MASSILLON Kameron Simpson took the pass out of the air and took off running. By the time the senior linebacker crossed the goal line, he and his Massillon teammates were well on their way to Week 12.
That doesn’t mean Week 11 was as easy as Simpson’s 45-yard, game-sealing interception return for a touchdown on Friday. Yet, because of the Tigers’ ability to dominate the fourth quarter, they were able to pull away for a 45-14 Division II Region 7 quarterfinal win over Columbus Walnut Ridge at Paul Brown Tiger Stadium.
“They say Week 11 is the toughest bump,” said Simpson, whose pick-6 with 19 seconds left assured Massillon its seventh running-clock finish in 11 games. “So, to go out here and grind it out with my brothers, and for all of us to do our jobs and keep it going, it’s a great feeling. Four more weeks until Week 15. We plan on winning it all.”
The Tigers, who are 11-0 for the first time since 1982, will continue their quest to “win it all” in a regional semifinal contest next week against No. 5-seeded Columbus Whitehall-Yearling at a site to be announced by the Ohio High School Athletic Association on Sunday. The Rams, 10-1 on the season, upset No. 4-seeded Dover 38-31 in another opening-round game on Friday.
Massillon, the region’s No. 1 seed, made sure it wasn’t a third top-four seed in the Region 7 to suffer a setback thanks to a 28-0 run over the final 16:24 of the game. That includes a 21-0 fourth-quarter burst which started with an Aidan Longwell 2-yard run on the first play of the quarter, and ended with Simspon’s touchdown return on its next-to-last play.
The Tigers only held a 112-90 edge in fourth-quarter yards, as they finished with 351 total yards to the Scots’ 256. However, Massillon’s 3-0 edge in scores was more than enough.
“We found a way to get the win,” Tigers coach Nate Moore said. “I’m proud of the guys for grinding it out. It wasn’t pretty, but we’ll certainly take it.”
Massillon won on a night where its vaunted running game was held to 134 yards on 34 rushing attempts, the second-fewest yards in a game this season (Louisville, 123 yards). Leading rushing Jamir Thomas was held to just 40 yards on 17 carries, although it was his 1-yard run with 4:24 remaining in the third quarter which started the Tigers’ game-ending run.
Zion Phifer led Massillon, which was held to a 3-0 lead in the first quarter, with 85 yards on 13 carries. Phifer gave the Tigers the lead for good at 10-7 on an 8-yard run with 6:03 left in the second quarter.
“You have to give credit to those guys,” Moore said of Walnut Ridge, which led 7-3 early in the second quarter on a blocked punt it recovered in the end zone. “They’re fired up on defense. They were playing really, really hard. They were giving us some shifts and some overloads and what-not.”
Massillon’s passing game came through to pick up the slack for the running game. Longwell completed 21-of-33 passes for 216 yards, including an 11-yard touchdown pass to Jayden Ballard with 2:47 remaining for a 38-14 lead.
The gaps were filled in by the Tiger defense, which held Walnut Ridge to just 27 rushing yards, which was 194 yards below its season average. The Scots did throw for 229 yards, 56 of those on a Isaiah Murphy-to-Qian Magwood touchdown which pulled them to within 17-14 with 9:04 left in the third.
Massillon, though, countered Walnut Ridge’s one touchdown pass with two interception returns for touchdowns. Kyshad Mack gave the Tigers a 17-7 lead with 5:48 left in the first half on a 36-yard pick-6.
“The defense played well,” Moore said. “We put them in some bad spots. They bowed up and got some stops. I’m really proud of them for that.”