“A lot of heart, a lot of pride’
Final hurdle for Tigers Saturday in Dayton
By ROLLIE DREUSSI
Independent Sports Editor
“These kids have a lot of heart and a lot of pride,” Massillon Coach Mike Currence said after his team became the first in Tiger history to advance to the playoff championship game.
The Tigers, defeated Willoughby South 21‑6 in a semifinal playoff game Saturday night in the Akron Rubber Bowl before 16,410 fans.
Now, they will meet four‑time champion Cincinnati Moeller Saturday night at 8 in Dayton’s Welcome Stadium, which seats only about 12,000.
The Tigers took command of the game early, scoring the first two times it had the ball for a 14‑0 first‑quarter lead.
The Tigers’ passing game came up with the big plays in those two drives, then the Massillon defense took over and stifled the Rebels the rest of the way.
The great team effort raised the Tigers’ record to 10-1-1 and set up the match with Moeller that Massillon fans have been waiting too since the middle 70s. Moeller has won the state title four of the past five years (missing only in 1978).
“We’re real happy to be in the hall game with Moeller.” Currence said. ”You know when you’re on the field you’ve got a chance to win. We won’t have any trouble getting up for Moeller. How we’ll play, I don’t know.
“Moeller presents the ultimate challege. Right now they’re the No. 1 team in the nation. How do you complete against them? You just have to play a great game against them.
“We think we’re back where we should be.” Currence said of the Tigers’ football program. “whether we beat Moeller has yet to be decided. I don’t know if anyone can beat Moeller. But these kids have a lot at heart.”
The Tiger defense, especially, showed a lot of heart for the second week fit a row. They played perhaps their best half of the season against South, holding them to minus 7 yards rushing and only 25 yards total in the first half. South netted only 104 yards for the whole game. After averaging over 30 points a game through its first 11 contests.
“The whole group just played as a team.” said Jim Letcavits, the Tigers defensive coordinator. “And the last two weeks, (defensive end) Paul Spinden has done one heck of a job.”
Spinden keyed a ferocious Tiger pass rush that sacked Regel quarterback Dan Smierciak five times for 31 yards in losses. Spinden had two sacks, linebacker Tim Manion and end William Askew had one each, and tackle Ed Newman and middle guard Jeff Grove shared a sack.
The Tigers also made four tackles for 10 yards in losses. Linebacker Rick Spielman had two of the tackles, Grove had one, and he and Manion shared one.
The Tiger offense also turned in a fine performance, at least for the most part. Quarterback Dave Eberhart said he thought the offense played excellent football for about 1 1/2 quarters. After the Tigers took their 14‑0 lead, he said, the offense got a little “lackadaisical.”
But the offense came up with the big plays in that first quarter, as Eberhart pulled the trigger on the run-and‑shoot.
Massillon kicked off to start the game, and following a Rebel punt the Tigers marched 52 yards in seven plays for a touchdown.
The drive had bogged down on the South 34, and Eberhart and Company faced a fourth‑and‑four. He passed over the middle to Mike Reese, who caught the ball at the 20, slanted to the right sideline and out streaked the coverage to the end zone. Eberhart’s kick was wide left and Massillon led 6‑0 with 7:59 to play fit the first quarter.
South was forced to punt again, and the Tigers took over on their own 34‑yard line. Eberhart went straight to the air, hitting Jeff Elliott with a perfect pass at the South 40, and Elliott raced all the way to the 17 to complete a 49‑yard play.
Long‑awaited clash to decide state title
to meet a year early
By ROLLIE DREUSSI
Independent Sports Editor
“It looks like its going to be a year early.” Cincinnati Moeller coach Gerry Faust said immediately after he watched the Massillon Tigers beat Willoughby South 21‑6 Saturday night in the Akron Rubber Bowl.
The win advanced the Tigers to Saturday’s Division I state playoff championship game against Faust’s Crusaders, the Class AAA defending champions.
The Tigers are scheduled to play Moeller early next season in the Akron Rubber Bowl, but by virtue of their two playoff wins will now tangle with the four‑time state champs in Dayton’s Welcome Stadium Saturday night.
“Massillon is a good football team,” Faust said after the game. “They have a lot of enthusiasm.”
That enthusiasm was rampant as the Tigers took the field in quest of their first semifinal playoff victory. Twice before ‑ in 1972 and 1979 ‑ they had failed pass this hurdle.
This time, there was no denying them.
Despite two back‑to‑back, emotion‑packed games against Canton McKinley, the Tigers were really psyched up for this game.
“We were just happy to be here,” quarterback Dave Eberhart said in the happy Massillon lockerroom after the game. “I didn’t know if we could get up again, but this was it. There was no second chance like against McKinley.”
‘The Tigers had lost to McKinley in the season finale, but turned around and beat the Bulldogs in the regional playoff title game.
