AKRON — The Highland defense was not fazed by how big and strong Massillon was or all the hype that surrounded Friday night’s Division II, Region 4 semifinal.
The Hornets were craftier, out-executed the touted Tigers and held on for a 17-14 victory at the University of Akron’s InfoCision Stadium-Summa Field.
“That doesn’t faze us at all,” sophomore defensive tackle Tyler Frederick said. “We’ve been undersized against every team we’ve played, but we’re just smart. We just use our brains and do what it takes to get it done.”
After Massillon pulled to within 17-14 with 2:55 remaining, the Hornets went three-and-out on two straight drives to give the Tigers final gasps.
The defense was there to slam the door.
After freshman quarterback Danny Clark was forced into a pair of incomplete passes — a theme of the second half, when he completed just 6-of-18 attempts — Frederick and senior Myles Houska combined for a key sack with 24 seconds left to all but seal the victory.
“We ran a nut stunt just to get me open, made a nice play and got the ‘W,’ Frederick said. “That’s all we needed. It felt great.”
Plays all over the field from the opening possession gave the Hornets (12-0) a chance to be in it at the end.
From the performances of outside linebackers James Friedl and Grant Wallace, who combined for 16 tackles, and cornerbacks Coltin Kinsey and Cory Moncol and safeties Blake Phelps and Collin Paich locking down the Tigers’ explosive receivers — No. 1 Reggie Rogers (691 yards and 10 TDs coming in) was held without a reception — the game was there for Highland’s taking.
Kinsey pulled off a key interception with 2:03 left when he stepped in front of Rogers’ hitch route.
“(Defensive coordinator Kevin) Bowers and (head coach Tom) Lombardo preached to us all week that every man needs to do his job, and if every man does his job, we’ll get the victory,” Kinsey said. “That’s what we did tonight. It was scary in those final two drives because I remember back when they played GlenOak (a 23-20 win in three overtimes) as they drove down. I had that in the back of my head, but we pulled it off.”
The line was stout in the first half, limiting the Tigers to short gains and, outside of a short drive off a first-half turnover that led to a touchdown, made limited mistakes. Linemen Houska, Tyler Frederick, Brett Barber, Nick Corvo and Nick Haas brought the pressure, but it ultimately took a combined effort to overcome the tough late moments.
“I guess towards the end communication wasn’t all there, but we ended up turning it around,” said Friedl, who had a team-high nine tackles. “It was awesome. We just told each other that we had to finish it. We had to get it done and, for the most part, we got it.”
While the Massillon fans left the Akron campus stunned, it was no shock to Hornets followers.
“Our defense has been making plays all year,” Houska said. “There have been some close games, but we always end up pulling through in the end.
“Every snap is a new game to us. Coach Lombardo says that’s what we have to do to be successful, so we’re taking his word and taking it one snap at a time.”
Contact Dan Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.