Hoover 19 - Massillon Jackson 7
October 25, 2003
Vikings head into playoffs with 19-7 win over Jackson
Todd Porter, Canton Repository
NORTH CANTON Maybe 40 years down the road, someone will pull out a yellowed, tattered picture of a dozen kids from North Canton living through the best years of their lives. The picture will show a scoreboard in the background and a handful of North Canton Hoover seniors with smiles that lit up the cold night.
Times have been tough in North Canton recently. There have been layoffs at the city’s largest employer, The Hoover Co. There is political strife. On Friday night, it seemed like half the town was on the field to hug these boys who have brought a lot of pride to this small city.
When someone pulls out that picture 40 years from now, this night will be relived.
Friday night at North Canton’s Memorial Stadium, the scoreboard read Hoover 19, Jackson 7.
It will read the same in 40 years or 60 years, or however long. The story, though, can be seen in those smiles.
The Vikings completed a perfect regular season Friday night with their win over Jackson.
North Canton has won eight of last 10 games between the two rivals.
None was as sweet as this one.
North Canton’s 10-0 season is the first since 1975.
“You seniors, you guys are one of three teams in North Canton history to go 10-0,” head coach Don Hertler Jr. told his players in the locker room. “No matter what, no one can ever take that away.”
Before the year started, Hoover was the unlikeliest of Division I teams to go unbeaten. Its schedule appeared to be beefed up with the addition of McKinley. The Vikings lost key players from last year’s team.
Yes, this was supposed to be a rebuilding season.
“No one believed in them,” Hertler said. “We lost some great players from last year and we were sort of supposed to be rebuilding.”
These seniors got their own T-shirt printed up. Their motto for the year was “Against All Odds.”
“All we did was take this thing one game at a time,” said senior Mike Wright, who picked off a pass and returned it 72 yards and scored two touchdowns. “We won the Federal League last week, and we clinched a home playoff game then, too. This was a bonus. A 10-0 season was icing on the cake.”
Hertler’s football program is to the point where it does not have to rebuild. Maybe it reloads and fires a crossbow. The Vikings have an array of arrows in their arsenal.
“This is a team, and we’ve had plenty of team wins,” Hertler said. “Who knew? I guess it proves when you’re smart and you’ve got heart, you never know what can happen.
“We don’t have superstars, but when you have a team of kids with one heartbeat and this team has that anything is possible. They locked in in practice this week, and I felt (Friday) afternoon we had a shot.”
As time ticked away and it was obvious North Canton would win, a small group of Hoover players looked for a water bucket. On a frigid night they wanted to dump it on the back of Hertler, who coaches like he has ice water running through his veins.
In typical Hoover coaching style, Hertler played great defense. He grabbed a jacket a few minutes prior to getting doused and stayed fairly dry.
“No one believed in us, but all 70 of us believed in each other, and that’s all that matters,” said running back Alex Ramsey, who finished with 74 yards on 17 carries and a couple of bone-crushing hits from his linebacker position on defense.
As dominating as Hoover was on the field against Jackson, the effort did not translate on the scoreboard. The Vikings’ offense struggled in the red zone to get touchdowns. Hoover had to settle for two Andrew Dahl field goals in the first half of 29 and 25 yards for a 6-0 halftime lead.
After two quarters, the Polar Bears had just 33 yards of offense.
“Tonight that was as good a defense as we’ve played all year,” Jackson head coach Phil Mauro said. “We weren’t running the ball consistently.”
Jackson tried to pass the ball, but was picked off three times in the second half.
The Polar Bears started to mount a drive on their second possession of the third quarter. They crossed the 50 for the first time with five minutes left in the third. Three plays later, on third-and-7, Wright picked off a Jackson pass at the Hoover 26 and returned it 72 yards to the Jackson 2.
Wright finished on offense and scored from the 1 on second down. The Vikings led 12-0.
That wasn’t a chill in the air. That was destiny.
“That was just one play in the game, but it was a huge play,” Mauro said.
Wright said preparation and coaching are to credit for the pick.
“We saw it in film and put something in for that,” Wright said. “They like to throw the ball out in the flat on third down when they pass the ball and I was there to get it.”
The interception gave Hoover breathing room. And it drove the nail in Jackson’s coffin. The Polar Bears struggled to move the ball, and now they were down two scores.
“I felt like we were controlling the game, but not on the scoreboard,” Hertler said. “It was still close enough to make me nervous. But we were pretty good in all three phases. We kicked two field goals, punted well, played great defense again and moved the ball when we had to.”
Jackson finishes the season 7-3, 1-3 and lost three of its last four games. The Polar Bears will cross their fingers to see if they made the playoffs, but Toledo St. John’s beat Toledo Whitmer, a key game in Division I, Region 2. Jackson was in seventh place. St. John’s was in ninth and eight-place Hudson won. Those are not good combinations for Jackson to remain in the top eight.
For the Vikings, they have another day to enjoy the perfection of a regular season that ends without a defeat.
And then it starts over again. One loss and the year ends. The stakes get higher next week.
“Getting this win was important,” Ramsey said. “When you have a chance to go down in history, you want to go down in history. This is something that won’t be forgotten for a long time around here.”
Hoover got the one win that eluded it four times since Hertler has been the head coach.
But Ramsey wanted something else.