It was pure domination from the very first snap of the playoff game on Friday night at John Cistone Field in Akron, Ohio. The St. Vincent-St. Mary Fighting Irish were ranked #6 in their division and region and came into the game as 6-point favorites over Warren Harding... all of that came to a screeching halt as the Raiders won 35-0 in dominating fashion.
The biggest take away if you missed the football game is the rushing attack for Harding took over offensively. Quarterback Chaz Coleman, even though he is not the fastest athlete, made it happen with his feet and he finished the night with 6 carries for 131-yards and two touchdowns. Running backs Antonio Smith and Javontae Jones were impact players as well in the ground attack. Smith finished the game with 8 carries for 81 yards and a touchdown, with a long run of 60-yards to give the Raiders their second touchdown lead of the night. While Jones finished with 3 carries for 45-yards and a touchdown, with a long of 25-yards.
Explosive plays were the difference in the game on the offensive side of the football. After heading into halftime with a 28-0 lead, Harding received the opening kickoff in the second half and speedster returner Javontae Jones took the kickoff to the house, giving the Raiders a 35-0 lead and the ability to turn on the continuous clock per the Ohio Football Association's rules.
The last thing to mention and something that should not go unnoticed was the defense for Harding. The opening kickoff for the Fighting Irish was returned to the opponents 40-yard line, excellent field position for St. V's to start the football game. The Harding defense stood strong and turned it over on downs shortly after.
The offense got the football and on the very first play from scrimmage, Harding fumbled and the defense went back onto the turf in a short field situation. The defense once again stood strong and the rest of the night was pure domination en route to a 35-0 shutout win versus a very good Akron football program.
This week the Raiders will travel to Hudson, Ohio to visit the 8-2 Hudson Explorers, a football team that is very familiar to Harding as they were a football club that played the last several years, with Hudson winning both matchups (17-10 in 2021 and 21-7 in 2022). Harding has played Hudson very strong in both contests and you can expect the same from a football team that has in their last three games won close in one possession games.
The Explorers are led by eighth year head coach Jeff Gough, who comes into the playoff matchup with a 67-25 all time record. Gough's football team is well-coached and is a physical, disciplined, and extremely fast program. Their strength is in their ability to run several football plays and run them right. They implement a tempo offensive approach and their offensive line is extremely big and strong.
It all starts with the Hudson offense - they are a program that prides itself on the offensive side of the football. Their offensive line is extremely stout, their offense can do several plays well enough to win football games. While a lot of teams have a boat load of offensive plays, Hudson does three plays to a very high level. The first play is stretch - they can run stretch better than any team the Raiders have seen this year. Expect stretch to be their staple play and something they will continue to do at a high level. Versus Benedictine in the playoff matchup, their running back #33 scored a touchdown on stretch and the blocking was the difference maker.
Expect their wide receivers to block until the whistle - this is something that the Harding cornerbacks need to work on this week: the ability to shed blocks more quickly to then be able to tackle the backs in the open space.
Another staple that they do well is that they will run stretch several times and then run a boot off of it and hit their receivers coming across on a drag. If you think you will stop the stretch, be alert for the boot coming backside.
The last staple is getting their receivers on go balls and/ or just in the open space, both work effectively for the Explorers. They will take a deep shot a few times per game and they also enjoy wide receiver screens to set up their offense in short yardage. Ultimately, it is up to the Raiders' defense to once again have a solid week of preparation and understand all of their big name plays on offense with the goal of preventing this team from gaining big chunk plays. If Harding can stop stretch, stretch boot, and can play the football in the air on the long go balls, it is possible for them to mitigate this high tempo Hudson offense.
While their offense gets most of the credit, their defense has held opponents to a respectable amount of points all season long. The most points they gave up was 34 in a 31-34 loss in week 3 to Cleveland Heights, a football team that is currently 10-1 and won their playoff game in dominating fashion 39-0 over a 1-10 Euclid football team.
