By CHRIS EASTERLING
Independent sports editor
MASSILLON The message was simple by Massillon coach Jason Hall after his team emerged from Friday night’s Division II regional quarterfinal against Nordonia with a 33-17 win.
“We continue on,” Hall said. “It’s our quest.”
And, when it comes to the playoffs, whatever means it takes to reach an end is perfectly fine. Style points are well and good when polls are involved in determining outcomes.
But when the only points that matter are what the scoreboard says, then anything goes. And the Tigers are more than happy to take that method if it means they’re going on to this Friday’s regional semifinal against undefeated and top-seeded Highland at The University of Akron’s InfoCision Stadium.
“We got the first one under our belt,” Hall said. “It’s a difficult week after (the McKinley game). I was really proud of how our kids approached the week. This time of year, there’s bumps and bruises and people are playing dinged up. I’m proud of our kids.”
There was plenty of adversity for Massillon to fight through during its win against the Knights. Unlike a year ago, when the Tigers jumped out quick and cruised to a rout over Nordonia, they found themselves in a fight through more than a half.
But it was more than just the adversity of an opponent or ill-timed mistakes that Massillon battled. It also found the limits of its offensive line depth challenged because of illness and injury.
No Nathaniel Devers because of illness. Devin Williams initially limited by injury. Then Ronnie Humphrey suffered a leg injury that forced even more shuffling.
Yet, the Tigers were still able to grind out 231 rushing yards. That was led by Lyron Wilson’s 148 yards, 115 of those coming in the first half.
“We have a lot of depth with our linemen,” said Wilson, who has rushed for 437 yards in the last three games to push him over the 1,000-yard plateau for the season. “We had to stay focused; that’s what we did. We knew when Ronnie went down, we had to keep going and keep driving.”
Williams, who was questionable to play originally due to the leg injury suffered against McKinley, was called into service and performed admirably after Humphrey went down. Evan Berbari, who originally started at tackle in Williams’ place, shifted to center at the same point.
There was also shifting around by Nick Bushman and George Papacostas to help fill up voids up front. All of which was exactly the kind of response Hall has come to expect out of his team.
“We’ve got tough kids,” Hall said. “They’re going to play.”
Even with winning the playoff opener, the Tigers head into their contest with the 11-0 Hornets feeling like there is more to prove. They performed at a high level in routing their rivals from McKinley two weeks earlier, a statement win if ever there was one.
Yet, those in the Massillon program believe there remains a segment out there still doubting the team. And the Tigers know the only way to remove that doubt is to keep on playing through November and into December.
“Obviously, it felt good to beat McKinley at Fawcett,” senior co-captain and linebacker Devon Ingram said. “Nobody still respects us. That’s what we want to get through to people. You have to respect us. If you don’t show us respect, we’ll earn our own respect.”
The Tigers took a major step in that direction last week by winning their playoff opener. And they hope to take another one this week against Highland.
Reach Chris at 330-775-1128
On Twitter: @ceasterlingINDE