard run by Dallas Root capped off a 35‑yard drive that occurred after Massillon fumbled a punt snap.
Martin completed nine of 16 passes for 91 yards. Helscel caught a team‑leading five balls for 46 yards.
Part of the game’s overtone, especially early on, for the Tigers was putting the St. Ignatius loss behind them and Shepas felt that they did that. “Last week was a tough one for everyone,” he said. “Everyone in the community wanted that win and we played so well for three quarters. It’s bound to stay with you for a while, but this has been a good place for us. Our kids showed that they can persevere through the adversity for a job well done.”
With Fitch having had three wins against solid programs in GlenOak, Jackson and Mansfield, Johnson knew a slew of playoff computer points were on the line if the Tigers could post a win. “We came in and did what we had to do, ” Johnson said. “We needed the points.”
First downs rushing 10 4
First downs passing 5 4
First downs by penalty 1 2
TOTAL first downs 16 10
Net yards rushing 245 74
Net yards passing 91 60
TOTAL yards 336 134
Passes attempted 16 7
Passes completed 9 4
Passes intercepted 0 0
Punts 4 6
Punting average 38.8 35.5
Fumbles/Lost 3/1 2/1
Penalties 9 3
Yards penalized 119 15
Massillon 02 08 07 07 24
Fitch 07 00 00 07 14
AF ‑ Aikens 1 run (Stewart kick) 5:55
M ‑ Safety, punt kicked out of end zone 0:01
M ‑ Johnson 3 run (Hymes run) 9:22
M ‑ Roddy 5 run (Smith kick) 5:11
M ‑ Johnson 5 run (Smith kick) 5:57
AF ‑ Root 3 run (Stewart kick) 0:27
Roddy 11‑140 TD, Johnson 16‑91 2 TDs, Hymes 4‑21.
Fitch rushing: Aikens 20‑45 TD.
Fitch passing: Aikens 2‑4‑38, Hassen 2‑3‑22.
Fitch receiving: Root 1‑28.