After going 1-4 in the first half of the 2021 football season, Warren G. Harding has responded with their current four-game winning streak. Prior to the season, head coach Steve Arnold described this team as "explosive." That couldn't have been any more true for their first seventeen minutes of game action the other night at Youngstown Chaney. It started off on the defensive side of the ball when senior defensive end Kincaid Tyson scooped up a Cowboy fumble at the 30-yard line and raced 70 yards for a touchdown with 5:18 remaining in the first quarter. By the 5:10 mark of the first quarter, the Raiders recovered a well executed "pooch" kickoff by kicker Jake Daugherty at the Chaney 25-yard line and on the very next play, fellow sophomore Ryan Powell ran it in for the touchdown to make the score 14-0.
As quick as that sequence happened, Harding was just getting started. On a fourth down & long situation from their own 40-yard line, senior Johnny Taylor capped off his last day being 17 (he turned 18 years old on Saturday) by catching a quick slant from quarterback Dalys Jett and, while being escorted downfield by teammate Tyirq Ivory, dashed for a 60-yard touchdown with exactly 7.6 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
Speaking of "18," was just about how many seconds of game action that it took for the Raiders to get the ball back again for their next touchdown as on the unsuing kickoff, Daugherty made his presence felt again by recovering his own onside kick at the Chaney 48-yard line. On the next play, Jett scambled out of the pocket and threw a 48-yard, record-tying touchdown to Dom Foster with 11:50 to go until halftime. It gave Jett 19 touchdown passes this year, which tied Harding's single-season record that he now shares with Alex Engram (2003) and current Miami Dolphin Lynn Bowden.
With the score 28-0 so early in the game, it seemed as if Arnold was eager to put a potential continuous clock on Chaney, which is activated if a team has a 30-point lead in the second half, in order to beat a potential thunderstorm that made several appearances throughout the entire state on Friday night. Luckily, the storm never touched down at Rayen Stadium in Youngstown, but neither did any quit in the Cowboys as head coach Chris Amill Sr. and his staff got an outstanding effort from their young men. That was spear-headed by freshman quarterback Matt Jones, who put their first six points on the board with a 14-yard run with 7:58 to go in ther second quarter.
Chaney's new-found momentum was short lived as once again, the Raiders would showcase their explosiveness. The stick of dynamite was once again provided by Foster as he caught the ensuing kickoff at the 11-yard line, got behind Ivory, and followed him up the sideline before bursting through for an 89-yard touchdown. It was the 17th touchdown of the season for the future Syracuse Orangemen and the second via kickoff return this year, which is another Harding single-season record and ties the all-time career record set by Omar Provitt from 1989-91 & Lynn Bowden from 2015-16. His 10 touchdown receptions this season only trails the 11 that Mario Manningham caught back in 2003. Chaney continued to fight hard, but ultimately fell victim to the Raiders by the score of 35-26.
With the way things are going, there's a great chance that I'll continue my recent trend of discussing the school records that this group of Raiders continue to break every week. However, that will definitely be the case for Austintown Fitch as long quarterback Devin Sherwood suits up. On August 27 against Canton McKinley, Sherwood's 135 passing yards officially put him over former Falcon John Ballard's then-school record of 3,301 career passing yards to become their new all-time leader. That was in week 2, but we're now heading into week 10 and Sherwood's foot has never left the gas pedal as he's now has 4,769 passing yards in his illustrious career. That includes 1,761 in eight games this season, which includes 8 touchdown passes. He's coming off a highly efficient performance against rival Boardman as he went 16-of-18 for 239 yards and one touchdown.
Of course, Sherwood isn't the only one responsible for those yards. His favorite target has been senior Tyler Evans, who enters week 10 with 35 catches for 652 tards and two touchdowns. Junior Cam Smith came into this season with high expectations as his sophomore campaign not only ended with First Team honors in both Mahoning County and the All American Conference, but he was also an Northeast Inland District Honorable Mention. The other night in Boardman, Smith added to his lengthy resume with 3 catches for 60 yards. The unsung hero at the wide receiver position was Donnie Ellis, who caught a 42-yard touchdown pass from Sherwood against the Spartans.
Unfortunately, Fitch has experienced some early-season injuries at the tailback position, but there was plenty of production there against Boardman as Tyree Mitchell finished with a team-high rushing 54 yards and a touchdown while D.J. Williams finished the night with 47 of his own. Williams enters this week as the Falcons' leading rusher as he has 345 yards and 6 touchdowns. I can't talk about Fitch's game against Boardman game without mentioning junior kicker Josiah Berni, who nailed a 26-yard field as time expired to lift the Falcons over Boardman 17-14.
This Friday will mark the 33rd meeting between Harding and Fitch, which really couldn't be a much closer series. Harding has a slim 17-15 all-time advantage in wins and a 590-563 edge in scoring. It will be the second year of the rivalry for Fitch head coach T.J. Parker, who split two games with Harding last year. If history tells us anything about these two programs, they're both going to show up, fight with everything that they have, and give everyone in attendance a great illustration of the toughness that their communities have instilled in them. It will be "Senior Night" for Harding, who will look to secure a home game for the first round of the 2021 playoffs. A win on Friday night will produce just that, but the same could be said for Fitch as well.