Throughout Massillon’s storied football history numerous games have been played that significantly impacted the season, whether it be a league championship, the final A.P. Poll, a trip to the playoffs or determination of the state champion. But few were as big as the 1972 rematch between the Tigers and the Golden Bears of Upper Arlington, a buildup of which garnered instant statewide attention.
There was a bitter taste in the mouths of many Massillon fans back in 1966 for more than one reason. After showing complete dominance on the gridiron for the better part of four decades and coming off of consecutive state championships, the Tigers were sitting on an uncharacteristic record of 3-3-1. Compounding that was a 21-6 defeat in Tiger Stadium at the hands of Upper Arlington, a relative unknown from Columbus. It didn’t matter that future Ohio State head coach Earl Bruce had just left town and newcomer Bob Seaman had taken over. There was no room in Massillon rebuilding. It got even worse when during the following year the Tigers’ bid for an undefeated season was derailed at home by this same team, 7-6.
Although the Golden Bears lost the final game of that 1966 season to Columbus Watterson 35-0, negating an undefeated season and potential state title, they would go on to win the next three. In fact, UA’s head coach Marv Morehead would remain through the 1970 season and finish his 15-year career having lost just once (Watterson) in his last seven years. As a side note, both Arlington and Mentor finished 10-0 in 1968, but the title went to the defending champion Bears. Meanwhile Mentor, a 19-0 winner over the Tigers that year, would open with UA in 1969, only to lose 7-6.
But Massillon was able to turn the program around and ease the pain somewhat with the arrival of new coach Bob Commings, who finished 7-2-1 in 1969 and 10-0 in 1970, while capturing the A.P. state championship. The problem was that the sportswriters supplanted Upper Arlington in the top spot, in spite of the defending champ Golden Bears also going 10-0. This didn’t sit too well with a lot of football fans across state. So it was time for a rematch.
The game was set for 1972, the venue being Marv Morehead Stadium, located in Upper Arlington. Both teams were 2-0 and primed for outstanding seasons. As was the case in Massillon, there was also a big buildup in Columbus. So it was no surprise that a capacity crowd of 11,500 showed up for the game, including some 4,000 Tiger fans As was tradition at that time, many cars traveling to the road game were decorated with signs and ribbons displaying their support of the Tigers.
But surprisingly to the Massillon fans, all pre-sale tickets were general admission. So those 4,000 fans showed up early to get the choice seats, assembling at the north end zone visitors’ entrance. Only the visitors’ side also numbered around 4,000. That would have been OK, except that the gate for the home fans opened a half hour early and many of these patrons, having been sold GA tickets, began finding their way to visitors’ stands. This angered the Massillon contingent and upon the gate being opened, they rushed the stands without their tickets being checked. Within five minutes all of the seats on the visitors’ side were occupied. Anyone coming later was forced to stand.
As far as Tiger fans were concerned, the game did not disappoint. After a scoreless first half, Upper Arlington fumbled the second half kickoff and Massillon recovered at the UA 33, launching a march to the end zone. Following a 19-yard draw play by Tommy Hannon, Terry Edwards went over from the one for the initial score. Hannon’s PAT run made it 8-0. Then early in the fourth, the Tigers scored again following a Brian Bach interception at the UA 25. Massillon needed just two plays for the clincher. Again it was Edwards, tallying his second TD, this time on a 13-yard run. It followed a 12-yard jaunt by Hannon. The game ended with the Golden Bears on the Tigers 14 yard line. But it didn’t matter as Massillon fans celebrated the huge 14-0 victory throughout the long ride home. They enjoyed that the Tigers were victorious and all was right in the world.
Massillon dominated play, leading in total yardage 328-130, yards rushing 306-60 and first downs 15-6. The only turnovers were the ones mentioned above. After the game, Coach Commings remarked, “I’m very happy…it’s always a nice feeling when you beat a good, strong football team and Upper Arlington is a strong, well-coached team that never quits. No question, our defense won if for us.” Upper Arlington Coach Pete Corey took the loss well, saying, ““Massillon is a great team, they execute as well as any football team I have ever seen. That Tom Hannon is one of the best runners we have ever faced, he can seem to be running at top speed and then shift into high gear…he’s a fine one.”
The loss was Upper Arlington’s first at home since opening their new field four years earlier. A second loss that year eliminated them from potential qualification in this the first year of the state playoffs. But two years later they were back in the hunt, losing to Warren Harding in the state finals.
Massillon would go on to post an undefeated season, but drop a 17-14 heartbreaker to Cincinnati Princeton in the state semifinals, a game that was played in OSU Stadium. Tommy Hannon was named high school All-American and would later star for Michigan State and the Minnesota Vikings. Coach Bob Commings coached for one more year before taking over the head duties at the University of Iowa. Later he would mentor GlenOak.
Massillon and Upper Arlington faced each other three more times following the 1972 game, with the Tigers winning in ’73 and the Golden Bears winning the next two.