Turnovers turn to touchdowns as Tigers torch Montclair
MASSILLON Turnovers are a football team’s worst enemy. They can also be a team’s best friend.
For Massillon, they were a little bit of both as it played host to New Jersey 2017 state champion Montclair on Friday night.
The Tigers found themselves in an early deficit thanks to an interception which was returned for a Mounties’ touchdown. However, they used Montclair fumbles on consecutive kickoffs to turn a tie game into an advantage, kick-starting Massillon to a 49-7 victory at Paul Brown Tiger Stadium.
“The special-team units ran fast, hit hard,” said Massillon coach Nate Moore after his team improved to 4-0 with a visit from Firestone coming next week. “The ball popped out and we were able to recover a couple of those. Our offense was able to take advantage of it.”
Those back-to-back Mountie fumbles were two of three first-half turnovers they had. They also muffed a punt – on fourth-and-38, no less – to set up the Tigers’ for one more score before half, giving them a 35-7 advantage at the break.
It would be 42-7 on the first play of the second half after a 65-yard Jamir Thomas run. Thomas finished with 131 yards on 18 carries and the one score, giving him a fourth consecutive 100-plus-yard rushing performance.
“We’ve been giving stuff away,” said Montclair coach John Fiore, whose team fell to 1-2. “Even the 35-0 win (over Nutley, N.J., last week) should’ve been 70-0. We just give it away, give it away, give it away. Three fumbles in a row; missing a first down by an inch.
Massillon would begin emptying the bench after that run, which instituted the running-clock rule or the third consecutive game. It was the second time in that span the Tigers have basically played the entire second half under the rule.
Quarterback Aidan Longwell once again showed he likes Week 4. He threw a career-high five touchdowns – all in the first half – matching the five he threw in Week 4 a year ago against Ursuline.
That was all part of Longwell’s 11-of-20, 216-yard performance. All coming in the first half.
“They were loading the box on us,” Moore said. “Our receiving corps and our quarterback executed what they’re supposed to execute.”
At one point, Longwell threw touchdowns on four consecutive pass attempts. The only issue was that the first of those accounted for Montclair’s only score.
On a first-and-21 play from the Montclair 37, a pass attempt was deflected by a defender and intercepted by Walter King, who brought it back 66 yards for a Mountie touchdown. The 7-0 deficit, with 8:17 remaining in the first quarter, marked he second time in as many games the Tigers trailed early in a game.
That was one of two first-half interceptions by the Tigers. They also had one at the Mounties’ 2.
The deficit, as was the case a week earlier in a win over Warren Harding, didn’t last long. On a third-and-14 play from their own 28, Longwell hit Aydrik Ford on a post pattern for a 72-yard touchdown to tie the game at 7-7 just 1:33 after the Montclair touchdown.
That’s when the Mounties began giving the ball up, and the Tigers were more than happy to turn those into points. The first fumbled kickoff return came at the Montclair 32.
Five plays after that, Longwell hit Tre’Von Morgan on a fade route down the left sideline for a 20-yard touchdown. Alex Bauer’s point-after kick gave the Tigers a 14-7 lead.
On the next kickoff, Montclair fumbled at its own 20. On the next play, Longwell and Ford hooked up to make it 21-7 Massillon with 3:52 left in the first quarter.
Morgan had three first-half catches for 51 yards, all of which went for touchdowns. Beyond the go-ahead 20-yard scoring catch, he added twoleaping grabs in the end zone in the second quartert to turn a 21-7 lead into a 35-7 cushion.
Not to be outdone was Ford, the Tigers’ statistical leader. He had a seven-catch, 162-yard first half, almost doubling his season output.
While the Tiger offense was putting up points, the defense was doing its part to keep the Mounties’ offense from finding a rhythm. The Mounties were held to just 45 net first-half yards, and only had two first-half first down, one of which came courtesy of a Massillon penalty.
In fact, two of the three Montclair first downs came thanks to Tiger flags. The Mounties finished with just 43 yards on 30 total plays.
The passing game which was a concern to Massillon’s defensive coaches never materialized. Montclair was just 2-of-12 throwing the ball for three yards.
“Listen, you can’t have 40 yards of offense,” Fiore said. “We just imploded.”
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