THE BELL IS BACK
Tigers jumps to big early lead, hold off late Bulldog rally
MASSILLON The sound of the Victory Bell hadn’t chimed inside the Massillon locker room in a while. Three Octobers had come and gone without the Tigers ringing the bell.
Yet, shortly after 5 on Saturday afternoon, there was the distinctive “clang,” echoing through a jubilant Tiger locker room at Paul Brown Tiger Stadium.
The Victory Bell was back in Tigertown, but not without a fight. Massillon jumped out big early, then hung on late to outlast McKinley’s comeback attempt to prevail 37-29 in front of 17,582 fans.
“The bell’s been over in Canton for three years now,” Tiger senior Brody Tonn said.
“Everybody’s saying, ‘You guys ever going to get the bell back? You guys going to get the bell back for your senior year?’ Our slogan all year has been ‘15 weeks,’ but all we focused on this whole week was getting the bell back and beating McKinley for our seniors.”
And Tonn was front and center in helping Massillon, which heads into Saturday’s Division I regional quarterfinal against Nordonia (7-3) at Paul Brown Tiger Stadium with a 9-1 record, end a two-game losing streak overall – and three-game regular-season skid – to the rival Bulldogs.
Tonn threw a 7-yard touchdown pass on a fake field goal to give the Tigers a 7-0 lead. He also caught a 35-yard scoring strike to put Massillon ahead 14-0.
And, for good measure, he turned away a McKinley scoring threat late with an interception in the end zone with 3:15 remaining.
Early on, such late heroics would have seemed unnecessary for Massillon. After all, thanks to three first-half Bulldog turnovers, the Tigers were in possession of a 24-0 lead with 7:42 remaining in the first half.
“When they make a mistake, it just gets us excited,” said Tiger junior Marcus Whitfield, whose 37-yard touchdown catch gave Massillon a 24-0 lead. “We get a chance to punch it down the field and score.”
Even after McKinley pulled to within 24-7 at halftime, many in attendance would have never expected things to come down to a last-ditch heave by the Bulldogs on the final play of the game.
The players wearing the special graphite-gray uniforms – on a day that matched those duds = weren’t surprised.
“Every time we go into the locker room at halftime, we always say to the whole team, ‘It’s 0-0,’” sophomore defensive end J.D. Crabtree said. “You can never give up, especially on an opponent like that. … They’re all extremely fast. We were ready.”
Massillon twice opened up 20-point third-quarter leads – at 27-7 and 34-14. The latter came on the third of Kyle Kempt’s three touchdown passes on the day, this one a 66-yarder to Gareon Conley.
“They were trying two-on-one (Conley) all day, and we got our chance,” said Kempt, who was 16-of-32 for 285 yards with the three scores and one interception. “We capitalized on it.”
McKinley, which will take a 7-2 record into Saturday’s regional quarterfinal at Hoover, used the arm of sophomore quarterback Eric Glover-Williams to mount its comeback. Glover-Williams, who rushed for 141 yards and a score on 27 carries, threw second-half touchdown passes to Jeff Richardson and Chris Prowell-White, the latter pulling the Bulldogs to 37-29 – after a two-point conversion – with 5:04 left.
Glover-Williams completed 15-of-30 passes for 196 yards.
Massillon brings back Victory Bell, tops McKinley
MASSILLON Halfway through Saturday’s 122nd showdown against archrival McKinley, the Massillon Tigers looked like they were on their way to a rout. The only problem was, nobody told the Bulldogs that fact.
Still, despite a valiant comeback effort by McKinley, Massillon finally got its hands on the Victory Bell for the first time since 2008 with a 37-28 win in front of 17,582 at Paul Brown Tiger Stadium.
“It’s almost unreal,” said Tiger senior Brody Tonn, who threw a touchdown pass, caught a touchdown pass and came up with a game-saving interception late in the game. “I haven’t beat McKinley since my freshman year. … I’m absolutely just speechless right now. I’m so proud of everybody on this team.”
Massillon improves to 9-1, its best regular-season record since 2005. It is expected to play host to Nordonia (7-3) next Saturday in a Division I regional quarterfinal, although the official pairings will be announced Sunday by the Ohio High School Athletic Association.
McKinley falls to 7-2. The Bulldogs are expected to play at Hoover (8-2) in a regional quarterfinal next Saturday, with the winner of that game to play the Massillon-Nordonia winner in the second round.
The win snapped a two-game win streak overall for McKinley in the series. In regular-season meetings, the Bulldogs had won the last three coming into Saturday.
“I’m happy for these seniors,” said Tiger coach Jason Hall, who now is 3-3 against McKinley.
“It was interesting. We had some people talking before the game, and they asked how many of the seniors had touched the bell. None of them could raise their hand. More of a joy for them.”
The Tigers at one point led 24-0 midway through the second quarter. They turned three McKinley turnovers into 17 points, with Kyle Kempt hitting Tonn and Marcus Whitfield for scoring passes of 35 and 37 yards.
Kempt was 16-of-32 for 292 yards. He finished with three touchdown passes, including a 66-yarder to Gareon Conley to give Massillon a 34-14 lead with 3:39 left in the third.
Andrew David also had a 25-yard field goal in that stretch as well. “When they make a mistake, it just gets us excited,” said Whitfield, whose touchdown catch made it 24-0 with 7:42 left in the half. “We get a chance to punch it down the field and score.”
The first Tiger touchdown, though, came courtesy of a little trickery. The Tigers found themselves faced with a fourth-and-goal on the McKinley 7 on their second possession of the game.
Massillon lined up for the field-goal try. However, instead of placing the ball down for the kick, Tonn – the holder – rose up and fired a strike to a wide-open Malik Dudley for the touchdown.
The Tigers, who initially lined up for a two-point conversion try before taking a timeout, added the David PAT to make it 7-0 with 4:35 left in the first quarter.
“We out and we actually had the check on,” Tonn said. “I looked over to the sideline and coach said, ‘It looks like they’re bringing a blitz, so run it.’ They actually ended up bringing everybody up the middle. Malik Dudley leaked out through the middle and was just wide open.”
McKinley would crack the scoreboard when Eric Glover-Williams hit Chris Prowell-White for a 19-yard touchdown pass with 3:40 left in the half, cutting it to 24-7. It would be one of two scoring connections between the two, as their second one – a 5-yarder with 5:04 remaining – cut the score to 37-29, after Jeff Richardson’s two-point conversion run.
Glover-Williams, McKinley’s elusive sophomore quarterback, completed 15-of-50 passes for 196 yards and three touchdowns. His one interception came with 3:15 remaining, two plays after Richardson had come up with a interception of a Tiger pass.
That interception, though, didn’t end McKinley’s hopes. The Bulldogs got the ball back with 41seconds at their own 36.
A pass interference flag against Massillon moved the ball to midfield on the first play. But McKinley would be flagged for intentional grounding, then throw a harmless incompletion on the game’s final play, setting off a raucous celebration.