BY CHRIS EASTERLING
Independent sports editor
CANTON Massillon’s preparations for its showdown with McKinley included all of the usual game-week rituals.
Watching film. Practice. Carving pumpkins.
Wait ... what?
Who knew that a team pumpkin-carving could be the secret to success in one of the nation’s most heated high-school rivalries? Apparently, well, Jason Hall did.
All week leading up to Saturday’s game at Fawcett Stadium, there was much consternation about where the Tigers would be focus-wise with their playoff lives hanging in the balance. Except by the people who mattered most, who were the coaches and players.
So when the teams took the field in Canton for the 124th meeting, instead of a team tight with anxiety, the Tigers were one loose with anticipation. That anticipation led to annihilation on the scoreboard of the hated Bulldogs in a 34-7 rout.
And that annihilation led to the exhilaration of once against parading around the field with the Victory Bell in tow. It also guaranteed a Week 11 in Massillon — a guarantee not 100-percent certain at 2 p.m. Saturday — against Nordonia this Friday.
And to think, all because of a few jack o’lanterns.
Well, not quite because of those pumpkins. It’s more about the meaning behind them.
Which is where Hall comes into the picture. The Massillon coach has been around McKinley Week long enough to know just what kind of cauldron of frayed nerves and out-of-focused players it can brew.
Then, you throw it a heaping helping of pressure brought on from losses in two of the previous three weeks. Those losses pushed the Tigers to the brink of missing the playoffs in their first season as a Division II team.
Yeah, it could’ve been the recipe for disaster. Except that it wasn’t.
On top of all of the other things Massillon worked on during the week to prepare for the game, it also stepped away from it for a moment. Actually, away from football all together.
So there the Tigers were, as a team, gathered around a long table, carving pumpkins one day. Another day, a few took turns poking fun at their coaches in a contest to see who could do the best impressions.
Has it been mentioned they were about to play their archrivals — their undefeated archrivals — in a game that has been known to turn plenty of quality players into puddles of figurative goo because of the stakes? Thought so.
The only thing, though, that was turned into figurative goo was McKinley’s unbeaten record. By the time the Tigers put the final exclamation point on the win behind a touchdown pass with just over three minutes to go, one would have thought they were simply playing any other team judging by their relaxed attitudes.
It didn’t have to be that way. It could’ve been the exact opposite.
It could’ve been a tight Tiger team battling jitters as much as Bulldogs on Saturday afternoon. It could’ve ended with them sulking back to the bus while McKinley celebrated with the bell.
Except that, you know, it wasn’t.
And some nifty handmade Halloween decorations can get a little bit of credit for that fact.
Reach Chris at 330-775-1128 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter: @ceasterlingINDE