Category: <span>History</span>

The Massillon Tiger Defense Was Special

The Massillon Tiger Defense Was Special

The 2023 Tiger defense was simply spectacular as evidenced by its pitching a shutout against Akron Hoban to win the Division II State Championship and besting the Division I state champion during the regular season.  Historically, it also stacks up well against both previous Massillon teams and the best teams from around the state.

Many intangibles went into the greatness of this defense.  It started with a good scheme, within which its members played great assignment football.  But more importantly it had the “Jimmies and Joes” that according to Defensive Coordinator Spencer Leno was necessary to play at this level.  Start with All-American Dorian Pringle, who roamed all over the field, while recording 14 tackles against Hoban and setting a single-season record for tackles-for-loss.  Add in his All-Ohio partner at middle linebacker, Cody Fair, who led the team in tackles.  Then there was up front the unblockable “Big Mike” Wright, who broke the single-season record for quarterback sacks.  Throw in All-Ohioans Chase Bond and Tyler Hackenbracht plus a host of others and you have perhaps the best defense in the entire state.

But how does it stack up against other teams that have won playoff state championships?  Here’s the rundown.

When the state playoffs began in 1972 just four teams qualified in each division.  Gradually, over the last fifty years, the OHSAA increased that number, to 8 in 1980, to 16 in 1985, to 32 in 1999 and finally to 64 in 2021.  As such, the road to capturing a state title involved winning more and more games, a number that now stands at six, exceeding half of a regular season.

For this comparison the focus is on those years where a large number of playoff games were involved; i.e., 1999 to present day, or 5 to 6 playoff games.  In addition, the focus is on the top three divisions, which include the larger schools in the state.  Thus, there were 45 state champions covering three divisions across 15 years.  Twenty-one teams, nearly half, averaged less than ten points per game throughout the playoffs: 7 in Division 1, 7 in Division 2 and 7 in Division 3.  This certainly proves out the old adage that offense wins games, but defense wins championships.

Massillon averaged 5.7 points per game during their 6-game run to the title, which was exceeded by only two other teams: D1 Cincinnati Colerain in 2004 (4.4 pts/gm) and DIII Akron Hoban in 2016 (4.8 pts/gm).  In other words, the Tigers were the third best of the 45 teams in that category.  Not too bad.  In addition, Massillon held each opponent under ten points, a feat that was matched by only two other teams: DII Avon Lake in 2003 (5 of 5) and DII Akron St. Vincent in 2013 (5 of 6).  In addition, no other team went 6 for 6 while holding every opponent below ten points.  This was a phenomenal feat, when facing top playoff competition.

So, how does the Massillon defense stack up against previous Tiger teams that advanced to the state finals?

  • 1980 – Under All-State quarterback Dave Eberhart, the team compiled a regular season mark of 8-1-1, giving up 12 points per game. In the playoffs, they had a signature win over Canton McKinley (14-6) in the regional finals, while losing to Cincinnati Moeller (30-7) in the state finals.
  • 1982 – The linebacker/running back Chris Spielman-led team compiled a regular season mark of 10-0, giving up 7 points per game. In the playoffs, they had a signature win over Sandusky (29-7) in the regional finals, while losing to Cincinnati Moeller (35-14) in the state finals.
  • 2005 – Quarterback Bobby Huth and linebacker/running back Brian Gamble let the Tigers to a 9-1 record, giving up 13 points per game. In the playoffs, they had a signature win over Lakewood St. Edward (21-17) in the state semifinals, while losing to Cincinnati St. Xavier (24-17) in the finals.
  • 2018 – Quarterback Aidan Longwell, running back Jamir Thomas and defensive back Dean Clark helped Massillon to a 10-0 record, giving up 11 points per game. In the playoffs, they had a signature win over Cincinnati Winton Woods (41-20) in the state semifinals, while losing to Akron Hoban (42-28) in the finals.
  • 2019 – Quarterback Aidan Longwell and linebacker Ben Krichbaum led the team to a second consecutive 10-0 season, giving up 11 points per game. In the playoffs, they had a signature win over defending state champion Akron Hoban (17-14) in the regional finals, while losing to Cincinnati LaSalle (34-17) in the state finals.
  • 2020 – Wide receiver Jayden Ballard and outside linebacker Caiden Woullard were instrumental in the Tigers’ 5-1 shortened regular season, giving up 9 points per game. In the playoffs, they had a signature win over defending state champion Cincinnati LaSalle (14-10) in the state semifinals, while losing to Akron Hoban (35-6) in the finals.
  • 2023 – Quarterback Da’One Owens and linebacker/running back Dorian Pringle were featured in a 10-0 season, with the defense giving up 8 points per game. In the playoffs, they had a signature win over Cincinnati Anderson (55-7) in the state semifinals, while defeating Akron Hoban (7-2) in the finals.  No team in the playoffs scored more than a single touchdown against them.

While the 2023 team averaged 5.7 points per game defensively, the other six Tiger teams averaged 16.4, with the best being the 2019 team at 13.0.  Take away their losses in the state finals and the average was 10.8, with the best being the 1982 team at 3.5.  So, the 2023 team was clearly the best in the that regard, although all had defenses good enough to at least reach the final game.

Finally, let’s look at all Massillon teams since the introduction of the spread offense, which occurred in the late 1990s (Note that it would not be a fair comparison with teams of previous years, since the run-oriented offenses of that time necessitated additional defenders being committed to the ground game; just a different era).  When considering only the regular season games, the 2023 team had the best rushing defense over the past 26 years at 1.7 yards per game.  Close behind is the 2020 team at 2.1 yards per game.  That is followed by 2022 and 2002 teams, each at 2.5 yards per game, and the 2021 team at 2.6 yards per game.  The average of all teams over that span of time is 4.1 yards per game.

Most of the better years have occurred recently.  The defensive production has certainly improved, but changes in schematic philosophies over time may also be a contributor as teams continue to figure out how to better defend the run against the spread offense.  Then again, the level of coaching may have had an influence on this number.  Here is the data for the last four coaches:

  • Rick Shepas – 4.2 yds/gm
  • Tom Stacy – 4.0 yds/gm
  • Jason Hall – 4.3 yds/gm
  • Nate Moore – 3.6 yds/gm

In any event, 2023 was a stellar year for the Massillon defense, both in comparison to previous Massillon teams and those from across the state in the playoffs.

