AUSTINTOWN Attention has been paid through most of the first half of the season to the way Massillon’s offense can throw the football. A record-setting receiving performance on the opening night and a quarterback rewriting career marks virtually every time out can bring such notoriety.
On Friday night against Austintown Fitch, the Tigers showed they aren’t too bad running the football, either. Especially when Terrance Keyes gets his hands on the football.
With Keyes running wild through the first half, Massillon ran roughshod over the Falcons in a 55-7 victory at Greenwood Chevrolet Falcon Stadium to improve to 6-0 on the season.
“We’ve got a great passing game,” Keyes said. “We just have weapons all over. I just feel like (quarterback) Aidan (Longwell), with him having all the success he’s having in the passing game, I feel like it opens it up a lot for me. The running game, it’s just there. I was rolling today.”
Keyes carried the ball 16 times in the first half for 185 yards, scoring four touchdowns. That included a stretch of 14 plays where the 5-foot-9, 190-pound senior carried it 12 times, the 12th of those a 15-yard run in which he leaped over a Fitch defender at the Falcon 4 on his way to his third score of the night.
Keyes’ fourth touchdown run of the night, a 5-yarder with 2:01 remaining in the first half, gave Massillon a 48-7 lead. It marked the third time the Tigers have hit the 40-point mark in the first half, and the fifth time they played with a running clock in the second half.
“They were staying two high (with the safeties),” said Massillon coach Nate Moore, whose team finished with 264 rushing yards and 423 total yards on the night. “They were giving us great run looks. Our offensive line played really, really well.”
Massillon, which ascended to No. 1 in the Division II state poll this week, will return home next Friday to meet Pennsylvania visitor Gateway. The Gators went into this week’s game against Franklin Regional (Pa.) with its only loss having come in their second game of the season against Penn-Trafford, the team the Tigers beat in Week 4.
Massillon’s starters will go into the Gateway game having spent another second half on the sidelines as its backups played from the start of the third quarter. Of course, it was the starters’ performance which gave them the opportunity to get some more rest.
“I was real pleased with the effort,” Moore said.
It wasn’t just the running game which did it for the Tigers, either. They made plays in seemingly all three phases.
Caiden Woullard’s punt block started Massillon’s first possession at the Fitch 42. The very next play, Aidan Longwell hit Jayden Ballard for a touchdown to make it 7-0 with 9:10 remaining in the first quarter.
Longwell, who was 5-of-7 for 99 yards in the game, also connected on a 10-yard touchdown pass to Andrew Wilson-Lamp to make it 34-7 Tiger with 6:52 left in the second quarter. The senior now has 6,155 yards and 68 passing touchdowns in his career, extending both marks.
That was one of two blocked punts the Tigers came up with in the first half. Austin Brawley blocked one which Isaiah Clark picked up inside the Fitch 5 and ran it into the end zone for a touchdown to make it 41-7 with 4:45 remaining in the half.
Fitch’s lone score, a 2-yard Devin Sherwood run to make it 14-7 late in the first quarter, was was partially set up by one of the few first-half miscues by Massillon. The Tigers were called for a personal foul after making a tackle out of bounds after a third-down stop around the Massillon 40 to keep the drive alive.
The Falcons would finish with 167 yards of offense. Of those yards, 123 came on the ground.
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MASSILLON Massillon long ago learned to never take an Austintown Fitch team lightly. That’s especially true when the Tigers are carrying around an undefeated record.
So, as the two long-time combatants met Friday night at Paul Brown Tiger Stadium, Massillon didn’t necessarily expect to see its run of lopsided routs continue. The only thing that mattered was continuing the Tigers season-opening win streak.
The Tigers would end up keeping their winning ways going, but it wouldn’t necessarily be easy. They scored three fourth-quarter touchdowns to pull away for a 42-14 win over the Falcons.
“Our kids fought hard,” Massillon coach Nate Moore said after his team improved to 6-0, the school’s best start since 2013. “It was good to see us go the distance in a ballgame and win it in the fourth quarter.”
The Tigers, whose closest game in the fourth quarter previous to Friday was a 37-21 lead over Warren Harding in Week 3, would only lead 21-14 going into the fourth quarter. Massillon would score on three of its final four possessions, while the Falcons went three-and-out on each of their three drives in the fourth.
Massillon held a 151-5 edge in fourth-quarter yardage.
“I just told them I was proud of the way they fought,” said Fitch coach Phil Annarella, whose team is now 4-2. “We played extremely hard; we didn’t play well at times. Sometimes, a 5-(foot-)7 kid can’t cover a 6-5 kid or whatever he is.”
Much of the focus coming in was on Tiger running back Jamir Thomas’ assault on the school’s record books. Thomas came in just 190 yards behind Art Hasting’s career rushing mark, and four rushing touchdowns behind Bob Glass’ record.
For the first half, Thomas couldn’t find the room to run, with just 28 first-half yards on seven carries. That didn’t necessarily hurt Massillon in opening up a 21-7 halftime lead, thanks to big plays in the passing game.
Aidan Longwell threw three first-half touchdown passes, including two to sophomore Jayden Ballard. Tre’Von Morgan added an 18-yard scoring catch which put the Tigers ahead 7-0 on their first possession of the game.
