MARYSVILLE Time was winding down on Massillon’s season. It hadn’t hit all zeros yet, though, when it found one more huge play to keep its championship hopes alive.
Zach Catrone hit Martavien Johnson for a 48-yard touchdown pass with 2:22 remaining in Friday night’s Division II state semifinal, erasing a three-point Cincinnati La Salle deficit. That proved to be the winning margin for the Tigers, as they dethroned the reigning state champs — and last team to beat them in the playoffs — with a 14-10 victory at Marysville’s IMPACT Stadium.
“We were confident in our offense,” Catrone said. “We didn’t score as much as we wanted to, but we knew it was going to be a hard-fought game. We knew they had their dudes still; we knew we had our dudes. I always thought we had the upper hand on them.”
The win sends Massillon, now 10-1 after its 10th consecutive win, to its third Division II state title game in as many seasons next Friday night at 7 at Fortress Obetz outside of Columbus. Awaiting the Tigers will be Hoban, which beat Avon in the other state semifinal on Friday.
Long before Massillon could turn its attention to the Knights, against whom it’s split the last two seasons, it had to deal with La Salle. The Lancers, who are 8-3, beat the Tigers in last year’s state title game.
“Great ballgame,” said Tiger coach Nate Moore, whose team trailed 10-7 with less than 2:30 remaining. “Two worthy opponents. Our kids fought hard and it came down to the wire. We play to win, and I’m just proud of them.”
While Massillon struggled all game to get in front of La Salle, it never completely let it out of its sight either. Two drives, really, were all that the Lancers mustered against the Tiger defense.
Those two drives, though, were enough to give La Salle a pair of leads.
The first one came in the first quarter, when Lancer quarterback Zach Branam ripped off a 76-yard run to the Massillon 4 on a third-down play. Three plays later, Branam put the Lancers in front 7-0 with a 1-yard run with 20 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
Branam rushed for a game-high 158 yards on 28 attempts. However, save for that one big run, he rarely found any room to get loose for big plays.
“I thought our defensive coaches had a great game plan,” Moore said. “We had a good week of preparation and practice. The kids went out and executed. We gave up the one long run, but I don’t know how many snaps we played defensively, maybe (59), and (58) of them were pretty good.”
Massillon got its own big third-down play to forge a 7-7 tie by halftime. On third-and-19 from the La Salle 45, Catrone found Caiden Woullard down the left sideline for a 39-yard pass to the Lancer 11.
Three plays later, Jumacius Portis scored on a third-and-1 play from the La Salle 3 with 5:03 remaining in the half.
La Salle put together its most sustained drive of the night over the third and fourth quarters. Starting at its own 12, it drove 72 yards in 16 plays to the Massillon 15.
However, on third-and-3 from the Tiger 15, Branam was stopped for a yard loss. Mason Luensman then hit a 33-yard field goal to give the Lancers a 10-7 lead with 7:57 remaining.
Massillon’s next drive reached its own 48, but it was forced to punt it away with 4:07 remaining. The Tigers, though, got the ball back after stopping La Salle on a third-down pass from its own 30.
They also caught a break on the punt, which hit a Lancer player trying to cover it at their 48. On the very next play, Catrone hit Johnson for the go-ahead touchdown.
“That play there was a play-action play on a post,” said Catrone, who was 5-of-13 for 109 yards in the game. “We actually had (Jayden) Ballard on a post on the backside as well. That was really just reading the defense.”
La Salle got one first down on its final possession at its own 30. But four straight incompletions set off a Massillon celebration.
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