CANTON — Struggling on offense and faced with a powerful Steubenville attack, Clinton-Massie turned to its special teams in Saturday’s Division IV state title game.
Special doesn’t even begin to describe them.
Clinton-Massie likely isn’t in Saturday’s game without another outstanding performance out of the special teams unit.
“We made some extremely big special team plays,” CM head coach Dan McSurley. “It kept us in the game. The whole special teams has been solid all year.”
When Steubenville scored to go up 27-7, the game was already getting away from the Falcons. Garrett Trampler made the first big special teams play. He took the ensuing kickoff 72 yards for a touchdown.
Trampler’s return was the first kickoff return for touchdown in Division IV state title game history. It pulled the Falcons within 27-14.
Once again, Steubenville hit the gas pedal and appeared ready to bury the Falcons before halftime. The Big Red led 36-14 and had to punt with 10 seconds left in the half.
They decided to kick a line drive punt to Luke Richardson. According to McSurley, the Falcons forced them into the error.
“We were really trying to block the punt,” McSurley said. “We just wanted to go in and get a lot of pressure on the punter. He pooched it up there to Luke.”
Richardson did the rest, taking it 53 yards for a touchdown as time expired in the first half. It was a ballgame once again, with Clinton-Massie trailing 36-20.
“I think they were so preoccupied with just not letting us block the punt,” McSurley said. “Luke saw the light and boom, he takes it to the house. It gave us all the momentum in the world.”
The special teams only had one miscue, but it was at an inopportune time. After Steubenville scored to make it 43-29, the Big Red onside kicked. It was recovered after hitting a Massie player at the CM 46.
Two plays later, it was 50-29. That was finally too much for the Falcons to overcome.
In addition to the Trampler kickoff return for touchdown, there were several other records either broken or threatened by the Division IV final.
Steubenville’s 50 points were tied for the most scored in a Division IV title game. Versailles scored 50 against Bellaire in 1995.
In addition, the 86 combined points scored is tied for sixth all-time in all divisions for points scored in a title game. It equals the 2000 Youngstown Ursuline win over Coldwater 49-37.
Richardson ridiculous (again)
In Luke Richardson’s finale, he put on a show one final time.
In addition to the punt return for touchdown, he blocked an extra point. Richardson just missed a touchdown pass. He finished with 196 total yards.
Yet, his most ridiculous play may have been playing defense on offense.
On the opening drive of the third quarter, Corey Stulz tried to throw to Richardson inside the 10. It was picked off by DaJuan Jones. He didn’t have it for long.
Richardson ripped the ball away, giving the Falcons the ball at the 7. Tyler Beam would score on the next play to pull Clinton-Massie within 10, 36-26.
“I just didn’t want that guy coming down with the ball,” Richardson said. “So I was doing anything possible.”
Everyone, including the OHSAA, has been watching to see how the attendance numbers fared in the move back to Canton this year.
The last three state tournaments have been at the centrally-located Ohio Stadium on OSU’s campus.
The Clinton-Massie vs. Steubenville game drew 10,251 fans, which was the second-highest attended game of the weekend with one game remaining.
It certainly helped that it was as nice as the weather could be for the first weekend in December. Temperatures hovered in the upper 40s for kickoff. The last time the Falcons were in Stark County, it snowed.
Construction continues at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium. More seating will be added and a hotel will be built on the site. According to The Canton Repository, the renovations to the 23,000-seat stadium adjacent to the Pro Football Hall of Fame cost $137 million.
Matt Sexton covers high school sports for the News Journal. Follow him on Twitter @ByMattSexton.