Longwell hit Ballard, then, on a 58-yard touchdown pass on the first play of their second possession to make it 14-0 Massillon. Ballard added a 66-yard touchdown catch to make it 21-7 Tiger in the second quarter.
Longwell finished 13-of-20 for 263 yards and four touchdowns. He and Ballard would hook up for a third score with 11:17 remaining, a 13-yarder to make it 28-14.
The Tiger passing game had its share of issues in the second half, as Fitch was able to mix up its pressures up front. That’s where the Tiger running game, specifically Thomas, came to the rescue.
Thomas would help Massillon open up its first three-score edge of the night when he took off for a 32-yard touchdown run with 8:59 remaining. That put the Tigers in front 35-14.
Thomas finished with 105 yards on 18 carries.
The Tigers once again struggled with ill-timed penalties, with six flags for 56 yards. They also had a second-half interception.
“We had to overcome a fair amount of adversity tonight,” Moore said. “It was good to see our guys respond.”
However, Fitch also has its own hand in making things interesting. That’s especially true when quarterback Dom Montalbano’s second short scoring run, a 1-yarder, pulled the Falcons within 21-14 with 5:48 remaining in the third quarter.
Fitch made its presence known on the very first play from scrimmage, as Roddell Bebbs raced 21 yards into Massillon territory to the Tiger 44. The Falcons would eventually move as far as the 33, only to be turned away on a fourth-and-11 stop by Massillon.
That would be one of three first-half possessions by Fitch to reach Tiger territory. However, only one would actually do scoreboard damage, as Montalbano’s 3-yard touchdown run with 6:56 remaining in the first half pulled the Falcons to within 14-7.
Fitch had 165 total yards at halftime, 58 on a Bobby Cavalier-to-Reuben Talley pass which set up Montalbano’s scoring run. That total was more than the full-game outputs of three of Massillon’s first five opponents.
AUSTINTOWN There aren’t many places in which Massillon has played multiple games at where it can say it has accumulated a losing record over the years. The home of the Austintown Fitch Falcons, however, is one of those places.
Well, the proper verb tense would be the past tense of “was” now.
The Tigers went into Greenwood Chevrolet Falcon Stadium on Friday night and both evened their all-time record there while extending their 2017 win streak with a 38-28 victory over Fitch.
“We’re definitely proud of our guys tonight,” Massillon coach Nate Moore said. “They played hard tonight. It was a hard-fought victory.”
The win, the fifth in a row for the Tigers, improves them to 5-1 on the season. Meanwhile, Massillon – which had lost its previous two trips to Fitch – is now 6-6 all-time in Austintown.
Like most trips to Fitch, the Tigers had to fight through their share of adversity. That started before the game even began with a scoreboard clock which didn’t operate, requiring the officials on the field to keep them abreast of the time.
“It was awful,” Moore said. “It’s not their fault; their scoreboard malfunctioned. It was difficult. We kept our own time on the sideline. We knew it wasn’t going to be perfect, but it was going to be a good estimate. The referees did a great job of communicating time to us. It was handled as well as it could possibly be handled.”
There was also a blocked punt which Fitch’s Mike Ferree recovered in the end zone for a touchdown to help the Falcons tie the game at 14-14 in the second quarter. That punt came at the end of a series in which Massillon was flagged for an offensive pass interference to put them well behind the chains.
It was one of only two times the Tigers – or either team, really – punted on the night. But it would the second of four times in which Fitch was able to tie the game, also matching Massillon at 7-7, 21-21 and 28-28.
The Tigers, though, never had to play from behind. A big reason for that was a punishing offensive game plan which featured a whole lot of running the football with Jamir Thomas and Zion Phifer.
Thomas ran for a game-high 163 yards on 30 carries, while scoring touchdowns to give Massillon leads of 7-0, 14-7 and 28-21. Phifer added 92 yards on 21 carries and a score which gave the Tigers a 21-14 third-quarter lead.
“That’s pretty much the game plan,” said Moore, whose team ran for 254 yards on 52 carries in the game. “We used our offensive line that’s played really well. They played really well tonight.”
The go-ahead touchdown for Massillon, though, came through the air. Aidan Longwell found Tre’Von Morgan for a 12-yard touchdown with roughly 4:30 remaining for a 35-28 lead.
Longwell was 7-of-13 for 113 yards with the one score. Morgan had four of those catches for 78 yards.
The Tigers would add a 39-yard field goal by Klay Moll with roughly two minutes remaining for a 10-point cushion. The field goal was set up by the lone turnover of the game, a fumble by Fitch which was returned 35 yards by Dyson Berry.
Fitch would remain in the game thanks to its own rushing attack, which gained 296 yards on 38 attempts. Ralph Fitzgerald’s 58-yard run on the Falcons’ second play tied the game at 7-7 and was part of his 107-yard rushing night.
However, the Falcons’ biggest threat was quarterback Joey Zielinski. Zielinski rushed for 106 of his 114 yards and both of his touchdowns in the second half.
“They’re a good football team that runs the ball well,” said Moore, whose team came up with four fourth-down stops, including three on their side of the 50. “That’s what they do. Their quarterback’s a middle linebacker, so throwing the football’s not going to be their thing. They’re a good team.”
