Unruly Play Overshadows a Great Victory by Massillon Over St. John’s
For the record, Massillon, one of the top teams in the state of Ohio regardless of division, defeated St. John College, the Number 1 team in the District of Columbia, 28-7. But the storyline wasn’t the magnitude of the game (Top game in the country this week according to Maxpreps.com), nor was it the great offensive plays, nor was it the relentless defensive efforts. It was the magnitude of personal fouls and chippyness between both teams that seemed to dominate the scene. It was a sight rarely seen in a Massillon football game. It started out OK, but as the game wore on and the final outcome became more inevitable, any initial good sportsmanship just waned away.
But it was also like a 10-round, heavyweight boxing match. Jab after jab. Blow after blow. Constant attacks to gain the upper hand and deliver a crushing blow, hoping to get the opponent to yield. But these teams weren’t going to yield, as both were trying to prove that they were worthy of being in the national spotlight, a blessing that they deem needs protecting. It’s great when events go your way. But when they don’t, emotions take over. And paybacks are inevitable. But, all of this leads to detractions from the game.
Was there a trigger point? Perhaps. It might have occurred late in the second quarter when Massillon quarterback Da’one Owens completed a 22-yard pass to Braylyn Toles on a crossing route. The St. John’s defender on the play closed quickly from the opposite direction and delivering a crushing hit with his shoulder, something you would see in a pro game, that literally lifted the diminutive Toles off his feet and sent him flying in the opposite direction. Surprisingly, he hung onto the ball. Multiple flags flew following the play, but the referees ruled that there was no foul. It was the correct call, but the force of the tackle was certainly unnecessary. After that, the level of physical play seemed to just accelerate, which then led to the deterioration of proper sportsmanship and multiple personal foul penalties. Eventually, the two coaches met in the middle of the field and mutually agreed to end the game with about a half quarter remaining. It was unfortunate, to say the least.
By game’s end, the Cadets had been whistled for nineteen penalties, seven of which were the 15-yard variety. The others were technical. Massillon, on the other hand, was flagged ten times, with five of the long-yardage variety. Three between the two teams were ruled offsetting. Winning in a game like this is difficult and losing is bitter. And sometimes emotions take over. But the referees didn’t help matters, for it appeared that they were in over their heads in a game of this magnitude. They literally set a record for the number of meetings held to discuss penalties and were often indecisive in even trying place the ball in the right spot after a penalty, which resulted in even more meetings. In fact, as a result of the delays and not necessarily the number of plays run, the third quarter wasn’t over until two hours and fifteen minutes into the game.
St. John’s received the opening kickoff and scored on its third play when quarterback Isaiah French connected with Reece Williams for a 63-yard touchdown pass. On the play, French was flushed out of the pocket and escaped toward the left sideline with an intent to run. But at the last moment he launched the pass. Only, the Massillon defender, who sensed the run, left his man and in anticipation of making the tackle, leaving the receiver wide open. Such is the life of a defensive back.
The Tigers came right back and, with their best drive of the night, drove 71 yards in seven plays to tie the score. It started with a 29-yard run by Ja’Meir Gamble. Two plays later Owens connected with Jacques carter on a 25-yard pass that advanced the ball to the Cadet 25. From there Massillon just drove it into the end zone, with Michael Wright Jr. carrying the ball in from the two.
St. John’s returned the kickoff into Massillon territory, but the subsequent drive was halted when Adonis Marshall intercepted the ball in the end zone.
After an exchange of punts, the Tigers found themselves at their own 33. They did pick up a first down at midfield, but a series of penalties placed them in an uncharacteristic second and 42 from their own 18. That’s when Owens launched a perfectly thrown, high-arcing pass to Toles, who was streaking down the right sideline, with a defender right on his heels the entire way. The pass-catch combination was thing of beauty. Something you see in a college game. The ball hung in the air for what seemed liked forever. And fans were in the edges of their seats in anticipation of the outcome. It was right on the money and Toles secured the ball at the Cadet 29, completing a 53-yard pass. It was also reminiscent of the play in the 2005 state semifinals game against Lakewood St. Edward, when Brian Gamble caught a pass from Bobby Huth and converted an unconceivable 3rd and 30, propelling Massillon to the state finals. Four plays later Dorian Pringle plowed in from the one to give the Tigers a lead that they never relinquished.
Two series later the Tigers scored again, finishing off an 11-play 79-yard drive. On 4th and 3 from the Cadet 24, Owens, under great pressure from the rush, threw a dart to Toles on a skinny post for the touchdown. That put Massillon up 21-7 headed into the locker room.
After receiving the second half kickoff, Massillon put the final score on the board. It came at the end of a 13-play, 80-yard drive that consumed over half the quarter. There were no big plays, just constant pounding of the ball. Only one pass was thrown and it was incomplete. At the end of it, Owens scrambled forward to avoid a sack and didn’t stop until he was in the end zone, avoiding several potential tacklers along the way. The play covered 23 yards.
St. John’s responded with a drive to the Massillon 23, but a fourth down pass was broken up by Maverick Clark.
The Cadets have ten players that have received Division 1, Power-5 offers, while the Tigers have just one. But this game proves that it takes more than just great athletes to win a big game. It also takes sound fundamental execution. And this is where Massillon held the edge. Massillon ended up besting St. John’s in total yards, 332-241, although the Cadets did lead in yards per play, 6.9-5.5. But ball control was the deciding factor. And that’s where fundamentals came into play. The Tigers ran 60 plays to St. John’s 35 and led in first downs, 22-9.
Gamble led the rushing attack with 19 carries for 91 yards (4.8 ave.). Owens, who never got untracked with his run game owing to good targeting defense by the opponent, gained just 47 yards. But he did complete 7 of 16 passes for 155 yards and a touchdown. Four of those passes went to Toles, who had a tremendous night of football. Tyler Hackenbracht also had a great night, leading the team with five solo tackles and one assist. He also punted three times, averaging 34.3, with a long of 47 yards.
St. John’s was the type of team that, with the athletes they have, one feels that they could score on any play. So, it was of utmost importance to control, not necessarily stop, the best of the lot. That included Oregon-bound 4-star recruit Da’Juan Riggs. He carried the ball 11 times for 73 yards (6.6 ave.) and caught three passes for 26 yards. To handle French the Tigers put him under constant pressure when trying to pass, although he was quick to escape the pocket and was only sacked once. French ended up completing 7 of 16 passes for 117 yards, but for only 47 yards after that initial score. Mission accomplished.
Next week undefeated Massillon will play its first road game, at Austintown Fitch (4-2). St. John’s (3-2) will host Good Counsel, MD (4-1).