As of this past Friday night, Warren G. Harding High School has played in 1,185 football games in what is now their 127th season! Out of the 696 games that they've won, only 11 had larger margins of victory than the Raiders' 56-0 win over James Ford Rhodes High School. It marked Harding's biggest blowout since 2008 (WGH 58, Youngstown Chaney 0) in a game that only saw the Raiders gain 162 yards of offense.
On paper, that total certainly wouldn't suggest the scoring output, but a stingy defense along with a 35-yard punt return for a touchdown by senior Ty Artis made the workload much lighter for the Harding offense. Jabari Felton (3.5), Emarion Perkins, Emari Burgess, Jamel Anderson, Chester Adams, Jasier Graham, Jarriel White, and Brysen Powell all recorded tackles for losses while Felton, Graham, Artis, and Dominic Foster each snagged fumble recoveries for the Raiders. Senior Jordan Brantley was also a huge beneficiary of the pressure up front as he intercepted a pass and danced 16 yards to the end zone for the first varsity touchdown of his career.
Offensively, Foster scored the first two touchdowns of his young football career on a 7-yard run and a 50-yard pass to fellow sophomore Tyirq Ivory, who also hauled in a 12-yard touchdown catch from Elijah Taylor. Ivory finished with 4 catches for 87 yards and those two scores. Junior Elizah Smith served as the short finisher in the red zone as he had a pair of 2-yard touchdown runs while Marcus "Arizona" Brown added versatility to the offense with his 15-yard touchdown run. WIth him and Jamel Anderson also recording receptions in the game, eight different Raiders have already caught passes through two games this season (10 in eleven games in 2018).
Now, imagine being one of the most winningest programs in the history of high school football, but possibly underrated in your own state. That's Massillon Washington, whose 886 all-time wins are comfortably ranked fifth in the country. All 24 of their state titles were won before the playoff era began in 1972 while nine of their teams (1935, 1936, 1939, 1940, 1950, 1952, 1953, 1959, and 1961) are credited with AP national championships, which is a national record. If you look at the past scores, it's not hard to understand why the Tigers were so well respected by the poll voters in those days, but a few tough programs have prevented them from winning a playoff title.
Massillon had state runner-up finishes in 1980 (Cincinnati Moeller), 1982 (Moeller), 2005 (Cincinnati St. Xavier), and most recently in 2018 when Akron Archbishop Hoban pulled away late to win the Division II state championship game 42-28. They also had season-ending playoff losses to the eventual state champion in 1989 (Cleveland St. Ignatius), 1991 (St. Ignatius), and 2001 (St. Ignatius) while also falling in the playoffs to the eventual state runner-up in 1972 (Cincinnati Princeton), 1979 (Parma Padua), 2002 (Warren G. Harding), 2009 (Cleveland Glenville), 2012 (Toledo Whitmer), and 2017 (Cincinnati Winton Woods).
Don't feel sorry for the Tigers though. They are back and even after the graduation of their all-time leading rusher Jamir Thomas, loaded as always. Senior Aidan Longwell is as efficient of a quarterback as you'll find at the high school level as he has completed 25 of his 29 passes for 477 yards, five touchdowns, and just one interception. Three of those touchdown passes have gone to junior Ohio State commit Jayden Ballard, who has hauled in seven catches for 172 yards (24.6 ypc) while also having a 66-yard kickoff return for a touchdown under his belt. However, Longwell's biggest target thus far has been Andrew Wilson-Lamp, who has 13 receptions for 270 yards (20.8 ypc) and 2 touchdowns. The Tigers rotate running backs Terrence Keyes (22 carries for 141 yards and 3 touchdowns) and Raekwon Venson (18 carries for 113 yards) and they've done everything behind an offensive line that averages 263 pounds per man. To date, that's been without the services of 6'4," 270 junior offensive tackle Terrence Rankl, who already holds offers from Akron, Ball State, Kent State, and Toledo. Longwell also holds a slew of offers for both football and baseball. The Tigers have yet to yield a sack and are averaging 49.5 points per game.
Defensively, the Tigers run a stiff 3-4 defense that is stout up front with lean, quick defensive linemen in Ethan Tobin, Emanuel McElroy, and C.J. Harris and tough, strong linebackers in Preston Hodges, Xavier Andrews, Noah Richards, and Caiden Woodward. Those four average just under 200 pounds per man, which is pretty big at the high school level. They're anchored by a solid secondary that includes 6'1, 190 pound safety Luke Murphy, who's currently entertaining offers from Kent State, Youngstown State, and Notre Dame College (OH). Through their first two games, the Tigers have combined for 12 tackles for a loss and the other night against Canton Glenoak, Hodges returned an interception 24 yards for a touchdown. Their starting defense, which also recorded a safety in the third quarter of their season opener against Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary, has only surrendered 14 points (not including Glenoak's kickoff return for a touchdown or their late score from Friday). Having outscored their opponents 99-27 thus far, the Tigers backups on both sides of the ball have got plenty of experience.
As of right now, Massillon has an all-time record of 54-25-3 against Harding. If the Raiders hope to put a small dent in that, junior quarterback Elijah Taylor will need to return to his record-setting week 1 mode after being on cruise control this past Friday against Rhodes. He enters week 3 with 341 passing yards and three touchdowns and he'll look to lead the Raiders to their first victory over Massillon since 2016, a 41-28 victory that saw Harding end the game with 28 unanswered points. That game took place at the infamous Paul Brown Tiger Stadium, but Friday's showdown will be in the confines of Mollenkopf Stadium. Location certainly won't matter for the Tiger faithful, who is known for taking thousands of fans all over Ohio to pack opposing stadiums in support of their team. While it's very early, a win by either team will set them up nicely for the Division II-Region 5 playoffs down the road.
LEEEEEEEEEEEET'S GOOOOOOOOOOO RAIDEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEERS!!!