Put on your special shoes, Archbishop Hoban. The Knights are taking you back to the big dance.
Hoban defeated Massillon 41-20 in a Division II state semifinal Friday night at the University of Akron.
The Knights (14-1) will play for a state title at 7 p.m. Thursday at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton. They will face Toledo Central Catholic (14-1), which was a 52-49 winner over Kings Mills Kings (13-2) in Friday's other semifinal.
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“Let's go win it," Hoban senior running back Lamar Sperling said. "I told my team right after the game, 'We're not done. We've got one more job. Like they say, we've got one more chapter. So we've just got to close that out.'”
Hoban is seeking its sixth state championship after capturing five crowns since 2015, all under the guidance of coach Tim Tyrrell. In his 10th season at the helm, Tyrrell has led the Knights to Division III state titles in 2015 and 2016 and Division II championships in 2017, 2018 and 2020.
Hoban and Tyrrell are 5-1 in state title games. The Knights finished last season as the Division II runner-up and have been fueled by their 21-10 championship game loss to Cincinnati Winton Woods ever since.
“It's huge," Hoban senior offensive lineman Drew Holt said. "Every week, we say, 'Think about last year.'
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“We're excited [to go to the state title game again], but nobody's satisfied after last year because that's not the norm for us to lose in the state championship.”
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This was the fourth time Hoban and Massillon (12-2) met in the playoffs. The Knights triumphed over the Tigers in state championship games in 2018 and 2020. Massillon prevailed over Hoban with a regional title on the line in 2019.
In the most recent clash, Sperling, junior quarterback JacQai Long and senior wide receiver Jayvian Crable powered the Hoban offense, and the defense held up its end of the bargain against a formidable Massillon attack.
One of seven finalists for the 2022 Ohio Mr. Football Award, Sperling finished with 38 carries for 278 yards and four touchdowns.
“He is Mr. Ohio," Tyrrell said. "If he is not, it is highway robbery. He had another great game."
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Long threw touchdown passes of 50 and 64 yards, the latter taken into the end zone by Crable, who transferred from Massillon to Hoban after his sophomore year.
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Hoban takes advantage of Massillon turnover to take commanding lead in final quarter
Junior free safety Ty Campbell's interception gave Hoban possession at the Massillon 37-yard line with 10 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
Sperling ensured the Knights capitalized by rushing for 15, 8, 4, 9 and 1 yards on consecutive plays. His touchdown run from a yard out gave Hoban a 34-14 lead with 7:43 left to play.
“I feel like we focused on our jobs, and we didn’t want the hype to get to us," Campbell said. "We focused on what we had to do and everyone did their assignment. Once everyone started to do their assignment, we just balled out.”
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Massillon didn't stop fighting, though.
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On the series after Hoban went ahead by 20 points, senior running back Willtrell Hartson caught a 20-yard TD pass from sophomore quarterback Jalen Slaughter despite tight coverage in the end zone by Hoban. The score cut Massillon's deficit to 34-20 with 5:57 remaining in the fourth quarter.
The extra point went awry, and Massillon senior holder Kalix Collins was injured while he tried to run the ball. Collins was taken off the field on a stretcher by medical personnel and raised his left arm as Tigers fans cheered.
Hartson also had a rushing touchdown in the first half.
Hoban responded with a late scoring drive of its own. Sperling rushed for a 5-yard touchdown, and the Knights extended their cushion to 21 points with 2:15 left to play.
"You know Massillon. They are a strong running team, and that is what we were mainly focused on," Hoban senior defensive tackle Jason Martin III said. "Everyone did a wonderful job.”
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Massillon Tigers rallied against Hoban Knights in the third quarter
Hoban opened the second half with the ball, but the possession ended with an uncharacteristic fumble by Sperling.
The Tigers capitalized after Massillon junior Cody Fair recovered the fumble at the Hoban 32 with 7:36 left in the third quarter, marching 68 yards to the end zone in 10 plays.
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Junior Dorian Pringle capped the drive by rushing for a 7-yard touchdown with 3:57 left in the third quarter. Then Slaughter and sophomore Ja'Meir Gamble connected for a two-point conversion, slicing Hoban's lead to 21-14 with 3:57 left in the third quarter.
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On the next series, Sperling earned redemption for his turnover.
He rushed for 9, 8 and 55 yards on consecutive plays, the last a touchdown on a handoff from Hoban backup quarterback Michael Ciavolella, who filled in for one snap because Long experienced an issue with his helmet.
Sperling sprinted along Hoban's sideline on his way to the end zone, and junior Ryan Burns' ensuing extra point elevated Hoban to a 28-14 lead with 1:56 left in the third quarter.
Hoban gained a 21-6 halftime advantage after opening the game with a 14-0 lead.
Massillon trimmed its deficit to 14-6 with Hartson's 20-yard rushing touchdown with 10:24 remaining in the second quarter. The Tigers missed the ensuing extra point.
Hoban countered right away with a seven-play, 76-yard scoring drive.
On third-and-7 from Hoban's 39, Crable caught a short pass from Long and turned it into a 50-yard gain, stiff-arming senior defensive back Jaden Welch a split second before the play ended in the red zone.
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On the next snap, Sperling rushed off the right side for an 11-yard touchdown, and Burns made his third extra-point kick as Hoban went ahead 21-6 with 7:03 left in the second quarter.
With time expired in the first half, Burns had enough distance on a 41-yard field goal, but the kick went wide and was no good.
Archbishop Hoban jumps out to two-score lead over Massillon
Hoban used two deep passes from Long to wide-open receivers to seize a 14-0 lead in the opening quarter.
The Knights captured a 7-0 advantage on the game's fourth series with a two-play, 63-yard drive.
After Sperling rushed for 13 yards on first down, Long threw deep to junior Deon Rodgers, who was left all alone behind the Massillon defense. Rodgers caught the pass and ran to the end zone, completing a 50-yard TD reception with 6:40 remaining in the first quarter. It was Rodgers' first catch of the season.
The Hoban defense registered a stop during the ensuing series, and the Knights took over at their 43 after a Massillon punt. With Hoban facing first-and-17 because of a holding penalty, Long and Crable connected for a 64-yard TD with 4:39 left in the first quarter. Like Rodgers, Crable had been forgotten by the Massillon defense, which was clearly concentrated first and foremost on limiting Sperling out of the backfield.
"Wide-open pop passes there — that's because of Lamar. All the focus on Lamar is going to open up the secondary," Holt said. "That really gave us a great start and great momentum.”
Sperling rushed 14 times for 74 yards and a touchdown in the first half.
And as the game progressed, Sperling delivered even more to position the Knights for another crack at high school football's ultimate prize.
"Last year, I feel like we were really young," Crable said. "This year, a lot of guys are back and know what it is like to lose and what it takes to win."
This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Hoban football team advances to OHSAA Division II state title game with win over Massillon
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