The Massillon Tigers and Lake Blue Streaks don’t have to worry about driving down to Parma for a high school football playoff game like last year. They are fortunate enough to remain within Stark County this time around.
They will meet at Memorial Stadium in North Canton in a Division II regional semifinal. For the Blue Streaks, they are no strangers to playing at Hoover High School as members of the Federal League. However, Massillon hasn’t played at the stadium since 2018, where the Tigers defeated Wadsworth 41-18 in the regional finals.
Both Massillon head coach Nate Moore and Lake head coach Dan DeGeorge are grateful for the shorter trip.
“I appreciate Hoover for hosting,” Moore said. “It’s a tremendous stadium. Great venue.”
A year ago, in their regional final in Parma, the Tigers beat the Blue Streaks 24-6. It’s part of their recent dominance in regional playoff games. In 23 regional games since the start of the 2017 postseason, Massillon is 22-1 with an average winning margin of 38.7-12.7.
The Tigers have run through the region in even more dominant fashion this fall, outscoring their first two playoff opponents 91-13. Moore expects Lake to be a better challenge, especially on defense. He is impressed with the Lake linebackers.
“I think their linebackers are really good,” Moore said. “You know No. 32 (Charlie Christopher) and No. 5 (Evan Brady) are inside guys and the outside guy is No. 4 (Joey Garro). I think all three of those guys are really good players. They are physical, downhill, blitzers. I think they all are really good.”
What Lake football coach Dan DeGeorge said about Massillon
For the Blue Streaks, this is just their second game all-time against the Tigers. DeGeorge reflected on last year’s loss in looking at this year’s matchup.
“They were really good last year and got after us pretty good,” DeGeorge said. “They are even better this year.”
The Blue Streaks are coming off a triple-overtime victory over Big Walnut.
“Our kids are tough,” DeGeorge said. “We have great kids who play tough. That’s our MO and that’s what we asked from them. It’s not one of the prettiest but it’s OK. We found a way to win nine games with the recipe and we’re hoping it gives us a chance this Friday as well.”
DeGeorge praises Massillon, saying it is the best team Lake has seen all year. He knows his team has no room for error against the state’s No. 1-ranked team.
“We’re going to have to hit some plays offensively,” DeGeorge said. “Get some first downs. For us, we have to play a super, super clean game. Not turn the ball over, not have some dumb penalties. You cannot afford at all to go backward against their defense. It’s just going to be impossible to get a first down.”
More: Stark County-area high school football playoff regional semifinals to watch | What to know
Massillon (12-0) vs. Lake (9-3) matchups to watch
All eyes on Lake’s Nate Baker
Massillon’s defense has allowed two rushing touchdowns all year and is holding opposing teams to an average of 38.2 rushing yards a game. The Tigers’ run defense this week focuses on Stark County’s top rusher, Nate Baker. He’s gained 1,617 yards this season.
“He’s a really good player,” Moore said. “He plays running back and he’s good there. He plays wide receiver. He’s good there. He has good speed. He’s dynamic, breaks tackles, space guy, (makes you) miss and he’s the Federal League Player of the Year. So, we’re going to have our hands full.”
Baker has back-to-back 200-yard games in the playoffs, including last week’s career-high 234 yards when he scored all three Lake touchdowns to beat Big Walnut. Baker, at 5-foot-11, 175 pounds, has become Lake’s workhorse and can be utilized in various ways.
Massillon’s offensive line vs. Lake’s front seven
Massillon’s offensive line has dominated in the trenches all season, opening holes and protecting Tiger QBs.
Lake’s front seven is physical up front. The notable players to watch are defensive lineman Ryan Lippe and linebacker Charlie Christopher. Lippe led the Federal league with 19 tackles for loss and 11 sacks. Christopher, who holds three MAC offers, is a sideline-to-sideline playmaker.
“It’s the best offense we’ve seen all year,” DeGeorge said of Massillon. “Our defense is our strength. We played really well defensively, other than our Green game (in Week 10). Our linebackers do a pretty good job. All three of them. Evan (Brady), Charlie (Christopher) and Joey (Garro) are very good high school linebackers. If we have a chance, we have to make really good tackles, make contact from the line of scrimmage with our defensive line and not let them get to our linebackers, and easily block them. It’s going to be huge with our back end, too.”
Can Lake’s secondary match Massillon’s speed
It will be a tall task for Lake’s secondary facing Massillon’s wide receivers, as DeGeorge pointed out.
“Our DBs have to make sure we don’t give up any big pass plays,” DeGeorge said. “Tackling is going to be the key for us. If we let them scoot out of a couple of tackles, they have the speed to go the distance. If they are going to score, we have to make them snap the ball over and over again to do so.”
As physical as Massillon’s offense plays, it is also well balanced due to the passing of quarterback DaOne Owens to his top three receivers. In the last four games, Owens has thrown for 816 yards and 10 touchdowns. Receivers Jacques Carter, Braylyn Toles and Emy Louis Jr. are Owens’ go-to targets, combining for 1,533 yards and 20 receiving TDs this season.
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