Tigers ditches Fitch Strong second half helps Massillon snap three game skid vs. Falcons
By Chris Easterling Independent sports editor
MASSILLON The power of three.
Massillon came into Friday night’s home game against Austintown Fitch looking for their first three-game win streak since the first half of the 2014 season. To achieve that feat, however, the Tigers were going to have to take care of another three-game win streak.
The Falcons’ three-game win streak over Massillon.
Nobody said accomplishing that feat would be easy. But the Tigers were able to do it, scoring the game’s final 21 points to rally for a 38-21 win over Fitch.
“We have great kids who play hard,” Massillon coach Nate Moore said. “That’s really the bottom line there. They played hard tonight for 48 minutes and came out with a win against a good team.”
The Tigers are now 4-2 on the season. Massillon will look for its first four-game win streak since starting the 2014 season 5-0 next Friday night when it plays host to undefeated Columbus Beechcroft.
If there was one major concern to emerge from the game, it was the health of two key players: Jamir Thomas and Malcolm Robinson. Thomas suffered a leg injury late in the first quarter and didn’t return, while Robinson appeared to injure his ankle with less than two minutes left.
Moore didn’t know the extent of their injuries beyond Friday night.
In Thomas’ place stepped Kordell Ford and Louis Partridge, both of whom were huge in the second-half rally after Fitch went ahead 21-17 with 8:47 remaining in the third quarter. Partridge’s 2-yard run with :28 left in the third gave Massillon the lead for good at 24-21.
That run was set up when Jesse King recovered a Fitch fumble at the Tiger 32. It was one of two Falcon turnovers.
Ford then scored on fourth-quarter runs of 44 and 5 to help provide a cushion for the Tigers. He would finish with a team-high 88 yards on 14 carries.
Partridge had 77 yards on 18 totes. The Tigers rushed for 285 yards as a team on 51 attempts.
Massillon’s first drive was virtually a thing of perfection, giving it a 7-0 lead. The Tigers used 13 plays to go 68 yards, capping the drive with a 1-yard Thomas touchdown run with 6:54 left in the quarter.
The Tigers had a 77-yard fake-punt touchdown by Austin Jasinski negated by a personal foul flag on their next drive. They would still get to the Fitch 2, but lost a net of 13 yard on the next three plays to settle for a 32-yard Nate Gregg field goal for a 10-0 lead with :32 left in the first quarter.
The change of quarters seemed to change both team’s fortunes. Fitch would get a pair of stops while adding two Randy Smith 2-yard touchdown runs for a 14-10 lead with 3:58 left in the half.
The Falcons, who had minus-3 net offensive yards in the first quarter, had 146 second quarter yards on 15 plays. That includes 6-of-8 passing by Nate Fowler in the quarter for an even 100 yards.
Fitch finished with 284 yards. One thing the Falcons did well for the first three quarters was catch Massillon adjusting defensively by breaking the huddle with less than :15 on the play clock and sprinting to the line and snapping the ball.
Once the Tigers started to neutralize that over the last quarter or so, they were able to slow down the Falcon momentum.
“We just kind of simplified everything,” Moore said. “We were having a little trouble with as fast as they were going from huddle to the line of scrimmage to the snap. We basically just simplified some things.”
It would be a Fitch mistake that would help give the Tigers a 17-14 halftime lead. A roughing the passer flag against the Falcons on a third-and-9 incomplete pass put the Tigers on the Fitch 41.
Five Partridge runs – the last a 5-yarder – would put Massillon into the end zone with :51 left in the half. Partridge, who came on with 7:47 left in the second quarter after Thomas left with the injury, rushed for 64 yards on 10 first-half carries.
Fitch took the lead at 21-17 when it marched 55 yards in eight plays on the first possession of the second half. Smith’s third touchdown run, a 5-yarder, provided the margin.
TOUGH SLEDDING Offense tough to come by, but Tigers can’t capitalize on chances in defeat to Falcons
By Chris Easterling Independent sports editor
AUSTINTOWN Massillon tried a little bit of everything to get its offense going Friday night at Austintown Fitch.
The Tigers shuffled players and formations, all trying to provide just the right spark. However, they were unable to find the exact recipe to get things jump-started in what turned into a 7-6 loss to the Falcons at Greenwood Chevrolet Falcon Stadium.
“We couldn’t get into a rhythm offensively,” Massillon coach Nate Moore said after his team fell to 2-4. “We have to get back to work this week. We need to get those things fixed.”
Massillon finished with 186 yards of offense. Both Lee Hurst II – who started the game – and Seth Blankenship had moments at quarterback for the Tigers, with Hurst rushing for a team high 52 yards, while Blankenship was 5-of-9 passing for 69 yards.
However, the Tigers’ biggest issue was finishing off drives. Five times Massillon reached the Fitch side of the 50, including two drives inside the 20, without scoring a point.
The only touchdown for the Tigers came on a 60-yard punt return by Austin Jasinski with 8:38 left in the third quarter to pull them within 7-6. The point-after kick was blocked.
“We put the ball on the ground,” Moore said. “We really couldn’t get the run game going, especially in the first half. We were just not executing, plain and simple.” The Tigers turned the ball over four times, including a pair of fumbles on fourth down inside the Fitch 30. They also fumbled the ball away on their first play, which set the Falcons up for the only offensive score of the game.
