The scene at Clinton-Massie High School is, well, completely normal for this time of year.
Temperatures are falling. Darkness is setting in earlier. And the Falcons football team is practicing, getting ready for yet another playoff game.
“We’re still excited for it,” senior quarterback Hunter Fentress said. “It just feels like part of the regular season for us. This is five years in a row we’ve gone this far. We know how much we put into it to get to this point and how much we’ve got to put into it now.”
Clinton-Massie has reached the Division IV, Region 14 championship game and will face unbeaten state poll champion Fenwick on Saturday night at Xenia.
CM’s red, white and blue Falcons are 11-1 and making their 14th straight postseason appearance. They were state champions in 2012 and 2013.
“This is part of the expectation,” senior strong safety/wide receiver Tommy Williams said. “It would be a very big letdown if we didn’t make the playoffs. I love the tradition here. It’s a lot of smashmouth football, and I think that’s what this week’s going to have to come down to.”
Dan McSurley is in his 20th season at the Massie helm, winning 26 postseason games along the way. He said annual playoff runs are beneficial in the development of young players.
“Getting those extra weeks of prep with those guys is great,” McSurley said. “It’s almost like having spring ball.”
These Falcons are scoring 48.6 points per game. They’ve won 10 straight South Central Ohio League titles and 52 straight SCOL contests.
Nonleague games aren’t easy for dominant programs to find. CM made a bold scheduling move this year by traveling to Steubenville in Week 2.
The Big Red and their fire-breathing horse — yes, they actually have a mechanical horse that spews fire every time Steubenville scores — won 37-18. They’re unbeaten and favored to represent northern Ohio in the D-IV state title game Dec. 5.
“If I had to do that all over again, I definitely would,” McSurley said. “If you haven’t played a team like that, you have no idea how good you are. I think that really opened our kids’ eyes up, especially our younger kids on defense.”
Turpin replaces Steubenville on Massie’s 2016 schedule. In 2017, a powerhouse two-year deal with Coldwater will begin.
McSurley said playing at Big Red’s Harding Stadium was an experience that’s difficult to replicate. CM got a $4,000 check just for making the trip.
“Somebody told me they had a $50,000 gate in that game, so they were able to float us four grand for our troubles,” McSurley said. “When you’re at Clinton-Massie, you’re like, ‘Wow, that’s more than we make in a home game.’
“It’s a really adverse situation for an opposing team. You’re going into one of the largest stadiums. I think they’ve got a $2 million jumbotron. Then they throw you into an absolute dungeon, and it was like 95 degrees.
“We learned a lot. We battled with them. I think we just wore out at the end. But now we’ve seen what a state finalist team looks like and know where we’ve got to be. We felt that having that knowledge was an advantage for us throughout the rest of the regular season.”
With Massie unchallenged for a large part of the regular season, Williams said he loved the opportunity to play Steubenville.
“Personally, I think that game was a lot of fun because it challenged us,” he said. “I did see more of the horse than I wanted to see, but the whole experience prepared us for the rest of the season. We know to expect from a good team.”
CM has played six teams with winning records and six teams with losing records. Against the six winning teams, the Falcons’ average score was 42-26. Against the six losing teams, their average score was 55-7.
Fentress, a three-year starter, was asked if Fenwick’s No. 1 state ranking carries a lot of weight with Massie. He shook his head.
“Honestly, it really doesn’t,” Fentress said. “We’re just going up against another team. We’ve gone up against the best teams in the state. We know what it’s like, so we’ll see if they’ve got what it takes.”
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