On Friday night at Mollenkopf Stadium, the atmosphere was electric as the Harding Raiders hosted the Canton McKinley Bulldogs. In the first quarter, McKinley got on the board first with a 5-yard touchdown run from Stephon Thomas; the extra point was no good (6-0).
In the second quarter, Harding got in a groove offensively after quarterback Drew McKowan scrambled left and threw a solid pass to open receiver Devin Morgan.
A few short plays later, Harding running back Ryan Powell scampered in for a 7-yard rushing touchdown; the extra point was good (7-6 Harding).
McKinley scored on a deep post route with only 21-seconds left in the second quarter. After momentum had shifted to Canton and halftime was on the horizon, a spark was provided by kickoff returner Airiz Coleman-Bey, who ran the kickoff back for a 72-yard touchdown.
The halftime score was 14-14 and the momentum shifted back to the Harding Raiders as they went into their new locker room for the halftime adjustments.
Canton received the ball to start the second half of play and marched right down the field with the likes of junior running back Nino Hill. Hill, who served a suspension for the first half of the game, was the difference maker in the second half. He rushed for over 165-yards and 2 touchdowns. McKinley’s halftime adjustment was to play bully ball and run between the tackles rather than outside of the tackles on stretch-like plays — and it worked.
The Canton McKinley Bulldogs ended up scoring 19 unanswered points to finish with a 33-14 win at Mollenkopf Stadium to start the 2023 football season. Harding scored 6 points on offense and 6 points via a kickoff return touchdown with their special teams, and then of course the two extra points that were good from senior kicker Jake Daugherty. The improvement this week is on all three phases, with an obvious emphasis to score more points offensively.
Harding will visit the Akron Buchtel Griffins on Saturday, August 26th at 1:00 p.m. This is a unique time, so make sure you put it on your calendar and attend the week two matchup between a team who went 7-5 and made it decently far in the OHSAA playoffs last season. This occurred after losing to the Raiders in week two last year. The Griffins have returning starters from a season ago and are looking to get revenge on the Raiders.
Last season, the Buchtel Griffins started the season 0-4 but rallied to win 7 games in a row before losing to West Branch in the Regional Semifinal Game 33-41. There is a rich tradition of winning football games and reaching the state title within this school district. Buchtel has won two State football titles in 1987 and 1988 with legendary Akron coach Tim Flossie. Roughly six months ago the Griffins won the Basketball State Championship with some of their football players on the team; the tradition and excitement is most definitely in the air over in Akron.
Now, in his third season at the helm, Griffins coach Bryan Williams has put his stamp on the program and is looking to build upon last season with a much faster start than 0-4.
Last week versus Hoover, Buchtel was defeated in a tight game 21-27 and is looking to start this 2023 season in a better direction. It all starts with this week's matchup versus the Harding Raiders. Both the Raiders and Griffins are 0-1 and both teams relied on their special teams to spark their team last week. Buchtel returned a kickoff for a touchdown, Harding returned a kickoff for a touchdown. Buchtel's offense struggled at times, Harding's offense struggled at times. Buchtel's defense set the tone and worked extremely hard, Harding's defense set the tone and worked extremely hard. This is what we call a mirror image matchup and one to watch in week two.
It is always a positive when one of your returning starters is your signal caller and leader of your offense. The Griffins return 6'3 190-pound starting quarterback Stevie Diamond, who got into a groove later in the season as a sophomore. Diamond completed over 120 passes from a season ago for over 1900-yards and 21 touchdowns to 8 interceptions; he also ran for 3 touchdowns.
Diamond has an offer from Marshall in which he earned on December 2, 2022. Diamond is the leader of the offense and someone who is a dual threat that can run the ball or pass accurately.
The receiving corps for Buchtel is extremely explosive as one of Diamond's favorite weapons is Kent State commit Dakota Taylor, who is 6'5 220-pounds. Taylor will graduate in 2024 and is a wide receiver who can impact the game rather quickly.
