Tigers anticipating challenge from much improved Panthers squad in home opener

MASSILLON–Nate Moore has been around various high school areas as a high school football coach.

2010-2011 ObieBut the buzz that will soon engulf him Thursday night will be a sign of just how zealous fans in Stark County are about high school football. And what better way to be the head football coach of the Massillon Tigers with 72 lights shining down on him and his team when they challenge the Perry Panthers in the 2015 home opener for his newest team.

It is one thing to have served as a dean of students to finish the school year. It is another to move into the role of athletic director. In any case, Moore has been venerably impressed by the fervent support that fans have for their team not to mention the open arms that the city of Massillon has extended to him and his family when he first was hired back in January after an ending worthy of a trip to Disney World in the form of a Division II state championship at Cincinnati’s LaSalle High School.

Moore attested that the support of Stark County teams is phenomenal.

“The atmosphere here in Stark County with the teams here is awesome with the support fans have for their teams. It is a pleasure to be coaching here in Stark County,” Moore said.

The Perry Panthers are coached by longtime admiral Keith Wakefield. They have made evident strides from an 0-10 season in 2013 to a 6-5 record and coming within one game of a Federal League championship. Although they did not defeat GlenOak in the last game of the previous season, the Panthers returned to the playoffs and look to erect on last season’s finish.

Like the Tigers, Perry is also a Division II football team after having competed in Division I for a long time and Massillon is in their third-year of competition as a Division II football team after being in Division I for a long part of their illustrious tradition.

An obvious portent of Wakefield’s teams has always been their toughness and ability to run the football out of the wing-T offense. If not defended well, it can lead to long touchdown runs and hamper a defense. Last year, Massillon surrendered two touchdown runs of 79 and 80 yards to Keishaun Sims and Moore is rapidly aware that cannot happen again if the Tigers do not want to fall short in their home opener.

Massillon has not lost a home opener since 2010, a 29-13 loss to eventual Division III state finalist Akron Buchtel and Moore knows what kind of team Perry will bring given the players hard-hat, lunch pail attitude. Massillon was fortunate to emerge last year victorious but they know falling behind 23-6 again will not pave their way to a triumphant result this time around.

“Perry is a big football team up front. They are physical and they play hard. We will have to be accurate and disciplined in defending their wing-T,” Moore said.

The year before that, Massillon stopped Perry 35-7 as the Tigers scored 28 points off of Perry turnovers. When asked if Massillon will need a defensive touchdown to potentially win, Moore did not believe that was the case.

“When it comes to defensive touchdowns, you never really prepare for those. Those are touchdowns that just happen,” he said. “Those touchdowns are a key to the game but you don’t really prepare for that.”

This is a Massillon team that has high standards set for themselves and Moore has a coaching staff that has embraced the challenge of looking to end Massillon’s drought of state titles by winning the first ever state playoff title. Moore is also bolstered by the additions of quarterbacks coach Brett Cooper and defensive coordinator John Cupps, who both were on Cincinnati LaSalle’s Division II state title winning team along with former Massillon running back Terrance Roddy, the Tigers current strength and conditioning coach and a 2003 graduate of Massillon Washington, who was a member of two regional championships under Rick Shepas, who Roddy also played for at Waynesburg University.

In addition to that, also part of the staff is offensive coordinator Jon Hunek, who was a member of Lakewood St. Edward’s Division I state championship winning team under head coach Rick Finotti, who is now the director of football operations under new University of Michigan head football coach Jim Harbaugh. Also, former Jackson offensive line coach Jon Mazur joins the staff as well after a successful seven-year run under head coach Beau Balderson (now head coach of Marlington) along with being an ultra-successful girls bowling coach at Jackson.

Moore unlocked the treasure chest of success when asked about the stability he has maintained over the course of his tenure and that is what he brings to Massillon.

“I have great assistant coaches here who want to establish a great relationship with their players. That has allowed our players to jell over the course of time,” he said gleefully.

Massillon has accounted for vivid strides over the course of the last two weeks in terms of offensive efficiency and the defense made an ominous improvement along the way. Massillon averaged 75 offensive plays in their last two scrimmages against Mentor and Dover. In both scrimmages, Massillon was able to score at free will. Defensively, the Tigers stood their ground against Dover and improved from last week’s showing against Mentor.

In terms of offensive production, Moore wants his team to score more points than Perry. And it has nothing to do with keeping the ball away from Perry’s vaunted rushing offense. But at the same time, that is not to say Moore wants to engage in a scoring firefight with the Panthers.

In any case, just as long as Massillon has more points than Perry, that will make the 33-year-old Moore a happy gentleman.

“It is simple math. If you run 60 to 90 plays, you give your offense a chance to score. Our goal is to score as many points as possible. We ran 60 plays against Mentor and 90 plays against Dover and we were able to score,” he said. “If we can hold the ball long, we have a chance to score.”

As Thursday nears closer, Moore spoke with a vibrating pulse of excitement regarding the proximity of the game. And the excitement in the school is hotly palpable.

“I am excited to step on that field Thursday night and so are the players. The school is excited ranging from players to non-players and to the administration,” he said. “It is going to be a great atmosphere.”

Nate Moore has been around various high school areas as a head football coach. Thursday night, he and the 2015 Massillon Tigers will feel the buzz of the 126th season of Massillon Tigers football with the lights shining down on him and his charges.

TIGER BITS

Clark sighting: Under new Canton McKinley head coach Dan Reardon, the Bulldogs will travel to Akron Hoban for a 7 p.m. kickoff against the Knights. The Knights are coached by second-year head coach Tim Tyrrell, who coached previously at St. Thomas Aquinas and were 6-4 last season while the Bulldogs were 3-7 under Thom McDaniels, who coached only one year before retiring in his second stint at the school. It will be the third time Canton McKinley will face off against incumbent quarterback Danny Clark, who transferred from Massillon to Hoban near the end of last school year. Clark is 2-0 against the Bulldogs, having quarterbacked Massillon to wins of 34-7 and 31-21 over them the last two years.

Migrating Eagles: GlenOak will open up their 2015 season on the road against Lakota West High School out of Cincinnati Friday before coming to Paul Brown Tiger Stadium for a week two showdown with the Tigers. The Eagles will play six road games compared to only four home games this season. Last season, Massillon downed the Eagles 17-14 as a long J.D. Crabtree touchdown run was the difference.

Enter the Hall way: Former Massillon head coach Jason Hall is now the head football coach at Westlake High School. Hall coached Massillon for seven seasons and won a regional title as the Tigers head coach in his second season in 2009 as the Tigers finished 10-4 that year and were Division I state semifinalists. Hall had two undefeated seasons inside Paul Brown Tiger Stadium in 2009 and 2012 The Demons open up Friday night against Eastlake North in the Demons home opener at 7 p.m.

KenoKeno Sultan is the lead editor at Tiger Pit. He can be reached at 234-521-4808 or email at tigerpit3@gmail.com.