Massillon Perry 21 - Hoover 14
PERRY TWP. Halftime had not quite arrived in Perry’s tense 21-14 victory Friday night.
In this season of politically correct (or not) speech, the stadium announcer got everyone’s attention with a stab at humor.
A North Canton Hoover player had just fallen after getting off a punt late in the first half, and a flag came out.
The announcer said Perry was being penalized for “running into Academy Award winner Eric Sarbaugh.”
Hoover’s crowd didn’t like the blunt hint at a flop, and booed. On the flip side, it was turning into a game both sides could enjoy.
Hoover’s late 90-yard fumble return really got everyone’s attention and created a 14-14 tie, but Perry’s Malachi Strickland, who had 99 of his 178 rushing yards in the first half, finished the job with a one-yard touchdown with 3:13 left.
Strickland, eligible for the first time this season, fumbled twice, including in scoring territory in the fourth quarter, when the ball floated to Hoover’s Nick Binnie, who sped those 90 yards.
On Perry’s long, ensuing drive, Strickland’s thoughts raced. He remembers thinking, “Don’t get tackled. Hold on to the ball. Put it in for my teammates.”
Perry improved to 4-2 overall, 1-1 in the Federal League. Hoover fell to 3-3, 0-3.
“We played better last week against Boardman,” Perry coach Keith Wakefield said, “but we won a game we needed to win if we wanted to stay in the Federal League race.”
The Panthers’ first goal was crystal clear: Run the ball and the clock.
“They have a nice, big line,” said Hoover coach Brian Baum. “They force you off the ball.”
On the first series, Perry ran 10 times for nearly 100 yards (if one counts Tevion Cleveland’s 50-yard gain that was called back by a holding penalty), but without scoring. The game kicked off at 7:03 p.m. With less than two minutes left in the quarter, it was 7:16.
The Vikings used run-pass balance to reach the Perry 30 on their second series. On fourth-and-12, quarterback John Keller and senior Ben Harris connected on what would have been a touchdown, except for an illegal-formation penalty.
The Panthers passed early in their next series, and paid. It was Sarbaugh who returned an interception to the Perry 32, leading to Luke Reicosky’s two-yard touchdown run and a 7-0 lead.
Perry relocated its running touch. A 10-yard run by Strickland was the kind of play Wakefield loves, well blocked inside, with punishing surge from the back. The next play was the kind Wakefield hates — the Panthers got nailed with their third holding penalty of the first half.
But from there Perry got to a fourth-and-1, converted, and got a 10-yard scoring run from Cleveland with three minutes left in the half. It was 7-all heading into the third quarter.
The game was not as clean as it was close. Perry ran the ball into scoring range in the third quarter but lost it at the 10 on a fumble. The Panthers instantly got the ball back on Andy Price’s interception. Perry took over on the 8 and got a short TD run from Cleveland, who finished with 128 rushing yards.
The Panthers led 14-7 with the third quarter half gone, and their defense had arrived. After Hoover’s early touchdown, the Vikings went punt, punt, interception, punt, punt, fumble.
The fumble was recovered by Dominick Bowman, and with the Perry lead at 14-7, it was back to Plan A: Run the ball; run the clock.
Hoover blew up the plan with a strip fumble on which the ball flew into Binnie’s hands. His 90-yard run made it 14-all with 7:47 left.
The guess was Perry would run the ball to try to break the tie.
“Ya think?” Wakefield said with a game-winning grin.