PARMA Massillon coach Nate Moore believes in a workmanlike approach to a game.
To the fifth-year Tiger mentor, it’s all about punching the clock on game night and putting in a full 48-minute effort. That’s regardless of who the player is or what may be their perceived role.
On Friday night in a Division II state semifinal against Avon at Parma’s Byers Field, those business-like approaches helped the Tigers run their way to a 35-10 win and a second consecutive berth in the state championship game.
Massillon, 14-0, will face Cincinnati La Salle on Thursday night in Canton for the state title.
The approach started with senior running back Zion Phifer, who stepped into the starting role due to an injury to Terrance Keyes Jr. Phifer clocked and helped to knock out the Eagles thanks to a 146-yard, four-touchdown performance on 20 carries.
“He went out there and did his job,” Moore said. “I’m proud of him for it.”
Phifer’s four touchdown runs came in a variety of styles. There were runs where he was virtually untouched and others where he ran over defenders.
Then, there was his final run, a 25-yarder in the third quarter, in which he spun out of the pile and ran into the end zone. That provided Massillon with a 28-10 lead.
The final score came thanks to Raekwon Venson, a one-yard run with just over seven minutes remaining. Venson ran for 54 yards on nine carries.
“They’re physical, obviously,” Avon coach Mike Elder said of Massillon’s running game. “If you’re going to win these games, you do it in the offseason, you do it in the weight room. You do it with genetics, that’s part of the deal. They’re a physical football team.”
That physicality started up front with a Massillon offensive line which was forced to shuffle a bit when guard John Kouth went down with an early injury. Dylan Garretson, however, came in to fill the void.
It wasn’t the first time Garretson has been called upon to help fill in a vacancy. Like Phifer and Venson, though, the performance was exactly what Moore expected to see when he went in the game.
“He did his job when called upon,” Moore said. “That’s not something, that’s the expectation. That’s the expectation. I’m not going to make it into something it’s not.”
That line helped Massillon rush for 185 net yards on 32 carries. Both Phifer and Venson averaged at least 6.1 yards a rush.
“I’m proud of them,” Moore said. “I’m super proud of them. But I’m proud of everybody.”
The Massillon Tigers appeared to have a season-defining win all wrapped up with just over two minutes left in Saturday night’s showdown of unbeatens at Byers Field against St. Ignatius when Tyler Miller came up with an interception inside the Tiger 5 to preserve a one-point lead. But in the midst of the Tigers’ jubilation came a cold splash of water. A penalty flag. This one for defensive holding against Massillon, negating the potential game-clinching pick.
Given new life, St. Ignatius scored on a 5-yard Bobby Grebencs run with two minutes remaining, carrying the Wildcats to a 26-21 lead which would prove to be the final margin in Massillon’s first loss of the season.
“Our kids handled adversity,” Tiger coach Jason Hall said. “We came up short.” The penalty which altered the final two-plus minutes of the game came on a defender who was away from the play. Hall, though, wouldn’t comment about it directly.
“I have to watch it on film,” Hall said. “I’m not going to make any excuses, it’s not my mentality. I’m going to have to look at it on film. I couldn’t see it because it was on the far side of the field, but I do know that it wasn’t the guy that the ball was thrown to. … We’re not going to make excuses.”
The Tigers fall to 5-1 with the heart-wrenching loss. Not that they can dwell for long on the defeat, as a trip to face undefeated Steubenville awaits Friday night.
“We have to get back to work,” Hall said. “We don’t have any time to cry about this.”
What the Tigers do need to do is look at what they did to gain a 21-14 third-quarter lead over the top-ranked Wildcats, who are now 6-0. That’s especially true considering the 14-0 deficit Massillon faced less than two minutes into the second quarter.
In order to do that, Massillon did what it does best, which is hit on the big play.
The Tigers’ first scoring drive – which cut the deficit to 14-7 with 40 seconds left in the half – was bolstered by a 47-yard pass from Robert Partridge to Devin Smith to take the ball to the Ignatius 22. Partridge then hit Grunder for the 5-yard scoring pass to slice the deficit in half.
“Momentum kind of swung away a little bit,” St. Ignatius coach Chuck Kyle said. “They made adjustments with their receivers.
