PERRY TWP.Massillon had just fallen behind Perry more than six minutes into the second quarter of Friday night’s Division II, Region 7 championship game. Not only that, but the Tigers hadn’t even touched the football in the quarter.
Turns out, Massillon needed just one play to turn all of that around.
Zach Catrone hit Jayden Ballard for a 72-yard touchdown pass, and the subsequent point-after kick put the Tigers in the lead for good.
Massillon then scored 36 second-half points to blow open a tight game at halftime, rolling to a 43-13 regional-final win over the Panthers at Perry Stadium.
“We just came out and played hard,” Massillon coach Nate Moore said. “It looked like we needed to get some drives going on offense and give our defense some rest. … We came out and played hard and got off the field and got some offense going.”
Catrone had a perfect night passing, Ballard delivered big plays, sophomore running back Willtrell Hartson delivered another strong game and the Tigers are moving on.
Massillon won its ninth consecutive game to improve to 9-1. More importantly, the Tigers won their fourth consecutive regional title, extending a school record run for the program.
Up next is a state semifinal next Friday night against Region 8 champion Cincinnati La Salle, which defeated Massillon in last year’s Division II state championship game. Early indications are the game will be played at Marysville High School, but the OHSAA will confirm the site this weekend.
“We’re excited to be in the dance,” Moore said. “We’re excited to be going to state. We’re certainly looking forward to it.”
Halfway through the first half, though, it looked as though it was Perry which stood poised to win its third regional title in the last six years. A big reason for that was simple, it didn’t really give Massillon a chance to possess the football.
The Panthers ran 40 first-half plays, gaining 167 yards. That compared to just nine plays for the Tigers for 103 yards, 72 of those were on the go-ahead TD pass to Ballard.
“We didn’t block them great, but we blocked them good enough to move the ball,” said Perry coach Keith Wakefield, whose team finishes 9-1 on the season. “You just can’t give up (over-the-top passes). You just can’t.”
Perry’s most impressive drive came on its third possession, after having punted from its own 43 and missing a 40-yard field goal earlier. This time, the Panthers drove 81 yards in 15 plays, including a pair of fourth-down conversions.
They capped the drive with a 5-yard Josh Lemon TD run with 5:18 left in the second quarter to go in front 6-0 after the PAT was missed. It was one of two scoring runs for Lemon, who finished his last game at Perry with 190 yards on 34 carries.
The problem for Perry was Lemon’s second TD didn’t come until there was 3:40 left in the game. At that point, it pulled Perry within 35-13.
In between those two Lemon runs, Massillon scored 35 straight points, reaching the end zone on four of five possessions. The Tigers also got an Austin Brawley punt return for a touchdown for a 28-6 lead late in the third quarter.
Catrone hooked up with Ballard for three touchdowns on the night, part of a 10-for-10, 234-yard passing night. Ballard finished with 150 yards on seven catches.
“Fantastic,” Moore said of Catrone. “Made a lot of really good decisions first off. Threw some really nice balls, and our receivers did a really nice job of catching them. The line protected. Proud of all of them.”
Hartson added 111 yards rushing and two scores for Massillon. It was his 4-yard TD that opened the third quarter to make it 14-6, then his 1-yarder to make it 35-6 midway through the fourth quarter.
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