Just to wrap up, below are the larger schools that have found the most playoff success through participation in the state finals:

  • Cleveland St. Ignatius – 13 appearances, 11 titles
  • Cincinnati Moeller – 11 appearances, 9 titles
  • Lakewood St. Edward – 10 appearances, 6 titles
  • Akron Hoban – 8 appearances, 5 titles
  • Cincinnati St. Xavier – 7 appearances, 4 titles
  • Massillon – 7 appearances, 1 title
  • Cincinnati Princeton – 6 appearances, 3 titles
  • Canton McKinley – 6 appearances, 3 titles
  • Warren Harding / Warren Western Reserve – 5 appearances – 3 titles
  • Cincinnati LaSalle – 4 appearances, 4 titles
  • Cincinnati Elder – 4 appearances, 2 titles
  • Pickerington Central – 4 appearances, 2 titles
  • Huber Heights Wayne – 4 appearances, 1 title
  • Mentor – 4 appearances, 0 titles

Stanfield Wells – Wall of Champions

Stanfield Wells – Wall of Champions

Stanfield Wells was Massillon’s first collegiate All-American, earning that distinction at the University of Michigan.  But his claim to fame went well beyond that and he did something in football that very few other players had done up to that time.  Here is his story.

Stanfield Wells was born on July 25, 1889, growing up in the great plains.  In 1906, prior to his senior year of high school, his family moved to Massillon and he was introduced to the game of football for the first time in his young life.  It came at the behest of his classmates, who needed to talk him out of his reluctance join.

“That was my senior year,”  Wells recalled much later in life in a letter to Charles Gumpp, President of the Massillon Football Booster Club. “I was a ‘new boy’, having just moved to Massillon that summer from the wide open spaces of South Dakota, Wyoming and Nebraska. The first day at school several of my classmates came around to suggest that of course I was coming out for football.  And although I protested that I had never had a ball in my hands, they countered with the argument that I was a good-sized lump of a boy and would make a fine prospect.  So, I promised.

“Well, the only preparation necessary was to take an old pair of shoes down to the town cobbler and have some cleats nailed on them. I think the athletic association must have had some football pants, but I do remember distinctly that you had to furnish your own stockings (any color) and an old sweater.  Put these on and you were in business.

“I can’t believe that there were more than eleven candidates out because I made the team the first afternoon.  Nor did we have a regular coach.  A boy named Fritz Merwin, who I think had played the year before was our coach.  If you ask me, he’s the one whose picture ought to be hanging up around there someplace.  He didn’t get paid anything.  And if a coach ever had an awkward squad of eleven nitwits, he did.  But he was out there every afternoon, early and late, teaching us fundamentals instead of fancy razzle-dazzle plays, and in the end it paid off because we won a few games.”

Wells must have made an immediate impact on the team, because he was named team captain, playing left halfback along with his twin brother, Guy.  But the season wasn’t as successful as he recalled, with the team having posted a 1-5 record, including a 21-0 win over Wooster and a pair of losses to Canton Central.

Staying with sports, he was then captain of basketball team.

A few years later he enrolled at the University of Michigan, where joined the football team as a tackle, with his 1909 team posting posting a record of 6-1.  The following season the Wolverines finished 3-0-3, defeating Minnesota 6-0 to win the Western Conference championship.  Wells was stellar. playing the first three games at right tackle and then moving to right end for the remainder of the season.  For his effort he was named 1st Team All-American by Walter Camp.

But it was also when Wells put his name in the sports chronicle.  Football was considered a very dangerous sport in its inaugural years due to the violence entailed with eleven offensive players constantly crashing into eleven defensive players.  So dangerous was it that in 1905 there were 18 fatalities recorded, mostly among high school players.  Even U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, whose son was on the freshmen team at Harvard University, took notice and was about to ban the sport if changes were not made.  So, a large number of universities met to develop modifications to the rules, including banning the flying wedge on kickoffs, creating a neutral zone between the opposing linemen and increasing the first down requirement from five yards to ten.

But the greatest change was legalizing the forward pass.  However, several restrictions were also added to the concept.  Passes could not be thrown over the middle of the line, within five yards on either side of the center.  A dropped pass resulted in a 15-yard penalty.  And a pass that went untouched resulted in the offense forfeiting the ball to the defense.  Obviously, the coaches steered totally away from the pass due to the penalties involved, while also believing a pass not to be a “manly” and ethical in regard to the traditional physical nature of the game.  Nevertheless, the first pass was completed on September 5, 1906, by St. Louis University in a game against Carroll College.  The following year Carlisle, under coach Pop Warner, used the pass as a part of its offensive package, finding great success with it.  History will note that Knute Rockne was the father of the passing game, only he didn’t utilize it until 1910, three years later.

That brings us back to Wells, also in 1910.  Six minutes remained in the game between Michigan and Minnesota with the two teams battling to a scoreless tie and Michigan having possession of the ball at their own 47.  With the running attack stymied through, Wells dropped back and fired a pass to Sanley Borleske for a gain of 27 yards to the Gopher 30.  On the next play he again connected with Borleske, who secured the pass and raced to the three yard line.  Wells then carried for no gain.  Finally, he managed to just breach the goal line on his second attempt for the winning score and the conference championship, scoring his only points of the season.  Subsequently, the entire on-field Michigan contingent swarmed Wells and his teammates and it took several minutes before the pandemonium could be quelled and the game resumed.  Wells’ effort certainly had an influence on his being named All-American.  He was also named all-conference.  Eventually, the penalties for an incomplete pass were removed and the aerial game was thereafter embraced by all teams at every level.

Wells completed his career at Michigan by playing right end and then right halfback, with the team finishing the season 5-1-2 and Wells scoring four touchdowns.  Wells was again named 1st Team All-American, this time by both the New York Globe and Dr. Henry L. Williams.  He was also awarded 3rd Team by Walter Camp.  In addition, he was selected for Outing magazine’s Roll of Football Honor and 1st Team All-Western Conference.

Following college Wells played professionally for the Akron Indians, the Cleveland Indians and the Detroit Heralds, although his participation was not documented in the semi-accurate pro football archives.

Luther Emery of the Independent visited Wells while he was at Michigan and printed this: “Stanfield Wells was Massillon’s first All-American.  He was a fine man, big fellow, played a little pro ball.  I went up to Michigan to meet him.  He was overjoyed.  He got to talking and asking about some of the Massillon people he graduated with.  He went back in his bedroom and came out with his Massillonian in his hand.  He asked me about quite a number of ones who were in there.” (Ref. Massillon Memories, by Scott Shook).

Following football, Wells became manager of an insurance company in Nashville, Tennessee.  He died on August 17, 1967, at the age of 78

In 1994 he was inducted into the Massillon Wall of Champions and in 2016 he entered the Massillon Football Hall of Fame

Steve Studer – Wall of Champions

Simply put, Steve Studer is a Massillon legend.  Very few other players, coaches or contributors have earned the respect that he has for his contributions to the Massillon football program.  He fully grasped the concept of the Massillon tradition and embraced passions for the many activities he did throughout his life.  But largely, he served many young Tigers as both an exceptional athletic trainer and a close personal mentor.  But as fate would have it, he left us too soon.  Fortunately, his influence on the program has remained.

