AGAINST A WALL
Turnovers costly as Tigers forced to regroup with playoff lives on the line against McKinley
By CHRIS EASTERLING
Independent sports editor
MASSILLON Massillon once again found itself in a deficit against an elite football team. And once again, the Tigers found themselves fighting in the fourth quarter with an opportunity to come all the way back.
And once again, that early hole proved to be too much as the Tigers suffered a 28-23 setback to the top-ranked Division III team in the state, St. Vincent-St. Mary, on Friday night at Paul Brown Tiger Stadium.
The Tigers found themselves in a 21-3 first-half hole thanks to four turnovers, three of which led to touchdowns for the reigning Division III state champion Irish.
Still, Massillon pulled to within 28-23 with 6:03 remaining on a Marcus Whitfield touchdown catch. But they never got a final opportunity to go for a winning drive as the the Irish chewed up the remainder of the clock.
“As a team, we just can’t do that,” a dejected Massillon coach Jason Hall said. “We gave up a fumble for a touchdown. We had two muffed punts. It’s just mental mistakes in the first half. … We couldn’t score from the 1. We’ve got to play better next week.”
The Tigers have no choice in that matter, whether it was archrival McKinley or somebody else next week. At 7-2, they likely need to beat the Bulldogs – who are 9-0 – on Saturday at Fawcett Stadium in order to qualify for the playoffs in Division II Region 2.
“They might need to dwell on it for about 24 hours,” Hall said. “We get an extra day. It’s definitely do-or-die. As a team, coaches and players, we have to do a better job. We can’t wait until the middle of the third quarter. We can’t kill ourselves with turnovers.”
In both losses, Massillon put itself behind the eight-ball. In Week 7, the Tigers battled back from a double-digit deficit at Austintown Fitch to close to within three points late in the fourth.
Both times, the Tigers couldnt’ finish the deal. The clock ran out at Fitch, while the Irish marched down the field during the last six-plus minutes.
Newman Williams picked up a big eight yards on third-and-3 from the Tigers 34. Then, with just less than two minutes left, he gained seven yards on fourth-and-2 to close things out.
“I knew in my mind we had to get that,” said Williams, who scored a pair of touchdowns and gained 56 yards on 10 carries. “I was going to try my hardest to do whatever I could to get that.”
The very first play set the tone for the Tigers, as Nathan Bischoff intercepted a deep pass for the Irish. That one wouldn’t hurt Massillon, as St. Vincent-St. Mary missed a 32-yard field goal.
But when the Tigers fumbled on their next possession, the Irish cashed in. Three plays and 25 yards later, Williams scored from 6 yards out for a 7-0 St. Vincent-St. Mary lead.
A muffed punt by Massillon set up Williams’ second scoring run, a 2-yarder with 7:49 left in the half to give the Irish a 14-3 lead. That lead grew to 21-3 when Dante Booker picked up a fumble and returned it 71 yards for a touchdown with 4:20 remaining.
“Defensively, we’ve created a ton of turnovers,” St. Vincent-St. Mary coach Dan Boarman said. “That’s really helped us out.”
Booker’s fumble return took the momentum away from Massillon after the Tigers got an interception by Reggie Rogers three plays before. Rogers, though, helped the Tigers take a 21-10 deficit at halftime when he pulled in a 19-yard pass with 15 seconds left in the back of the end zone.
After the Irish took a 28-10 lead out of the intermission with an eight-play, 71-yard scoring drive, Massillon began to wrest control of the momentum. Lyron Wilson’s 16-yard run with 2:02 left in the third pulled the Tigers to within 28-17.
Wilson finished with 105 yards on 21 carries.
The Tigers, who were stopped on fourth-and-goal from the Irish 3 with 5:29 remaining in the third quarter, outgained the Irish 304-239.
“The big negatives out-weighed a lot of positives,” Hall said. “We just have to look at that. It’s going to click for us, and hopefully it translates into a win next week.”