Hoover 34 - Massillon Jackson 28
October 29, 2011
Hoover ends rival Jackson’s playoff hopes
David Harpster, The Independent
NORTH CANTON The Jackson Polar Bears entered Friday with a slim chance of qualifying for the Division I high school football playoffs.
The Hoover Vikings took the Bears’ narrow chance and made it vanish under an avalanche of big plays, as the Vikings continued their mastery of Jackson at North Canton’s Memorial Stadium with a 34-28 victory.
Taking over at its own 31 with 3:44 left, Jackson’s last chance disappeared when Hoover’s Eric LePage came up with an interception on fourth-and-14 from Jackson’s 39.
The Vikings salted away the final 2:02 to put some salve on an otherwise trying season.
“It’s been a rough year, but it’s been a year of coulda, woulda, shoulda,” Hoover coach Don Hertler Jr. said after his team closed the year 3-7 overall
and 2-4 in the Federal League. “Jackson’s got a heckuva ballclub…I’m really proud of our seniors’ effort tonight. They really hung in there.
“Our defense stepped up and had some big stops in the second half. It was just a great team win.”
Jackson closed its season at 6-4 overall and 2-4 in the league. Memorial Stadium has been a chamber of horrors for Jackson, and the venerable facility continued to hold its spell over the Bears. Jackson’s last win at Hoover was in 2001, and the Bears, who beat Hoover last year, have not won consecutive games against the Vikings since 1964-65.
The biggest play in a game loaded with them came when Hoover quarterback Austin Appleby hit Austin Feinberg on a 37-yard touchdown pass with 2:50 left in the third quarter. The play came just two snaps after Hoover recovered a Jackson fumble and, despite misfiring on the point-after, gave the Vikings a 34-21 lead.
“They made a couple big plays over the top, and (Appleby) has a cannon for an arm,” Jackson coach Beau Balderson said. “They played their best football of the year, and I knew they were going to do that.
“We made a couple key mistakes that turned out to be too much to overcome.”
Jackson trimmed its deficit to 34-28 when Jimmy Dehnke plowed in from 3 yards on the first play of the fourth quarter. In his final game at Jackson, Dehnke nearly willed the Bears to a win single-handedly by racking up 258 yards rushing and two scores on 34 carries. Quarterback Cooper Merrill
added 141 yards on 28 rushes.
Hoover, though, got a big game from junior Justin Smith, who finished with 211 yards and three TDs on 29 rushes. His 8-yard run with 5:07 left in the third quarter broke a 21-21 tie and gave Hoover the lead for good.
“The line did a great job, and Justin ran really hard tonight,” Hertler said. “We did some good things tonight that we can carry into the offseason. This says a lot about this program and the tradition, but it also says a lot about these kids hanging in there.”
Despite running just 19 plays in the first half, Hoover managed to hit on several big plays to erase an early 14-0 Jackson lead and forge a 21-21 halftime tie.
After Smith countered short scoring runs from Jackson’s Charlie Dear and Dehnke with a 9-yard scamper early in the second quarter, the Vikings tied it at 14-14 on Appleby’s 48-yard pass to Stephen Denissoff with 9:17 left until half. The play came one snap after Hoover stopped a Jackson fake punt short of a first down.
Merrill countered with a 24-yard touchdown run, but Hoover came back with a brief three-play drive that covered 70 yards in just 20 seconds. Smith broke loose from 40 yards out for a score and Ryan Sarbaugh’s PAT sent Hoover to half tied at 21-21.
“There were just too many big plays that we allowed,” Balderson said. “They scored 21 points on just 19 plays. We struggled to stop the run all night.”
Appleby, a Purdue recruit, finished 7-of-10 for 124 yards and two scores.
Jackson had a chance to match its best finish since going 7-3 in 2005.
“It’s unfortunate we had to end like this, but we can’t let one game define who we are this year,” Balderson said. “Our kids fought their butts off tonight, and this should only serve as motivation for the younger guys going into the offseason.”