Numerous legacy families have come through the Massillon system during its long history and the Studer family was no exception.  Junie and his wife Delores were long-time supporters of the football program, with the two of them founding the Studer Library of Football History.  Junie also served as Booster Club President in 1972.  In 2016 the pair were inducted into the Massillon Football Hall of Fame.

They raised two sons: Steve and Joe.  Steve played center for the Tigers from 1969-71 and Joe played center in 1972-74, earning All-Ohio honors his senior year.  Both went on to become involved in high school sports, Steve as a Massillon strength and conditioning coach and Joe as a football coach at several schools.  And both were subsequently inducted into the Tiger HOF.  Finally, Steve’s two sons, Dan and Joey, each suited up for the Tigers and wore Number 55, like their father.  Dan played in 1997-99 and is the current Massillon strength and conditioning coach, while Joey played in 2007-09 and is a Massillon assistant coach.

Steve Studer, affectionally known as “Stu” to everyone in the Massillon sports community, was born on February 4, 1953.  Growing up, he always had a fondness for football.  “I singled out Ben Bradley, he was my hero.  I’d go to the games with my dad.  I had this old pair of binoculars.  I’d sit up there and focus in on Ben Bradley the whole game.  As a little, kid, I remember telling my dad, ‘I want to play center for the Massillon Tigers.’  That’s because Ben Bradley was my idol.”  – Massillon Memories, Scott H. Shook.

He would get his chance to become a varsity starter in 1970 as a junior on a team comprised of mostly seniors.  And what a start it was.  Playing under head coach Bob Commings as a 5’-11”, 200 lb. center, the Tigers fashioned a perfect 10-0 record and were never seriously challenged in any game.  In fact, they outscored their opponents by an average margin of 41-3, while rushing for 277 yards per game.

In his senior year, now at 5’-11”, 215 lb., he played on a Massillon team that finished 8-2, with two 1-point losses, to 7-2-1 Niles McKinley and 10-0 state champion Warren Harding.  The team rushed for 288 yards per game (9th all-time) and outscored the opposition by an average of 30-3.  Following the season, Studer was named All-American center by both Letterman Magazine and Gillette.  He also participated in the Ohio North-South All-Star game.

Aside from football, he was captain of the wrestling team and earned three letters, while winning a sectional championship during his senior year.

His next stop was Bowling Green to continue his football career, choosing the Falcons over interest from Ohio State and Miami of Ohio.  His four years were as follows:

  • Freshman (1972) – Played center at 6’-1”, 218 lbs. 5th on the depth chart.  One of two freshmen to earn a letter, assuming the duties as short snapper for kicks and long snapper for punts.  Of course, his jersey number was “55.”  The team finished 6-3-1.
  • Sophomore (1973) – Played center at 6’-0”, 223 lbs. 2nd on the depth chart.  The team finished 7-3.
  • Junior (1974) – Starting center, playing at 6’-0”, 224 lbs. 2nd Team All-MAC.  The team finished 6-4-1.  Coach Don Nehlen’s pre-season evaluation – “Steve could develop into the best center in the MAC. e is a good blocker and has great upper body strength.”
  • Senior (1975) – Starting center, playing at 6’-0”, 240 lbs. Co-captain along with Art Thompson (Massillon).  Joined on the team by brother Joe, who was a freshman center.  1st Team All-MAC and A.P. and Parade Magazine Honorable Mention All-American.  1976 East-West Shrine Classic.  The team finished 8-3.  Coach’s comment – “One of the best centers in the Midwest who is very underrated in agility and quickness because of his great strength.  A very good one-on-one blocker.”

After Bowling Green, Studer had a try-out with the Chicago Bears, but failed to make the team.  So he returned to Massillon and in 1985 landed a position as both strength and conditioning coach and physical education instructor.

His pride and joy was the weight room that he established at Massillon and the strength program he instituted, which is still in place today.  “Our weight room is 55’ by 70’,” said Studer.  “It’s the same size as the weight room we had at the old high school.  When we built the new high school we patterned it after the old one. It pretty much consists of free weights.  We really compare the weight room to a lot of Division 1 colleges. There’s going to be your Tennessees, your Nebraskas and your Michigan  where they have a better facility than this.  I would compare this to any MAC school.  Our core lifts are the squat, the clean, the bench press, and the dead lift. The machines that we have in the weight room are pretty much hammer-strength machines and it’s all top-of-the-line equipment.  It’s the same equipment that they use at Michigan, Notre Dame and a lot of the NFL teams.”  Studer also formed a powerlifting team in 1994 and the Tigers won the state championship in 1996.

An Interview with Steve Studer

“He was a true Tiger,” said Jack Rose, who as head coach of the Tigers from 1992-97 worked with Studer.  “If you ask someone what is a Massillon Tiger, their answer would be Studer.  He loved training kids, helping make them stronger for football.  He had a great rapport with the players.” – Dave Hutton, Masssillon Independent.

“A lot of what the program is about begins and ends in the weight room,” said former head coach Rick Shepas.  “Stu has been probably more valuable than any coach who has ever been there.” – Todd Porter, Massillon Independent.

“I don’t know if there has been a coach who has had more impact on those Massillon kids than Steve,” said Rose.  “He epitomized what a Massillon Tiger was.  The kids loved him.  He taught them how to work hard, how to set goals.  He was just a special person.” – Todd Porter, Massillon Independent.

“A lot of the things he taught us and instilled in us, not only football and weightlifting, was about being a good person and the approach you take to be the best you can be,” said former player Rick Spielman.  “Along with my parents, he’s one of the most influential people in my life.” – Todd Porter, Massillon Independent.

“Playing for him, and being around him, you were just afraid to fail for him,” said Craig McConnell, a former captain for Washington’s football team.  “You were afraid to work in his weight room and not to exceed.  You had that much respect for him.  Everything was Massillon to him – this tow, this program, this school.  He was what everyone in this city wanted to be.” – Elbert Starks III, Akron Beacon Journal.

Even outside of his career as a high school coach, he pursued personal weight training, participating in drug-free power lifting, where he became a state champion in 1988.  Then, there was the “Torture Chamber”, where he trained many college and professional athletes, including Chris Spielman.  “I’m 15, I’m not even driving yet, I’m walking by his house every Saturday night, trying to get up the nerve to go in there and ask him if he would teach me.  Finally, I did.  He took me in.  He taught me.  If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”  – Chris Spielman on Steve Studer – Massillon Memories, Scott H. Shook.

