Rogers, Over and Out: Officiating, Ohio Stadium, Massillon and More Playoff Musings

Rogers, Over and Out

By Tim Rogers

Football postseason hits its midpoint: What We Know (And Don’t)

This was supposed to be a story about Massillon.

It was supposed to be a story that maybe, just maybe, Massillon might have another chance at winning its first state championship since the playoffs were introduced 41 years ago. After watching the Tigers dismantle rival Canton McKinley in week 10 and then open the playoffs with a convincing victory over Nordonia it was a great temptation to suggest that this could be the Year of the Tigers.

Even if it was in Division II.

You know the kind of story…after all those years of never duplicating the teams that were declared state champions 22 times the Tigers seemed a good bet in 2014. They displayed a ground game featuring two solid backs, a passing game led by one of the most promising freshman quarterbacks this side of Johnny Manziel and a couple of wideouts capable of going coast-to-coast in the blink of an eye. Okay, so the defense was suspect, but the hankering to ask the obvious – Could This Be The Year? – was as strong as the ACT.

JJH_RogersThen came Medina Highland. Obviously, the Hornets didn’t get the memo. Or, if they did they treated it as an annoying email and hit the delete button before the game plan became infected. Highland 17, Massillon 14 and how did that happen?

You had to hand it to the Hornets. They made the plays when they had to and overcame some questionable play-calling in the latter stages of the fourth quarter to come up with the biggest victory in school history. Some felt it was the biggest upset of this year’s playoffs. If not, it certainly was one of the biggest.

It also brought a premature end to Massillon’s season, much to the disappointment of their incredibly supportive fans.

If this keeps up the Tigers will be forced to adopt the optimistic mantra attached to other Northeast Ohio teams that just can’t seem to win a championship.

Wait ‘til next year.

MORE PLAYOFF RAMBLINGS . . .

Just don’t get it: We sat in the pressbox at Canton Central Catholic’s Lowell Klinefelter Stadium last week and watched as Manchester and Fairless fans filled the place to its capacity of about 5,000 and then some as fans lined the perimeter. It was a nice-sized crowd for a pair of Division V schools – not too different from an average size crowd at the last couple of Division V state championship games — and the intimacy of the stadium made for an electric atmosphere.

Fast forward to next year when the state championship games are played in Ohio Stadium for the first time since 1989. I’m betting there will be more than 95,000 empty seats. Some atmosphere. The only hope for a return to Stark County – and common sense — is that there is no contract in place for the finals after 2015.

Throwing a flag: The OHSAA goes to great lengths when it comes to assigning officials for playoff games, yet most people involved agree there is no perfect answer. There is a grading system in place yet the process is complicated and ambiguous and includes input from various sources, some of which are suspect. Coaches, district assignors (the guys who are in charge of assigning officials for regular season games), athletic directors, local officiating associations, district board members and members of the OHSAA staff all have a say. I find some of those a little strange. District board members? Their presence only lends credence to the feeling that a good, old boy network exists. How many athletic directors actually have the time to watch a game?

Coaches are supposed to grade each official after every game. Their evaluations and input from the other sources are combined to eventually determine the five officials chosen to work playoff games. However, coaches will tell you they become accustomed to seeing “crews” work their games because that is how it usually works during the regular season. Come playoff time, however, you might have two guys from one crew working with three guys they’ve never laid eyes on.

“I think I’d rather see an entire crew that has worked together all season,” said St. Vincent-St. Mary coach Dan Boarman. “You get some guys together in the playoffs and they aren’t familiar with one another, they don’t know how to work together as a crew. You get guys from different parts of the state who might not even know the guy they’re working with, let alone not knowing how that guy might officiate.”

In this case, unfamiliarity can lead to confusion, lengthy meetings between the officials during games and indecision.
OHSAA Associate Commissioner Beau Rugg said the ultimate goal is to get the best officials to work the games. The organization has made great strides to improve officiating in all sports through clinics and classes, etc.

“It has been a process,” said Rugg. “We feel we have improved the process every year and we expect it to continue to improve.”

Still, there are hurdles.

“You might have one man on a crew, let’s say he’s a back judge, who might not be up to the standards of the others,” said Keith Walker, an officiating assignor from the Akron-Canton area. “And you might be aware of a back judge from another crew who is highly-regarded and would fit in nicely with the other four guys.”

You make the call: Hudson coach Ron Wright was not as upset as the Hudson fans with the ending to the Explorers’ 28-17 loss to St. Ignatius in last week’s Division I regional quarterfinals. It wasn’t so much that St. Ignatius scored a touchdown with nine seconds left while already leading, 21-17. What had the Hudsonites irate was how the Wildcats scored. It came on a reverse when a simple sweep or run up the middle probably would have killed the clock.

To his credit, Wright was more upset with the fumble his team committed on its penultimate possession, which turned the ball over deep in its territory and led to the Wildcats’ final touchdown. Already playing without starting quarterback Mitch Guadagni and defensive end Grant Elfers, who went out with injuries, the Explorers gave the Wildcats a scare.

“Before the fumble, we still had a chance,” he said. “The kids played hard the entire game and all we could ask for at that point was to have a chance. You just want your kids to have a chance and we gave that chance away with the fumble.”

Game of the week: At least in the northeast, it will be St. Vincent-St. Mary vs. Hubbard in matchup of 12-0 teams at Ravenna Gilcrest Field on Friday. SVSM is the reigning Division III state champ and has designs on winning another. Hubbard has beaten eight teams with winning records, including a 42-14 victory over Marlington and a 49-19 victory over a banged-up Aurora squad in its first two tournament games.

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