MASSILLON It’s all about the opportunities provided for a football team. More importantly, it’s all about taking advantage those opportunities when they’re presented.
That’s what Massillon did when it faced Gateway (Pa.) on Friday night at Paul Brown Tiger Stadium.
The Tigers turned a blocked punt and three first-half Gator turnovers into 17 points, helping to kick-start them to a 48-12 victory.
“It’s taking advantage of mistakes,” said Massillon coach Nate Moore, whose 7-0 team heads to Barberton next Friday. “That’s really what turnovers are. We came up with a couple and were able to capitalize on them.”
Massillon would end the game with 21 points off four Gateway turnovers in improving to 7-0 on the season. The Tigers recovered two fumbles, while T.J. Williams and Luke Murphy came up with interceptions.
Those turnovers turned into touchdowns turned what was expected to be a tight battle into Massillon’s sixth running-clock game in seven wins. The Tigers had won its first six games each by at least 21 points, while the Gators had outscored their opponents 213-7 over their five-game win streak since their loss to Penn-Trafford on Aug. 30.
Penn-Trafford’s only loss was Massillon’s Week 4 conquest, which is also its closest game of the season at 42-21.
“Going into practice this week, we practiced like any other week,” said Tiger senior linebacker Ben Krichbaum, who had a fumble recovery along with four solo and five assisted tackles. “We don’t really look at the offers guys have. We don’t really care about that type of stuff. We just go into each practice going hard and we carry that out to the game.”
After trading punts to open the game, the Tigers would start to see their chances appear. For Massillon, that first opportunity came on Gateway’s second possession, as it blocked the punt at the Gator 25.
The Tigers would turn their fourth blocked punt in the last three games into their first field goal of the season. Alex Bauer would connect from 25 yards out for a 3-0 Massillon lead with 5:01 left in the first quarter.
Bauer would add a 31-yard field goal to make it 20-0 Massillon with 2:19 remaining in the first half.
Massillon would open up a 17-0 lead in the second quarter thanks to two fumble recoveries on botched Gateway handoffs. The first, recovered at the Gator 35, ended with Terrance Keyes Jr.’s 10-yard touchdown run on the third play of the second quarter.
Keyes would finish with 142 yards on 24 carries. His third touchdown run, a 1-yarder, made it 41-6 with 5:25 remaining.
The second opportunity came up as Gateway was itself trying to capitalize on a Massillon fumble. On a first-and-goal play from the Tiger 2, Krichbaum fell on another missed handoff at the Massillon 4.
Two plays later, the Tigers turned that turnover into an historic touchdown. Aidan Longwell hit a wide-open Jayden Ballard down the right sideline, and Ballard raced for a 95-yard score with 6:16 remaining in the half.
The hookup was the longest pass play in Massillon history. The previous mark was a pair of 89-yard plays, by Jason Stafford (Lee Hurst) against Austintown Fitch in 1988 and Austin Jasinski (from Seth Blankenship) against Dublin Scioto in 2016.
“It was good protection,” Moore said. “A great throw. Aidan trusted it and Jayden did a good job of tracking the ball and made a good catch for us.”
Ballard finished with 145 receiving yards on five catches. Longwell would finish 10-of-21 with 223 yards and two touchdowns, as he added a 59-yard scoring strike to Andrew Wilson-Lamp to make it 34-6 Tigers in the fourth quarter.
The Wilson-Lamp touchdown catch was the third Massillon touchdown off of a Gator turnover. That was after Murphy’s interception.
Gateway would get on the board on the final play of the first half, cutting the deficit to 20-6. Derrick Davis went up and over the pile for a 1-yard scoring run, but the point-after kick was missed.
Davis added a 98-yard touchdown run with four minutes left to make it 41-12 Massillon. That run accounted for 85 percent of the highly-touted junior’s 115 rushing yards on the night.
“We bottled him up pretty good,” Moore said of his defense, which allowed Gateway 288 total yards on 67 plays. “A good job by our guys.”
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