Massillon Tigers (11-1) vs. Whitmer Panthers (12-0)
Saturday, 7 p.m.
Arlin Field, Mansfield
The teams: The Massillon Tigers are in the midst of a 10-game win streak, a streak that is the longest for the program since the 1999 team went 10-0. The difference, though, between the two streaks is that this one has included a pair of victories in the playoffs, first over Nordonia and, last week, over archrival McKinley. The more the Tigers play, the more they showcase what makes their offense one of the most dangerous remaining in the Division I playoffs. In the playoff opener, Massillon showed it could both run and pass the ball in a balanced manner. In last week’s win over McKinley, the Tigers showed that even when they’re not overwhelming opponents with their passing game, they can most certainly overwhelm them with their running game. On a night when quarterback Kyle Kempt set the school’s all-time passing mark, it was running back Ryne Moore who stole the show with a career night carrying the football. All it does is create a pick-your-poison quandary for defenses — try to spread your players out to take away the likes of receivers Gareon Conley, Marcus Whitfield, Brody Tonn, Beau Huffman and Zach Volzer, or try to play more of a seven-man box to stay honest against the run. Massillon’s defense continues to grow as the season goes along, and where it’s grown the most is in its aggressiveness. The Tigers have been able to bring pressure off the edge of their defensive line with ends J.D. Crabtree and Malik Dudley, while the linebacking corps of Kentrell Taylor, Dillon Cowan and Devon Ingram have been there to clean up the rest. And if anybody gets past that front seven, then the secondary has plenty of players capable of delivering the hits, particularly safeties Ernie Baez, Ryan Rambo, Mike Smith and Whitfield.
Whitmer was expected to be a good football team this season, and even contend for the Three Rivers Athletic Conference title in the Greater Toledo area. But with heavy graduation losses off back-to-back Region 2 championship teams, as well as a change in head coach from Joe Palka to long-time assistant Jerry Bell, a slight drop-off was expected. Only, it didn’t happen, as the Panthers returned as strong as ever in rolling to a 10-0 regular season — capped by a 42-0 rout of then-undefeated and Division II No. 1-ranked Toledo Central Catholic in Week 10. Since then, Whitmer has managed to roll to a 28-0 first-round win over Avon Lake before surviving turnovers and Hudson in a 39-28 regional-semifinal win last week. Whitmer’s offense is a spread-based attack that will rely heavily on both the running and passing abilities of first-year starting quarterback — but three-year letterman — Nick Holley. Holley is most effective in running counters and stretch plays, but also knows how to deliver the football to a stable of receivers led by Christopher Boykin, twin brother Nathan Holley and tight end Michael Dzikowski. Whitmer also has two other running backs in Tre Sterritt and Me’Gail Frisch who have both had their share of big games this season. Guards Eric Hart and Nate Wert, along with tackle Lord Lowe, lead a strong offensive line. It is Whitmer’s defense that has been the strongest part of a strong football team, and it has started up front on the defensive line. Tackles Marquise Moore and Joenathan Mays have provided the pressure up the middle for the Panthers, although Jacon LaPoint and Robert Sobecki are solid on the ends. Sobecki will come off the field at times when Whitmer shifts from a 4-3 to a 3-4 look. Jack Linch is the lynch-pin — no pun intended — of the linebacking corps, along with Nathan Holley and Austin Bly. The secondary is also solid and will play a variety of coverages.
The key matchups: Once again, Massillon’s defense finds its path crossing with a quarterback capable of running the football. But the thing that makes Holley even more dangerous, possibly, than McKinley’s Eric Glover-Williams is his more accurate and stronger passing arm. Such run-pass abilities is going to once again test the Tigers’ defensive discipline. They did a much better job slowing down Glover-Williams’ running in last week’s rematch — holding him to roughly 30 yards on the ground — but must prevent the kind of breakdowns that result in situations like the Bulldogs’ first score, which came on a long pass created in part when a receiver got behind the secondary as the quarterback was scrambling.
As far as Massillon’s offense, it has to be able to keep Whitmer’s defensive front seven from penetrating into the backfield. The Panthers like to bring pressure through blitzing. The Tigers have to be able to pick up the pressure and the blitz, and do their best to keep them honest by continuing to feed Moore the football.
Streaks, stats and facts: Massillon and Whitmer have met four previous times, with the Tigers winning two regular-season meetings in 1969 and 1970 by a combined 101-0 score and the Panthers winning two playoff meetings in 2006 and 2010 by a combined margin of eight points. ... The seniors for both teams were sophomores in the last meeting, a 28-24 Whitmer win in the first round of the playoffs. Kempt threw two touchdown passes in that game for Massillon, while Sterritt ran for two scores for Whitmer. ... Huffman continues to blossom into a dangerous option in the Tiger passing game. He had three catches for 59 yards and a score last week, while capitalizing on the middle of the field. For the season, he has 11 catches for 170 yards and three scores. ... Moore’s 227 rushing yards is the most for a Tiger running back since Devoe Torrence ran for 283 yards against Mentor in 2007. The total also pushed Moore over the 1,000-yard plateau with 1,150 yards with 12 touchdowns ... Conley’s receiving total of 962 yards has him closing in on Massillon’s first 1,000-yard receiving performance since Devin Smith did it in 2010. And as was the case with Smith in 2010 — with Justin Olack — a strong No. 2 deep option has emerged in the form of Whitfield, who has 609 yards receiving. ... While those two have separated from the pack yardage-wise, they haven’t in catches. Whitfield (30 catches), Volzer (29) and Tonn (21) all have at least 20 catches, while three others have at least 10. Conley leads in catches with 44. ... Crabtree has practically become unblockable at times for Massillon. In the last four games, he has seven tackles for loss — half of his season total of 14 — and 3.5 sacks, which is more than half of his team-high six. ... Massillon’s two takeaways — both by Tonn — against McKinley marks the sixth straight game it has taken the ball away at least twice. The Tigers, meanwhile, went without a turnover for the first time since Week Seven (vs. Fitch) and for the fourth time all season. ... Nick Holley has completed 105-of-166 passes for 1,450 yards with 20 touchdowns this season. He has rushed for 1,633 yards on 187 carries with 19 TDs. ... Holley’s top target is Boykins, with 35 catches for 490 yards and 10 touchdowns. Next is Nathan Holley, with 14 catches for 289 yards and two scores. ... Sterritt and Frisch both have posted more than 100 carries this season. Frisch has carried the ball 124 times for 640 yards and 11 touchdowns, while Sterritt has 107 totes for 750 yards and 12 TDs. ... Nathan Holley is averaging 37.5 yards on 30 punts, and 10.3 yards on 15 punt returns. ... Michael Baldwin is 50-of-58 on PAT kicks for Whitmer, and 6-of-9 on field-goal tries, with a long of 31 yards. ... Linch leads in total tackles with 130. Mays is tops in tackles for loss with 14, while Moore has eight sacks. ... Marcus Elliott leads with seven interceptions. ... Only one team has rushed for more than 126 yards against Whitmer this season: Findlay, with 223 on 35 attempts in Week Seven. Hudson passed for a season-high 304 yards against Whitmer’s defense last week. Those are the only two teams to score more than two touchdowns against the Panthers, as Findlay posted 25 points and Hudson scored 28.
Region 2 final: Massillon-Whitmer scouting report
Massillon Tigers (11-1) vs. Whitmer Panthers (12-0)