LAKE TWP. The one thing Massillon didn’t want to have happen in Friday night’s Division II Region 5 semifinal was Perry to get an early lead. To fall behind early to the Panthers meant potentially dealing with their ability to constrict the game behind their run-heavy offense.
So, the Tigers made sure they didn’t fall behind. At all.
Massillon scored on its first five possessions to take control of things almost from the start in rolling to a 35-7 victory over Perry in front of a capacity crowd at Lake High’s Blue Streak Stadium.
The Tigers will now take a 12-0 record into next Friday’s regional championship game against four-time reigning state champion Hoban in a rematch of last year’s state title game at a site to be determined. The Knights, 11-1, rallied late to beat Mayfield 21-17 in the other Region 5 semifinal.
“We’ll figure that out later,” Massillon coach Nate Moore said. “The coaches will be in working all weekend. We’re going to celebrate this tonight. We’re going to enjoy it.”
The Tigers got the party started early by taking the opening kickoff and turning it into a 14-yard Aidan Longwell-to-Andrew Wilson-Lamp touchdown pass with 5:46 remaining in the first quarter. The two would hook up against to close out the second Massillon possession of the quarter, this time on a 36-yard strike to make it 14-0.
Longwell and Wilson-Lamp would connect eight times for 142 yards. They would hook up for a third touchdown, this time a 48-yarder with 25.6 second remaining in the half to give Massillon a 35-7 lead.
“We had some matchups on the outside,” said Longwell, who was 14-of-15 for 300 yards with five touchdowns in the first half alone, “They were giving us a different look than they were showing us on film. We took advantage of it.”
Longwell would finish the game 19-of-26 for 337 yards. While Wilson-Lamp caught three of his five touchdown tosses, he didn’t forget about the other star receiver on the team, Jayden Ballard.
Ballard had a game-high 10 catches for 186 yards. He also caught a pair of touchdowns as well on virtually the same play, albeit a little different the second time around.
Ballard’s first scoring catch was a 57-yarder just 45 seconds into the second quarter. That put Massillon in front 21-0.
His next touchdown catch, though, was a demonstration in concentration. On third-and-3 from the Tiger 18, Ballard ran a similar post pattern deep, although the ball was deflected by Perry’s Amir Betts.
That deflection, though, was enough to give Ballard a chance to bring in the pass. It would end up being an 82-yard scoring play to put Massillon ahead 28-0.
“We always do tip drills in practice,” Ballard said. “It just gets our hands better for what we do on Fridays.”
That big lead was enough to put Perry in a bind from which it never could really recover. That was especially true after back-to-back three-and-outs to start the game, followed by a punt on its third possession.
The Panthers would finally put together their best drive of the night to get on the board late in the first half. With Dion Cundiff and Josh Lemon leading the way, Perry would march 80 yards on 13 plays to pull within 28-7 on Lemon’s five-yard run with 1:10 remaining in the half.
Lemon would finish with 92 yards on 18 carries. Cundiff would add 77 yards on 17 carries.
Perry would finish with 208 rushing yards in the game, a season low. The Panthers would have 261 total yards, with three of their nine possessions reaching Massillon’s side of the 50.
“Listen, they’re a well-coached football team,” Massillon defensive coordinator Craig McConnell said. “I respect what they do and what those kids have done. They play hard. Our kids were ready. We were patient with our calls and our kids read their keys and tackled. We were lucky enough to get ahead of the chains in a lot of situations.”
Just like Massillon was able to get ahead of Perry on the scoreboard early.
Reach Chris at 330-775-1128 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter: @ceasterlingINDE