Aside from sports, the Bowling Green art major was heavily involved as a graphic artist and sign painter in his father’s business, Studer Sign Company, and also the original Tiger Store.

But this extraordinary man died suddenly on February 9, 2004, at the young age of 51 following a heavy workout in the WHS weight room.  Fortunately for everyone who follows, his high school weight training program lives on, now managed by his son, Dan.

In 1996, Steve Studer was inducted into the Massillon Wall of Champions.  And his jersey number, “55”, has been retired; the only number retired by the Tigers, as a tribute to the respect shown by the community to “Stu.”

Bob Pflug – Wall of Champions

Bob Pflug – Wall of Champions

J. Robert Pflug spent his entire career involved with football and found great success as both a player and a coach. As such, he was deservedly honored for his achievements in both Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Pflug was born in Massillon on October 4, 1905, and had the opportunity to play high school ball throughout his entire Tiger career under legendary Coach Dave Stewart.

As a junior in 1922 the team finished 10-0 and captured the state championship, tied with
Toledo Scott.  Pflug started on both the offensive and defensive lines, with the Tigers outscoring their opponents, 379-28.  He also kicked three extra points.

For his senior season, the 175 lb. Pflug was named captain and again started on both sides of the line, in addition to being the punter, place kicker and punt returner.  The Stark County champions finished 8-2 that year, with losses to Harrisburg Tech (which was an adult team), 26-0, and Youngstown South, 19-6.  Harrisburg was the first out-of-state team to ever play Massillon.

Against Salem, he kicked eight extra points, setting a record that was not broken until Jason Brown converted nine during a game in 1991.  The current record is fourteen, which is held by Alex Bauer (2018).  For the season, Pflug kicked 26 PATs and three field goals, including a long of 31 yards versus Wooster.

His best game surely came against Canton McKinley in a 9-0 victory after which he was named Most Valuable Player.  Lauded by the media for his great line play, he also booted twelve long punts while averaging in excess of 40 yards, scored a drop-kick field goal from the 17 yard line and blocked a punt.

Football wasn’t his only sport, as he also lettered in basketball and track.

After high school, Pflug enrolled at Grove City College, where he played football from 1924 to 1927.


His first stop as a coach was at Knox High School in Pennsylvania from 1928-31, where he compiled a record of 20-10-1.  After that came Bradford High School from 1932-50, which he left with a remarkable record of 126-29-5.  Seven times his team was undefeated.  He had a 31-game unbeaten streak (1933-36) and a 25-game unbeaten streak (1937-40) overlapping the great years of Massillon’s Paul Brown.  But unfortunately, the two teams never met.  He departed Pennsylvania as the winningest all-coach in the Big 30, which included teams in northern Pennsylvania and southern New York.  In 1968, Bradford named their football stadium J. Robert Pflug Field.

College was next on the resume.  From 1951 to 1956 he was a line coach at Brown University and then from 1957 to 1969 a defensive line coach at Princeton University.


Pflug was inducted into the Pennsylvania High School Coaches Hall of Fame 1989 and the Massillon Wall of Champions in 1994.

He died on August 15, 1991, in Browns Cove, Virginia.

Don James – Wall of Champions

Don James – Wall of Champions

Massillon native Don James grew up in a family of football players, with four of the five brothers pursuing the sport at least at the high school level.  One sibling, Tom, went on to play for Ohio State and the Cleveland Browns, while Don opted for the coaching ranks, spending more years than any of them in the football arena, as a player at Miami of Florida, then and as a head coach at  both Kent State University and the University of Washington.

Standing: Don, Tommy and Art; Seated: Bob

Donald Earl James was born in Massillon on December 31, 1932, and it was a natural that he play football for the Tigers.  “Massillon’s got that wonderful tradition, so from the day you’re born that’s all you hear about,” said James.  “The great teams, the great players, the successes.  You know the people in this town just really respect the young people – and they want to help them to do well.  They’ve got something a lot of people are never going to be able to capture.” – Massillon Memories, Scott H. Shook, 1998.

James played varsity football in 1948 and 1949 as a quarterback under Head Coach Chuck Mather.  In his junior year he was the backup, throwing one touchdown pass, a 25-yarder to Irvine “Ace” Crable.  The team finished 9-1 that year and was named state champion.

In his senior year, James was promoted to the starting quarterback position and he led his team to another 9-1 record and state championship.  The Tigers that year outscored their opponents, 395-91, with James throwing five TD passes, the shortest being 26 yards.  Only once-beaten Mansfield and unbeaten Canton McKinley mounted any serious challenge.  Massillon lost to the No. 2 Tygers 16-12, but defeated the Bulldogs, 6-0.

The McKinley game was special to James.  “You know, the week of the game there’s not a helluva lot on anybody’s mind but the [Massillon-McKinley] game,” he said.  “So much is brought up about the tradition and history and former games and former players – and there’s a little hatred mixed in there – competitive hatred.  You don’t want to lose to these guys if you lose to anybody.  I would compare McKinley Week to, as a coach out at Washington, getting ready to play USC or the Rose Bowl or the Orange Bowl – not just any Bowl – one of the big ones, here there’s so much on the line and so much visibility involved.” – Massillon Memories, Scott H. Shook, 1998.

Following the season James was awarded a scholarship to play for the University of Miami in Florida, under Head Coach Andy Gustafson, where he was a starter at quarterback during his junior and senior years.  In 1952 the Hurricanes finished 4-7 and then went 4-5 the following year, with James completing 39 of 75 passes for 450 yards and three touchdowns.  Along the way he set three Miami single-season records, including completions (121), yards (1,363) and completion percentage.  Later, in 1992, he was inducted into the University of Miami Sports Hall of Fame.

Having completed his degree in education, James was commissioned as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army, where he served from 1954-56.  Following discharge, he began to pursue his coaching interests.

The first stop was at the University of Kansas as a graduate assistant under Mather.  “Chuck Mather was extremely organized,” said James, recalling his time at Massillon.  “Playing quarterback you got to spend a little more time with him.  I just idolized those coaches.  In fact, that’s when I decided to coach.” – Massillon Memories, Scott H. Shook, 1998.  His tenure at Kansas also allowed him to complete a Master’s degree in education.  Following a year as an assistant at Southwest Miami High School, he put in twelve seasons as a college assistant at Florida State, Michigan and Colorado, until then being offered a head coaching position at Kent State.

