WHEN, WHERE Tonight, 7:30 p.m., InfoCision Stadium, Akron
THE TEAMS Massillon’s foray into the Division II playoffs continues into the second round with a 9-2 record, thanks to a strong second-half performance that helped it pull away from Nordonia 33-17 in last week’s postseason opener. The Tigers, though, continue to be beset by injuries at its strongest position, the offensive line. With Nathaniel Devers out with illness for at least one more week, Ronnie Humphrey suffered a season-ending ankle injury last week. The new-look Tiger line now features tackles Chase Lash and Devin Williams, guards George Papacostas and Nick Bushman and center Evan Berbari. Among the individuals who could be called upon in a pinch this week include sophomores Donnie Heather, who’s been superb this season in a defensive-only role, and Michael Crimaldi. Even with the shuffle up front, Massillon’s running game seems to have found its stride. Lyron Wilson once again has been at the heart of that surge with three straight 100-plus rushing yard efforts, although J.D. Crabtree has also provided plenty of thunder to go with Wilson’s lightning. That has taken a weight off freshman quarterback Danny Clark’s shoulders, and its shown in an efficient passing performance the last two weeks. Clark has still able to make plays down the field, especially to Reggie Rogers, who made another highlight-reel catch last week. The Tigers defense has been stout of late in terms of giving up touchdowns. While both McKinley and Nordonia — and to an extent, even St. Vincent-St. Mary — picked up some yards, neither could score more than one touchdown against the Massillon defense. Linebackers Devon Ingram and Danny Robinson remain at the heart of that defense, but it’s been a unit-wide performance. Heather, Dakota Dunwiddie, Crabtree and Malik Dudley all give that push up front to keep those two clean, while safeties Mike Smith and John Henry Bronczek are providing excellent support against both the run and pass. Saive Isles is making teams pay for errant passes at cornerback.
Highland has blossomed into one of the Suburban League’s top teams since Tom Lombardo arrived after a stint as St. Edward’s offensive coordinator in 2008. This is the Hornets’ fourth playoff appearance in those six seasons, and only once did they have a losing season in that span. This year’s team has been impressive in rolling to an 11-0 record. Even in its closest games — Wadsworth and Nordonia in the regular season and Avon Lake in the playoffs — Highland opened up double-digit leads before the opposition made it close in the end. The Hornets go as their quarterback Bruce Kinsey goes. Kinsey is just the second player in Medina County history to both rush and pass for 1,000 yards in a season. But he’s not alone in carrying the load for Highland. Alex Harris provides a shifty and elusive threat running the ball. Meanwhile, when Kinsey puts the ball in the air, it’s a safe bet it’s going to Cory Moncol, who holds all sorts of season and career receiving records at Highland. Coltin Kinsey is the likely alternative to Moncol in the passing game. The offensive line is technically sound, led by 6-foot-4, 280-pound guard Myles Houska. Highland’s 4-3 defense is, like the line, fundamentally sound. Houska and Tyler Fredrick (6-1, 245) are stout in the middle, while defensive ends Nick Haas (6-0, 170) and Nick Corvo (6-0, 210) are a tad more trim. Still, that foursome’s job is to occupy the blockers so linebackers Grant Wallace, Jonny Zaz and James Friedl can get pressure in the backfield. Coltin Kinsey and Moncol will play a lot of press coverage on the corners, while Blake Phelps and Colin Paich playing deep halves.
• Be sound. Highland didn’t get to be 11-0 by accident. And one of the biggest things the Hornets have done is not beat themselves. They don’t commit a lot of penalties and they don’t turn the ball over much. In other words, they don’t do the two things that have been Massillon’s biggest Achilles’ heels this season. But if the Tigers can play the kind of clean game they did against McKinley or Warren, they certainly put themselves in good position to win.
• Be diverse. Want to help an opposing defense? Then be one-handed, figuratively, offensively. While the passing numbers Massillon has posted the last two games haven’t been eye-popping, when coupled with two strong rushing performances, they have made the Tigers offense tough to defend. Highland’s defense would like nothing more than to force Massillon to have to choose one or the other. If the Tigers can do both, they’re a handful for any team to defend.
• Force the drive. Where Massillon’s defense has been at its best of late is in not allowing the opposition to drive the ball down the field on it. McKinley and Nordonia struggled to put together multiple sustained drives, and even St. Vincent-St. Mary only mustered two real “drives,” even though those two were enough to end the Tigers’ hopes for a win. If Massillon can make Highland have to earn its yards and drive the ball throughout, it has shown itself capable of preventing that from happening.
STATS AND TRENDS This marks the first time Massillon and Highland have met on the football field. The only Medina County team the Tigers has ever faced is Brunswick, which beat Massillon 7-6 in a snowstorm at the Rubber Bowl in the 1996 playoffs. ... After only topping the 100-yard mark once in the first eight games, Wilson’s gone past the century mark three straight weeks to give him 1,148 yards for the season. He’s gained 438 yards in that span. ... Crabtree’s 86 yards rushing last week was his highest total since gaining 120 yards in the opener. ... The last two games, Clark has completed 7 of 12 passes in each game with a touchdown. He threw for 84 yards vs. McKinley and 91 yards against Nordonia. ... Five of Clark’s seven completions went to Rogers for 67 yards. He also had a one-handed touchdown catch. ... Isles now has six interceptions on the season after posting his fourth pick in the last five games. Robinson also had a pick. ... Massillon turned the ball over three times against Nordonia, giving it 22 giveaways on the season. It also had seven penalties for 73 yards, boosting those season totals to 77 penalties for 630 yards. ... Robinson had 2.5 tackles for loss vs. Nordonia, 0.5 ahead of Heather and Ingram for the game. He is also 1.5 TFLs behind Crabtree for the season, 11.5-10. ... Kinsey has completed 120 of 203 passes for 1,661 yards with 18 TDs and three interceptions. He has rushed the ball 195 times for 1,052 yards with 13 scores. ... Harris has 209 carries for 1,272 yards and 18 TDs. ... Moncol has 50 catches for 777 yards with five TDs. Coltin Kinsey adds 44 catches for 530 yards and nine TDs. ... Wallace has 84 total tackles, 43 of those solo, with 13 TFLs and five sacks. ... Corvo has 6.5 sacks, one more than Haas, who has 5.5. ... Moncol has a team-best five interceptions. ... Highland has turned the ball over just 11 times all season, eight of those on fumbles. The Hornets also have just 48 penalties for 396 yards.