MANSFIELD If it could go wrong for Massillon, it went wrong on Friday night.
An injury to starting quarterback Aidan Longwell. Multiple turnovers. Flags galore.
Yet, when it was all over, the Tigers’ state-championship dreams remained intact, as they held off Whitehall-Yearling 35-17 in a Division II Region 7 semifinal at Mansfield’s Arlin Field.
“All through the offseason, our coaches preached coming through adversity,” said Massillon senior Dean Clark, who will join his teammates in a regional final against Wadsworth next Friday at a site to be announced this weekend. “We’ve been going through adversity this whole season, the whole year. We were prepared for it.”
The adversity started on the next-to-last play of the first quarter, when Longwell – who had given Massillon a 7-0 lead on its first play, a 70-yard touchdown pass to Jayden Ballard – suffered an injury while attempting to score from the Ram 1. To add a certain insult to the injury, the official ruled an inadvertent whistle on the play, negating what possibly could’ve been a 99-yard fumble return by Whitehall for a score.
Enter sophomore Zach Catrone, who would lead the Tigers through the final three quarter. Catrone finished 16-of-24 for 177 yards with three touchdown passes and an interception.
“(Catrone’s) done a great job all year,” said Massillon coach Nate Moore, whose team matched the 1982 team for best start to a season at 12-0. “He led our JV team to an undefeated record. We have a lot confidence with him going in. We’re real proud of his performance.”
That performance included a 15-yard touchdown pass to Tre’Von Morgan right before halftime to give Massillon a 17-9 lead. Catrone also hit Ballard for a 55-yard touchdown with 5:07 remaining in the third quarter to give the Tigers the lead for good at 23-17.
Catrone would hit Morgan for a 9-yard strike with 42 seconds left to provide the final margin. The officials would call the game after that score when Whitehall was flagged for multiple unsportsmanlike penalties on the subsequent point-after try.
The entire Ram bench emptied onto the field after the play. After a lengthy conference, the officials ended the game, which was marred by multiple personal fouls on both sides.
“We came out and played hard,” Moore said. “We certainly weren’t perfect, none of us. Just played hard and got the win.”
Massillon would be flagged 12 times total in the game for 104 penalty yards. Whitehall was hit with seven flags for 63 yards.
It was Tiger turnover, though, which helped open the door for the Rams. Massillon had three giveaways on the night, compared to just one takeaway, a Luke Murphy interception with just over two minutes remaining.
The biggest of those Tiger turnovers came on the second play of the second half. A bad snap was picked up by Whitehall’s Sir-Blake Singleton and returned for a touchdown.
Raymell Byrd’s two-point conversion run would help the Rams, who never led in the game, pull even at 17-17.
That would be the only time Whitehall was able to get the game even after Massillon took the lead on its first play from scrimmage. The Rams would pull within 10-9 on Christian Gordon’s 64-yard catch-and-run off a Byrd pass, but the tying conversion failed due to a bad snap.
Whitehall would finish with 191 yards, 101 of those through the air. Byrd, the Rams’ leading rusher, finished with 52 yards on 11 carries.
Massillon would put the game away by bowing up on defense and running the football in the fourth quarter. The Tigers twice kept Whitehall from scoring over the final 12 minutes despite reaching their side of the 50.
Meanwhile, Massillon would run the ball on 15 of its final 16 plays. That included a 15-yard touchdown run by Jamir Thomas with 5:45 remaining to put the Tigers up 29-17.
“It was huge, huge,” Moore said. “It pushed it to a two-score game. That was huge, especially after the blocked extra point.”
Thomas finished with 136 yards on 16 carries for Massillon.
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