In Chinese lore 1970 was dubbed “The Year of the Tiger.” According to traditional myth, “Nian,” a beastly creature, tore through the countryside eating people on the night before the New Year. So, red decorations and firecrackers were used to frighten away the beast as the holiday approached. Such is the respect afforded the Tiger.
For Massillon, “The Year of the Tiger” is also special, because that was the year their beloved Tiger football team fashioned one of the most perfect seasons the town had ever witnessed: a 10-0 record, a state championship and a return to the glory years of the past.
In 1964 and 1965, under coach Earl Bruce, Massillon won all 20 games and was awarded back-to-back state titles. But Coach Bruce left for Ohio State and the Tigers fell upon hard times during the next three seasons. So the search was on for a coach that would return Massillon to the top. In the spring of 1969, Bob Commings was hired to assume the coaching duties, having won his last 22 games at Struthers. Coach Commings would stay for five seasons before accepting the position of head coach at his alma mater, the University of Iowa. But what a glorious five seasons it was.
The first real chance for Massillon fans to meet the new coach came during the spring kickoff at the Massillon American Legion. It was there that Coach Commings would display the fire and enthusiasm that was so prevalent in his personality. His love for the game would just envelop anyone who got near. There were handshakes aplenty as fans would hope that some of the vigor would rub off. Each person at the event left with the feeling that this man was someone special and was situated in exactly the right place and the right time atop the Tiger program.
Coach Commings inherited a team that was lean on senior talent, but he began to assemble the pieces and fill the voids with promising underclassmen. Suffering through the usual growing pains of a first-year coach, the 1969 Tigers finished the season 7-2-1. But they were competitive in every game, including in a 14-7 last minute loss to Canton McKinley (9-1). That set the stage for a run to the top.
In 1970, with several outstanding players returning and Commings’ football philosophy firmly in place, Massillon rolled to ten consecutive victories, completely dominating every opponent. This 1970 team was duly acclaimed first in the state and second in the nation. As a personal reward, Commings was selected to lead the North All-Star team in the following year’s summer classic. With several Massillon players suited up, the North won the game 14-0.
But back to the 1970 season, which became a showdown between Massillon and Upper Arlington. In 1966, the Golden Bears played the Tigers for the first time and won on the road, 21-6. That victory firmly cemented UA as a state power. Arlington went on to post a 9-1 record, dropping their finale to Columbus Watterson (10-0), which was awarded the title. But the Bears ran the table for the next three years and were awarded the Associated Press state title each time. Included in that a 7-6 triumph over a 9-1 Tiger team in 1967. However, preseason prognosticators believed that the 1970 Massillon team had the talent to wrestle the state title away from Upper Arlington.
The Tigers were led by a stellar cast, including:
- Mike Mauger: 6’-0”, 195 lb. senior tailback; Ohio Class AAA player of the year; rushed for 1200 yards at 7.5 yards per carry; scored 152 points; University of Wisconsin and Kent State University; tried out with the Dallas Cowboys.
- Dennis Franklin: 6’-0”, 180 lb. senior quarterback; second team all-Ohio; University of Michigan, 3-year starter at quarterback; Detroit Lions.
- Larry Harper: 5’-8”, 156 lb. senior wingback; Miami of Ohio; Churchman’s Magazine All-American; executive with Poloraid and Nike.
- Steve Luke: 6’-2”, 186 lb. senior linebacker/tight end; third team all-Ohio; The Ohio State University; Green Bay Packers; co-founder USAthletes. Brother Bill also played in 1970.
- Tim Ridgley: 5’-10”, 210 lb. senior defensive tackle; first team all-Ohio; Wyoming (football/baseball); Massillon head baseball coach.
- Steve Studer: 5’-11”, 200 lb. junior center; all-Ohio (1971); Bowling Green; tried out with Chicago Bears; Massillon strength and conditioning coach.
- Willie Spencer: 6’-2”, 189 lb. junior linebacker; all-Ohio (1971) Memphis Southmen; Washington Redskins; Minnesota Vikings.
Massillon opened the season with a 71-0 shellacking of Trotwood Madison, behind an offense that rolled up 533 yards. Tailback Mike Mauger set the tone for the season by romping 80 yards for a touchdown on the very first play of the game. Then, after disposing of Cleveland Benedictine 32-7 and Alliance 36-12, it was time to get down to business.
The opponent was Niles McKinley, an All-American Conference game that would be played on the road in front of a sellout crowd of 15,000. It turned out to be a defensive affair, with the ground-oriented Tigers hampered by a gimpy Mauger at tailback, who was injured the previous week. In fact, the only scoring of the first half was on a late field goal by Niles. But Massillon came roaring back in the second half to score three unanswered touchdowns and win 22-3. They also held the Red Dragons to just 132 yards. Niles would finish the season with a 7-2-1 record.
With the tough one behind them the Tigers went on a tear, outscoring their next six opponents 251-7. First up was Toledo Whitmer (7-3), a 41-0 victory in which Massillon surrendered just 69 yards. Next came a 40-0 blanking of Steubenville (6-4), behind a 416-yard offensive effort. It took just 40 plays to take care of Barberton, winning 52-0.
In a conference game at Warren, 15,000 rain-soaked fans watched the Tigers take the Black Panthers apart 22-0. Defense was the tone of the day and Massillon held Warren (5-5) to just three first downs and 29 yards of offense, none in the air. As expected, there was a bit of complacency when hapless Akron St. Vincent came to town. Massillon scored easily the first time it touched the ball to assume a 6-0 lead, only to see the Irish come right back on an 80-yard drive to take an early second quarter lead, 7-6. But the Tigers came back to life and showed why they were destined for greatness, scoring 36 points during the remainder of the quarter enroute to a 68-7 blowout. St. Vincent would manage just three yards for the rest of the night.
