Fitch ends Massillon’s unbeaten hopes again
MASSILLON It was like deja vu for Massillon. For the second year in a row, Massillon found itself needing a furious last-minute rally to try to knock off Austintown Fitch. For the second year in a row, that comeback fell short for the Tigers, this time in 34-33 loss at Paul Brown Tiger Stadium on Friday night.
A year ago at Austintown, the comeback was halted when Fitch picked up a sack with less than five seconds left. On Friday night, the Tigers were thwarted when a 40-yard field goal try went wide right with five seconds remaining.
Either way, it was the second year in a row the Falcons knocked off Massillon when it was undefeated and ranked No. 1 in Division II.
“It came down to a last-second play, but at the end of the day, you can’t make as many mistakes as we did,” Massillon coach Jason Hall said after his team fell to 5-1. “Special-teams blunders; we had some uncharacteristic penalties. Good teams don’t win like that. We didn’t play a great game tonight.”
Which was another eerie resemblance to last year’s 30-27 loss in Austintown. In that game, Massillon had miscues on offense, including bad penalties at inopportune times, which put it behind the 8-ball.
This time, the Tigers had a season-high 11 penalties for 96 yards. It was a jaw-dropping total for a team that had just 14 flags on it the first five games combined.
They also had not one, but two bad punt snaps.
One set up Fitch to tie the game at 14-14 late in the first half.
The other, early in the fourth quarter, was salvaged when Andrew David tracked it down at the goal line and boomed a 48-yard punt. Two plays later, the Tigers even found themselves with a 33-27 lead after Jeff Koch – playing in place of the injured Reggie Rogers – returned a fumble 53 yards for a score with 8:49 remaining.
Except that Massillon would botch the subsequent point-after try, leaving it ahead by just six points. Nine plays later, the Tigers would find themselves behind by a point after Fitch marched down for a 2-yard Antwan Harris touchdown run – and, most importantly, the subsequent PAT kick – with 4:13 remaining.
Harris, the Fitch quarterback, had a second big rushing performance against Massillon. He rushed for 114 yards and two scores Friday, a year after going for 147 yards and three touchdowns in last year’s win.
“Antwan is Antwan,” Fitch coach Phil Annarella said after his team improved to 5-1. “He does this every week for us. He’s just an absolutely fabulous kid, fabulous football player. He’s carried us through six weeks now, and hopefully, we’ll have him for the last four too.”
Harris had help in the form of tailback Tyler Hewlett. Hewlett, filling in for the injured Darrin Hall, rushed for 133 yards and two scores.
Of course, Massillon probably never saw an ending like the one it ended up having 12 minutes into the game. Two drives into the contest, the Tigers had a 14-0 lead, racking up a 12-play, 80-yard march and a 13-play, 96-yard drive.
J.D. Crabtree scored the first Tiger touchdown, one of two scores by him on a night when he rushed for 114 yards. The second score came on a Danny Clark-to-Rogers touchdown pass, part of a 237-yard passing night by the Tiger sophomore.
All of it, ultimately, for naught in the eyes of their head coach.
“I guess it’s always frustrating,” Hall said. “We played well in spurts. We made a lot of mental mistakes.”
That’s why, when all was said and done, Massillon once again needed a furious last-minute rally to try to beat Fitch. It’s also why, once again, the Tigers couldn’t end up beating Fitch.