They have some skilled guys, and that was a concern for us the whole week, and they hit a few.”Massillon hit one of its biggest plays in the third quarter to tie the game at 14-14. Facing a fourth-and-1 at his own 29, Hall elected to go for it, and tailback Alex Winters rewarded him with a 71-yard touchdown run with 8:26 left in the quarter.
“A lot of the guys were saying, ‘Punt,'” Hall said. “But that was, to me, my way of saying to my kids that this was our time. We’re going to do it. … If you’ve ever read Joe Paterno’s book, there’s a quote in there that says, ‘In order to win, sometimes you have to take the chance to lose.’ It’s football; it’s fourth-and-1. We’ve got a couple of 300-pounders, let’s do it.”
It certainly looked like the Tigers were going to do it on their next possession when Partridge hit Smith for an 82-yard pass down to the Wildcat 3. The next play, Winters fought his way in to the end zone to give the Tigers a 21-14 lead – following the PAT – with 3:58 left.
Partridge finished 16-of-29 for 265 yards with a touchdown and three interceptions. Smith had six catches for 135 yards.
The Tigers’ problem, especially early, was slowing down the Wildcats’ junior tailback Bobby Grebencs. Grebencs had 122 rushing yards in the first half on 20 carries, as Massillon struggled to gain any sort of control of the line of scrimmage.
Grebencs’ 1-yard run with 6:13 left in the first quarter helped give the Wildcats a 7-0 lead. He then scored from 3-yards out with 10:16 left in the half to help make it a 14-0 Ignatius edge.
But the Tigers slowed Grebencs – and conversely, the Wildcat offense – for much of the second half, which helped open the door for their comeback. However, Grebencs got loose for 48 yards – and two touchdowns – on 10 fourth-quarter carries, the last one of 10 yards being the biggest, as it gave the Wildcats the lead for good. He finished with 217 yards on 40 carries.
“I kept asking him, ‘Are you OK?'” Kyle said. “He kept saying, ‘Yeah, no problem.'” And, thanks to a second chance, there wasn’t any problem for St. Ignatius. Unfortunately for the Tigers, their problem would come thanks to that second chance.
Tigers don’t capitalize on scoring opportunities in loss to Whitmer Division I Region 2 Semifinal
By CHRIS EASTERLING Chris.Easterling@IndeOnline.com
The Massillon Tigers figured if they held Toledo Whitmer to just a pair of touchdowns, chances were good they would find themselves back in a regional championship game for the second year in a row.
Massillon was able to do just that, but will still be putting the equipment away this week after it suffered a 14-10 defeat at the hands of the Panthers in a Division I Region 2 semifinal on a cool, rainy Saturday night at Parma’s Byers Field.
Two old, familiar problems showed up to sabotage the Tigers’ dreams of matching last year’s magical playoff run – a dangerous running quarterback, and the lack of big plays on offense.
“Their quarterback is a good player,” said Tiger coach Tom Stacy, whose team bows out at 7-5. “We knew that coming in, and he ran the ball well. But it was our inability to finish on offense that really hurt us. When you give up 14 points in the playoffs, you should win. We just didn’t do enough on offense to get it done.”
Whitmer’s quarterback-in-a-fullback-body, Donnie Dottei, hurt Massillon with 113 yards rushing on 23 carries, including a third-quarter score that put the Panthers on the board for the first time. Many of those runs were on designed quarterback counter plays similar to the ones which caused the Tigers so much trouble in a loss to Mentor earlier in the season.
“We never saw that tape, but we knew that Mentor had a good game plan also out of the spread offense,” said Whitmer coach Joe Palka, whose team will take a 9-3 record into this Friday’s regional final against McKinley at Byers Field. “We knew that the quarterback run could give them problems.
“Fortunately today, it worked well for us. Donnie is one of our best runners, so it worked out good.”
Dottei also hurt Massillon with his arm – somewhat. It was his 24-yard touchdown strike to tight end Kevin Koger, a ball Koger made a nifty adjustment on to grab behind a Tiger defender, which provided the winning points with 8:22 remaining in the game.
The Tigers did enough to jump in front 10-0 in the first half, even with all-state tailback Brian Gamble limited to just defensive duties for much of the game due to an ankle injury. Massillon scored on its first possession of the game – a drive that started at the Whitmer 47 following a punt – when junior K.J. Herring ripped off a 37-yard touchdown run with 9:54 remaining.
