Spartans’ upset bid slips away against Tigers
By Marty Gitlin
Boardman needed a 96-yard touchdown with five seconds left to win its Division II regional quarterfinal Friday night.
It wasn’t going to happen.
But that was the position the Spartans had left themselves in after controlling much of the game. A late aerial flurry by the Tigers turned victory into defeat. Final score: Massillon 28, Boardman 23.
All was well for the seventh-seeded Spartans (6-5) for most of the second half. They grabbed a 16-14 lead early in the third quarter on a 37-yard field goal by Tommy Fryda. They played shutdown defense. They used their short passing game to march downfield, then tallied a touchdown on a 5-yard burst by quarterback Mike O’Horo to make it 23-14 early in the fourth.
Boardman coach Joe Ignazio believed his team could “make some noise” in its region if it advanced. And that looked downright probable at that time.
Then, suddenly, Massillon (8-3) found its passing game. Quarterback Aidan Longwell matched his yards total at that point by throwing for 74 yards on the next drive, the last of which premier receiver Austin Kutscher took 36 yards for a touchdown to chop the deficit to two.
The Tigers took their momentum and ran with it. Longwell continued to fire away, finding Dean Clark over the middle for the go-ahead score with 5:46 remaining. Boardman never recovered.
“[Kutscher] is good,” Ignazio said. “They have excellent skill guys. We knew that coming in. We did a fairly good job against them until late.”
Massillon all but clinched victory on a 30-yard run by featured back Jamir Thomas. The Tigers drove to the Boardman 1-yard-line before being halted with five seconds remaining.
The Spartans might not have figured to be in that position after taking control in the third quarter. O’Horo utilized the quick strike to put the Tigers on their heels.
“That stuff we saw on film,” Ignazio said. “They give up the slot receiver. We were using bubbles and screens to our slot to speed up a few things for us offensively.”
The Spartans survived a sudden blow to start the game after Massillon junior Tyree Broyles snagged the opening kickoff, bolted right and found nothing but green. Broyles raced 91 yards for the touchdown.
One reason Boardman bounced back was a fine kickoff return by senior Jujuan Forte, who raced to the Tigers’ 35. The Spartans pounded away with runs until Maurice Pickard crashed inside for a 7-yard score.
Soon the game looked like it was going to be a track meet. Massillon tallied on its next possession, finding the end zone on a 6-yard burst by Thomas.
But the defenses finally settled in. The lone score thereafter in the first half came courtesy of a methodical drive by Boardman. Using a short passing attack, O’Horo drove his team to the Tigers’ 8. He then barreled in despite taking a pounding inside the 5. Only a missed extra point prevented the Spartans from tying the game.
Massillon managed two first-half drives into Spartans territory after its second touchdown. But Boardman stiffened to keep it close. Ignazio was proud of his team for overcoming the opening-kick touchdown.
“We’ve been resilient all year,” he said.