James served four years (1971-74) guiding the Golden Flashes, while compiling a 25-19-1 record.  His best season was in 1972 when his team finished 9-2 as Mid-American Champion and was invited to the Tangerine Bowl.  Unfortunately, they lost that game 21-18 to Tampa.  But along the way he had the opportunity to coach Jack Lambert (Pittsburgh Steelers player), Nick Saban (current Alabama coach) and Gary Pinkel (Missouri coach).

The University of Washington hired James away from Kent in 1975 and he stayed with the Huskies through the 1992 season, enjoying great success along the way.  The highlight was winning the 1991 National Championship.  By the end of his eighteen years there he had compiled an overall record of 150-60-2 and a PAC-8/PAC-10 mark of 97-38-2.  Six times his team captured the PAC championship and played in the Rose Bowl against the winner of the Big-10.  Here are his years:

  • 1975: 6-5 record
  • 1976: 5-6 record
  • 1977: 8-4 record, 1st in the PAC, defeated Michigan 27-20 in the Rose Bowl
  • 1978: 7-4 record
  • 1979: 9-3 record, 2nd in the PAC, defeated Texas 14-7 in the Sun Bowl
  • 1980: 9-3 record, 1st in the PAC, lost to Michigan 23-6 in the Rose Bowl
  • 1981:10-2 record, 1st in the PAC, defeated Iowa 28-0 in the Rose Bowl
  • 1982: 10-2 record, 2nd in the PAC, lost to Maryland 21-20 in the Aloha Bowl
  • 1983: 8-4 record, 2nd in the PAC, lost to Penn State 13-10 in the Aloha Bowl
  • 1984: 11-1 record, 2nd in the PAC, 2nd in Coaches Poll, 2nd in the AP, defeated Oklahoma 28-17 in the Orange Bowl
  • 1985: 7-5 record, lost to Colorado in the Freedom Bowl
  • 1986: 8-3-1 record, lost to Alabama 28-6 in the Sun Bowl
  • 1987: 7-4-1 record, defeated Tulane 24-12 in the Independence Bowl
  • 1988: 6-5 record
  • 1989: 8-4 record, defeated Florida 34-7 in the Freedom Bowl
  • 1990: 10-2 record, 1st in the PAC, defeated Iowa 46-34 in the Rose Bowl
  • 1991: 12-0 record, 1st in the PAC, 1st in Coaches Poll, 2nd in the AP, defeated Michigan 34-14 in the Rose Bowl
  • 1992: 9-3 record, tied for 1st in the PAC, lost to Michigan 38-31 in the Rose Bowl

Washington’s 1991 national championship was awarded by the Coaches Poll, but Miami was named No. 1 by the Associated Press.  It came down to a matter of bowl game matchups.  The A.P. rankings entering the post-season were:

  1. Miami
  2. Washington
  3. Florida
  4. Michigan
  5. Florida State

In today’s world Miami would have played Washington for the title.  But back then the winner of the PAC was committed by contract to play the top team in the Big Ten, that year being No. 4 Michigan, which the Huskies defeated soundly, 34-14.  Whereas, Miami was matched against Nebraska, which was tied for first in the Big-8 and ranked No. 11.  The Hurricanes defeated the Sooners 22-0 in the Orange Bowl and hung onto their No. 1 ranking in the A.P.  But the Coaches Poll saw it differently and elevated Washington to the Number One spot.

James’ final season was 1992, after which he resigned in protest following allegations that several players on that team had received improper benefits, which resulted in an investigation by the NCAA.  Although the coaches were cleared of any wrong-doings regarding the players, Washington was cited for exhibiting “lack of institutional control” of recruiting funds and thereby received a 1-year bowl ban.  So that was the end of James’ long coaching career.  Nevertheless, Washington has never forgotten this very successful coach and honored him with a bronze statue that sits in the Husky Stadium plaza.

Don James remained close to his roots and in 1952 married Carol Hoobler of Massillon.  Together they had three children: Jeff, Jill and Jeni.  He died in Kirkland, Washington, on October 20, 2013, of pancreatic cancer.

James received many deserving awards throughout his career, including:

Recapping the 2023 Massillon State Championship Football Season

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.

Da’One Owens

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.

Jalen Slaughter

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.

Ja’Meir Gamble

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.

Braylyn Toles

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 – (12th), USAToday and (12th) (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.

Dorian Pringle

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.

Mike Wright Jr.

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).


The 2023 Massillon Team is In Small Company When…

The 2023 Massillon Team is In Small Company When Compared to Previous Squads

There is very little argument that this year’s Massillon football teams is one of the better ones seen in the last several years.  They are undefeated and have won fourteen games.  They have beaten some very good teams and are nationally ranked by several rating services. And they are playing in the state semifinals this Friday.  So, how do they stack up against other Tiger teams throughout recent and past history?

Aside from counting championships, the best way to judge a team is through offensive and defensive statistics.  For the running game it is simple: yards per carry.  For passing, a little more complicated: pass efficiency rating, a calculation that involves attempts, completions, yards, touchdowns and interceptions.  Then there are the obvious stats of win/loss record and points scored.  Finally, there is the performance rating; i.e., the percentage of time that a team gains a first down or scores a touchdown after starting with a first down play (percentage of success).

Here the rundown on the 2023 team:

  • Total wins (14) – This is the third time that the Tigers have accomplished this feat, the other two being in 2018 and 2019. And they can eclipse that mark with a win this Friday to become the all-time winningest team.
  • Average points scored (39.7) – This one is best measured using data from the years of the spread offense (1998-present). During those 26 years only four teams have a higher scoring average: 2018 (41.9), 2012 (40.8), 2019 (40.3) and 2002 (39.8).
  • Average points allowed (7.6) – This year’s mark is the best during the era of the spread offense.  The closest to that number was the 2019 team, which allowed 11.8 points per game.  Prior to that, the 1986 team surrendered 7.0, but finished 7-3 and failed to make the playoffs on account of a 2-point loss and a 4-point loss.
  • Rushing offense (6.7 yds/att.) – This is Coach Nate Moore’s best rushing attack in his nine years at the helm. The two most productive runners are quarterback Da’One Owens and running back Ja’Meir Gamble.  Owens, the first Tiger quarterback to rush for over 1,000 yards, has put up 1,145 yards (9.7/att.) and Gamble has rushed for 893 yards (7.0/att.).   Should Gamble go over 1,000, this will be the first time since 1991 that two runners in the same season have accomplished that feat.  That year involved Travis McGuire (1,976) and Falando Ashcraft (1,353) and the team averaged 6.6 yards per attempt.  It is a potent offense when two high-caliber runners are in the backfield at the same time.
  • Rushing defense (1.6 yds/att.) – This is the best run defense in the last nine years (Nate Moore era), ahead of the 2021 team that allowed 2.8 yards per attempt. Recording of detailed statistics began in 1958 and no team since that year has matched that mark.  The 1952 team held opponents to 1.3 yards per attempt, but that number is estimated.
  • Passing offense (167 eff.) – The average efficiency rating over the last nine years is 168, so this mark is right on average. However, Owens has a rating this year of 166, while Jalen Slaughter has a rating of 189.
  • Passing defense (92 eff.) – This is by far the best mark over the past nine years, which demonstrates the improvement the Massillon coaches have made in this area. Opposing teams are completing just 42% of their passes.  The second best was the 2020 team, which had an efficiency rating of 122.  This asset should bode well against Cincinnati Anderson and their high-tempo, passing offense.
  • Offensive performance rating (86%) – The 2018 team had a rating of 85%. Prior to the spread offense, both the 1993 and 1970 teams had ratings of 84%.  The average over the past nine years is 80%.
  • Defensive performance rating (57%) – This is the second best mark during the era of the spread offense, behind the 2002 team, which had a rating of 51%. When a differential of offense rating minus defense rating is considered, the delta of 29% is surpassed by only two teams.  The 1970 team had a differential of 38% and the 1971 team had a differential of 30%.  However, neither played a schedule matching that of this year’s team.