Another impact player is speedy returner/ wide receiver Zyaire Lewis, who just earned his first 100-yard game last week versus Hoover. Lewis had 6 receptions for 132 yards and a touchdown; he will be a difference maker on offense and has the speed to show for it with a 4.37 40-yard dash time.
If you thought the offensive wide receivers were explosive, enter senior running back Wylie Cheairs III. A season ago Cheairs III rushed for over 880-yards on 182 carries and 8 touchdowns. He along with the likes of Justin Hill and D'ontae Fortson are expected to make impacts in the backfield for the Buchtel Griffins.
Overall, the Buchtel Griffins' offensive attack is very real and can be explosive when all of the pieces are put together. Last season in week two when the Griffins visited Mollenkopf Stadium, the Raiders stopped the run extremely well, prompting Diamond to throw 34 pass attempts, completing 15 of them for 163-yards and an interception. The rushing attack by Justin Hill and Cheairs III was non-existent with only 10 attempts between the both of them for 38 rushing yards and a single touchdown (Hill).
Buchtel Defense & Matchup to Watch:
When Coach Williams and the Buchtel coaching staff watches Harding versus Canton McKinley in week one, specifically the second half of the game, they will understand that setting the tone in the trenches will be impactful and the key to winning the contest.
The matchup to watch this week is Harding's offensive line, which struggled in week one, versus Buchtel's defensive line, which stood its ground at times versus Hoover. Buchtel returns some players from a season ago; however, they lost four starters across both lines in Tinell Edwards, Marques Turner, Davian Greenlee and Jermaine James. Edwards was one player who I showcased in last season's preview and having him leave due to graduation is extremely helpful for the Raiders in their preparation this week.
Like Harding, Buchtel's defense is aggressive, physical, fast and ready to hit. The defensive line is extremely big and physical and is a reason the matchup to watch this week is Harding's O-line versus the Griffin's D-line. If Harding's line can improve from last week and become more physical, because we know they sadly cannot get any bigger, it should be a great battle between the trenches.
Lastly, the Griffins run a multitude of coverages in the secondary that include cover 0, 1, 3 and 4. The defensive front is a 4-3 and the blitzes they run can stem from double A gaps, a few B gaps, all of their backers, and of course stunting their defensive line by slanting to the field.
Overall, do not expect this game to be a shootout or have many explosive offensive plays; you can expect similar to last year a low scoring contest between two teams who are extremely well prepared on the defensive side of the football. Offensively, both teams will need to adapt to what the defense gives them and improve from a week ago.
The week two game will be held on Saturday, August 26th at 1:00 p.m. in Akron.
At a Glance:
Warren Harding Raiders
Head Coach: Steven Arnold
Record: 64-54 (0-1 - 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
Sept. 1 - Farrell
Sept. 8 - at St. Vincent St. Mary
Sept. 15 - at Ursuline
Sept. 22 - Chaney
Sept. 29 - Boardman
Oct. 6 - at Cardinal Mooney
Oct. 13 - at Massillon
Oct. 20 - Austintown Fitch
At a Glance:
Head Coach: Bryan Williams
Record: 11-12 (Includes 0-1 this season)
Years as HC: 3
Record Last Year: 7-5 Playoffs
League: City Series
Defense: 4-3; Cover 0, 3, 4
Aug. 18 - at Hoover - Loss - 21-27
Aug. 26 - (Saturday 1 p.m.) Warren G. Harding
Sept. 2 - (Saturday 1 p.m.) Lake Catholic
Sept. 8 at Bedford
Sept. 16 - at Benedictine
Sept. 22 at Ellet
Sept. 29 - at Garfield
Oct. 7 - (Saturday 1 p.m.) East
Oct. 14 - (Saturday 1 p.m.) North
Oct. 21 - (Saturday 1 p.m.) Firestone
The Raiders will face off against Akron Buchtel on Saturday, August 26th at 1:00 p.m. in Akron.
Sold at the gate and/ or through Akron Buchtel's athletic website.