MASSILLON In a game that felt a little like a golden oldie, it was one of the youngest players on the field in a starring role.
Sophomore running back Willtrell Hartson ran for 188 yards, Massillon’s defense dominated and the Tigers cruised past McKinley 35-7 Saturday at Paul Brown Tiger Stadium in the 131st meeting between the rivals.
With a COVID-limited crowd of 1,700 watching on a beautiful fall day, Massillon and McKinley pounded away at each other with their ground games and only attempted 17 combined passes, completing eight.
The Tigers’ power running and typically stout defense controlled the action as Massillon improved to 5-1.
“Really proud of our guys,” Massillon head coach Nate Moore said. “Came out and played a really good football game against a really good team. The difference in the game was our offensive and defensive lines.”
It is the Tigers’ fifth straight win against McKinley and ninth in the last 10 meetings. Massillon last won five straight against McKinley from 1999-2002 — a stretch that included a Tigers’ playoff win.
“We’re excited to get this one, there’s no doubt about that,” Moore said. “We took the field against a great opponent in the greatest rivalry in high school sports, and we’re just happy we came out, played hard and got the win.”
The 35-7 win Saturday matched Massillon largest margin of victory in the series since a 35-7 win in 1999.
Senior Raekwon Venson missed the game with a leg injury, so the Tigers leaned on Hartson and senior Nick Liebler in the running game. Hartson, who entered with 17 carries on the season, carried 22 times Saturday as the focal point of the offense and scored two touchdowns. Liebler, who hadn’t carried the ball all season, added 11 carries for 69 yards and one TD as Massillon piled up 286 yards on the ground.
“We think he’s going to be a really good running back,” Moore said about the 5-foot-10, 200-pound Hartson. “He came out and proved that today. He ran really hard. He has really good vision. … Really proud of him, (and) really proud of Nick Liebler. He came in and gave us some big carries also for the first time this year.”
Meanwhile, McKinley’s offense gained a net of 103 yards after the game’s opening play, including only 16 through the air. Defensive ends Caiden Woullard and Mike Miller, cornerbacks Martavien Johnson and Andrew Wilson-Lamp, and linebacker Jaidan Wise led the effort for the Tigers, who have a bye next week to open the Division II playoffs.
Counting Saturday, Massillon has allowed a combined 31 points the last five weeks.
“I think when you have corners like they do, that frees you up to do a lot of things inside,” McKinley head coach Marcus Wattley said. “… They play hard and they don’t make mistakes. They don’t miss tackles.”
McKinley (4-2), which missed junior safety Harold Fannin for the second straight week because of injury, hosts Berea-Midpark to open the Division I playoffs next week.
Saturday started with major fireworks.
Wilson-Lamp chased down McKinley quarterback Elijah Wesley and pushed him out of bounds at the 1 after an 81-yard run on the first play from scrimmage. It was a good thing for Massillon, because Brandon Foster fumbled the ball away on the next play, with Massillon’s CJ Harris recovering at the 5.
“That could be in the running for play of the game,” Moore said of Wilson-Lamp. “If he scores off the rip, we could be looking at a whole different ballgame, especially in the first half.”
The third play of the game saw Hartson break off the longest play from scrimmage of Massillon’s season — 61 yards. That eventually led to quarterback Zach Catrone scoring on a 4-yard run to put the Tigers up 7-0.
“We just didn’t capitalize,” Wattley said. “We break one on the first play of the game, then give it up. … You can’t beat good teams when you’re not taking advantage of opportunities.”
Massillon’s next possession went 12 clock-eating plays, none of them longer than 11 yards. Senior Jamacius Portis got his first three carries of the game to start the second quarter and powered in from the 1 to put Massillon up 14-0 with 11:00 left.
Massillon’s Magnus Haines should be credited with some kind of save. With the Tigers punting from their own 39 midway through the second quarter, the snap sailed over Haines’ head. He tracked it down on the run near the 15 and got off a booming punt under pressure.
Instead of field position flipping, McKinley had to start on its own 24.
“That’s as good of an individual play on a punt that I think I’ve ever seen,” Moore said.
McKinley found some life with its ground game in the third quarter. The Bulldogs ran 13 straight times to eat up 87 yards. Mani Powell’s 7-yard TD run capped it and cut McKinley’s deficit in half.
But Massillon answered with a dose of the same medicine.
Ten straight runs — none to the outside — ended with a 1-yard Liebler TD run.
“We felt like we were kind of back on track,” Wattley said about Powell’s TD run. “And then we just couldn’t get off the field. We’re down seven, then we’re down 14 again just like that. And with all the running, the game was kind of quick. Possessions were at a premium.”
After a quick three-and-out by McKinley, Massillon was on the move again. A rare pass on this day — 32 yards to Wilson-Lamp — set up Hartson’s 14-yard TD run early in the fourth quarter. He added a 37-yard TD run a few minutes later, and the rout was on.
Wesley finished with 83 net yards (he was dropped for 36 yards in losses) on 17 carries for McKinley. Rob Jones added 57 yards on 18 carries.
Wesley, who missed last week’s game at GlenOak, stayed down for a few moments after a late hit by Wise in the fourth quarter before exiting the game for good with a leg bruise, according to Wattley.
Asked if he was OK, Wattley said, “I hope so. Hopefully we can get him healthy for next week.”
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