Herring and sophomore J.T. Turner picked right back up where they left off a week ago in the win over Perry, when they combined for 96 yards rushing. In fact, they bettered those numbers as Turner finished with 117 yards on 18 carries, while Herring ran for 99 on 16 totes.
“They did a good job,” Stacy said of Herring and Turner. “They did a good job. Still, when you lose an all-state tailback, it’s big. He does so much for us, not just running the football, but catching it also. But the two young guys did a nice job.”
Massillon’s second – and final – score came on the Tigers’ first drive of the second quarter. Starting at its own 20, Massillon methodically drove the ball to the Panther 10, but stalled. Facing a fourth-and-6 situation, Steve Schott was called on to kick a 27-yard field goal, which he did to make it 10-0 Tigers with 3:55 left until halftime.
It would be the final time the Tigers would change the number on their side of the scoreboard this season.
The Tigers were able to eliminate the turnovers for the third straight game.
But they did set up Whitmer’s first score with a bad snap on a punt which moved the ball from the Panther 39 to the Massillon 17. Two plays later, Dottei was in the end zone to make it 10-7 Tigers with 8:54 remaining in the third quarter.
Massillon had its share of chances throughout the game, snapping the ball 30 times on Whitmer’s side of the 50 on the evening. Every second-half drive by the Tigers reached at least the 50, and three of the four possessions moved at least to the Whitmer 39.
But none of those drives could produce points, not even a last-ditch drive which reached the Panther 20 following a 37-yard Turner run. Three incomplete passes, as well as an 8-yard loss on a screen pass, sealed Massillon’s fate.
“We had a lot of opportunities to make plays tonight, and we didn’t make them,” Stacy said. “It’s really a hard thing to explain. We didn’t protect (quarterback Bobby Huth) very well, again. That was really disappointing. We just didn’t make plays when we had to, to win.”
Massillon’s loss brings an end to the Tiger careers of 27 seniors, including the likes of Gamble, Huth, Andrew Dailey, Trey Miller, Antonio Scassa and Emery Saunders. It was those players Stacy was thinking about most as he stood outside the same locker room from which the Tigers emerged following their historic win over St. Ignatius just a year earlier.
“I just feel bad for our seniors,” Stacy said. “It’s a great group of kids. They took us to the state championship game last year. I just feel bad for them. The Gambles and Daileys and Saunders. They’ve done so much for our program the last three years, I just feel really bad for them.
“We have a lot of guys hurting in there. They’ve invested a lot of time and effort into the program. You lose a game like this, you’re hurting. We have a lot of guys hurting in there right now.”
Massillon 7 3 0 0 10
Whitmer 0 0 7 7 14
M ‑ K.J. Herring 37 run (Steve Schott kick)
M ‑ Schott 27 field goal
W ‑ Donnie Dottei 7 run (TreCaris kick)
W ‑ Kevin Koger 24 pass from Dottei (Caris kick)
Massillon rushing: J.T. Turner 117; Herring 16‑99 TD; Gamble 3‑14; Tommy Leonard 3‑8.
Whitmer rushing: Dottei 23‑113 TD; Dewayne Frazier 11 ‑42; Jeremy Jones 1‑0.
Massillon passing: Bobby Huth 7‑16‑67.
Perry passing: Dottei 2‑9‑41 TD.
Massillon receiving: Andrew Dailey 2‑17; Josh Cross 1‑32; Bryan Sheegog 1‑15; Giorgio Jackson 1‑8; Trey Miller 1‑3; Brian Gamble 1‑(‑8).
The Massillon Tigers felt as if they didn’t play a full game in their biggest win of the season, a harrowing 35-31 victory over Cincinnati Elder in Week Two. They gave up three fourth-quarter touchdowns in that one to turn a laugher into a nail biter.
The Tigers were determined that wouldn’t be the case on Saturday night at Byers Field in Parma with nemesis St. Ignatius providing the opposition.Trailing 9-0 after one quarter, 19-7 at halftime and 26-14 after three stops, the Tigers mounted a fourth-quarter rally that won’t soon be forgotten in Massillon to bring home a 29-26 win that at once exorcised a host of demons and touched off a celebration usually reserved for the end of a world war.