So, one can see that the 2023 team is in small company in nearly every statistical category.  Nevertheless, they still need to prove it on the field.  And that resumes on Friday against Anderson and hopefully continues next week in the state finals.

2023 Booster Club Report – Week PO3 – Post-Uniontown…

2023 Booster Club Report – Week PO3 – Post-Uniontown Lake Game; Preview of the Green Game

Massillon (13-0) defeated Uniontown Lake (9-4), 35-6.  This week the Tigers return to North Canton to face Green (10-3) for a Friday, 7:00 pm kickoff in the playoff regional finals.  The Tigers are No. 1 in Division 2, Region 7, while the Bulldogs come in at No. 3.  Massillon is behind the all-time series, 0-1, with the last game played in the 2021 playoffs when they fell to Green 26-25 in the regional finals.

Link to the Uniontown Lake Game Story

Link to the Uniontown Lake Game Statistics

Review of the Uniontown Lake game

It was win No. 945, which keeps Massillon in the No. 3 position nationally for all-time wins.

Missed opportunities by Massillon in the first half kept Lake in the game.  But in the second half, the Tigers took care of business behind a strong running attack, winning 35-6.  The trio of Da’One Owens, Ja’Meir Gamble and Mylen Lenix simply took  over the game, as they combined for 41 carries for 351 yards, at 8.6 yards per attempt.  The attack overwhelmed the Blue Streaks and they appeared to be gassed throughout the fourth quarter.  Meanwhile, the defense once again turned in a great performance, holding Lake to just 138 yards of total offense, including just 52 yards on the ground.  Federal League Player of the Year Nathan Baker, who was coming off back-to-back 200-yard games, produced just 46 yards in 10 attempts.

“I’m proud of our guys,” said Massillon Head Coach Nate Moore.  “We played a great game against a very physical team.  Defensively, another great performance, especially in the second half.”

The guest players were defensive back Zach Liebler and offensive lineman Sam Snodgrass. “We didn’t come out as hot as we expected,” said Liebler.  “But we played really well together.  It felt really great to get my first interception as a senior.”  Liebler also said the team is taking Green seriously and doesn’t plan to sleep on them.

“We started out really slow,” said Snodgrass.  “But picked it up in the second quarter.  Then we dominated.”

Statistics leaders:

  • Da’One Owens: 10 of 19 passing for 72 yards and 1 touchdown; 17 carries for 164 yards and 1 touchdown
  • Ja’Meir Gamble: 15 carries for 131 yards and 1 touchdown
  • Mylen Lenix: 9 carries for 56 yards and 1 touchdown
  • Braylyn Toles: 7 receptions for 55 yards and 1 touchdown
  • Malachi Cards: 5.0 (4-2) tackle points; 1.5 sacks; 2.5 TFLs
  • Mike Wright: 1.0 sacks; 1.5 TFLs; 1 rushing touchdown
  • Cody Fair: 0.5 sacks; 1.5 TFLs
  • Chase Bond: 1.0 sacks; 1.0 TFLs
  • Zach Liebler: pass interception
  • Tyler Hackenbracht: 37-yard kickoff return

(l-r) Ryan Page, Zach Liebler, Head Coach Nate Moore

Green Scouting Report

Green plays in the Federal League.  The Bulldogs are currently 10-3 with a 5-2 conference record.  Their big win of the year came in Week 10 when they defeated Uniontown Lake, 28-9.  Scores to-date:

  • Dover (6-5): 14-6 W
  • South Range (12-1): 21-7 W
  • Tallmadge (5-5): 41-14 W
  • Massillon Jackson (5-6): 13-20 L
  • Canton McKinley (9-4): 27-28 L
  • Canton GlenOak (7-5): 31-28
  • Louisville (1-9): 42-7 W
  • Massillon Perry (4-7): 14-20 L
  • North Canton (6-6): 41-34 W
  • Uniontown Lake (8-4): 28-0 W
  • Columbus St. Charles (5-6): 44-14 W
  • North Canton (6-6): 31-7 W
  • Canal Winchester (11-2): 10-0 W

“Green is an excellent team,” said Moore.  “Very well coached.  Very physical.  Some good athletes.  Everybody playing now is really good.  And Green is no exception.”

The Green offense is more diverse than two years ago, employing a lot of empty backfield, while also featuring the run game.  The will utlize both short and long passing attacks.

The strength of the offense lies with the wide receiver group.  Two players really stand out for Moore.  Senior Zachary Baglia (6′-1″, 180) is a 2-year returning starter and 1st Team Federal League selection.  As the top target he has caught 70 passes for 917 yards (13.1 ave.) .  He has a good release and good hand.  And he is also a good blocker.  Junior Antonio Martin (6′-0″, 185), the brother of former player Trey Martin, is also a 1st Team Fed selection.  A 2-year starter, he is the No. 2 target and is featured in the bubble screens.  He has seven receiving touchdowns and five rushing TDs, as he is used at times as a running back.

The quarterback is senior Camino Manson (6′-3″, 195), a returning starter  and 2nd Team All-Federal League selection.  He is an accurate passer when not under pressure.  Manson began the year as the starter, but broke his collar bone in Week 5 against Canton McKinley, in that game he completed 5 of 7 passes for 173 yards.  Healed up, he returned to the field in time for the first round of the playoffs.  In an earlier loss to Jackson he completed 36 of 55 passes for 308 yards.  Last week  against Canal Winchester he completed 20 of 28 passes for 320 yards and a touchdown.

