NICE RING TO IT
Victoery Bell chimes For Tigers after 125th meeting with archrival
By Chris Easterling
Independent Sports Editor
MASSILLON It was familiar territory for Massillon at halftime of the 125th game against McKinley on Saturday afternoon at Paul Brown Tiger Stadium. The Tigers were sitting with a lead – a 10-point one, in this case – with a chance to secure the win.
Twice before, though, that halftime lead dissolved into losses. The memory of those games was a big reason why Massillon’s seniors were doing something they had done before at the end of the game as well: ringing the Victory Bell after beating the Bulldogs.
“We had yet to play a strong four quarters of football,” senior running back J.D. Crabtree said after Massillon’s 31-21 win over McKinley. “We really stressed that this week. We stressed that in the locker room at halftime that we can’t come out flat. We’ve been in this situation before; we’ve been up. We have to come out and do our jobs. We came out fired up, and we did what we were supposed to.”
What Massillon did was post its fourth consecutive win in the series against the Bulldogs, including its third straight regular-season win. The win improved the Tigers to 7-3 and sent them packing for Perrysburg to meet the 10-0 Yellow Jackets in a Division II Region 4 quarterfinal Friday night.
While the playoff berth was secured long before kickoff – only the opponent, – Perrysburg or Nordonia was up in the air – Massillon came out looking like a team trying to pull out all the stops on its rivals. The Tigers recovered an onside kick to start the game, although that ended up in a missed 51-yard field goal.
That proved to be the only time Massillon would get inside the McKinley 40 and not put points on the board. The Tigers’ second possession ended with Crabtree scoring the first of his four touchdowns on the day, a 5-yard run with 6:56 left in the first quarter.
McKinley pulled even with Massillon only once after that point. The Bulldogs tied the game at 7-7 on a 3-yard Eric Glover-Williams run with 9:06 left in the half.
Massillon scored on two of its final three possessions of the half, though, to take a 17-7 halftime lead. Crabtree’s 1-yard plunge and Andrew David’s 41-yard field goal with 1 second left in the half provided the Tiger margin.
“We just needed to play our game,” senior running back/linebacker Danny Robinson, whose fourth-down run with less than 40 seconds left picked up the game-clinching first down. “We came in at halftime and everybody knew we were the better team in that locker room. We just needed come out and execute and stop them.”
Massillon grabbed a 24-7 lead on Crabtree’s third score, a 16-yard run just 2:15 into the second half. It was part of the senior’s 34-carry, 131-yard performance.
“The Massillon people would say that’s the J.D. Crabtree they know,” Tigers coach Jason Hall said.
McKinley, though, had a little life left in it. A Lee Hurst-to-Bryce Short touchdown pass in the third quarter, followed by a Hurst quarterback plunge pulled the Bulldogs within 24-21 – after a Glover-Williams-to-Short two-point conversion – with 10:43 remaining.
Both were set up by special-teams plays. A 22-yard fake-punt run by Devion Jenkins helped keep the former scoring drive alive, while the latter was set up by a muffed punt by Massillon at its own 30.
Massillon, though, wouldn’t let another double-digit lead slip by it as it did against Austintown Fitch in Week 6. With a little help from a pair of McKinley penalties, the Tigers marched down the field on their next possession to punch in the insurance score on Crabtree’s fourth score of the day with 9:35 remaining.
“I think we’ve learned from (Fitch) when we had that lead and we lost it,” Tiger senior tackle Devin Williams said. “There’s no point in the game where you should be flustered. … No matter what the score is, whether we’re up, down, it’s always the same.”
Which is why Massillon’s seniors got the oh-so-familiar experience of ringing the Victory Bell again Saturday afternoon.