September 11 -- a day on the calendar that will live on in infamy for every
American, and particularly so for one family in the St. Ignatius community.
September 11, 2001 -- our country was temporarily paralyzed from the terrorist attacks, a series of events that forever changed the American way of life. Just days later, while the nation was still shocked and mourning the tragedy, Massillon and St. Ignatius renewed their rivalry on the gridiron.
September 11, 2003 -- A young man from St. Ignatius High School lay temporarily paralyzed on the football field after a head-on collision with a player from another team during a freshman football game, an event that forever may have changed the way he goes about his daily life. Just weeks later, with a community still stunned and mourning that tragedy, Massillon and St. Ignatius renewed their rivalry on the girdiron.
Mark Tupa Jr., 14, a member of the St. Ignatius football community and the nephew of former Buckeye Tom Tupa, remains in serious condition weeks after the tragic event on the gridiron. There are, however, encouraging signs as he is beginning to regain the feelings in his extremities.
Shortly after I had walked onto Byers Field in Parma just minutes before game time, after making the trek north from Ohio Stadium, the public address announcer asked the crowd to pause for a moment of silence.
With both teams already out on the field, the announcer first alluded to the horrible tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001 and then to the horrible accident of Sept. 11, 2003. I have to admit that I was unaware of the incident at the time and the severity of just hearing it then didn't really hit me until I read more about it upon returning home.
What I most admire about the unfortunate event, however, is the way the announcer described the thoughtful actions of Rick Shepas and the entire Massillon community in responding to this tragedy. The announcer told of the many cards and get-well wishes sent and even of visits by the Massillon football players and coaches to the hospital to show their support to the Tupa family.
It's precisely that type of outpouring that transcends the violent sport of football and brings two communities of heated rivals together in ways you never thought imaginable.
All of our hearts and thoughts and prayers should go out to the Tupa family, because it's the one nightmare that every family that has a son playing the sport knows in the back of their mind could happen to them just as easily.
Watching football, whether in person or on television, is one way to temporarily shove all of our own personal tragedies and problems to the back of our minds. No matter how horrible the tragedy, be it on a personal or national level, the games go on.
After paying tribute to Mark Tupa and his family, the game between Massillon and Ignatius got under way.
And just as soon after it started, Massillon dug themselves into a huge hole. After a fumbled snap by the Massillon punter deep in their own territory on the Tigers first possession of the game, the Wildcats picked up the loose ball and went in for a score to lead 7-0, with 10:27 on the clock.
"We went after a punt, and the kid bobbled it, and we got a touchdown out of it," said St. Ignatius coach Chuck Kyle. "I was just trying to get field position. That happens in a ball game. But those kids work hard at it, so we should give them a little credit. Special teams did a super job."
Massey sacks the QB
After a defensive stand on the next possession, lead by a Mike Massey
quarterback sack, the Wildcats got the ball right back.
That's when Brian Hoyer took over.
Hoyer tossed a 22-yard touchdown pass on what was their first offensive series of the game, and St. Ignatius led 13-0 at the 8:06 mark of the first quarter.
"You snap the ball and let Brian do it," Kyle said. "He's going to read the secondary and what he thinks he can do. Honestly, that's the way our passing attack works."
During the first half alone, Hoyer was 13-23 for 175 yards and a touchdown through the air as the Wildcats led 30-6 at the intermission. His 9-yard touchdown run right before the half culminated a 45-yard drive that began when Massillon wasn't able to convert on a fourth-and-two with 1:23 left in the half. Hoyer crashed into the endzone with :30.49 seconds on the clock.
Hoyer was able to run the ball effectively at other times on the night as well, and that was okay with the Wildcat skipper. He scrambled for over 30 yards on a third-and-10 situation when Massillon was trying to creep back into the game.
"Well, it's okay. I like that," he said. "They were putting blitzes in there and so on like that, and he was finding a few seams. We were telling him, ‘Look, they're bailing a linebacker back to get back in coverage so if you see a seam go ahead and take off,' so he did."
According to Kyle, Hoyer just keeps getting better and better.
"I think he learns a lot from every game, confidence-wise," he said. "And everybody gives you a little different look now and he's handling that really well."
Is he as good as some of the other QB's you've had here?
"Yeah I think he's in that category. He's already agreed with Michigan State. Big Ten, that's pretty good football," Kyle said. "I think so. He's got a very strong arm, he's a tall kid - he can see, he makes good decisions, and he's only going to get bigger and he's only going to get stronger."
Shepas (pictured right) made his feelings about Hoyer pretty clear after the ball game.
"I think Hoyer is one of the better quarterbacks that I've seen in a long time, and I had Justin Zwick with me." the coach said. "I think he's a very accurate passer. I love the way he stands in the pocket until the last minute to get that big play. But the thing that I'm probably most impressed with though is his accuracy as a passer. He really throws a pinpoint ball in the right location.
"He's a blue-chip quarterback. What can you say? I like the kid. I think he's got great character. He's a great person; I think he showed that last year, and he continues to do that. He's just a great solid individual, and he happens to be a great athlete too."
Massillon will now look to rebound at home against St. Ed's.
"As far as we're concerned, this is what we want," Shepas said. "We've put ourselves in a playoff-type of atmosphere during the regular season, and it's going to be a great opportunity for our kids to show what they can do, and it's a great opportunity for us to play well and have a chance to get into the playoffs as well. There's a lot of good teams yet to play.
"But one way or the other, our team is going to come out of this with a lot, and we're going to benefit from this, one way or the other."
IF YOU WANT TO HELP THE TUPA FAMILY:
According to The Plain Dealer, arrangements have been made with KeyCorp to accept donations at any of the bank's branches. Interested donors can also send checks, payable to the Mark Tupa Jr. Trust Fund, to the McDonald Financial Group, 18500 Lake Road, Suite 400, Rocky River, Ohio 44116.