When they use a running back it is senior Jorden Beyl (5′-10″, 170).  He is a downhill, vertical runner.  He has also rushed for over 100 yards in three of the past four games.  Against Lake he carried the ball 30 times for 125 yards.

The best lineman are Junior Michael Schaal (6′-1″, 235) and senior Jesse Miller (6′-2″, 260).  Both are All-Federal League honorees.  Schaal is a 2-year returning starter, with high a motor and good feet.  The interior of the line is smallish, weighing between 215 lbs. and 220 lbs.

In the win over Lake, Green led in total yards 313 to 89.  Lake’s Nathan Baker was held to 60 yards on 14 carries.  In the win over Canal Winchester, Green led in total yards, 367 to 121.  However, the Bulldogs managed just 47 yards on the ground in 24 carries, as Winchester played all night in the Green backfield, sacking the quarterback five times.  Winchester struggled to move the ball on Green, rushing 30 times for 82 yards and completing just 5 of 16 passes.

On defense, Green uses an odd front and some even, with occasional bear.  With the odd front, it resembles an odd-stack.  The strength lies with the defensive line. starting with Michael Schaal, who also starts on the offensive line.  He leads the group with 14 sacks and 25 tackles-for-loss.  Two other players to keep an eye on are senior returning starter Nick Schaal (6′-2, 260) and senior returning starter Jesse Miller.  Miller also starts on the offensive line.

The next best group is the defensive backfield.  The best player of that group is Martin, who also starts at wide receiver.  The four linebackers havew average size, ranging from 165 lbs. to 205 lbs.  Two of the players go both ways. In fact, Green will employ six 2-way players.

Go Tigers


2023: Massillon 41, Grove City Central Crossing 6

Massillon Demolishes Central Crossing in First-Round Playoff Action

Game Statistics

The state playoffs got underway Friday with Massillon, the Number 1 team in Region 7,  hosting Number 16 Grove City Central Crossing.  Using an overwhelming passing attack and a devastating defense, the Tiger rolled past the Comets, 41-6, with a running clock in place for the entire fourth quarter.  With the win, Massillon advances to the second round, where they will host No. 9 Westerville South (7-3), a winner over No. 8 Columbus Briggs, 49-30.

Grove City perhaps knew that they couldn’t take away the entire Massillon offense due to the many weapons at their disposal.  So, they elected to focus on stopping the run by using constant blitzes, very similar to the strategy employed by Warren Harding in an earlier Tiger game.  While they did hold the Massillon running attack to just 100 yards and produced eight tackles-for-loss, they opened themselves up to the pass.  That’s when quarterback Da’One Owens and his bevy of swift receivers clocked the Comet secondary to the tune of 341 yards passing and four touchdowns.  The Tigers also scored the first four times they had the ball in rolling up nearly 250 yards of offense through the first quarter and a half.

Meanwhile, the defense was once again a dominating force, this time holding the opponent to a net 47 yards of offense, 14 on the ground and 33 in the air.  They also recorded three quarterback sacks, although it seemed like more, and eleven tackles-for-loss.  Linebacker Dorian Pringle was all over the field and ended the night with nine tackles and three TFLs.  The only time Central Crossing was able to get in the board was on a 5-yard drive following a blocked punt, when stellar running back Malik Kamara (Navy) scored on a sweep to the left.  It was the first running touchdown surrendered by the first team defense the entire season.

Massillon received the opening kickoff and drove 64 yards in ten plays to take an early 7-0 lead, with Pringle powering in from the three.  The key play was a third down, 24-yard pass from Owens to Emy Louis Jr.  Vinny Keller then kicked the first of his five successful PATs.

Braylyn Toles

After holding the Comets to a 3-and-out, the Tiger offense returned to the field at their own 33.  This time it took just three plays to cover the 67 yards, with the finish a perfectly thrown, 49-yard bomb from Owens to Braylyn Toles, who had beaten the defender down the middle of the field.

Once again Central Crossing was stopped, having started a drive at their own 25, then punting from the 18.  Owens passed 12 yards to Jacques Carter and then went deep to Carter for a 49-yard score and Massillon’s third touchdown, while still in the first quarter.

Another 3-and-out for the Comets.  Another punt.  This time it took eight plays to cover 56 yards.  An 18-yard run by Mylen Lenix for a first down.  A 14-yard pass to fullback Deangelo Zimmerman for a first down.  A 15-yard run by Lenix for a first down.  A 13-yard run by Lenix for a first down to advance the ball to the six.  On third and goal at the nine, the “jumbo” package entered the game, with Pringle and “Big” Mike Wright, one of the heroes of the McKinley game, lining up at running back.  Wright gained four and then Pringle bulled the rest of the way.  Score, 28-0.  Game over.

The Tigers had a chance to tally a fifth touchdown before halftime, but it was a near-miss at the end zone on a skinny pass to Carter.

In the third quarter, Owens fumbled at his own 41.  Central Crossing lost ground in three plays and was forced to punt, with Tyler Hackenbracht returning the ball 38 yards to midfield.  But a questionable block in the back (it was more a shove against his right shoulder), brought the ball back to the Massillon 30.  A holding penalty on the first play negated an 18-yard run by Owens and eventually Hackenbracht was forced to punt for the first and only time of the night.  That’s when the Comets blocked it and took over at the five, setting up their lone score.

A renewed energy was evident in the Massillon offense after that event and, following an onside kick that was recovered by Pringle, the Tigers needed just four plays to cover the 51 yards.  A 21-yard pass to Toles, an 11-yard pass to Toles, a 4-yard run by Owens and a 15-yard pass to Louis did the trick.  The Tigers then tried for a 2-point conversion to send the game into running-clock, but they came up just short.  That would need to wait for the next possession.

The final score came when Owens connected with Toles on a 20-yard pass.  It was set up by a 20-yard completion to Jadyce Thigpen.  After that, the backups took over.

Da’One Owens

Owens finished the night completing 20 of 27 passes for 341 yards and four touchdowns.  The 341 yards is ranked sixth all-time in the Massillon record book.  Toles caught eight passes for 125 yards and two touchdowns.  Carter grabbed six for 100 yards and a score.  Lenix led all rushers with six carries for 47 yards.  Hackenbracht had four kick returns for 73 yards.  Pringle had nine tackles and Cody Fair had seven.  Massillon was penalized seven times (traditional average) for 80 yards.

For Central Crossing, quarterback Luke White completed six of twelve passes for 33 yards.  White also led the team with eight tackles.  Kamara rushed 14 times for a net 26 yards and a touchdown.  Dyhlan Phillippi had a good night, punting eight times with an average of 38.1 yards per attempt.

