Tigers tame Big Red

STEUBENVILLE – Heading into Friday’s battle with Massillon, Reno Saccoccia admitted he was concerned with the Tigers’ depth. Turns out, his worries were valid.

Ohio’s top-ranked Division II club wore down the Big Red with its power running game and physical defense in the second half to earn a 37-21 victory before a huge crowd at Harding Stadium.

The 47th meeting between the schools (Massillon now holds a 40-5-2 series lead) provided those in attendance with a little bit of everything. Both teams were brilliant at times and both shot themselves in the foot several times. There were big plays, huge defensive stops, turnovers, fumbles and a whole bunch of penalties.

Jason Hall’s Tigers scored on three of its first four possessions during the final 24 minutes in running their record to 5-0. Big Red drops to 4-1 and will hit the road next week, traveling to Barberton.

“They’re very deep, particularly along the offensive and defensive lines,” Saccoccia said. “They play a lot of kids. Their depth just wore us down.”

Massillon finished the night with 277 rushing yards (161 coming in the second half). Senior Lyron Wilson, who showed power and speed, accounted for 239 of those stripes and crossed the goal three times.

Up 16-14 at the half, the Tigers traveled 45 yards in just five plays to start the third quarter. Massillon was able to cover Big Red’s onside kick attempt and started the drive inside Steubenville territory. J.D. Crabtree accounted for all the yardage and scored on a five-yard burst. Andrew David added the extra point.

Big Red, who entered the contest as the fourth-rated Division IV squad, appeared ready to respond but its ensuing drive was slowed by a chop block penalty and then thwarted thanks to a Devon Ingram interception,

Starting at its own 46, Massillon gained nine yards on three plays, resulting in a fourth and one at Big Red 45. Instead of going for it, Hall opted to punt and the snap sailed over the head of David, giving Big Red new life at the Tiger 35.

Saccoccia’s crew capitalized in a hurry. Sophomore Dimitri Collaros found senior tight end Cameron King open over the middle for 23 yards. Hard-running senior tailback Garon Lytle gained a pair before Collaros made a great throw to the back of the end zone. Junior wide receiver Lucas Herrington hauled in the pass and managed to get a foot down for the score. John Paul Duff’s kick closed the gap to 23-21.

Unfortunately for Big Red, Massillon responded with a nine-play ground and pound drive covering 60 yards. Wilson gained half the stripes on the ground and freshman quarterback Danny Clark connected with senior Beau Huffman for a four-yard score.

Big Red wasn’t finished. Sophomore quarterback Mandela Lawrence-Burke hit sophomore wide receiver Niko Petrides for 12 yards. Lawrence-Burke then ran for six and Lytle added three. The Red then was hit with a motion penalty on third and one. Massillon dropped Lawrence-Burke for a six yard loss after the penalty, forcing a punt.

The Tigers then went 65 yards to put the game out of reach. This time, Wilson scored on a 14-yard jaunt.

Field position played a major role in Massillon’s ability to take its halftime lead. The Tigers started drives at the Big Red eight, 23, 45 and 44. On the other hand, Saccoccia’s crew began possessions at its own 20 (three times), 2, 7 and 15 (twice).

“No doubt, field position was a huge factor,” Saccoccia noted. “It was a problem for us all night. But, we have to accept the bitter with the sweet. I told our players after the game that I hope they feel about their coaches the way their coaches feel about them. We’ll be back at it tomorrow.”

Big Red’s first drive of the game was a good one. Starting at its own 20, the Red moved to the Massillon 46. Collaros hit senior wide receiver Bryan Pierro for 11 yards and Petrides for 12 more. Junior tailback Donte Brown (one of several Big Red starters injured during the very physical contest) ran for seven and Lytle added five. On second and three at the Tiger 46, Big Red was hit with a personal foul penalty.

That call put the pigskin back to the Big Red 39. On fourth down, the snap sailed over the head of Big Red’s punter and the Tigers were in business at the eight yard line.

Saccoccia’s defense came up huge, however. Massillon, which drew 14 flags, was whistled twice for motion on the possession. On third and goal from the 10, Clark found Leslie Dudley in the flats. Dudley was hit at the three, coughed up the pigskin and Petrides recovered at the two.

The game’s first points came when Lawrence-Burke was called for grounding in the end zone, giving the Tigers a safety.

A tackle for a loss by Big Red’s Robert Hayden stopped the next Massillon drive. David just missed a 51-yard field goal before each team turned the football over.

Big Red fumbled at its own 20 one play before Pierro picked off a Clark pass. Massillon led 2-0 after the first quarter.

Aided by another Big Red mistake, the Tigers went 44 yards on its next possession for the game’s initial touchdown, Wilson scoring from the four. A personal foul on the Big Red helped keep the drive alive. For the night, Saccoccia’s unit was penalized nine times.

Big Red’s next offensive series resulted in a three and out, but did set the stage for a huge play by Lytle. On the punt, he laid a fierce hit on the Massillon return man, forcing a fumble which he alertly recovered. Saccoccia’s team would capitalize eight plays later.

Lawrence-Burke had the big gainer of the series when he faked a handoff inside, raced the outside and scampered 33 yards, giving his team a first and goal at the one. Two snaps later, Hayden went over.

The Tigers needed just two plays to respond. Reggie Rogers returned the Big Red kick 33 yards to his own 43. Wilson covered 27 stripes on first down and the remaining 30 on his next carry.

Big Red would close the gap again, traveling 80 yards just before the intermission.

Lawrence-Burke hit senior wide receiver Cody Saltsman for 17 yards then scrambled for another 23. On first and goal from the Tiger 10, he rolled away from the pressure and found senior fullback Kai McClurg for the touchdown.

“Our kids fought,” Saccoccia stated. “After the game, I asked each one of them if they fought. I told them if you did, keep your heads up, come back and fight some more.

“My emotions are the same as the kids, up and down. I try to be up when they are down and when they are up, I try to keep them up. This was a hard-fought, physical game and our emotions were all over the place.”

Clark, the first freshman in Massillon’s history to start at quarterback, completed five of seven passes for 41 yards. He also had the one pick. He did hit Rogers for 26 stripes on Massillon’s third scoring drive of the second half.

Massillon’s deep and physical defense held Big Red to 74 rushing yards on 35 attempts. Lawrence-Burke led the way with 56. Collaros threw for 121 yards and a touchdown while Lawrence-Burke added 39 and another score.

“I’m really proud of Steubenville tonight,” Saccoccia noted. “The coaches and players of the Big Red football team really appreciate the fan support we received.”

Since the rivalry resumed 2009, Massillon’s win was the first for the visiting team.