Howard’s big plays bring Tigers season to an end
By CHRIS EASTERLING
NORTH CANTON, OH
Big plays can go a long way to determining the outcome of a playoff game. Big plays were also at a premium for both Massillon and Hoover as they squared off in a Division I Region 2 quarterfinal on Saturday night in North Canton.
Unfortunately for the Tigers, the biggest plays were made by Erick Howard, who was wearing a Viking uniform on this night. Howard’s two 40-plus-yard plays turned the tide of what ended up being a 14-7 Hoover victory over the Tigers in front of about 7,000 fans at North Canton Memorial Stadium.
The loss ends Massillon’s season at 6-5. Hoover, meanwhile, advances to next week’s regional semifinal against Twinsburg with a 10-1 record. It also marked the Vikings’ first-ever win over the Tigers in four tries in the playoffs.
“We just felt we had to believe,” Howard said. “None of the Hoover teams in the past had done it (beat Massillon), so we just had them in our hearts. This was for every Hoover team that had lost to them – 2005, 2002, 2001. Every team.”
The difference in the game was simple – Howard providing the offense for the Vikings, while the Tigers struggled to get any offense going in the second half. Howard finished the game with 258 yards of offense, including 195 rushing yards on 40 carries.
“Howard’s a good football player,” first-year Tiger coach Jason Hall said. “You have to take your hat off to him. He got in the open field, and we didn’t tackle him. Then he hits us on a draw. They didn’t do much. Really just the two big plays by him, two monster plays. He’s obviously a big part of their team.”
Howard’s 49-yard run on a draw play with 10:17 left in the game broke a 7-7 tie. Howard – who also went 59 yards on a screen play to set up a tying touchdown in the first half – broke at least five tackles on the run, and carried a Tiger defender for about five yards before shrugging him off to cover the last few yards of the run.
The Tiger offense, meanwhile, could manage just 127 yards for the game. Of those, only 10 came after halftime, when Massillon was held to five three-and-outs.
In fact, the biggest gain in the second half for the Tigers came on a Hoover personal foul. Even that, though, wasn’t enough to pick up a first down, as it turned a third-and-21 situation into a fourth-and-four.
“The story of the game is that our offense didn’t get it going in the second half,” Hall said.
What hurt the Tigers most was the fact they were never able to turn the field in their favor after the intermission. Massillon had just one play of at least five yards – its first play of the third quarter. That left the Tigers in second- and third-and-long situations, situations which took the running game out of the equation.
The Tigers held the ball for just over four minutes total in the second half, and never got past their own 43. That led to Massillon’s defense, which spent all night trying to bring down the bruising Howard, having little time to recover on the sideline before being forced back onto the field.
“We struggled off tackle and we weren’t connecting real well in our passing game either,” Hall said. “We just didn’t execute in the second half. It is what it is.”
The contrast between the first and second halves was startling for the Tigers, who struck first with a 1-yard run by J.T. Turner just 12 seconds into the second quarter for a 7-0 lead. Massillon had the ball for almost half the time in the first 24 minutes – 11:53 to be exact – and reached Hoover territory on four of its five possessions before intermission.
Massillon’s scoring drive started at the Tiger 35, and was effective in part because of the Tigers’ ability to spread the Vikings out with four- or five-receiver sets. That opened up running lanes for both Turner and quarterback Robert Partridge, while also allowing Partridge to spread the ball around to several receivers in the process.
Partridge finished the 11-play drive 4-of-5 for 32 yards. He also rushed three times for 18 yards, including a seven-yard run which set up Turner’s scoring plunge.
“In the first half, we were able to move the ball and execute,” Hall said. “Rob ran well and threw some short passes. He scrambled and threw on the run down here to (Josh) Remark. Anytime you have an athletic quarterback, getting in an empty package or a 3-by-1 is just putting them in position to be successful.”
The Tigers had other opportunities in the first half, especially on their next possession. Bo Grunder’s 30-yard punt return put the ball at midfield, and Turner broke loose on a 35-yard run on the first play to the Hoover 15.
However, a holding penalty on the Tigers moved the ball back to the Viking 44. The next three plays netted minus-four yards, resulting in a punt.
The next Massillon drive also started in Hoover territory, at the Viking 45. But it ended on downs as the Tigers netted minus-1 yard.
That’s when Hoover grabbed the momentum and began to turn it in its favor. And, no surprise, it started with Howard.
Massillon got a sack for a loss of 13 on Hoover’s first play, then limited the Vikings to just seven yards on a reception on second down. Faced with third-and-16 from their own 40, the Vikings called a middle screen and quarterback Brett Tulodzieski located Howard in the face of massive pressure.
Howard, cutting and eluding would-be tacklers, would not be dragged down until he reached the Tiger 1. On the next play, he plowed in for the score with 2:07 left in the half to knot the score after the extra point.
“We just put that in this week,” Hoover coach Don Hertler Jr. said of the screen pass. “It was a slip screen, and we just threw it to a different guy. The middle screen really sparked us.”
And that spark ended up burning the Tigers.
at North Canton Memorial Stadium
Massillon 0 7 0 0 7
Hoover 0 7 0 7 14
M – Turner 1 run (Geier kick)
H – Howard 1 run (Sarbaugh kick)
H – Howard 49 run (Sarbaugh kick)
First down 7 14
Rushing yards 24-73 50-197
Comp.-att.-int. 9-23-0 6-9-0
Passing yards 54 111
Fumbles-lost 0-0 0-0
Penalty yards 3-15 3-30
Turner 14-47 TD;
Howard 40-195 2 TDs;