A rivalry between two of the most successful programs in Ohio high school football history will be renewed for the first time since 2009 on Friday.
The Massillon Washington Tigers will serve as the hosts, fresh off a 28-10 victory over Benedictine. The Saint Ignatius Wildcats will make the journey to Paul Brown Tiger Stadium for the 13th time in program history, entering with an 11-1 mark in the 81-year old stadium.
Massillon boasts the most wins in Ohio high school football history with 902, while Saint Ignatius checks in at sixth with 709. Massillon won 24 poll championships prior to 1972, while Saint Ignatius has won a record 11 state championships on the field during the playoff era.
In the all-time series, the Wildcats own a lopsided 12-1 advantage, but this Massillon team is one of the best in recent memory. The Tigers are an excellent program with plenty of history and prestige, led by veteran coach Nate Moore.
Following a loss to St. Edward, the Wildcats would love to correct mistakes and earn a victory over a powerhouse opponent.
SAINT IGNATIUS OFFENSE VS. MASSILLON DEFENSE
Turnovers hindered the Wildcats greatly in last week’s rivalry showdown vs. St. Edward. It’s tough to gain momentum when you’re turning over the ball. The Wildcats will look to clean that up, though it was promising that the team was only trailing 7-0 after four first-half turnovers.
Beyond the turnovers, the Wildcats showed promise on offense, but couldn’t punch through into the end zone. The Football Cats only trailed St. Edward in overall yardage, 249-241, thanks in large part to a solid day by Jaxon French. The junior quarterback notched 196 passing yards, completing 17-of-32 passes.
"Turnovers clearly hurt. I can’t remember coaching a game that had 5 turnovers, you’re not going to win the game that way," says Head Coach Chuck Kyle '69. "In high school, you don’t have the ball much. We’ve spent time in practice this week doing drills and things to protect the rock. You’re trying to get a little more yardage, reaching to get something, and then ‘Bang!’ the 2nd guy comes in, and pops that ball out. That has to be cured. We need to take advantage of opportunities. We had chances, then turned the ball over. We need to put some points on the board and avoid mistakes.”
Getting the ground game going will be crucial vs. Massillon. The Wildcats struggled in this area vs. St. Edward, with just 45 rushing yards on 22 attempts.
Marty Lenehan will be essential in powering the Saint Ignatius rushing attack. The junior has showcased slick moves and ability in the opening two weeks. Ryan Waldron and Anthony Santagata will also see sizeable roles.
Alec LaSpina and Jack Dunstan have become the lead targets in the passing game with 9 receptions apiece. Nick Lamirand and John Becker will also be depended upon for help.
On the offensive line, the Wildcats will look to correct technique and errors to pave the way for the rushing game. The line did a solid job of protecting French, only allowing one sack. Gus Salopek and Ashton Montgomery have been excellent at tackle so far this year, and the interior three linemen will look to follow their lead.
Massillon employs a 3-4 scheme on defense. The Tigers do not have a massive line, with the exception of 6’1, 315-pound Reece Turpin. But the Tigers have quickness and agility to attack the ballcarrier.
Speaking of aggressive, linebacker Jaidan Wise is one of the leaders of the defense at the Sam linebacker spot. Wise leads the team with 21 tackles and is tied for the team lead with 7 tackles for loss with defensive end Mike Miller.
"Defensively, they don’t do as much blitzing as Eds, but they will do it in certain situations,” says Coach Kyle. “They run a 3-4 base defense, so there are 7 in the box to some degree, and you try to get them out of it. We haven’t gone against a 3-man front, and we have short week because we played Saturday. The kids are realizing that we have a lot to do in a short period of time."
In the secondary, Isaiah Clark is the linchpin. The talented senior tops the Tigers with 3 interceptions, adding 16 tackles. Wideouts Martavien Johnson, Andrew Wilson-Lamp, Jayden Ballard, and Austin Brawley all play significant roles at DB.
SAINT IGNATIUS DEFENSE VS. MASSILLON OFFENSE
The Wildcats may not have won on Saturday, but the defense played quite well. In limiting the Eagles to 249 yards, the men of Ryan Franzinger ’02 also forced two turnovers, a fumble and an interception. The defense did allow 10 points in the second half, in large part due the Eagles possessing the ball for 9 minutes in the third quarter.
Linebackers Aidan Conway, Nick Velotta, and Aidan Hubbard all played outstanding football on Saturday, with 19.5 combined tackles. Each tabbed a tackle for loss, as well. The skilled trio will play a massive part in limiting Massillon’s heavy-handed rushing attack led by Raekwon Venson, who has hit the century mark twice this year.
Bennett Adler and the defensive line will also look to attack the QB in addition to stopping the run. Adler has a team-best 4.5 tackles for loss through 2 games.
The story of the game may be Massillon’s wideout duo of Andrew Wilson-Lamp and Jayden Ballard vs. the Saint Ignatius secondary. The duo have torched foes this season, and the Cats want to avoid the same fate. Free safety Emmett Hanna has enjoyed a good year thus far, and his fellow safeties Griffin Taliak and Braeden Lair along with corners Cole Smith and Chris Snyder will be key.
The rushing attack led by Raekwon Venson is a venomous one, as well, ready to strike at a moment's notice. Venson is a bowling ball, able to crunch you for extra yards. Venson has a pair of 100-yard games with his wear-you-down mentality and physicality.
And of course, quarterback Zach Catrone is a primetime talent. The Massillon offense is dynamite. The Cats will have a chance to work on their defusing skills this week. They're not taking this vaunted Massillon lightly.
“Offensively, they spread you out and do a good job of blending and balancing the run and pass," says Coach Kyle. "To slow down their speed, you employ the idea of bracketing, which is part of our defense anyway, so the secondary can do that. Ideally, you want one-and-a-half men on the guy. That can’t always happen, but there’s a number of times we have to bracket. Getting pressure on the QB helps, so as not to allow as much time to set up for the deep ball.”
Declan Mangan remains the man on special teams for the Cats. A missed field goal on pro uprights won’t hamper his confidence.
Alex Bauer does the kicking and Magnus Haines handles the punting for Massillon. Watch out also for the Tigers’ speedsters in the return game.
According to Chris Easterling of The Independent in Massillon, Bauer set the Massillon program record for 171 PATs in his career, a lofty accomplishment considering the outstanding history of Tigers football. Another fun fact, via Easterling: Massillon is 16-of-18 in scoring on trips to the red zone, including 8-of-8.
Indeed, Massillon will be a tall test for the Wildcats, the final game before playoff seeding is determined next week by a coaches' vote.