Tigers Take Care of Business, Defeat Austintown Fitch, 42-7
Traveling to Austintown Fitch for Massillon has always been a difficult assignment. Some strange things have happened over the years that always plagued the Tigers and kept them from coming home with a victory. Entering the game, Massillon led the series 20-8 , but ahead just 7-6 when playing on the road. But that was not the case in this latest encounter. Aside from a few tense moments, Massillon played like the great team it is and came away with a convincing victory in a game that was played very cleanly and sportsmanlike between both teams.
By the time Fitch, who entered with a 4-2 mark, had run just six plays and punted twice, Massillon had opened a commanding 21-0 lead on the strength of 235 yards of offense, averaging 10.2 yard per play. Leading the attack was the 3-headed monster of senior quarterback Da’One Owens, who ran for 97 yards, junior running back Ja’Meir Gamble, who picked up 94 yards and junior back Mylen Lenix, who added another 19 in limited duty as he returns from an injury. All of this behind some great blocking by the offensive line.
Meanwhile, the defense did its part by holding the Falcons for the game to a net 12 yards on the ground. They did give up 205 in the air, but that was by design as, with a big lead, they simply kept the receivers in front of them to prevent a big play, while forcing Fitch to score from within the redzone, where it is much more difficult to complete a pass. The strategy worked to perfection, as Fitch was able to score just one touchdown on the night.
The Tigers received the opening kickoff and went to work starting at their own 41, following a great return by Zach Liebler. After picking up three yards on his first carry, Gamble broke through the line and was gone, owing to his 4.39 second 40-yard dash time. For Fitch had pulled the safeties up to within five yards of the line of scrimmage in order to stop Owens, and there was no one to make the tackle after Gamble broke free. Later in the game they dropped the safeties, but it was too late then. The damage had been done.
After holding the Falcons to a 3-and-out, Massillon engineered an 11-play, 94-yard drive, all on the ground, and ended when Dorian Pringle bulled in from the one. The third score came following a 10-play, 77-yard drive, culminating in a 2-yard TD run by Lenix, which made the score 21-0 early in the second quarter.
It was later in that quarter that the Falcons played their best football, abandoning the run entirely and going strictly to air. They scored their lone touchdown when quarterback Deshawn Vaughn fired a flare pass to wide receiver Dan Evans, who then sped past the secondary and down the left sideline for a 57-yard score. Then, after holding the Tigers on a 3-and-out, they marched the ball with their short passing game to the Massillon eight yard line. But they were held on downs when Cody Fair tackled the runner for no gain on fourth and one.
Once again the Tigers were forced to punt and the Falcons drove to the Massillon 29. But an errant pass from Vaughn, who was under tremendous pressure the entire night from the Tiger front-3, was intercepted by Kyler Wiggins at the 20. Wiggins, a wide receiver by trade, was inserted into the game to bolster the secondary, as Massillon was using both nickel and dime defenses (5 or 6 defensive backs) to control the pass and assure that tackles would be made. He returned the ball 47 yards to the Fitch 33 with just 21 seconds left in the half. But Massillon still had three times out available used them wisely. Six plays later the they were sitting in the end zone when Owens connected with Braylyn Toles as time expired. It was a potential 14-point turnaround and literally salted the game away.
The second half involved mostly short passes from Fitch and occasional miscues that thwarted drives. But in the fourth quarter Massillon extended its lead with two additional scores. Three carries by Owens for 63 yards and fourth by Gamble for 20 resulted in the first score and a 58-yard run up the middle by Gamble was the second. Meanwhile, Fitch never threatened in the second half.
Gamble led all rushers with 17 carries for 233 yards (13.7 ave.). The yardage mark is six yards shy of tenth all-time in the Massillon record book. Owens carried eleven times for 134 yards (12.2 ave.). Lenix picked up 23.
Austintown’s Vaughn completed 20 of 39 passes for 205 yards. Their leading rusher, Deon’Dray Richard, gained just 17 yards.
It appears that the Massillon offense is settling down to what it will be; i.e., a formidable rushing attack, featuring both Owens and Gamble, with several other backs finding roles at times. They average 7.1 yards per carry, which is currently third in the record book. The passing game is a bit inconsistent, but still a threat to opponents. The defense against the run is the best seen in Massillon in a long time. Though eight games, the first unit has yet to surrender a touchdown on the ground and is giving up just 2.3 yards per carry, which is second all-time in the book and first against the spread. The secondary is also very athletic and has the ability to cover receivers closely in space. The kicking game has shown improvement recently and will only get better. Punting chores against
Fitch rested with Owens, due to both Tyler Hackenbracht and Jalen Slaughter not being available. But Owens was magnificent, averaging 40.7 yards per punt, with a long of 54 yards.
The Tigers (8-0) return home next week when they host Warren Harding (4-4). Fitch (4-3) travels to Boardman (1-7).