After Massillon fumbled on its own 23, Fitch needed just four plays – along with a Tiger offsides – to reach the end zone. Randy Smith’s 3-yard run with 7:37 left in the first quarter, along with Dylan Correia’s PAT, gave Fitch a 7-0 lead.
“Is it every year like this?” asked Fitch coach Phil Annarella, whose team has won three in a row in the series, the last two by a single point. “This is phenomenal. Thank God we’ve come out on top. … We’ve been very fortunate. They played a great game and we were lucky enough to come out on top.”
Fitch managed just three first downs in the second half, but the last of those was huge. Facing fourth-and-2 from its own 47, it drew an offsides penalty on Massillon to give it a first down with less than two minutes left.
The next play, the ball appeared to pop loose and the Tigers recovered. However, the officials ruled the player down and Massillon couldn’t get the ball back.
The Falcons finished with just 154 yards. Their biggest play was a 44-yard run on a broken play set up by a bad snap.
“The defense played great,” said Moore, whose team picked up an interception from Kordell Ford. “I haven’t watched the film yet, but it looked like our front seven really played very well.
I thought our secondary played well too; they were tackling, coverage was good. … It’s a team game: You win as a team and you lose as a team, and as a team, we have to get back to the grindstone and get back to work.”
MASSILLON It was like deja vu for Massillon. For the second year in a row, Massillon found itself needing a furious last-minute rally to try to knock off Austintown Fitch. For the second year in a row, that comeback fell short for the Tigers, this time in 34-33 loss at Paul Brown Tiger Stadium on Friday night.
A year ago at Austintown, the comeback was halted when Fitch picked up a sack with less than five seconds left. On Friday night, the Tigers were thwarted when a 40-yard field goal try went wide right with five seconds remaining.
Either way, it was the second year in a row the Falcons knocked off Massillon when it was undefeated and ranked No. 1 in Division II.
“It came down to a last-second play, but at the end of the day, you can’t make as many mistakes as we did,” Massillon coach Jason Hall said after his team fell to 5-1. “Special-teams blunders; we had some uncharacteristic penalties. Good teams don’t win like that. We didn’t play a great game tonight.”
Which was another eerie resemblance to last year’s 30-27 loss in Austintown. In that game, Massillon had miscues on offense, including bad penalties at inopportune times, which put it behind the 8-ball.
This time, the Tigers had a season-high 11 penalties for 96 yards. It was a jaw-dropping total for a team that had just 14 flags on it the first five games combined.
They also had not one, but two bad punt snaps.
One set up Fitch to tie the game at 14-14 late in the first half.
The other, early in the fourth quarter, was salvaged when Andrew David tracked it down at the goal line and boomed a 48-yard punt. Two plays later, the Tigers even found themselves with a 33-27 lead after Jeff Koch – playing in place of the injured Reggie Rogers – returned a fumble 53 yards for a score with 8:49 remaining.
Except that Massillon would botch the subsequent point-after try, leaving it ahead by just six points. Nine plays later, the Tigers would find themselves behind by a point after Fitch marched down for a 2-yard Antwan Harris touchdown run – and, most importantly, the subsequent PAT kick – with 4:13 remaining.
Harris, the Fitch quarterback, had a second big rushing performance against Massillon. He rushed for 114 yards and two scores Friday, a year after going for 147 yards and three touchdowns in last year’s win.
“Antwan is Antwan,” Fitch coach Phil Annarella said after his team improved to 5-1. “He does this every week for us. He’s just an absolutely fabulous kid, fabulous football player. He’s carried us through six weeks now, and hopefully, we’ll have him for the last four too.”
Harris had help in the form of tailback Tyler Hewlett. Hewlett, filling in for the injured Darrin Hall, rushed for 133 yards and two scores.
Of course, Massillon probably never saw an ending like the one it ended up having 12 minutes into the game. Two drives into the contest, the Tigers had a 14-0 lead, racking up a 12-play, 80-yard march and a 13-play, 96-yard drive.
J.D. Crabtree scored the first Tiger touchdown, one of two scores by him on a night when he rushed for 114 yards. The second score came on a Danny Clark-to-Rogers touchdown pass, part of a 237-yard passing night by the Tiger sophomore.
All of it, ultimately, for naught in the eyes of their head coach.
“I guess it’s always frustrating,” Hall said. “We played well in spurts. We made a lot of mental mistakes.”
That’s why, when all was said and done, Massillon once again needed a furious last-minute rally to try to beat Fitch. It’s also why, once again, the Tigers couldn’t end up beating Fitch.
SOOOO CLOSE Tigers battle back, but run out of time
AUSTINTOWN In the end, there just wasn’t enough time for Massillon to complete the comeback.
Facing the largest deficit of the season and on the road against the state’s No. 4-ranked Division I team, the Tigers came close to pull ing out a memorable win on Friday night at Austintown Fitch. Instead, the time literally ran out on Massillon as it fell 30-27 to the Falcons in front of about 8,000 at Falcon Stadium.
“We’re extremely proud of the kids for the effort,” Massillon coach Jason Hall said after his team fell to 6-1. “They handled a lot of adversity in the game. With five minutes to go in the game, it just started clicking for us. We started doing some of the things we know we can do.”
