Record run: Willtrell Hartson’s mark carries Massillon into regional final
Chris Easterling, The Independent
Oct 30, 2020 11:45 PM
MASSILLON Five weeks ago, Willtrell Hartson wasn’t even starting for Massillon. Five weeks and four games later, Hartson has helped carry the Tigers back into the regional championship game — breaking a school record in the process.
Hartson set Massillon’s single-game rushing record with 324 yards on Friday night. That helped the Tigers run to a 45-36 Division II, Region 7 semifinal win over previously-undefeated Westerville South at Paul Brown Tiger Stadium.
The sophomore’s rushing total, which included three touchdowns on 27 carries, broke Travis McGuire’s old record which he set in 1991 against McKinley. McGuire rushed for 302 yards in that game, the only back to top the 300-yard plateau in Massillon history.
Until Hartson joined him Friday night. In doing so, he helped the 8-1 Tigers advance to next Friday night’s regional final at No 1-seed and undefeated Perry.
“Where he really separates himself is once he gets to that third level,” Massillon coach Nate Moore said of Hartson, who has rushed for 773 yards on 68 carries over the last four games since replacing the injured Raekwon Venson. “How he’s able to both break tackles and accelerate and choose to correct angles and cuts to finish runs through that third level. That’s where he’s been outstanding.”
The win also provided Moore with his 100th career head-coaching win. He is 100-37 in 11 years as a coach, including 58-16 in six years at Massillon.
More important, though, to Moore was the fact his team is making its fourth consecutive regional final appearance.
“It really doesn’t matter what they mean to me,” Moore said. “This football team’s been working hard to get to the point that they’re at right now. We’re 8-1 heading into the regional championship. We don’t really sit around and think about that. We have a tall task at hand and have to have a great week of preparation this week.”
The first of Hartson’s three TD runs, a 53-yarder with 7:50 remaining in the second quarter, gave the Tigers the lead for good at 14-9. Hartson’s last two scoring runs, of 54 and 25 yards, gave Massillon a 42-9 lead with 1:33 remaining in the third quarter.
As good as the middle quarter-and-a-half were for the Tigers, the first quarter-and-a-half and the final quarter were enough to give Moore plenty to work with over the next week. Westerville South led 6-0 after Kaden Saunders’s 4-yard touchdown catch from Peter Pedrozo on its first drive, and 9-7 with 8:52 remaining in the second quarter on Matthew Bame’s 32-yard field goal.
After Massillon forced the running clock on Hartson’s third scoring run, Westerville South scored 27 points and rolled up 219 total yards in the fourth quarter. Pedrozo, who completed 25 of 48 passes for 337 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, threw and caught scoring passes in the final 9:07 of the game.
“You just have to give all the credit in the world to Westerville South,” said Moore, whose team’s previous season-high in points allowed was 24 Week 1 against St. Edward and yards allowed was 361 last week against Hoover. “They played well, played hard. Fought back into it. Congratulations to them.”
Saunders, the junior Penn State commit, finished with 169 receiving yards on nine catches. He had two TDs, including one off of a deflected pass with four seconds remaining in the game to provide the final margin.
Massillon forced a pair of turnovers, both interceptions by Isaiah Clark. The biggest of those came late in the second quarter when Clark outfought Bame for the ball in the end zone to preserve a 21-9 Tiger halftime lead.
“The first half, I think we missed a couple of opportunities for scores,” Westerville South coach Matthew Christ said after his team falls to 7-1. “Put it on my shoulders at the end of the day for the clock management at the end of the half. We probably should’ve just kicked the field goal. I thought that was a touchdown, but interception, it is what it is.”
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