“We never gave up,” said Tiger coach Tom Stacy. “We established before the game started we were playing four quarters. We weren’t going to do what we did down at Elder when we went up big and they came back in the fourth quarter. It was our time to play four quarters and we did it.”
Massillon made a habit of jumping to big early leads in its first five games this season. On Saturday, it went the other way as St. Ignatius established field position early to set up a three-play 31-yard touchdown drive in the first quarter. The Wildcats then capitalized on a fumbled kickoff to get a safety and a 9-0 edge after one quarter.
But the Tigers were undeterred.
“We got off to a terrible start,” said Stacy. “Give them credit, they did a good job in the kicking game. That really cost us and I really felt if we could get back into it before the end of the first half that we’d have a chance.”
The Tiger comeback officially began with 8:03 showing on the second quarter game clock and the ball at the Massillon 11 following a St. Ignatius punt. Three plays later they were set to punt but an errant snap forced Shawn Weisend to improvise and when he finally stopped running the Tigers had a first down at the 27.
Junior quarterback Bobby Huth then found Zack Vanryzin for 14 yards and a first down, and the Tigers kept working their way downfield. A holding penalty set Massillon back to the St. Ignatius 28 but Huth hit Brian Gamble in stride along the right sideline and the junior running back had no trouble locating the end zone for six. Steve Schott’s point after made it St. Ignatius 9, Massillon 7 with 2:48 until halftime.
But St. Ignatius countered with a three-play 76-yard touchdown sprint that took all of 1:20 and followed with a 50-yard field goal at the break that seemed to swing the momentum away from Massillon.
“Our kids at halftime, they were just ticked off,” Stacy said. “They said ‘We’re going to get back into it.’”
And they did, taking the second half kickoff and moving from the Massillon 22 to the St. Ignatius end zone in 14 plays. A 20-yard Huth to Gamble pass play over the middle helped get the ball rolling on the second snap of the march. Then a bubble screen to Gamble four plays later moved it to the Iggy 42.
From there, Gamble carried the ball three times as did junior fullback Quentin Nicholson, who covered the final yard for the touchdown. Schott’s point after made it 19-14 Ignatius midway through the third period.
St. Ignatius did what all great teams do, returning the favor with a seven-play scoring drive, highlighted by a 61-yard Rudy Kirbus to Nick Secue screen pass. Secue scored from a yard out with 3:54 left in the third and the conversion made it St. Ignatius 26, Massillon 14.
Back came the Tigers, this time with a 90-yard drive. Huth and Vanryzin meshed for a 23-yard gainer along the right sideline on the second play of the march. An unsportsmanlike conduct call on the Wildcats on a third down play gave the Massillon drive new life and a fake punt yielded a 10-yard pass completion to Andrew Dailey for another first down.
Huth threaded the needle to Brett Huffman for 25 yards to the St. Ignatius 2. Two plays later the Massillon offensive line blew the Ignatius front into the end zone and Gamble walked in for the touchdown.
It was St. Ignatius 26, Massillon 21 with most of the fourth quarter still to be played..
St. Ignatius moved from its 20 to its 37 on the ensuing possession but on third-and-four from that point tragedy struck the Wildcats. Kirbus dropped back and hit Parris with a pass, only to see the ball dislodged on a thunderous hit by Gamble that left the Ignatius All-Ohio wideout sprawled prone on the Byers Field playing surface.
Coach Chuck Kyle and a trainer rushed to Parris’ side but he had to be removed from the game via ambulance with an ugly looking lower leg injury.
“We were moving the ball but Robby’s hurt,” Kyle said. “He’s hurt. It’s not good. It’s bad.”
Massillon got the ball back on the punt and moved from its 28 to the St. Ignatius 38 when a fourth-and-one bootleg run resulted in a 4-yard loss, giving the ball back to the Wildcats with just 4:00 to play.
The Tiger defense had no margin for error and it came through, forcing a St. Ignatius punt after just three plays.
“Third-and-three, third-and-four,” Kyle said. “We didn’t convert a couple of those and that hurts. That hurts. You have to make a play at that point. They did. We didn’t.”