The Tigers trailed 30-14 with 4:45 remaining after Fitch quarterback Antwan Harris scored his third touchdown of the game, a 1-yard plunge. But two Danny Clark-to-Reggie Rogers touchdown passes – an 80-yarder with 4:30 remaining and a 72-yarder with 2:41 left – pulled Massillon to within three points.
After forcing a three-and-out, the Tigers got the ball back with 1:06 remaining at their 35. Six plays later, they were at the Fitch 10, then the 5 after a penalty on the Falcons. On second-and-goal from there, Clark hit Whitfield on a pretty strike just over the goal line for what appeared to be the go-ahead touchdown with 14 seconds remaining. But a illegal formation flag wiped that out, moving the ball back to the 10 . “Danny’s the reason we got back in this game,” Hall said of Clark, who was 16-of-23 for 358 yards on the night. “He’s a 15-year-old kid who brought the Tigers back with five minutes in the game. He really made one of the best throws I’ve seen any quarterback I’ve ever had make (on the Whitfield touchdown that was nullified).”
An incompletion made it third down with 10 seconds remaining. On the next play, though, the Falcon defense forced a scramble, which they tackled inbounds to close the game out.
“They got their money’s worth tonight,” Fitch coach Phil Annarella said after his team improved to 7-0. “My hat’s off to Massillon. What a great comeback. They didn’t quit. ”
Just to get to that point took quite an effort from the Tigers, who spent much of the game playing from behind. In fact, five plays into the contest, they were down 7-0 after Harris — the Fitch quarterback — took off for a 60-yard touchdown run.
The last time the Tigers would even the score up came on their subsequent drive, when Lyron Wilson capped the nine-play march with a 5-yard touchdown to make it 7-7 with 5:53 remaining. By the time Massillon would score again, on J.D. Crabtree’s 38-yard on the fourth play of the second half, it was in a hole it could never completely climb out of.
Massillon set up Fitch’s second score when it failed to convert on a fake punt attempt on fourth down from the Tiger 31. It was compounded by a late hit penalty on Massillon on the Falcons’ subsequent possession, which moved the ball to the Tiger 12, where it was fourth-and-1.
“They typically bring a lot of pressure all the time,” Hall said of the fake punt. “So we tried to bring two people from inside-out down the hashes, and they did a good job covering it. … We got them stopped (then) on third-and-long, it’s going to be fourth and at least 10, and we get a personal foul. It becomes fourth-and-1, and they get a touchdown on that.”
Harris picked up that and more, ripping off a 12-yard touchdown run to make it 14-7 Falcons with 8:36 remaining in the half. The junior quarterback, who was injured on the Falcons’ final offensive play of the game, rushed for 147 yards on 27 carries, including 102 yards in the first half.
The Fitch passing game, which has been called inconsistent by Annarella this week, provided the next score. Harris hit Joey Harrington for a 34-yard touchdown catch-and-run to make it 21-7 with 5:26 remaining in the half.
Massillon tried to cut into that before the half, reaching the Fitch 28. But a 45-yard field goal was blocked, leaving the Falcons ahead by 14 points.
Crabtree’s scoring run to open the second half pulled Massillon to 21-14. But there would be no scoring until the Fitch defense recorded a safety against the Tigers with 10:20 remaining to make it 23-14.
MASSILLON – The Massillon Tigers wanted a complete game. Through their first six games, they had either had shown up with a big offensive performance, or their defense was the highlight of the night.
But Friday night at Paul Brown Tiger Stadium, they put both offense and defense together. And the result was the Tigers’ most impressive performance of the season in a 34-14 rout of the state’s No. 5-ranked Division I team, previously-undefeated Austintown Fitch.
Consider it a statement made.
“You’ve really got to be proud of our kids and our coaching staff,” Tiger coach Jason Hall said after his team improved to 6-1 heading into next week’s home game against Canadian foe Pauline Johnson Collegiate. “Our coaching staff put a game plan together and our kids bought into it and they executed it. We came out with a lot of energy and we started the third quarter off with energy as well. I think that’s as complete a game as we’ve played. … I think everybody in Massillon’s proud of their Tigers tonight.”
Fitch, now 6-1, had not allowed any teams to score more than 10 points in its first six games, a total Massillon had exceeded by the end of the first quarter. The Tigers rolled up 533 yards of offense on the Falcons’ highly-touted defense.
“It was a huge statement, because everyone was talking this team up all week,” said Tiger running back Ryne Moore, who finished with 112 rushing yards and a score. “They were beating teams pretty good, so it was a huge statement for us to come out and do what we did.”
Coming into the game, Massillon felt like it may have an edge over Fitch thanks to the throwing arm of Kyle Kempt. Of the Falcons’ first six opponents, none boasted a quarterback with the passing ability of the Tigers’ senior.
And Kempt proved that to be true.
By the end of the first quarter, Kempt had thrown for 209 yards and two touchdowns, completing 12-of-15 passes. By halftime, his numbers were up to 15-of-20 passing for 273 yards with four touchdowns.
“We didn’t see a lot of changes in their looks, and they didn’t change the rest of the night,” said Kempt, who finished the game 18-of-26 passing for 308 yards with four scores. “We had a good plan heading into the game. We just knew we could exploit them, especially through the air.”
