The Big Walnut football team’s magical season ended at the hands of a Massillon Washington team which has made it to three state finals in a row and is now advancing to the regional final after its 38-0 Division II, Region 7 semifinal win Friday night in Mansfield.
Despite the tough loss to end their quest for an undefeated season, the Golden Eagles have a lot to be proud of. The coaches and the players knew they had a special team a few games into the season, and they still exceeded their own expectations by starting 12-0.
“I told our guys they can have tears, but we should not be crying because we lost,” Big Walnut coach Rob Page said. “We should be mourning because we won’t be together anymore, not because we lost.”
For the Eagles to win two playoff games and have an undefeated regular season with such a young team is an impressive feat. They were hit hard the past few weeks with injuries to two of their playmaking receivers, Teddy Dancer and Nicky Pentello, which certainly impacted the potency of its offense. On top of that, BW just ran into a buzzsaw of a program.
“This is not going to be the exception,” Page said about making it to the third round of the playoffs. “Only three teams in school history have gotten here. This is going to be the norm.”
Much of the team’s offensive production this season came from underclassmen, most notably from sophomore QB Jake Nier and sophomore running back Nate Severs. The team is expected to be just as good, if not better the next two years with the amount of talent it has returning on both sides of the ball.
On the first play of the game, Severs found a hole on the left and hit it for a 25-yard gain. He later took a snap out of the wildcat on fourth down and converted to extend the drive. A couple plays later, Nier went out of the game for a play after appearing wobbly. BW eventually turned the ball over on downs after reaching the red zone, which would become the story of the game.
The Golden Eagles stuffed the Tigers on a third-and-1 to force a punt on their first drive, but the Tigers were able to flip the field with a 54-yard punt.
Massillon got the ball back after forcing a fumble and put the first points of the game on the board when junior Freddie Lenix Jr. went untouched for a 21-yard score to make it 7-0 with 2:02 left in the first quarter.
BW’s plan early was to control the time of possession and feed Severs, and it was working. The problem, though, was the Eagles just kept hurting themselves with self-inflicted mistakes. They had the ball for over eight minutes in the first quarter.
“When you play a really good football team, you can’t have self-inflicted wounds,” Page said. “You can’t put the ball on the ground when you are going in to score. You have to execute flawlessly. When you turn it over, you can’t win. All year, we did a good job of that, but not tonight … and the score reflected it.”
BW got into the red zone again after a long Severs run, but fumbled the ball away once more.
The Golden Eagle defense stepped up and sacked Massillon freshman quarterback Jalen Slaughter deep in his own territory, which led to a punt that gave BW the ball at the opposing 35.
Once again, the Eagles would turn it over on downs in opposing territory. Severs got stuffed and only picked up one yard on a 4th-and-three.
The Tigers capitalized on Big Walnut’s offensive woes and expanded their lead to 14 after a 23-yard Darius McElroy TD run.
McElroy added another rushing TD right before the end of the first half to put the Tigers up 21-0. He was their starting QB for the first five games of the season, but he got hurt against St. Edward and Washington turned to Slaughter.
In the past few games, Massillon has successfully experimented with a dual-QB system, using McElroy on designed runs and Slaughter in the pass game. Friday night, McElroy clearly had the hot hand and the Tigers used him effectively. The BW defense shut down the passing attack in the first half but was gashed by outside runs.
Massillon’s passing game started working immediately after the half. Slaughter found junior receiver Zach Griffith for a wide-open 63-yard TD up the left sideline to balloon the lead to 28-0.
The Tigers added a 20-yard field goal a few minutes later, which put the running clock in effect.
Slaughter scored the game’s final points with a 13-yard laser of a passing TD.
Massillon will face Uniontown Green next Friday at a neutral site to be announced.
Page said BW already has its offseason planned and the Eagles will start weight lifting on Dec. 13.