Recapping the 2023 Massillon State Championship Football Season
What a great season it was. Division II state champions. Perfect 16-0 season. Defeating the Division I state champion for the second consecutive year. Besting the team having the most wins in the country. The national rankings. And on and on. Here is a recap of a season to remember and one that all future teams will surely be measured against.
Pre-season outlook – Under ninth-year head coach Nate Moore, Massillon has over the last five years won 61 of its last 70 games and advanced to the state championship finals three times. In 2022 the Tigers compiled a record of 12-2, which included a victory over Division 1 state champion Lakewood St. Edward. With the return this season of eight starters on each side of the ball, plus newcomer quarterback Da’One Owens, the Tigers set their sights on a seventh trip to the state championship game and perhaps the title.
Schedule – The slate was one of the most formidable that Massillon has ever assembled, highlighted by three national powers, including Valdosta, GA, Lakewood St. Edward and St. John’s College, D.C. Two other out-of-state teams were also on the schedule: Elkhart, IN, and Middletown, DE. In addition, traditional rival Canton McKinley was waiting at the end.
Valdosta, GA, game – The game was part of the Northeast Ohio vs. America Showcase. It also received more media hype than any other Massillon game in recent history, given that Valdosta was the winningest team in the country, with the Tigers, a previous No. 1 team, close behind. Massillon was down 14-0 early when Valdosta hit on a couple of big plays. But the Tigers were able to regroup and came away with a hard-fought 28-17 victory. While both Owens and Jalen Slaughter were slated to share the quarterbacking duties this year, it was Owens that sparked the win, rushing 13 times for 241 yards and two touchdowns, including runs of 69 and 75 yards.
Canton GlenOak game – The Eagles were completely dominated as the Tigers led 49-0 at the half and rolled up 467 yards of total offense. Slaughter completed 4 of 6 passes for 153 yards and two TDs. Peytton Mitchell rushed for 127 yards. Final score: 56-7.
Mansfield game – The Tygers finished the season 10-3, but they were no match for Massillon and their 320 yards rushing, resulting in a 51-10 margin.
Elkhart, IN, game – With a 48-0 halftime lead and 457 yards of total offense the Tigers cruised to another win, 55-0.
Lakewood St. Edward game – The defending Division 1 state champions paid a return visit to Massillon and, with revenge on their minds, should have won this game. But the Tigers proved to be the better team that night, rolling up nearly 300 yards of offense and winning 15-13. Only, Massillon could have scored more. After suffering their only loss of the season, the Eagles went on to repeat as Division 1 champions.
Middletown, DE, game – Owens was not available as his eligibility regarding residency was held up by the OHSAA, this being the sixth game of the season (open enrollment rules). Thus, Jalen Slaughter was alone at quarterback for this one and responded with his best performance of the season, completing 15 of 29 passes for 293 yards and three touchdowns in a 41-7 win. Jacques Carter caught eight balls for 142 yards and a score. Unfortunately, Slaughter was injured at the end of the game and didn’t return until the end of the season.
St. John’s game – With Slaughter out and Owens fighting eligibility issues, freshman quarterback Manny Patterson entered the picture as the potential starter. However, Owens was cleared to play on the day of the game and Massillon went on to defeat the Number 1 team in D.C., 28-7. But the match was marred by 23 penalties. It also ended about a half quarter early when proper sportsmanship between the two teams waned away. Don’t expect St. John’s to be back on the schedule any time soon.
Austintown Fitch game – The Falcons repositioned their linebackers to stop the rushing prowess of Owens. However, the strategy opened up the running lanes for Ja’Meir Gamble, who rushed 17 times for 233 yards and two touchdowns in a 42-7 victory. Owens was held to 134 yards on the ground.
Warren Harding game – The Raiders, after blocking a punt deep in Massillon territory, scored the first and only rushing touchdown against the Tiger first unit the entire season. But Warren proceeded to fall behind 42-7 by halftime and eventually lost, 48-14. Owens completed 16 of 22 passes for 277 yards and three scores.
Canton McKinley game – Ranking services tabbed Massillon as a 35-point favorite and all that did was ignite problems on the field, as the 7-2 Bulldogs took offense to the slight. It also didn’t help matters when the Tigers scored on a long bomb on their first play of the game, while taking a 28-0 lead into the locker room. Chippy throughout, it ended with a post-game melee and the two teams promptly leaving the field, forgoing any award ceremony. Final score: 35-0, with Dorian Pringle scoring twice. It was the first shutout in the series in fifteen years. McKinley never threatened during the game and was held to just 65 yards of total offense.
All-County team – Seven Massillon players were selected, sans Owens, who became the coach’s selection. Other deserving players were also excluded.
Computer playoffs ranking – Massillon finished on top of Division II, Region 7, with a computer point total that was more than any other team in the history of the playoffs, regardless of division. The strength of the Tiger schedule had a significant influence on this number, as nine of the ten opponents qualified for their respective playoffs.
