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Entering the McKinley Game Unbeaten is No Guarantee of a Victory

The Massillon Tigers have produced a stellar season this year while fashioning a perfect 9-0 mark, with only Division 1 front runner Lakewood St. Edward keeping the final score close.  And it’s not like the schedule was weak.  In fact, with the likes of Valdosta, St. John’s, Austintown Fitch and Middletown, and of course St. Eds, it ranks right up toward the top compared to other Massillon slates of the past thirty years.

This week is the annual rivalry game against Canton McKinley.  But entering the fray unbeaten is certainly no guarantee of a victory, as history has shown.

Quarterback Dave Sheegog scores the winning touchdown in the 1964 game.

Including the time of Paul Brown, Massillon has been undefeated going into the finale thirty times.  Twenty-two of those games occurred in the 1930s through the 1970s, during which the Tigers have a record of 18-4-1.  The average margin of victory was 27-4, with ten shutouts recorded.  Eight times both teams were undefeated and the Bulldogs were able to win just two of those games.  It was a good trend.

But during the forty-some years since that time, Massillon has been undefeated just eight times.  So, it’s a much rarer situation today.  And the record against McKinley in these games is even, with four wins apiece.  The Tigers won on average by a 22-6 margin, while the Bulldogs won 24-7.  So, it has been quite balanced in the results of those games.

But those four setbacks also have their own stories:

  • In 1980 Massillon lost 16-7 at home in a game that McKinley completely dominated, holding the Tigers to a total offense of just 86 yards. But it was also the first year of the playoffs that the number of qualifiers per region was increased from one to two.  Surprisingly, while the Bulldogs took first, Massillon was able to grab the second spot, which set up a rematch the following Saturday.  In one week’s time the Tiger coaches were able to make the necessary adjustments and then turned the tables on McKinley, coming away with a hard fought 14-6 victory at Faucett Stadium.  After getting by Willoughby South 21-6 the following week, Massillon advanced to the state championship game, where they faced Cincinnati Moeller.
  • In 1993 the Tigers had one of their best rushing attacks in their long history, recording a season average of 6.5 yards per carry, although the passing attack wasn’t the greatest.  Unfortunately for Massillon, the Faucett Stadium grass turf that Saturday was a quagmire due to a week’s worth of rain and it neutralized the smaller Tiger running backs, who never got untracked in a 21-13 loss to an 8-1 Bulldog team.
  • In 1996 Massillon lost 17-0 to 8-1 McKinley, which advanced in the playoffs to the state semifinals.
  • In 2005 the Tigers suffered five turnovers and were dominated on the scoreboard by the undefeated Bulldogs, 38-8. Three weeks later these two teams would meet again in the playoff regional finals.  This time it was the Tigers that owed the day, coming away with a 21-3 victory.  The following week, Massillon defeated Lakewood St. Edward, the best team in the state, and punched their ticket to the state finals, where they lost to Cincinnati St. Xavier.

But there were also four really great wins.

  • In 1982 Chris Spielman scored the only touchdown in the game to give the Tigers a 7-0 victory. That team would later face Cincinnati Moeller in the state championship game played at OSU Stadium.
  • In 1999 the Tigers ran McKinley out of their own stadium, winning 34-7. Quarterback Dave Irwin passed for 130 yards and three touchdowns, while the defense held McKinley’s passing attack to just 32 yards.
  • In 2018 Massillon won 24-17.  Jamir Thomas carried the ball 35 times for 269 yards and scored two touchdowns.  The Tigers would advance in the playoffs to the state finals, where they lost to Akron Hoban.
  • The following year the Tigers bested the Bulldogs 24-14. Terrence Keyes rushed for 141 yards and scored a touchdown, while quarterback Aidan Longwell completed 17 of 26 passes for 206 yards and two scores.  Nine of the completions and both TDs went to OSU-bound Jayden Ballard.  Again, Massillon parlayed that success into a trip in the playoffs to the state finals, where they faced Cincinnati LaSalle.

Again, being undefeated and winning the game against that team to the east is certainly no sure thing, as history shows.  But with the proper preparation by our players and coaches and the overwhelming will to win these young Tigers should do just fine.  Former Massillon Coach Lee Owens captured it best at the Touchdown Club last Tuesday when he said there were three things the players need to focus on to win the game.  The first is to play physically, for the more physical team usually comes away with the win.  The second is to play smart and keep the penalties to a minimum.  And the third is to handle adversity.  Because there will be adversity.  No plan ever goes according to script.  Handle the adversity smartly and then move on.  If all that happens, then it should be a great afternoon of football.

Go Tigers!