2002: Massillon 27, Warren Harding 31
Massillon can’t escape Warren with a win
Fourth‑quarter lead slips away for Tigers in tough 31‑27 loss
By JOE SHAHEEN
Independent Sports Editor
In the end the Massillon Tigers undoing was a player who had caught just two passes and returned one punt all season long.
Warren Harding sophomore Mario Manningham returned a punt and a kickoff for touchdowns in the first half, and caught two touchdown passes in the second half ‑ the second one with just :49 left to play ‑ to spark the undefeated and No.1 ranked Raiders to a heart‑pounding 31‑27 victory over the Tigers in front of 11,500 at Mollenkopf Stadium Saturday.
Warren coach Thom McDaniels, who is now 12‑5 all‑time against the Tigers, admitted Manningham’s performance caught him by surprise. “Very obviously he is a very talented kid,” McDaniels said. “We’ve been bringing him along slowly. Maybe I don’t need to bring him along as slowly as I have been.”
Everything seemed to point to a Massillon win on the post‑game stat sheet. The Tigers out gained Warren 348‑202, senior running back Ricky Johnson led all rushers with 107 yards in 20 carries and quarterback Matt Martin passed for over 200 yards and three touchdowns.
But Warren Harding compiled 147 yards on three kickoff returns and 78 yards on three punt returns to more than balance the scales.
“It was all about the kicking game,” said Tiger coach Rick Shepas. “They scored two touchdowns on our defense and our offense did a great job against them scoring 27 points. “It was just about the kicking game unfortunately and that’s the way it goes.”
Massillon took a 20‑17 lead with 2:54 to go in the third quarter when Martin dropped a perfectly thrown deep ball into the hands of Devin Jordan running a post pattern for a 49‑yard touchdown.
The Tigers appeared to have Warren on the ropes when junior running back Tuffy Woods ran through a gaping hole in the middle of the Raider defensive line and went 33 yards to pay dirt at 7:29 of the fourth quarter to make it a 27‑17 ball game. Zach Smith tacked on both PATs.
“Our offensive and defensive game plans were outstanding,” Shepas said. “We did exactly what we wanted to do in a big ball game. Our kids stayed level.” After having kicked off out of bounds the previous two times to negate Warren’s return game, the final Tiger kickoff of the evening found Rob Massucci, who returned it 54 yards to the Massillon 26. “We were trying to kick the ball out of bounds but it just didn’t happen,” Shepas explained.
Warren quarterback Mike Kokal found Tremayne Warfield for 14 yards on the first snap following Massucci’s return. One play later he hit Manningham in the right corner of the end zone from 13 yards out. Joe Spain tacked on the extra point and Massillon’s lead was down to 27‑24 with 6:29 to play.
Massillon went three‑and‑out on its next possession when a third‑and‑one run was stuffed at the line of scrimmage by the Warren defense.
After a 33‑yard punt, Warren set up shop at its own 35 and on first down Kokal hit Manningham over the middle for 27 yards to the Massillon 38. Five plays later, on second‑and‑three from the 12‑yard line, Kokal zipped a short pass to Manningham at the three and he squirted into the end zone to all but vanquish the Tigers 2002 playoff aspirations.
“We played hard,” remarked Tiger linebacker Shawn Crable, who made plays all over the field this night. “It’s kind of hard to lose a game like that. As hard as we played to just give up the last touchdown, it’s a bit hard to swallow.”
Asked if it just wasn’t meant to be, Shepas said, “I guess not and we’re going to have to figure out why that is. Warren Harding‑ opened the scoring in the opening seconds of the second quarter when Manningham fielded a low line drive punt at the Raider 32, cut to his left, found a seam and scooted 68 yards for a touchdown. Manningham had just one obstacle after crossing midfield, but used a juke move to buckle the potential tackler’s knees. Spain tacked on the extra point and Warren led 7‑0 at 11:45 of the second quarter.
The teams traded punts with the Tigers then taking over at their own 20 yard line with 8:12 until halftime.
On second down, Martin rolled left and found James Helscel open for a 12‑yard gain to the 35. One play later, Martin dropped a perfect 35‑yard rainbow pass into the hands of Relford at the Warren Harding 30. After two Johnson runs, Martin executed a perfect play action fake and found tight end A.J. Collins wide open at the 15. The senior tight end caught the ball and rambled untouched into the end zone. Smith’s point after kick was true and it was a 7‑7 game at 4:58 of the second quarter.
Relford got the ball right back for the Tigers with a grass‑top interception of a Kokal pass at the Massillon 44. The teams then exchanged punts with Massillon beginning its final first half possession at its own 35.
On second and 10, Martin operating out of the shotgun ‑ found Relford in one‑on‑one coverage and dropped a pass just over the defensive backs hands for a 37 yard completion to the Warren Harding28. Martin would pick up a key first down on a fourth‑and-one keeper play to the 15. On first down from there, Martin ran the same play that produced the Tigers first touchdown. Once again the play action fake freed up Collins, who pulled in Martin’s short pass and sauntered into the end zone. Smith’s kick made it 14‑7 with just :31 until the break.
But Warren Harding struck back like lightening bolt as Manningham fielded the ensuing kickoff at the Raider 18 and streaked up the middle for an 82‑yard touchdown return. Spain’s PAT made it a 14‑14 game at the band show.
Warren Harding 31
First downs rushing 5 2
First downs passing 7 8
First downs by penalty 0 0
TOTAL first downs 13 10
Net yards rushing 144 36
Net yards passing 204 166
TOTAL yards 348 202
Passes attempted 20 26
Passes completed 9 14
Passes intercepted 1 2
Punts 7 6
Punting average 31.6 28.0
Fumbles/Lost 0/0 0/0
Penalties 5 3
Yards penalized 29 23
Massillon 00 14 06 07 27
Warren 00 14 03 14 31
W ‑ Manningham 68 punt return (Spain kick)
M ‑ Martin 27 pass to Collins (Smith kick)
M ‑ Martin 15 pass to Collins (Smith
W ‑ Manningham 82 kick return (Spain kick)
W ‑ Spain 31 field goal
M ‑ Martin 49 pass to Jordan (kick failed)
M ‑ Woods 33 run (Smith kick)
W ‑ Phillips 13 pass to Manningham (Spain kick)
W ‑ Kokal 12 pass to Manningh am (Spain kick)
Massillon rushing: Johnson 20‑106, Woods 8‑52.
Warren Harding rushing: Davis 13-23.
Massillon passing: Martin 9‑20‑204 3 TDs 1 int.
Warren Harding passing: Kokal 9‑16‑91 1 TD 1 INT, Phillips 5‑10‑75 1 TD.
Massillon receiving: Relford 4‑100, Jordan 1‑48, Collins 2‑41, Heischel 1‑12.
Warren Harding receiving: Manningham 4‑68, Warfield 4‑29