Defensively, Hudson runs a 3-3/3-4 defensive front but at times they can switch to their 4-3 and be successful at that as well. They are multiple on the defensive line and apply a consistent amount of pressure. As for the coverages on the backend, they are extremely heavy with cover 3. They like to run cover 0 as well but going over their tape, they very much enjoy playing cover 3 and letting their athletes have eyes on the quarterback and drop into their zones. They rally extremely well and you can expect all 11 hats to the football in no time.
They play base a lot of the time on defense and just let their athletes make plays. Expect a very disciplined defense with great sound tackling. They will not be fooled with anything and you will have to gain the yardage one play at a time and slowly get your way down the football field. This is different from last week's St. V's playoff matchup where the mantra was explosive play after explosive play. Harding will have to earn their yards in this contest and the Hudson defense will try to prevent that from occurring from the very first snap of play.
The Hudson Explorers are a very solid football team and are extremely well-coached. The one thing they do extremely well is run their offense with just a few key staples. If Harding's defense can prevent these plays from gaining a good amount of yardage, it will be a good night for the Raiders.
One thing to note is that over the last three games, Hudson has been in one possession games that could have gone either way. Hudson ended up winning all three of those games (Nordonia, a win by only 3 points, North Royalton, a win by only 5 points, and then last week in the round one playoff game versus Benedictine, Hudson won in overtime by 1 point.). This is a great thing for the Raiders football team if they believe they have a chance heading into the fourth quarter, it gives confidence to both opponents, which is much needed for high school athletes.
Overall, the Raiders' defense needs to bring the intensity and the preparation that they displayed versus Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary's last Friday night, and if that intensity and knowledge of the opponents' offense and what they are doing comes to light, Harding will be moving on to week 13.
At a Glance:
Warren Harding Raiders
Head Coach: Steven Arnold
Record: 69-59 (5-6 - 2023)
Years as HC: 12
Record Last Year: 2-8
League: All-American Conference
Defense: 3-4, Multiple
Aug. 18 - Canton McKinley - Loss - 14-33
Aug. 26 - at Akron Buchtel - Win - 20-16
Sept. 1 - Farrell - Loss - 17-24
Sept. 8 - at St. Vincent St. Mary - Loss - 28-42
Sept. 15 - at Ursuline - Loss - 20-56
Sept. 22 - Chaney - Win - 26-7
Sept. 29 - Boardman - Win - 38-20
Oct. 6 - at Cardinal Mooney - Win - 24-21
Oct. 13 - at Massillon - Loss - 14-48
Oct. 20 - Austintown Fitch - Loss - 13-14
--- Playoffs ---
Oct. 27 - at St. Vincent St. Mary (Round 1 Playoffs) - Win - 35-0
Nov. 3 - at Hudson Explorers (Round 2 Playoffs)
Head Coach: Jeff Gough
Years as HC: 8
Record Last Year: 13-1
League: Suburban League American Conference
Offense: Spread / No Huddle Offensive Approach
Defense: 3-3 and 4-3
Aug. 18 - at Highland - Win - 35-21
Aug. 25 - at Hoover - Win - 45-8
Sept. 1 - Cleveland Heights - Loss - 31-34
Sept. 8 - at Stow-Monroe Falls - Win - 44-14
Sept. 14 - at Twinsburg - Win - 30-21
Sept. 22 - Wadsworth - Loss - 13-19
Sept. 29 - Brecksville - Win - 17-6
Oct. 6 - Nordonia - Win - 17-14
Oct. 13 - at North Royalton - Win - 14-9
Oct. 27 - Benedictine - Win - 20-19 (Playoffs)
Nov. 3 - Warren G. Harding - TBD (Playoffs)
The Raiders will face off against the Hudson Explorers on Friday, November 3rd 7 p.m. at their stadium.
Ticket Information: Playoff tickets are sold online on the OHSAA website.