By Keno Sultan
MASSILLON—Jason Hall has never wielded a sword or an ax in his life but he knows how to concoct undefeated magic in a non-medieval society.
The fifth-year field wizard of the Massillon Tigers was in his second year atop the Tigers program in 2009 when his second installment of his team completed an undefeated season by downing North Canton Hoover and two-time Mr. Football winner Erick Mydell Howard 17-10 in a first round playoff game.
Once again, the Tigers kept Paul Brown Tiger Stadium neat and tidy against their first-round Division I, Region 2 opponent in the Nordonia Knights.
Massillon stormed out to a swift 14-0 lead and overcame an interception returned for a touchdown and dropped the guillotine on the visitors by virtue of a 49-27 scoring edge the rest of the way for a 63-34 execution of the 8-3 Knights and complete an 8-0 record at home for the second time in three years under Hall's guidance and ran their winning streak to nine while improving to 10-1 on the season.
Up next for the Tigers is a familiar acquaintance eight miles to the east. At press time, Canton McKinley shipwrecked the season of North Canton Hoover 36-29 to set up the 123rd meeting between the two rivals in a regional semifinal at a place to be determined next Saturday at 7 p.m. It will be a rematch of the week 10 confrontation seized by the Tigers 37-29. Only this time, one team will take one step toward a Division I state title while the other will not see the field again until next August.
“We will have our players enjoy this win for 24 hours and then we will start preparing for Canton McKinley. Both teams know what the other is capable of doing,” Hall said of the impending matchup with the 8-2 Bulldogs. “It should be a great game.”
Nordonia won the toss but deferred to the second half, which ended up being an egregious gamble. All it took was two plays for the hosts to find the end zone when University of Cincinnati recruit Kyle Kempt connected on a 57-yard pass to junior Marcus Whitfield and then to senior Gareon Conley on a 28-yard touchdown pass and with only 22 seconds completed, Massillon led 7-0. The Tigers third possession was even grander following the recovery of a Knights fumble when in four plays, Ryne Moore scored on a one-yard touchdown run for a 14-0 lead.
“We'll take the ball. That is our mindset. We'll take our chances and we played well,” Hall said.
Nordonia had one foot already in the grave and the Tigers were ready to bury their foes and throw the earth on their grave the ground when a bizarre change of events happened. A Kempt pass for Beau Huffman was intercepted by cornerback Nick Rezek, who returned the theft of the pass for a 64-yard touchdown, giving the Knights new momentum as they trailed by seven midway through the first quarter.
It only made the Tigers viscerally angry. Massillon shrugged off the turnover as if it were a fly in the air with a 10-play drive highlighted by two Knights personal fouls on late hits and left the Knights gasping for air when Moore scored his second of three touchdowns with a five-yard run to re-extend Massillon's advantage to 14 at 21-7 with 2:17 left in the first quarter.
That marked the commencing of the elimination of the Knights.
“When that happened, we were upset about it. Rezec made a good break on the ball. We just shrugged it off and wanted to go back down and score,” Kempt said.
“We had a pass returned for six points and we still responded with a score of our own,” Hall said.
Massillon used a 28-7 second quarter to effectively vanquish the Knights. Conley scored two touchdowns on a reverse to begin the second quarter and a one-yard touchdown catch sandwiched between a 16-yard touchdown catch from Marcus Whitfield and another five-yard touchdown run by Moore.
Kempt was 11 of 18 for 243 yards and three touchdowns against one interception and Moore rushed 19 times for 102 yards. The Tigers defense was every bit as carnivorous in forcing three turnovers in the form of recovered Nordonia fumbles.
“I thought our kids played well for the most part. Our kids came out ready to play and our defense played really well tonight. We got to play a lot of the younger kids,” Hall said before getting emotional. “We told the seniors that this was their last game at Paul Brown Tiger Stadium and you will remember the first time you took this field and the last time you take this field. This night was about our seniors.”
Tyler Alders of Nordonia completed 19 passes on 32 attempts for 202 yards and two touchdowns (one rushing) against one interception, coming from Massillon's Dillon Cowan. Jordan Nobles rushed 21 times for 107 yards for the Knights, who ended their season 8-3.
“I know Nordonia kids. They are tough kids and they fought to the end,” said Hall, who coached one year at the school.
For the Tigers, they have the makings of a team that can mount a serious threat toward winning their first state playoff title. This is a team at the start of the season that drew comparisons to the 2009 team that reached the Division I state semifinals.
When asked if this feeling was more gratifying than accomplishing an undefeated home season three years ago, Hall politely deferred the question.
“We're still on a journey. This team is still a progress. We have heard all the comparisons to our team and that 2009 team,” he said. “This is still the 2012 Massillon Tigers.”
Jason Hall has never wielded a sword or an ax in his life but for the second time in four years, he devised the concoction that allowed his Tigers to display their wizardry in the translation of an undefeated season at home and a second tilt with Canton McKinley.
PLAY OF THE GAME: Kempt's 28-yard touchdown pass to Conley
MASSILLON—Blitz Kyle Kempt at your own volition. However if they score, it's a conviction scored for the offensive jury of 11 Tigers with Kempt as the judge.
He is used to beating blitzes and he did so once again on the Tigers opening possession finding Gareon Conley for a 28-yard touchdown and a tone-setting 7-0 lead 22 seconds into their Division I, Region 2 quarterfinal and the eventual dismissal of the Nordonia Knights.
Conley could not help but admire his teammate's ability to decipher blitzes and render them ineffective as he has accomplished throughout the season.
“It was a fade corner and the cornerback bit on it. It was a TD pass right where it needed to be,” Conley said. “Kyle has been playing effectively well and we both complement each other. I really like playing with him.”
Blitz Kyle Kempt at your own volition but know every touchdown thrown by Kempt is a guilty verdict for defenses who are unsuccessful.