On a comical note, Owens was flagged for a block in the back while he was on the bench, Zach Liebler was called for holding while he was returning a kick and some “red team” was called for an off-setting personal foul.  That third call sent the fans into a laughable frenzy, for there is no “red” in Massillon.  Shame!  Indeed, refereeing sports is a challenging profession.

Go Tigers!

2023: Massillon 35, Canton McKinley 0

Massillon Crushes Canton McKinley, Wraps Up Undefeated Regular Season

Game Statistics

The 134th game between Massillon and Canton McKinley went to the Tigers by the score of 35-0.  Simply put, Massillon dominated play on both sides of the ball and sent the game into a running clock situation midway through the third quarter.  Offensively, they moved the ball with a multitude weapons, both running and passing, and only punted once throughout the game.  Meanwhile, the defense held the 7-3 Bulldogs to a net 65 yards, with negative yards on the ground.  McKinley never snapped the ball in the red zone.

The victory for Massillon marks the eighth consecutive win in the series and the twelfth in the last thirteen years.  The margin of victory, 35 points, is the greatest on the Massillon end since 1960, when the Tigers defeated the Bulldogs 42-0.  It also ranks fourth overall in Massillon’s long history.  Finally, it was the 24th time that McKinley was shut out in the game.  Massillon now leads the series 76-53-5.

Statistically, no individual Tiger player stood out, although they all had great games.  They do what they do.  Da’One Owens completed 9 of 13 for 108 yards and two touchdowns.  He also ran eight times for 52 yards.  Braylyn Toles caught four passes for 61 yards and a touchdown.  Jacques Carter caught three passes and Emy Louis Jr. scored on a pass of 30 yards.  Ja’Meir Gamble rushed 13 times for 71 yards.  Dorian Pringle rushed for 54 yards and scored twice.  And Adonis Marshall intercepted a pass and recorded five solo tackles.

Mike Wright Jr.

But if there was one player who rose above with his outstanding play it was “Big” Mike Wright Jr.  The 280 lb. junior played on both sides of the ball and was an impact player the entire day.  Playing on the defensive line, he harassed the McKinley quarterback again and again and managed to catch him three times for sacks that resulted in a loss of 22 yards.  Then on offense, when Massillon was in the “jumbo” set, he rushed twice for 11 yards and scored a touchdown.  He also tallied a PAT.  And he was the lead blocker for Pringle when he found the end zone twice.  “Big” Mike stepped up and what a game he had.

McKinley fumbled the opening kickoff, recovered and then lost seven yards in three rushing attempts to start the game.  It was an omen of things to come for the entire day.  After punting into the wind to their own 41, Owens on the first play from scrimmage unloaded a rainbow pass to Toles, who had comfortably beaten the defender on a post pattern.  Toles easily secured the ball in the end zone and the Tigers were on their way.  The PAT, which came following 30 yards in penalties, was wide.

On the next Bulldog possession, they fumbled at the Massillon 44 and the Tigers went right back to work.  However, they were stopped on downs at the Bulldog 14.  McKinley was playing good aggressive defense throughout the game and that meant Massillon needed to use the entire arsenal to move the ball effectively.  This Massillon drive was halted on downs, but not the next four.  For Massillon was able to find the right plays to beat this defense and move the ball effectively, while also overcome numerous technical penalties.

The next time the Tigers had the ball, they drove 39 yards in six plays with Pringle taking it in from the 18 off a great block by Wright.   Wright then ran in the PAT to make the score 14-0.  Now came a perfectly executed onside kick by Vinny Keller to kickstart yet another scoring drive.  This time Wright ran the ball in from the eight at the end of a six play 49-yard effort that was keyed by a 21-yard, third down run by Owens.  Finally, Owens hit a wide-open Lewis on a skinny post for a 30-yard score, upping the margin to 28-0 headed into the locker room.  The drive was kick-started by a 24-yard burst up the middle by Gamble, with a facemask penalty tacked on at the end.  Two plays later Gamble raced for another 28.  Those two runs accounted for most of his yardage, as the Bulldog defense was taking that part of the game away.

The final score came following the second half kickoff when Massillon engineered a masterful 16-play, 74-yard drive that consumed most of the third quarter.  It culminated in a 4-yard touchdown run by Pringle, again with a great block by Wright, and sent the game into a running-clock mode.  Each time the Tigers were faced with short yardage during the drive the “jumbo” set entered the game.  And they never failed to pick up the first down.

Interestingly, on McKinley’s final possession toward the end of the game, the referees huddled for at least two minutes to determine whether Massillon had recovered a fumble.  Meanwhile, the clock continued to run.  Perhaps, the referees had enough of the unsportsmanlike play that was evident throughout the game and they just wanted to get it over with.  Once they agreed that the Tigers had the ball, Owens took a knee twice to end the game.

McKinley quarterback Keaton Rode was the catalyst of the offense and the Tigers did a great job of minimizing his production.  He ended up completing 8 of 12 passes for 80 yards, with one ball intercepted by Adonis Vaughn.  But nearly all were thrown under the coverage.  He was also sacked five times.  Four completions went to Keith Quincy for 35 yards.  Backup running back Stephon Thomas was the leading ball carrier for the Bulldogs and he gained just 19 yards.

Unfortunately, the game turned into a flag fest, with 18 thrown on the Tigers and 14 on the Bulldogs.  For Massillon, sixteen were of the execution variety, while two were for personal fouls.  Eleven of the technical penalties were on the offense, but fortunately not enough to slow down the powerful Tiger offense.  But several of the defensive penalties did aid the Bulldogs to the tune of five first downs.  For McKinley, seven were technical and seven were 15-yarders.  Six of the seven major ones occurred in the second and third quarters, after Massillon had essentially salted the game away.  Losing is tough.

Overall, the penalty part of the game wasn’t pretty.  But show me a team that played penalty-free and I’ll show you a team that lost.  The physicality of play is not absent in this game and sometimes it spills over into extra-curricular activities.  But both sides have that passion to win.  And if that passion goes by the wayside, then this rivalry is surely gone forever.  For the passion within a rivalry greatly outweighs any domination in the win-loss column.

That being said, the negativity spilled over into the handshake and continued when the Bulldog players chased the retreating Tigers to the opposite side of the field.  Most of it was posturing, although a handful of players were looking for some action.  Eventually, the coaches were able to separate the two groups and all departed to their respective locker rooms, foregoing the victory celebration and award ceremony.  It was a sad ending to such a great rivalry and something both schools will need to address.

Massillon will now head into the playoffs where they will first host Grove City Central Crossing (4-6) next Friday at 7:00 pm.  McKinley will host Strongsville (3-7).