The big performance by Kempt and the offense was equalled by a defensive effort that kept the high-scoring Falcons to a season-low in points, with their second touchdown coming with just more than four minutes remaining. The previous low had been 24 points in their season opening win over Warren Harding.
Through three quarters, Fitch – which lost starting quarterback Matt Futkos in the third quarter – had just 161 yards of offense. The Falcons finished with 259 total yards.
“We came out and we knew we were going to play because we knew they were a good opponent,” said Tiger defensive end J.D. Crabtree, who 6.5 total tackles, two sacks and four tackles for loss in the game. “We saw what they had done to Boardman, and we saw that Boardman had beaten GlenOak. … We came out fired up and we did our jobs.”
Massillon came out of the gate looking to show just what kind of night it was going to be for it offensively. The Tigers took the opening kickoff and marched from their own 15 to the Fitch 18 in 10 plays.
But the Falcons arched their backs on third and fourth down, including a sack on the latter to turn away the Tiger threat.
Undaunted, Massillon made sure its next possession ended in points. The Tigers took eight plays to go 93 yards — the last 32 on a touchdown pass from Kempt to Beau Huffman — to take a 7-0 lead with 3:30 left in the first quarter.
Fitch had its one and only answer on the night, taking the subsequent drive 76 yards in seven plays. The last 10 came courtesy of a quarterback keeper by Futkos to tie the game at 7-7 with 47 seconds left in the quarter.
That 47 seconds was more than enough for Massillon to take the lead for good. Kempt hit Marcus Whitfield for a 58-yard touchdown strike on the final play of the quarter to make it 14-7 Tigers.
Kempt hooked up twice with his favorite target this season – Gareon Conley – on touchdown strikes in the second quarter to help Massillon take a 28-7 halftime lead. The first was an 18-yard scoring pass with 5:03 left in the half to make it 21-7.
Mike Smith set up Conley’s second touchdown by recovering a Fitch fumble at the Falcon 37.
On the next play, Conley caught a 37-yard touchdown pass to make it 28-7 with still 4:10 remaining until the band show.
Moore made it 34-7 with just over three minutes left in the third quarter with a 27-yard scoring run, juking out Fitch’s Ohio State-bound Billy Price in the process.
Back on track Tigers bounce back with a convincing 24‑14 triumph over Austintown Fitch
By WILLIAM R. SANDERSON Independent Sports Writer
It wasn’t one of those patented seven‑ or eight‑touchdown wins some folks have come to expect, but the Massillon Tigers were able to wear down the Austintown Fitch Falcons for a 24‑14 victory on Friday night at Falcon Stadium. The 4‑1 Tigers took advantage of an errant snap on a punt and a couple of big runs by Ricky Johnson to survive the Falcons, who fall to 3‑2 on the season.
Johnson ran the ball for 91 yards on 16 carries and scored two touchdowns, but it was the 6‑foot, 193‑pound senior’s blocking that made Massillon coach Rick Shepas especially happy. With Johnson playing a role in paving the way, senior Terrance Roddy actually led the Tigers in rushing with 140 yards and a touchdown on 11 totes.
“Ricky has been doing a nice job on a banged up ankle,” Shepas said. “There is no one showing more courage on our football team then Ricky Johnson. He’s very unselfish. He did a very good job blocking for Terrance Roddy, who had a nice game himself.”
Johnson credited Roddy and his backfield mates for his success. “We’ve got three or four good backs,” Johnson said. “If they key on one, the other will hurt them. That opens the other backs. It goes both ways. I won’t let him absorb a hit, just like he won’t let me absorb a hit.”
While the Tigers were able to run the ball for a collective 278 yards, Austintown Fitch made sure that none of it would be easy. In fact, the Falcons let Massillon know right away that nothing was going to be easy.
The Tigers took the opening kickoff and pounded their way to the Fitch 21‑yard line when they fumbled a snap out of the shotgun. Austintown’s Robert Hill scooped up the ball and ran it 30 yards. Eight plays later Jason Aikens plunged through for a one‑yard touchdown at the 5:55 mark of the first quarter.
Fitch stopped the Tigers on the ensuing drive, but returned the favor at the end of its next possession when a snap went over the punter’s head. The Falcons’ Shea Stewart alertly kicked the ball out of the end zone for the safety. The Tigers ‑ trailing 7‑2 ‑ were able to take advantage of the free kick.
Johnson broke off a 21‑yard run to set up his own three‑yard touchdown jaunt two plays later. Steve Hymes ran in a two‑point conversion to but Massillon up 10‑7 at the 19:22 mark.
“That was the turning point,” Shepas said. Fitch drove right back down the field and was threatening to retake the lead, when the Falcons gave Massillon another gift by coughing up the ball after reaching the Tiger 17. Brandon Fogle covered the fumble for Massillon.
Massillon had a chance to build some tremendous momentum in the closing minutes of the first half. A couple of Matt Martin passes to James Helscel moved the ball into the Falcon end. After getting inside the Fitch 10‑yard line, a sack and a couple of incomplete passes brought on the field goal unit. But Fitch’s Davanzo Tate came up with the block to keep it a three‑point ball game.
Any positive momentum that Fitch had going into the second half after the blocked field goal dissipated when the Tigers sent them three‑and‑out on their first three possessions of the third quarter.