Massillon coach Mike Currence said his team won’t have any trouble getting up for one more game. Not when the team they are playing is Moeller.
“Making the playoffs was our first goal of the season,” Eberhart said, noting that getting to play Moeller in the finals was the second goal.
The Tigers know they face an uphill battle against Moeller, who will be a heavy favorite to win their second straight state crown, and their fifth in the past six years.
“We’ll have to play four perfect quarters to stay in the game. If we play like tonight ‑ only good for a quarter-and‑a‑half we’ll get blown out. We got up (on Willoughby South) and then we eased off some.
“We had two good quarters where we handled them in the trenches, then we got lackadaisical the other two. We can’t do that if we want to give Moeller a good game.”
And while a lot of people aren’t giving the Tigers much of a chance against Moeller, Massillon coach Mike Currence put it this way: “You know when you’re on the field you have a chance to win.”
Currence said his team displayed “a lot of heart and a lot of pride.”
The Tiger offense came up with the big play and the defense turned in one of its most impressive performance of the season to hand South its first loss in 12 games.
The Tigers are now 10‑1‑1, marking the second straight season they have won 10 games. The two playoff wins so far this year also raise the Tigers’ postseason record to 2‑2 since the playoffs started in 1972, Massillon lost that year, and again last season.
This Tiger team has shown tremendous character in coming back from its season‑ending loss to Canton McKinley. Thanks to the expanded playoff format and Lakewood St. Edward’s loss to Cleveland St Joseph ‑ the Tigers piled up enough points to finish second in the Region 3 computer rankings and get another shot at McKinley.
They responded like true Tigers, topping the Pups 14‑6 in Canton ‘s Fawcett Stadium. They rode the momentum of that victory into the Rubber Bowl Saturday night and simply didn’t give the South Rebels a chance. They dominated the game both offensively and defensively.”
Rebel coach Jim Chapman said his team may have been bothered by the large crowd, most of whom were screaming, orange‑clad Tiger fans.
Once we settled down, we started playing some good ball. After the first quarter we played well. But we didn’t do a very good job of pass blocking.” he added.
The Tigers put on a fierce pass rush the whole game, sacking South quarterback Dan Smierciak five times.
One play that upset Chapman came in the second quarter with South behind 14‑0. With the ball at the Tigers’ 26 yard line, Smierciak hit Irv Tarrant with a screen pass, and Tarrant broke through the Tiger coverage and scampered all the way to the end zone. However, a clip at the 16 behind the runner brought the play back to the 31 and this time the Tiger defense held.
Chapman criticized the officials’ call.
“I’m upset with the officiating,” he said. “Obviously the calls hurt us. I’m not using that as an excuse though. Massillon deserved to win. Their first‑quarter execution was excellent.”
Mark Eberhard, South’s center and defensive tackle, left the game in the first quarter with a bruised eye and was unable to return.
The Tiger coaching staff did a good job of preparing the team for South. The defense was not surprised by anything the Rebels threw at them, and the play calling when the Tigers had the ball was excellent.
Now they must prepare their Tigers for the long awaited duel with Moeller. And they don’t mind that it’s one year earlier than planned .
First downs rushing 8 6
First downs passing 6 3
First downs by penalty 0 0
Total first downs 14 9
Yards gained rushing 190 83
Yards lost rushing 22 60
Net yards gained rushing 168 23
Net yards gained passing 135 81
Total yards gained 303 104
Passes attempted 11 18
Passes completed 6 6
Passes intercepted by 0 0
Yardage on passes intercepted 0 0
Times kicked off 4 2
Kickoff average 51.7 46.5
Kickoff return yardage 46 31
Punts 4 6
Punting average 30.0 40.3
Punt return yardage 29 0
Punts blocked 0 0
Fumbles 4 3
Fumbles lost 2 2
Penalties 7 2
Yards penalized 50 20
Touchdowns rushing 2 1
Touchdowns passing 1 0
Touchdowns by interception 0 0
Miscellaneous touchdowns 0 0
Total number of plays 56 53
Total time of possession 26:13 21:47
WILL. SOUTH 0 0 0 6 ‑ 6
MASSILLON 14 0 0 7 ‑ 21
MASS ‑ Mike Reese 34‑yard pass from Dave Eberhart (kick failed)
MASS ‑ Mike Jones 6‑yard run (Eberhart run)
SOUTH ‑ Irv Tarrant 4‑yard run (run failed)
MASS ‑ Eberhart 3‑yard run (Eberhart kick)
Moeller in finale
By BOB STEWART
Repository Sports Editor
AKRON ‑ The Massillon Tigers scored the first two times they had the ball and roared into the finals of the Ohio High School Athletic Association Division I playoffs by whipping the Willoughby South Rebels 21‑6 before a crowd of 16,401 at the Rubber Bowl here Saturday night.
