Massillon secures date with rival
By JOE SHAHEEN
As Lanale Robinson led the Tiger Swing Band in the alma mater, Massillon head coach Tom Stacy had his head down. He was deep in thought, no doubt pondering the Tigers upcoming regional championship game on Saturday against unbeaten Canton McKinley.
Clearly Stacy wasn’t happy with what he had just witnessed as the Tigers knocked off a game and feisty Findlay team 27-20 at Arlin Field in Mansfield last Saturday night in front of 12,264 paying customers.
“We have to play much better to even have a chance next week,” Stacy said. “There’s no question about that.
“We came back tonight but we didn’t play very well. We made a lot of mistakes, a lot of goofy penalties. We did some stuff tonight that we hadn’t done all year. That was kind of disappointing. But it’s a win. That’s all you can say.”
It was a heart-stopping win, one marred by penalties and mental mistakes uncharacteristic of two teams playing in the 12th week of the season.
Findlay looked to be beaten when it got the ball back on its own 22 with 1:22 to play. But the Trojans pulled the old hook and ladder play out of mothballs and if not for a heroic effort by Brian Gamble to run down Findlay’s Caleb Enright at the 3-yard line, the game would have gone into overtime.
“(Gamble) has made big plays for us all year and that was big,” Stacy said.
Findlay still had time to get it in the end zone. A short completion to Enright in the left flat came up a yard short and with the final seconds ticking off the clock, Trojan quarterback Chris Schneider tried to sneak it in instead of spiking the ball to stop the clock.
The middle of the Tiger defensive line did not yield and Massillon had survived to play another week.
“There’ll be so many ‘what ifs?’, I don’t know if I’ll ever watch this film, I swear,” said Findlay head coach Cliff Hite. “We had them. They had us. We had a shot. That’s all you can ask for.
“We wanted to spike the ball but he didn’t get the right signal. It happens. That’s high school football. When you go no huddle with no time outs, that’s what you’ve got to do.”
It should never have come to that but the Tigers were their own worst enemy all night long. They were penalized 10 times for 97 yards, including no fewer than three \”roughing the kicker\” flags and three other personal fouls.
Massillon also lost three fumbles, one at the Findlay 13-yard line.
“We’re down here with a chance to put it away and we fumble the snap,” Stacy said. “We haven’t fumbled a snap all year and we fumbled two tonight. I don’t know. It’s hard to explain.”
Findlay led 10-7 at halftime, controlling the football for 17 of the first 24 minutes of play.
The Trojans went up 17-7 after a 52-yard punt return by Zack Kraus set up an 8-yard Schneider to Andrew Leddy touchdown pass at 9:38 of the third quarter.
Then Massillon woke up, marching 65 yards in nine plays with Gamble covering the final half yard for the touchdown. Steve Schott tacked on the point after to make it Findlay 17, Massillon 14 at 6:07 of the third quarter.
Tiger junior defensive back Michael Porrini recovered a Findlay fumble on the second play of the Trojans ensuing possession, setting Massillon up at the Findlay 29.
Bobby Huth, who completed 10 of 13 passes for 102 yards on the night, rolled right on first down and connected with Zack Vanryzin at the 8-yard line and the senior wideout did the rest to give the Tigers their first lead of the night at 21-17 with more than five minutes still to play in the third.
Massillon then forced Findlay into a three-and-out series, and the Tigers took over at their own 20 after the Trojan punt.
On first down, Huth took the snap and looked to be optioning right, but instead pitched the ball to Robinson on a reverse. The senior tailback turned the corner and sprinted down the left sideline for an 80-yard touchdown. A failed two-point conversion made it Massillon 27, Findlay 17 at 3:20 of the third.
“I’m upset the way we let the third quarter go,” Hite said. “When we got up 17-7, it was almost like we let up a little bit and Massillon turned it up about 15 notches.”
“We tried to,” Stacy responded. “We needed to. We told the kids at halftime we needed to. It was kind of like we were playing in a fog the first half.”
The lone fourth quarter tally came when Findlay marched from its 10 to the Massillon 7, then settled for Brandon Walker’s 24-yard field goal with just under five minutes to play.
The Tigers tried to run out the clock but the plucky Findlay defense forced a Massillon punt with 1:22 to play.
“We’re 11-1 and we have a chance for a rematch now and we’ll see what happens,” Stacy said. “To play like that and get a win, we were fortunate.
“We got the rematch but we have to do something about it. We have to play better. We have to up our play to have a chance (against McKinley), that’s for sure.”