Tigers Stiffen, Mount a Comeback in Classic Game
It was billed as a classic game, involving two of the winningest programs in the country, and it absolutely lived up to its billing. Stifling defenses. Big plays. Outstanding individual performances. A large, noisy crowd. All coupled with the electricity of a season-opening game at Paul Brown Tiger Stadium. In the end it was Massillon that overcame an early 2-touchdown deficit to overtake Valdosta, Georgia, 28-17.
Both teams were loaded with athletic speedsters and ultimately it was their big plays that factored the most in the outcome for each team. On Valdosta’s first play from scrimmage running back Shakevious Wright skirted the right end and wasn’t stopped until he was run down by Kyler Wiggins at the Massillon ten. Just prior to the play the Wildcats had shifted their tight end and fullback from the left edge to the right edge and the Tigers didn’t adjust. For it was all about the numbers in their offense in that Valdosta was trying to place more blockers than defenders at the point of attack. Three plays later the Wildcats were in the endzone when quarterback Todd Robinson hit Eli Lewis on a 16-yard pass.
Following a Massillon punt, Valdosta struck again, this time on a 63-yard pass from Robinson to Prince Jean. Off an outlet pass, coupled by some good blocking near the line of scrimmage, the potential Tiger tacklers just couldn’t get into position to make the play. Once the speedy Jean got going there was catching him. Suddenly, the Tigers were down 14-0 and it wasn’t looking good. Especially with Massillon having gained just 13 yards through the first quarter of play.
Throughout the early part of the game the Tigers were swapping quarterbacks within each possession, between Jalen Slaughter and Daone Owens. Slaughter appeared to be the main QB, as he seemed to be favored for passing, while Owens was used in play situations. But, with the running game totally stymied and the Wildcats utilizing close man-to-man coverage in the secondary, the offense just wasn’t getting untracked.
So, in the middle of the second quarter, on the Tigers’ fourth possession of the night, Coach Nate Moore went to Plan B. The Tigers lined up with three wide receivers, a wing-back on each side of the five linemen and Owens alone in the backfield. From there, he became the running back and was able to effectively use his running skills, while the line blocked like on traditional running plays. On Owens’ first attempt he alluded a few tacklers at the line of scrimmage and then it was a foot race to the endzone, eventually being caught at the Valdosta five. Four plays later the Tigers chalked up their first touchdown of the night on a 1-yard run by Dorian Pringle. Vinny Keller then kicked his first of four extra points.
Two series later Valdosta had driven the ball to the Massillon 37, but Vito McConnell came up with a big interception to squash the attempt. The Tigers then drove to the Wildcat 13, but ran out of time. So, at the half it was 14-7.
Massillon stayed with Owens to start the second half and on the first play he once again got into the Valdosta secondary and sped 69 yards for the tying score. The Tigers tacked on the go-ahead points when Pringle capped off a 55-yard drive with a 21-yard run. Valdosta responded with a 49-yard pass from Robinson to Jamill Williams, advancing the ball to the Massillon 8. But they failed to move any further and settled for a 29-yard field goal.
Two series later the Tigers put up the clinching points when Owens broke free on a 65-yard touchdown run, making the final score 28-17. Owens finished the night rushing 13 times for 241 yards. The total yards places him 9th in the Massillon record book and his 18.5 yards per carry is 2nd.
Overall, in spite of gaining just 13 yards in the first quarter, Tigers rolled up 432 yards of offense. The ground game accounted for 348 yards and the two quarterbacks combined completed 9 of 19 passes for 84 yards. Meanwhile, Valdosta rushed for 110 yards, 80 of which came on their first play. In the air, Robinson hit 12 of 24 for 211 yards and two touchdowns.
For a first game of the season, with limited preparation time, it was a very well-played game between two outstanding teams stocked with many experienced players. Four intangibles, however, made the difference. First, Massillon was able to find the answer to breaking the Wildcat defense with the use of Owens in the empty backfield formation. Second, the Tigers were able to make the necessary adjustments to shut down the Valdosta offense. Following their two touchdowns and aside from the one long pass, the Wildcats gained just 78 yards. Third, Valdosta was flagged for 14 penalties, accounting for 124 yards. And fourth, the Wildcat quarterback, who is a great runner, began cramping up in the middle of the second quarter and was relegated the rest of the night to handing off the ball and throwing passes, while eliminating the option plays. Nevertheless, they did account for 321 yards of total offense.
Next week Massillon will face Canton GlenOak.