The victory upped the Tigers’ record to 10‑1‑1 and puts them in the championship game against defending title holder Cincinnati Moeller.
Moeller won its semifinal game Friday night 36‑0 over Upper Arlington. The site for Friday night’s championship game will be determined this afternoon at a meeting of OHSAA in Columbus.
Willoughby South unbeaten before it tangled with the Tigers, bowed out with a 12‑1 mark.
Massillon held the Rebels after the opening kickoff and then on its first possession drove 52 yards in 7 plays, saving the big play for last in the drive.
Facing a fourth‑and-4 situation at the 34, Massillon’s All‑County quarterback Dave Eberhart found split end Mike Reese open over the middle and tossed him a bullet, which Reese grabbed at full speed at the 25 and outran the Rebel secondary to complete the 34‑yard touchdown play.
Eberhart missed his placement and the Tigers led 6‑0 with only four minutes gone in the game.
After the ensuing kickoff, the Rebels managed one first down but again had to punt it away and the Tigers started on their own 34. This time the first play was the big one.
Eberhart went back to pass for only the second time of the game and completed a 48‑yard bomb to end Jeff Elliott, putting the ball at the 17.
Mike Jones gave the Tigers 7 yards in two rushes, then after Bob Oliver rushed for a first down at the 6, Jones slipped off the right side and dove into the end zone for a 6‑yard scoring jaunt.
Eberhart then converted a two pointer by rolling to his right and scampering into the corner of the end zone to make it 14-0 with 2:13 left in the first period.
South mounted its only threat of the first half early in the second period when it drove to the Tigers’ 25 before turning the ball over on downs.
The Rebels had an apparent touchdown pass nullified by a clipping penalty two plays before they gave up the ball. Quarterback Dan Smierciak hit halfback Irv Tarrant, who got loose on what looked like a 36-yard TD, but a clipping penalty brought the ball back to the Tigers 31 and the Rebels couldn’t get a first down.
Massillon thwarted another threat just before the half when Eberhart’s pitch missed its mark and South’s Pave Orahoske covered the ball on the Tiger’s 29.
On the first play, Ed Newnan broke through to sack the quarterback and three pass incompletions after that gave the ball to Massillon with 50 seconds left and the Tigers ran out the clock to end the half.
The Tigers took the second‑half kickoff and marched the ball deep into South territory.
Eberhart came out throwing, hitting end Mike Feller with a 13‑yard pass on the first play of the third quarter. Then Eberhart scrambled for 17 yards to put the ball at the South 38.
Two plays later Eberhart hit Oliver for a 16‑yard completion, but three plays after that Eberhart’s attempt at a 37‑yard field goal missed by a mile.
After an exchange of punts, South caught fire early in the fourth period. Smierciak ignited the Rebels with a 35‑yard pass completion to split end Brian Huff, and with Tarrant ripping holes in the Tiger’s line, South put the ball in the end zone with 8:11 remaining in the game.
Tarrant’s 4‑yard touchdown run capped the 84‑yard, 10‑play drive in which he personally gained 26 yards in five carries.
On the conversion attempt, after the Tigers drew a half‑the‑distance penalty for encroachment, the Rebels lined up as if to kick the PAT. But holder Rob Hehr rose and rolled to his right, looking for a receiver. When he couldn’t find one he tried to run it in but was buried by several Massillon defenders.
The Tigers seemed stunned by the effrontery of the score and moved the ball from their own 37 to the South 31, with Jones breaking gallops or 17 and 11 yards. But a fumble turned the ball over at the Rebel 26.
Four plays later the Rebels punted from their own 21 with the roar of the Massillon crowd in their ears after a superb defensive job by Tiger linebacker Jeff Grove.
With just over five minutes remaining, the Tigers mounted their final scoring drive as Jones dashed 19 yards to put the ball at the Rebels’ 28. Six plays later Eberhart sneaked into the end zone from 3 yards out, then kicked the placement that wrapped up scoring and the game with 1:23 left.
The Tigers wound up with it 303‑104 edge in total yards for the game, piling up 14 first downs to South’s 9. Eberhart completed 6 of 10 passes for 135 yards. Jones gained a net 91 yards rushing in 19 attempts.
South managed a mere 23 yards net rushing. The Rebels were 6 of 8 in passing for 81 yards. Tarrant carried 18 times for a net 35 yards for the Rebels.
Massillon ran 56 plays to South’s 53, but held a time advantage over South, keeping the ball 26:13 to 21‑47.
Massillon was penalized seven times for 50 yards, while South suffered twice for 20. Massillon fumbled four times. South three times, and each team lost two of them.
Massillon converted on 7 of 12 third‑down situations, including 4 of 6 in the first half, while the Rebels could convert only 4 of 13 third downs.
The Tigers’ tenacious defense was led, not only by Grove, but by halfback Jeff Spicer, who broke up several passes and linebacker Rick Spielman.