Entering Game Ten against Canton McKinley, the Tigers were in first place in the Associated Press Poll, Upper Arlington at 9-0 was a close second and McKinley at 8-0-1 was third (the tie was vs. Niles). Based on these standings, all that was left for the Tigers to finish in first place was to defeat the Pups. Fans woke up that Saturday to a cold downpour, conditions that would persist for the entire day. It wasn’t pleasant for the 22,500 fans in attendance, but the players didn’t seem to mind. The victory dance started early when Massillon’s Larry Harper returned the opening kickoff 94-yards for a touchdown to give the locals an early 8-0 lead. Keeping the ball on the ground for the entire game, the Tigers ground out three more scores, two by Mike Mauger and one by quarterback Dennis Franklin on a 37-yard naked boot. The celebration was on as Massillon rolled to a 28-0 victory behind a 258-yard rushing attack. Mauger led the way with 27 carries for 137 yards. Franklin would throw just two passes. Meanwhile, McKinley was held to a mere 115 yards, threatening to score just once.
Massillon game scores:
- Trotwood Madison (71-0)
- Cleveland Benedictine (32-7) – finished 9-1
- Alliance (36-12)
- Niles (22-3) – finished 7-2-1
- Toledo Whitmer (41-0)
- Steubenville (40-0)
- Barberton (52-0)
- Warren Harding (22-0)
- Akron St. Vincent (68-7)
- Canton McKinley (28-0) – No. 3; finished 8-1-1
- 10-0 Record: 412-29
Upper Arlington ended their season 10-0, which at least kept them in contention for the crown. Below are their season results:
- Mentor (27-6)
- Worthington (35-6)
- Cincinnati Princeton (24-7) – finished 8-2
- Portsmouth (27-0)
- Akron Garfield (41-7)
- Lancaster (21-20) – No. 6; finished 8-1-1
- Zanesville (34-10)
- Chillicothe (49-0)
- Newark (51-0)
- Marietta (27-8)
- 10-0 Record: 336-64
Massillon was ranked No.1 throughout most of entire season, continuously from Week 5 on, and solidified that ranking in the final voting with the big victory over previously undefeated and state-ranked Canton McKinley. Arlington was certainly hurt by a 1-point victory over Lancaster. Here’s how the final A.P. voting went:
- Massillon (10-0) – 223
- Upper Arlington (10-0) – 210
- Canton McKinley (8-1-1) – 119
- Sidney (10-0) – 116
- Cincinnati Moeller (9-1) – 115
- Lancaster (8-1-1) – 104
- Sandusky (9-1) – 92
- Warren Western Reserve (9-1) – 84
- Columbus East (8-1) – 50
- Troy (10-0) – 25
Of course, 3-time defending champion Upper Arlington was none too pleased with the final results and there were informal talks about a post-season game to decide it in a playoff format. The proceeds would be used to benefit the Marshall University football program, which suffered the loss of their entire team that year from a plane crash. But the OHSAA would not approve the game. So the final results would stand with Massillon as the state champs. Nevertheless, the two teams met in Columbus two years later and the Tigers emerged a 14-0 victor.
1970 would be that last time Massillon was accorded Ohio Championship status. Two years later the OHSAA would institute the state playoffs and, in spite of numerous state semifinal and final game appearances, the Tigers would never take the crown due to the dominance of the parochial schools, something that wasn’t present prior to the playoffs. But the accomplishments of that 1970 team are still remembered by many Massillon faithful. It was a team that outscored its opponents 412-29. It averaged 6.5 yards per play while holding its opponents to a mere 2.2. It wasn’t a huge team size-wise, but it possessed outstanding speed on both sides of the ball. It also had some very talented players, several of whom played major college and professional ball. But most of all it was a group of players that just wanted to win and win big, never letting down their guard.
The offense was a unit that could be relied upon to score the first time it touched the ball. Its consistency to move up and down the field was uncanny. The “bread and butter” play was a simple toss sweep to Mauger. But the speed of the offensive line enabled the blockers to fly to the outside and pave the way for the 210 lb. tailback who, while not being the swiftest of running backs, was extremely adept at following his blockers. When QB Dennis Franklin was not handing off to Mauger in the wing-T scheme, he would flip the ball to Larry Harper on the jet sweep. That play was just devastating against opponents. Franklin himself was an average passer, but he possessed great leadership ability, a trait that aided him throughout a 3-year stint as QB at the University of Michigan.
The defense was simply smothering. Commings believed in an attacking system, one that placed eight men near the line of scrimmage to cut down opposing players before they had a chance to establish their blocks. In fact, opponents averaged just four first down rushing per game. Few Massillon teams controlled the line of scrimmage as well as this eleven did. That coupled with an outstanding offense was a formula for success.
At the end of the season Coach Bob Commings was selected as the Class AAA Coach of the Year. After two years as coach of the Tigers his record stood at 17-2-1 having outscored the opposition by an average of 36-7. For his achievement he was selected as the North head coach in the 1971 Ohio All-Star Game. Commings would coach for three more years before taking over the head reigns at the University of Iowa, after compiling a record of 43-6-2, including a pair of undefeated regular seasons.
Mike Mauger was named Class AAA Back of the Year. Tim Ridgley was awarded first team all-state offensive lineman and Steve Luke was named as second team linebacker. Unfortunately, a couple of outstanding seniors were overlooked on this team. They included quarterback Dennis Franklin and flanker Larry Harper.
- Head Coach Bob Commings
- Larry Coyer
- Edward Kinney
- Jim Letcavits
- Gus Pachis
- Ducky Schroeder
- Nick Vrotsos
- Dale Walterhouse
The following photos are courtesy of Rob Engelhardt (1970 WHS Hi-Times)