By CHRIS EASTERLING
Independent sports editor
MASSILLON Jason Hall was in his office at Washington High School on Monday morning. Later in the day, he and his Massillon coaching staff gathered for meetings to discuss a variety of topics.
Unfortunately for the Tigers, those discussions didn’t include a game plan for a Division II regional championship game. And that fact still sticks with Hall more than 48 hours after his team’s season ended with a 17-14 loss to Highland in Friday’s regional semifinal.
“I felt like we had tons of potential,” Hall said Monday. “We were young at some spots. I thought all our young guys stepped up and played well this year. It’s just in a couple of games, we didn’t perform real well.”
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Still, it truly was only a couple of games for Massillon, which finished at 9-3. Of course, all three of the teams to tame the Tigers this season remain in the hunt for state championships.
In fact, all three teams to beat Massillon — Austintown Fitch, St. Vincent-St. Mary and Highland — have yet to be beaten by anyone. Those three are a combined 36-0, with St. V and Highland playing for regional titles Friday night while Fitch — because of the two-region format in Division I — plays in what is in essence a state quarterfinal on Saturday.
Truthfully, the Tigers posted the third-most wins in a season since the 2005 state runner-up year. Only the 2009 state semifinal team (10-4) and the 2012 regional runner-up team (11-2) have posted more wins in that same span.
Yet, Hall also understands the deal coaches make as part of Massillon’s program. With all the positives that come with being in one of the nation’s most storied programs, there are also heightened expectations that don’t permit a full appreciation for what a team accomplishes unless it meets lofty standards.
“The sad thing is, you win nine games in most communities, there’s smiles,” Hall said. “Here, we’re (ticked) at the world. That’s part of the expectation; I don’t apologize for it. Sometimes I look at our kids, and I feel bad because of that.”
Friday’s loss brought with it some expressions of anger across some corners of the Internet and on social media from some Tiger fans. It also brought several heartfelt apologies from players on Twitter for the sudden end to the season.
While it would seem asinine to some that a group of teenagers would have to apologize for anything that would happen in the course of a high school football game, Hall said those apologies speak to the level those players care about what they do on the field.
“Our kids really do take pride in playing for Massillon,” Hall said. “They take a beating. They take a beating on social media and people talking about them around town. I think they really try to play for this community, so when something like the other night happens, and we lose and the season’s over, it’s hard.”
Many of those players come from families that are multiple generations of Tigers, with their dads, uncles, brothers and on back having also played for the program. So Hall acknowledges many of them understand coming in what comes with putting on the uniform.
The Tiger coach also knows, having been at places where such attitudes existed, there’s as much harm in apathy as there is in misdirected anger.
“The pressure that’s on our kids is a little overwhelming for them,” Hall said. “That’s part of playing for Massillon. There’s two ways of looking at it. We don’t apologize for it.
“The other side of it, the opposite, I don’t think anybody wants, where there’s not high expectations, there’s not big crowds. I think sometimes the attacking young people is the stuff I’m talking about.”
Because, even as Hall lamented not having another game to prepare for, he also admits there’s plenty of positives that emerged from the 2013 Tiger football season. Positives that get hidden when a season ends earlier than expected.
Reach Chris at 330-775-1128
On Twitter: @ceasterlingINDE