Tigers survive after Panthers storms back in wild second half
By Chris Easterling
Independent Sports Editor
MASSILLON Nate Moore had the look of a football coach who had been through a half-dozen games Thursday night. For the Massillon coach, his debut was only one game.
Even if in the course of the Tigers’ 41-37 come-from-ahead-and-then-from-behind win over neighboring rival Perry at Paul Brown Tiger Stadium had the feel of two games in one.
Just more than 13 minutes into the season, Massillon was the owner of a 27-0 lead after Mike White’s 3-yard scoring run. With 5:17 remaining in the game, Perry found itself in possession of a 37-34 lead thanks to Drew Waggoner’s 21-yard field goal.
Dakota Dunwiddie, who scored the first touchdown of the game, also scored its final one. His 2-yard run with 3:34 remaining pushed the Tigers in front for good.
“What a ballgame; we played a great team,” Moore said after his first win as Massillon’s coach and the program’s 850th win. “Hats off to them. A lot of teams could’ve folded there at halftime, and they came out and they put it to us. You’ve got to give them credit.”
The Tigers came out firing on all cylinders. Three first-quarter drives all ended in three first quarter touchdowns, giving them a 20-0 lead after 12 minutes.
Dunwiddie capped the first march with a 6-yard plunge 2:17 into the game. Lee Hurst II ran for a 16-yard score to end the second one with 6:01 left in the quarter. Seth Blankenship then hit Keyshawn Watson for a 52-yard scoring strike with 33 seconds left in the quarter.
Blankenship and Hurst alternated possessions at quarterback throughout the game. Hurst rushed for a team-high 109 yards on 15 carries; Blankenship threw for a game-high 188 yards on 15-of-20 passing with two scores.
“Quarterback is no different than most positions as far as who’s going to play,” said Moore, whose offense gained 407 total yards. “That’s a position where there’s a lot of competition between two players. Going into this week, that’s what we thought gave us the best chance to win.”
What gave Perry its best chance to win was a steady dose of Keishaun Sims and Tevion Cleveland. That was especially true in the third quarter, which was when the game went from a Tiger rout into a incredible Panther comeback story.
After Massillon went ahead 34-6 after turning a recovered squib kick into a Blankenship-to Austin Jasinski touchdown, Perry came to life. Sims, in particular, led the way.
The senior running back gained 136 of his game-high 229 yards in the third quarter. He scored three rushing touchdowns in those 12 minutes, including a 45-yarder with 1:42 remaining in the third to tie the game at 34-34 after Drew Waggoner’s point-after.
Of Perry’s 432 total yards, 219 came in the third quarter.
“It was a tale of two halves,” Moore said. “We played great defense and everyone’s fitting where they’re supposed to and things are happening the way we want them to happen. Then all of the sudden, we get a little success, we lose our mind; one guy makes a mistake and everybody starts to overcompensate.”
Sims also had a fourth touchdown in the quarter when he intercepted a pass and returned it 34 yards for a score.
Meanwhile, Cleveland – who scored Perry’s first touchdown on a 39-yard reception from Max Baker in the second quarter – provided just the right counter to Sims.
Of his 124 rushing yards, 73 came in the third quarter.
However, after Sims’ 31-yard burst on Perry’s opening drive of the fourth quarter, the Panthers didn’t have rushing plays more than 10 yards. The only other run for 10 yards or longer was on their next-to-last play, when Sims gained 10 to set up fourth-and-7 from the Perry 35 with less than 2:30 remaining.
The Tigers got a sack on the next play to essentially seal the win.
“We have to finish,” Perry coach Keith Wakefield said. “That’s what it’s all about. That’s what you have to do and we couldn’t do it.”