After Aikens had run for 55 yards in the first half to lead the Falcons, Massillon held him to just 11 more after the band show. “They made some adjustments, but I don’t think we gave the plays a chance to develop,” Fitch coach Carl Pelini said. “They started pressing and starting pressing, cutting back and doing things that we haven’t done this year. They made some adjustments, but it was nothing that we couldn’t have adjusted to.”
Another big Johnson run helped the Tigers to another touchdown midway through the third quarter. He broke a 62‑yarder down the left sideline that put the ball on the Falcon 5. Roddy scored on the next play to make it a 17‑7 spread at that point.
The Falcons continued to struggle offensively and Massillon’s Jamaal Ballard blocked an Austintown punt and fell on it at the Falcon 5‑yard line. Johnson punched the ball in on the next play. Eric Smith’s second extra point of the game gave the Tigers a commanding 24‑7 lead at the 5:57 mark of the fourth quarter.
Austintown did score in the closing minute of the game to make the final a little more respectable. A three‑yard run by Dallas Root capped off a 35‑yard drive that occurred after Massillon fumbled a punt snap.
Martin completed nine of 16 passes for 91 yards. Helscel caught a team‑leading five balls for 46 yards.
Part of the game’s overtone, especially early on, for the Tigers was putting the St. Ignatius loss behind them and Shepas felt that they did that. “Last week was a tough one for everyone,” he said. “Everyone in the community wanted that win and we played so well for three quarters. It’s bound to stay with you for a while, but this has been a good place for us. Our kids showed that they can persevere through the adversity for a job well done.”
With Fitch having had three wins against solid programs in GlenOak, Jackson and Mansfield, Johnson knew a slew of playoff computer points were on the line if the Tigers could post a win. “We came in and did what we had to do, ” Johnson said. “We needed the points.”
Massillon 24 Fitch 14 M F First downs rushing 10 4 First downs passing 5 4 First downs by penalty 1 2 TOTAL first downs 16 10 Net yards rushing 245 74 Net yards passing 91 60 TOTAL yards 336 134 Passes attempted 16 7 Passes completed 9 4 Passes intercepted 0 0 Punts 4 6 Punting average 38.8 35.5 Fumbles/Lost 3/1 2/1 Penalties 9 3 Yards penalized 119 15
Massillon 02 08 07 07 24 Fitch 07 00 00 07 14
SCORING AF ‑ Aikens 1 run (Stewart kick) 5:55 M ‑ Safety, punt kicked out of end zone 0:01 M ‑ Johnson 3 run (Hymes run) 9:22 M ‑ Roddy 5 run (Smith kick) 5:11 M ‑ Johnson 5 run (Smith kick) 5:57 AF ‑ Root 3 run (Stewart kick) 0:27
Tigers flatten Fitch Massillon rallies from 7-0 deficit for 40-point win
By JOE SHAHEEN Independent Sports Writer
If ever there was a perfect opponent for the Massillon Tigers on the heels of their disappointing loss at St. Ignatius last week, it was the reeling Austintown Fitch Falcons.
Fitch, a program that gave the Tigers fits during the mid‑ and late‑1980s and early‑90s, put up precious little resistance after an impressive game‑opening drive as Massillon rolled to a 54‑14 victory in front of 8,528 fans at Paul Brown Tiger Stadium, Friday night.
It was a game that saw several impressive individual performances by the Tigers.
– Justin Zwick passed for 314 yards and five touchdowns with an 18‑of‑32 performance. – Devon Jordan caught nine passes for 149 yards and five touchdowns. – Robert Oliver rushed for 131 yards and one touchdown on 17 carries.
“We wanted Justin to do the job he is capable of doing as a quarterback and he did that today,” said Tiger coach Rick Shepas. “And we just want to continue to improve. We’ve been in a number of big games the last couple of years and it is going to payoff. Our guys continue to get better all year long and it’s going to be a fight every week.”
“We knew after last week we had to bounce back and show everyone we weren’t bogged down and everything,” said Jordan. “Now we have a bigger game next week.”
With undefeated Mansfield waiting in the wings for a date with Massillon at Arlin Field next week, the last thing the Tigers needed was a knock‑down, drag‑out contest with Fitch. Early on, however, it appeared they might be in for just that sort of game.
Fitch executed its first possession with a passion and precision that belied its 1‑3 record, taking the opening kickoff and marching 80 yards in 12 plays to take a 7‑0 lead.
The Falcons utilized a no‑huddle offense to keep the Massillon defense on its heels. Fullback Ray Betts, a 5‑foot‑11, 190‑pound senior, was Fitch’s go‑to guy, carrying the football on six plays. He picked up only 15 yards in those half dozen totes but picked up three first downs in the process.
Falcon quarterback Steve Burnich was on target early, hitting wideout Ross Watson for 15 yards and a first down to move the ball to the Massillon 36, then finding wideout Miles Williams at the Tiger 28.
The drive appeared to have stalled when the Falcons set up for third‑and‑10 at the 26. But Williams ran a fade route to the left corner of the end zone and outfought the Tiger defensive back to haul in Burnich’s high‑arcing pass for the touchdown. Shea Stewart added the extra point at 6:47 of the first quarter.
