by Frank Aceto
ASSOCIATE SPORTS EDITOR
Massillon -- They had been catching just about everybody off-guard throughout the season.
Unfortunately, the Knights' magical ride came to a rather convincing end to the hands of a perennial state powerhouse.
The eighth-seeded Nordonia football team saw its storybook season conclude after losing a convincing 63-34 decision to top-seeded Massillon Washington in a Division I, Region 2 quarterfinal playoff game Nov. 3 at Paul Brown Tiger Stadium in Massillon.
With the loss, the Knights finished 7-4 on the season. The Tigers improved to 10-1.
Nordonia, which last reached the playoffs in 2008, certainly left a lasting impression with its fans. The Knights appeared to be stuck in neutral in recent years after being a regular in the postseason.
Nordonia finished 2-8 for the third consecutive year in 2011. After their stunning turnaround this season, it's safe to say the Knights don't expect to finish with such a poor record anytime soon.
"It was a lot of fun being a part of the Nordonia family," Knights' first-year head coach Jeff Fox said. "It was a really good first year. There's a lot of things we can take from this season and build on."
Nordonia, like a number of teams, has a long way to go before it reaches Massillon's level.
Led by senior quarterback Kyle Kempt, a dominating offensive line and a punishing defense, the Tigers dominated all facets of the game.
It took two plays for Massillon to take the early 7-0 lead and less than five minutes later, the Tigers reached the end zone again.
It went from bad to worse for the Knights.
Less than two minutes later, Massillon recovered a fumble and was prepared to put the game out of reach.
And then a funny thing happened.
Nordonia pulled another rabbit out of the hat.
Knights' senior defensive back Nick Rezek stepped in front of a Tigers' receiver to intercept Kempt's pass.
Rezek had nothing but green turf in front of him, as he raced into the end zone untouched for a 64-yard touchdown. Senior kicker Ryan Bauer added the extra point to cut Massillon's lead to 14-7 with 5 minutes, 23 seconds left in the first quarter.
But Rezek's play turned out to be a tiny chink in the Tigers' armor.
Massillon scored the next 28 points and was up 49-14 at halftime.
Kempt, who made a verbal commitment to the University of Cincinnati, baffled Nordonia's defense with an array of short and long passes that always seemed to be right on the fingertips of his receivers.
In just 24 minutes of work, Kempt completed 11-of-18 passes for 243 yards and three touchdowns.
Kempt had plenty of help.
By halftime, the Tigers had a 200-yard passer, a 100-yard receiver and a 100-yard rusher.
"Obviously, we're competitors and you don't like to lose like this," Fox said. "The kids are devastated, but we're hoping that this is a start to something special."
Massillon took advantage of an interception to score on its first possession of the second half. The Tigers added their final touchdown early in the fourth quarter.
Nevertheless, the Knights didn't go away quietly.
They outscored the Tigers 20-14 in the second half, which included two fourth-quarter TDs.
"They gave a great effort," Fox said. "They never stopped playing. They played one heck of a football team."
Massillon junior wide receiver Marcus Whitfield had four catches for 113 yards and a TD. Tigers' senior tailback Ryne Moore had 102 yards and three TDs on 19 carries.
Knights' senior quarterback Tyler Alders completed 19-of-32 passes for 202 yards and two scores. He also ran for a 13-yard score.
Tyler Alders completed a 13-yard TD pass to his younger brother Alex Alders, a sophomore wide receiver. His other TD pass was 12 yards to junior wide receiver Tyler Hampton.
Junior running back Jordan Nobles led the Nordonia ground game with 107 yards on 21 carries. Senior running back Brandon Hrelja added a one-yard TD run for the Knights on the final play of the game.
Massillon head coach Jason Hall, who was Nordonia's head coach in 2007, was glad to see his former team achieve the success it did.
"I got some buddies on that staff and I coached some of the older brothers of the current players," he said. "It's great to see get back to where they were."
Fox had kind words for his 17 seniors.
"Everyone talks about the underclassmen, but our senior group was the core," he said. "They did everything we asked."