Beginning at their own 29, the Tigers got a big play as Gamble broke free for 19 yards on an option pitch around left end. Then senior running back Lanale Robinson picked up 10 more on a counter play to the Iggy 37.
On an incomplete pass, however, Huth was dinged and wobbled off the field with the aid of trainers. That brought in Weisend, who – two snaps later – was faced with a fourth-and-15 situation.
“Shawn Weisend never batted an eye, never batted an eye,” Stacy said. “He looked at me and said ‘Coach, I’m going to get it done,’ and he did.”The unflappable senior hit Vanryzin across the middle on a broken play for a 26-yard gain to the host’s 17-yard line.
“It was a busted play, I had to scramble,” Weisend recalled. “He wasn’t open at first. I was scrambling and I saw him going across the middle and I threw him the best ball I could.”
On second down Weisend threw a quick slant to Vanryzin who didn’t stop churning his legs until the ball was at the 4.
A pass interference call on St. Ignatius set up first and goal from the 2. After a loss of three yards on first down, Weisend took the shotgun snap, sprinted left, saw an opening and dashed for the pylon and the game-winning touchdown with just :10 on the clock.
“Their offense started doing some nice things, counters, hitting those little passes, just to keep us off balance,” Kyle said. “Hey, they’re on a roll. Tom’s doing a great job. They got the momentum going. You’ve got to give them credit.
“They were still running the counter and started finding a seam through there. And then rolling out, they were getting outside the contain. And even on the touchdown, we thought we were in a good call. We were coming from way outside and coming in. I have to see why the guy didn’t pin him in because we were coming from way outside and coming in.”
“What a great high school football game,” Stacy said. “That’s a big win for us.
“We’re a good football team. I think we’ll learn a lot about our team on tape. But we beat a really good football team. I don’t think there’s any question about that.”
Stacy admitted the Tigers got a monkey off their back by finally getting past St. Ignatius for the first time in nine games.
“Our kids believed they could do it,” he said. “If that hadn’t been the case, there was no way they could come back from 11 down at halftime. We couldn’t have done it. But our kids believed all week they could do and you can see the end result.
“The thing that impressed me was how hard both teams played and our resolve. Our resolve to get it done was unbelievable. I haven’t been around that kind of resolve probably since the Galion state championship game in 1985. Our guys wouldn’t back down.”
Massillon limited St. Ignatius to just 83 total yards in the second half to make the comeback possible.
“(Defensive coordinator) Steve Kovacs made some great adjustments at halftime,” Stacy said. “He kept his cool and made some great adjustments and I’ve got to give him a lot of credit.”
Backup QB proves big
By JOE SHAHEEN Joe.Shaheen@IndeOnline.Com
In the long and storied history of Massillon Tiger football, Shawn Weisend has written his number into a chapter all to himself.
The senior back-up quarterback came off the bench with less than two minutes to play after an injury to starter Bobby Huth and completed the game-winning drive that carried Massillon to an improbable 29-26 victory over St. Ignatius on Saturday at Byers Field in Parma.
The Tiger win snapped an eight-game losing streak to St. Ignatius and lifted a weight off the program’s back that had reached crushing proportions in the last several years.
With tears of elation streaming down his face after scoring the game-winning touchdown, Weisend tried to express his emotions.
“I can’t explain how it feels,” he said amidst a joyous on-field celebration. “They called my number and I did the best I could. They all had faith in me and faith in the offense.
“Before I was in, Bobby was in, there was 7:10 left and I said ‘It’s going to come down to seconds. Let’s take this game home.’ We did it.”
Trailing 26-21 and facing a fourth down-and-15 from near midfield, Weisend received a critical block from tackle Brendon Smith to elude a fierce pass rush and threw a strike to senior wideout Zack Vanryzin for 25 yards – and a first down – to the St. Ignatius 17.
On the next play, Weisend hit Vanryzin on a quick slant at the 10 and Vanryzin scratched and clawed his way to the 4-yard line.
Four plays later, from the St. Ignatius 5, Weisend rolled left, dove into the left corner of the end zone and victory was Massillon’s.
What was going through Weisend’s head minutes earlier when he was summoned into such a huge game with the outcome hanging in the balance?
“I’m not going to lie to you,” he said. “I was more focused than I ever was in my life. I knew I had to do it and I did it.”