The Tigers countered by moving from their 31 to the Fitch 32 as Oliver ran for 23 yards and caught a 14‑yard pass from Zwick. After a nine‑yard Zwick‑to‑Joe Jovingo aerial, the drive stalled.
David Abdul salvaged it by connecting on a 49‑yard field goal to make it a 7‑3 game at 4:22 of the first quarter.
Fitch got two first downs on its ensuing possession on two Burnich‑to‑Williams passes but the drive stalled at midfield and the Falcons’ punt rolled out of bounds at the Massillon 10.
The Tigers then drove the length of the field, moving 90 yards in 11 plays while eating almost five minutes off the game clock.
Again Oliver was the main man, rushing the football seven times for 42 yards.
Massillon scored when Zwick, after a fine play action fake to Rickey Johnson, hit Jordan in the end zone from five yards out. Abdul’s point‑after made it 10‑7 Tigers at 8:04 of the second quarter.
A holding penalty on Massillon gave Fitch its only first down on the Falcons’ next possession. The visitors, however, were forced to punt after just three snaps.
The Tigers took over at their 35 and went back to the quick‑strike mode that characterized their offense in the first four weeks of the season.
On third‑and‑eight from the 37, Zwick rolled right and threw a strike to Jordan along the right sideline. The 6‑3, 193‑pound junior wideout hauled in the pass at the Fitch 40, shook off an arm tackle and raced down the boundary untouched into the end zone for the touchdown.
Abdul was true on the conversion kick and Massillon led 17‑7 at 5:28 of the second quarter.
Massillon’s final first half score came after Fitch’s fourth punt, on a possession that began at the Fitch 48.
Zwick zeroed in on Jovingo for a 16‑yard gain on second down to advance the ball to the Falcon 28.
Three plays later, a Zwick pass went through the hands of A.J. Collins and into the hands of Jovingo for an eight‑yard pick‑up and another first down at the 13‑yard line.
After two incompletions, Jordan broke open over the middle on a slant pattern and Zwick put the football between the 8 and the 2 on his wideout’s jersey for the touchdown to make it a 23‑7 contest at halftime.
“Devin Jordan is really proving to be a big‑play receiver,” said Shepas. “He has done it all year. He continues to run well with the football after the catch.
“The neat thing about Devon is he is catching the football everywhere. He is catching it in traffic. In the downpour he catches the wet ball above his head which is one of the tougher catches you have to make.”
Massillon opened the third quarter with a nine‑play, 77‑yard scoring drive that once again featured Oliver. He opened the possession with a 10‑yard burst over left guard, had two more runs that totaled 31 yards, and capped it with a three‑yard touchdown dive at 9:18 of the period. Abdul’s conversion put Massillon up 30‑7.
Fitch, taking advantage of a 51‑yard kickoff return, drove to the Massillon 8 on its initial second‑half possession. But senior tackle Dan Speicher sacked Burnich for a 15‑yard loss on fourth down to get the ball back for the Tigers.
On first down from the Massillon 23, Zwick hit Jovingo with a 15‑yard pass to the 40. Taking advantage of a sensational block by Rickey Johnson, Jovingo went down the sideline to the end zone for a 77‑yard scoring play to make it a 37‑7 contest.
“Rickey Johnson ran 20 yards downfield to make the block,” gushed Shepas. “That was the best block of the night and a very unselfish play by Rickey.”
The Tigers tacked on 17 more points on an 11‑yard Zwick‑to‑Jordan touchdown pass, a jaw‑dropping 53‑yard field goal by Abdul, and Johnson’s 55‑yard scoring jaunt down the left sideline that was made possible by a textbook seal block by Jordan.
“Coaches tell us we all can catch but the thing we have to do is block,” Jordan said. “So I just try to show that every game and every practice. It’s getting better.”
MASSILLON 54 AUSTINTOWN FITCH 14 M F First downs rushing 9 6 First downs passing 14 7 First downs by penalty 1 3 TOTAL first downs 24 16 Net yards rushing 248 56 Net yards passing 314 188 TOTAL yards 562 244 Passes attempted 33 24 Passes completed 18 12 Passes intercepted 0 2 Punts 1 5 Punting average 30 36 Fumbles/Lost 1/0 4/2 Penalties 13 2 Yards penalized 110 20
MASSILLON 3 20 24 7 54 FITCH 7 0 7 0 14
SCORING F ‑ Williams 26‑yard pass from Burnich (Stewart kick) M ‑ Abdul 49‑yard field goal M ‑ Jordan 5‑yard pass from Zwick (Abdul kick) M ‑ Jordan 63‑yard pass from Zwick (Abdul kick) M ‑ Jordan 13‑yard pass from Zwick (Kick failed) M ‑ Oliver 3‑yard run (Abdul kick) M ‑ Jovingo 77‑yard pass from Zwick (Abdul kick) F ‑ Williams 69‑yard pass from Burnich (Stewart kick) M ‑ Jordan 11 ‑yard pass from Zwick (Abdul kick) M ‑ Abdul 53‑yard field goal M ‑ Johnson 55‑yard run (Abdul kick)
INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS Massillon rushing: Oliver 17‑131, Johnson 3‑66, Boyd 7‑34. Austintown Fitch rushing: Betts 17‑47, Tate 9‑41.