CANTON, Ohio — Twenty-five seniors dot the Clinton-Massie football roster.

They were front and center Friday afternoon as the school won its third OHSAA football championship.

Down 28-7 in the third quarter to Youngstown Ursuline, Massie rallied to score the final 22 points and win the game 29-28.

The comeback was made possible by a relentless determination to not let their final game in the red, white and blue be a loss.

“It starts with these guys right here, starts with these seniors,” head coach Dan McSurley said. “Just their will, their heart, their effort.”

The notion that any team can win a state championship is a long shot, at best, when the actual high school football season begins. Once the playoffs start, only seven teams finish their seasons on a winning note.

But to believe a group of third graders has a shot at winning a high school state championship seems far-fetched.

Not for this group of Clinton-Massie seniors.

“Everybody’s been waiting for this group, with the success they’ve had all the way down to the youth program,” McSurley said. “One of the larger group of seniors I’ve coached at Massie. When you have (25) seniors and can only play 11 on each side, you have a lot of role players, unselfish kids. I couldn’t be prouder of this group.”

Clinton-Massie plays in the Southwestern Buckeye League youth football conference. They won championships as pee-wee players. McSurley said this senior group won the prestigious Iron Horse championship in the Troy Trojan Horse tournament in 2015 as sixth graders.

The winning ways continued in junior high and then came high school.

Would the wins continue, as the stakes grew? At this point, winning wasn’t as important as playing well and facing strong competition. Winning against lesser teams doesn’t make you better. Playing well, win or lose, against better competition is the way to improve.

Consider the old “steel sharpens steel” adage.

But the wins did keep coming. More importantly, Massie coaches understood the ultimate goal and the need to improve to reach it. The Falcon freshmen faced a star-studded schedule as baby-faced 14- and 15-year-olds.

Cincinnati Moeller, Columbus Bishop Hartley, and Upper Arlington were just three of the bigger schools Massie played as ninth-graders. How good are those teams? Well, as seniors this season, Moeller and Upper Arlington both lost Div. I state semifinal games by less than a touchdown. Hartley won a Div. III playoff game.

“This group of freshman is a large and talented group that needs challenged each week,” coach Jeskee Zantene said following Clinton-Massie’s 21-14 win over the Archbishop Moeller freshman team on Aug. 25, 2018.

That win, as much as anything, increased the expectations for this group of Clinton-Massie seniors.

Just this week, in fact, McSurley said while watching the team in two narrow playoff wins, a loss would leave this group labeled as “underachievers.”

They didn’t lose, though. In fact, they went out with one of the best comebacks in OHSAA state football championship history, scoring the final 22 points to win by a single point.

“Without question this is going to be one of the best football teams I’ve ever been part of,” McSurley said.

By Mark Huber

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Reach Mark Huber at 937-556-5765, via email [email protected] or on Twitter @wnjsports