Grove City Central Crossing game – Massillon opened the playoff season with a 41-6 victory. Owens had a career day passing, completing 20 of 27 for 341 yards and four touchdowns. Eight passes went to Braylyn Toles for 125 yards and two scores.
Westerville South game – The Tigers put the game away early, leading 42-0 at the half. A balanced attack and a stingy defense led to a 50-7 win. Unfortunately, star linebacker Pringle was lost to an injury at the beginning of the game and was out for four weeks. Nevertheless, Shon Robinson filled in admirably and led the team in tackles during three of those four weeks.
Uniontown Lake game – The Blue Streaks always play a good brand of defense, and they were behind just 14-6 at the half. But it wasn’t enough to stop Massillon from eventually winning 35-6, behind 421 yards of total offense. Owens rushed for 164 yards and Gamble added 131.
Uniontown Green game (regional finals) – The Tigers were seeking revenge from a 26-25 upset to the Bulldogs in the 2021 regional finals. This time around it was no contest, as Massillon cruised to a 31-6 victory. Green was held to negative 19 yards on the ground, while the Tiger offense racked up 413 total yards. With the win Massillon captured its 16th regional championship (second most among all large schools) and advanced to the state semifinals.
All-District team – Twelve players were named to the team, including Owens (Co-Offensive Player of the Year) and Pringle (Co-Defensive Player of the Year). Four other players were named first team, including Chase Bond, Nolan Davenport, Cody Fair and Michael Wright Jr.
Cincinnati Anderson game (state semifinals) – The once-beaten Raptors were scoring over 40 points per game with their up-tempo offense. However, after tallying on their first drive, they kept off the board the remainder of the night, as Massillon’s defense made the necessary adjustments. Coupled with a balanced scoring attack, the Tigers prevailed, 55-7.
Akron Hoban game (state finals) – It was two great high school defenses battling it out in front of a near-capacity crowd (fifth largest in a Division II finals) at Tom Benson Stadium, with each team held below 200 yards of offense. Massillon tallied in the second quarter on a 6-yard run by Mylen Lenix, only to surrender a safety later in the period. The Knights, however, although stymied throughout most of the game, were in position to take the lead late in the fourth quarter, following a failed fake Tiger punt near midfield. An errant 3rd down snap led to a 4th and 8 at the 17, setting up a Hoban pass into the end zone for the win. But Pringle closed on the intended receiver and reached him just in time to break up the pass, securing both the game and the state title. Pringle had returned from injury for this game and led both teams with 14 tackles and 3.0 tackles-for-loss. The title was No. 25 for Massillon and the first in the playoff era. Following the game Tiger fans welcomed the team back to town with a rousing celebration. A parade with fireworks was held the following week as a formal salute. And commemorative merchandise went flying off the shelves.
National rankings – Maxpreps.com (12th), USAToday and (12th) Calpreps.com (20th) and Play Football (9th), all rated Massillon in their Top 25s. The Tigers also moved into the Number 2 position for all-time wins in the country, tied with Louisville Male and just four games behind Valdosta.
All-State team – Ten players received all-state honors, including Pringle, who was named Division II Co-Defensive Player of the Year. Owens and Wright were also awarded 1st Team. 2nd Team went to Bond and Davenport, with Cody Fair was 3rd Team. Honorable Mention: Jacques Carer, Ja’Meir Gamble, Tyler Hachenbracht and Brady Jones. Coach Nate Moore was named Division II Co-Coach of the Year.
Single Season Player Records – Slaughter set new records for Yards per Pass Attempt and Quarterback Efficiency. Pringle set new records for Tackles-for-Loss (46) and Lost Yards (240). Wright set new records for Quarterback Sacks (10) and Lost Yards (134). Matero Hererra tied a record for PAT Kick Percent (100%) and Emy Lewis Jr. tied a record for Kickoff Return Touchdowns (2). These players and several others also finished in various Top 10s.
Single Season Team Marks – Massillon’s 25 state championships are the most among all Ohio schools. The sixteen wins was the most ever for the Tigers in a single season. It was the 24th perfect regular season and first fully unbeaten/untied season during the playoff era. This is the second time in a single season that the Tigers won at least ten games at home. A running clock was in effect during 11 of the 16 games. Per game, the offense averaged 38.6 points, 387 yards and 6.6 yards per rushing attempt (4th all-time). The defense averaged 7.3 points, 40.6 yards (3rd all-time) and 1.7 yards per rushing attempt (2nd all-time). Only four teams rushed for 100 yards or more. They also set records for tackles-for-loss and quarterback sacks.
Miscellaneous –Coach Nate Moore recorded his 99th win as head coach at Massillon. The freshmen team compiled a fine 9-2 record, with 1-point losses to Lakewood St. Edward (13-2) and Akron Hoban (9-1), and a 44-0 victory over Canton McKinley (6-2-1).