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Paul Brown record in Nate Moore's sights, but goal is a Massillon football state championship

Moore is closing in on the legendary coach's school wins record as the Tigers seek their first state title since 1970
Photo by Jeff Harwell

Photo by Jeff Harwell

MASSILLON, Ohio – One look around Paul Brown Tiger Stadium on a Friday night in the fall will tell you that in Massillon, football is life.

On the façade of the east press box, there is a banner stating the years in which Massillon has taken home the state championship in football. The 24 individual years cover the press box from one end to the other.

But the Tigers haven’t been able to add a new year to that collection since 1970, two years before the Ohio High School Athletic Association introduced the playoffs.

When Nate Moore was brought in to lead the Tigers prior to the 2015 season, the hope in Massillon was that he would be able to lead them to their first state championship that was won on the field and not in the polls. After all, he had just led Cincinnati La Salle to the Division II state title in 2014.

“The goal is (to play) 16 weeks and win that last one,” Moore said Friday night after Massillon’s 49-31 loss to Archbishop Moeller. "That's what we are trying to do."

After taking over for Jason Hall, who finished his Massillon career with a 56-7 loss to Perrysburg in the first round of the playoffs and exited the postseason in the first or second round in three of his final four years at the helm, Moore has brought the winning tradition back to Massillon.

But the one thing he hasn’t been able to do just yet is win that last game of the season and hold a championship celebration that would no doubt shut down the city of Massillon for the day.

He’s been close, though.

From 2017-20, the Tigers were in the state semifinals all four years and made three straight trips to the state championship game starting in 2018.

In 2018 and 2020, Massillon fell short against Archbishop Hoban in the state championship game. The Tigers got past Hoban in the 2019 regional final, but then fell to La Salle 34-17 in the state championship game.

Those last two losses in state championship games had to sting possibly more than the first.

Not only was the 2019 state championship game against Moore’s previous team, but the Tigers looked like they were a lock to win the state championship after knocking off Hoban in the regional final. They rolled Avon 35-10 in the state semifinals the next week and looked poised to end the championship drought.

But La Salle came in and ran all over the Tigers, gaining 337 yards on the ground compared with Massillon's 92. Massillon also had three turnovers.

“The fact of the matter is that we didn’t open enough holes, we didn’t hit enough creases and (defensively) we weren’t able to get off enough blocks to stop the run,” Moore said after the loss. “And putting the ball on the ground doesn’t help.”

And then in 2020, the stage seemed set up perfectly for the Tigers. 

Because of COVID-19, the state championship games were originally moved from Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton to Fortress Obetz in Columbus. But due to a stay-at-home order in Franklin County, the OHSAA moved the championship games to Paul Brown Tiger Stadium the day before the games were scheduled to begin. 

The move essentially gave Massillon a home game for the Division II state championship.

That didn’t matter to Hoban, which dominated from start to finish. Senior quarterback Shane Hamm finished his Hoban career with four touchdown passes and a touchdown run that opened the scoring in the first quarter. 

Massillon cut the lead to 14-6 with 21 seconds left before halftime, but Hoban scored three times in the second half and held the Tigers to under 150 yards of total offense.

Despite the state championship game losses, the fanbase has still shown up en masse and supported the Tigers.

“As a program we are very appreciative of the support we do have,” Moore said after the championship game loss to La Salle. “That’s one of the really tough parts. We really wanted to deliver that (championship) to the city of Massillon tonight, and we fell short.”

The question now is will Moore feel the pressure to win even heavier than he has in the past?

Now in his eighth season guiding the Tigers, Moore is closing in on the record for victories by a coach in school history, held by the one and only Paul Brown. That's a huge deal in Massillon, where Brown's legacy is revered like no other.

Moore currently sits at 71-21 (19-6 in the playoffs). Brown finished his tenure 80-8-2 with six state titles in nine seasons, with all of his wins coming in the regular season as there were no playoffs in Ohio at the time.

Making it this many seasons as the head coach in black and orange can already be seen as a victory for Moore, who is only the third coach in Massillon history to see an eighth season (along with Brown and Mike Currence).

And while passing Brown would be one of the most impressive accomplishments in program history, Moore insists he doesn’t think about the personal accolades because he is too busy thinking about his players.

“The focus in our program is on our kids and making sure our kids are developing as football players,” Moore said. “It is a 365-day-a-year job, and I would say that I don’t know there is time to really sit around and think about those things. Maybe one day, but certainly not today.”

Moore may not think about the wins and losses or passing Brown, but the four games that stay on his mind are the final game in each of the last four seasons — playoff losses that ended another Tigers season without a state championship trophy.

“I think any time you lose in the playoffs, and we lost three state championship (games), and we lost in the regional finals last year, it feels a whole lot more like you’re 0-4 than anything else,” Moore said.

One game Moore hasn’t had to worry about losing lately is the most important on the regular-season schedule each year – the rivalry game against Canton McKinley in Week 10. 

It is basically the first game of the playoffs for the Tigers, as a loss to the Bulldogs would cast a shadow over the week leading up to the postseason. Moore is 6-1 in those games, with his only loss coming in his first season.

Moore consistently schedules some of the best teams in the state in the regular season, as evidenced by having St. Edward on the slate for the past three seasons, along with St. Ignatius in 2020, Pickerington Central last season and Moeller this season, even if all the tough games are almost always at home.

“I think you have to play good teams to be good,” Moore said. "If you don’t, you can get caught up in doing things that aren’t as good as you think they are against teams that maybe aren’t as good as the teams you are going to play in the future.”

Part of playing good teams throughout the regular season for Moore is that he feels like his team can learn where they need to improve, as they did in the loss to Moeller. 

Doing that in Week 1 or Week 8 is better than having it happen in Week 14. That strategy has obviously paid off for Moore and the Tigers, as they have advanced to the regional final in each of the last five seasons.

“You want to find those things out here in the regular season,” Moore said. “Because if you wait until the playoffs and find those things out, that’s it. You learn a lesson and go home.”

Because of that tough regular-season schedule, Moore says they don’t think too much about the outcomes of regular-season games. They are more focused on those games in Weeks 11 through 16, because that’s where a loss ends the season.

“We are not worried about our record,” Moore said. “I mean we are sort of worried about wins and losses, but we have a vision of the future.”

And in Massillon, that vision for the future is always centered around two things – beating Canton McKinley and trying to add that 25th state championship.