Massillon Tigers Black Letter Logo

Tigers struggle, but top Falcons to keep unbeaten season intact

Independent sports editor

MASSILLON Jason Hall has experienced his share of tough, kick-in-the-gut-type of wins in his time at Massillon. And even after the roughest of losses, he has found plenty to say about what transpired in the 48 minutes of football.

But after Hall’s Tigers improved to 6-0 on Friday night with a lackluster 28-14 win over winless Firestone at Paul Brown Tiger Stadium, the sixth-year coach found himself at a loss of words.

“I want to say this the right way,” Hall said, choosing each word carefully. “I expect great senior leadership out of the team. I didn’t think we had that tonight. I’m a guy who’s a very honest evaluator. I’m not happy with our staff; I’m not happy with our seniors. Firestone came in and their kids played hard, but if we play like that (next Friday), we might as well not drive to Fitch.”

The Tigers came into the game off of an emotional win at Steubenville, the program’s first win there since 1977. And all week, the state’s No. 1-ranked Division II team had heard about how Friday’s game with Firestone was merely a warm-up act for next week’s showdown at undefeated Austintown Fitch, the No. 4-ranked Division I team.

But Massillon, despite opening up a 28-0 halftime lead thanks to a three-touchdown second quarter, spent much of the night shooting itself in the foot with various mistakes and sloppy play. One week after a 14-penalty performance at Steubenville, the Tigers were flagged 10 times for 105 yards, including two penalties that were marked off on the kickoff following touchdowns.

Hall wouldn’t say if his players had come into the game overlooking a Firestone team that hadn’t scored more than 12 points in any game this season.

“I don’t know, because that’s not how I act,” Hall said. “I don’t know how people like that act.

You’d have to ask them. I don’t act like that. … Winners practice. I was just telling my daughter this the other night, winners don’t practice because they like to practice. Winners practice because they like to win. That’s the message our kids need to get.”

Friday’s game, though, followed a script that the previous four meetings between the two teams had followed. Firestone hangs around early before Massillon catches fire long enough to open up a multi-score lead.

In this instance, the Tigers led 7-0 after the first quarter behind a 14-yard Marcus Whitfield run on their first possession of the game. Whitfield’s 65-yard catch-and-run from quarterback Danny Clark helped give Massillon a two-score lead at 14-0 with 7:53 left in the first half.

Devon Ingram picked up a Firestone fumble a returned it 55 yards for a score with 4:48 left in the half to make it 21-0. After another Falcon fumble, the Tigers made it 28-0 when Clark found Malik Dudley with 40 seconds remaining before the intermission for a 14-yard touchdown.

“We love coming down here,” Firestone coach Tim Flossie said after his team fell to 0-6. “Our big problem is we don’t catch the ball. We dropped five or six balls tonight. We fumble the ball for a touchdown. Massillon’s good, and you don’t do that against a good team.”

But Flossie’s team continued to be a difficult out in the second half. The Falcons intercepted a pass on the first play of the fourth quarter, one play before they broke up the shutout with a 7-yard touchdown run by Brennan Williams.

Firestone added a 55-yard Louis Christian touchdown run with 1:03 remaining.

The Falcons, who had scored just 14 points in the previous four games combined, outgained Massillon 267-252.

The Tigers went to their reserve offensive players on the last series of the third quarter, which ended with them holding a 241-146 yards edge.

“We actually got some offense going,” Flossie said. “It could’ve been more if we had caught the ball. I was happy with that. We’ll be OK.”