On a scorching hot Saturday afternoon, the Warren G. Harding Raiders traveled to Akron to visit the Buchtel Griffins at the Bill Heideman Athletic Complex. Harding came away victorious after a late touchdown by tailback Ryan Powell, to secure a 20-16 win.
The Raiders established the ground game early and were the more physical team in the trenches on offense in the first and second quarter. After executing and taking the opening drive the distance for a touchdown, the Raiders defense registered a quick three-and-out to give their offense yet another opportunity early in the first quarter.
Everything was going as planned as Harding took a 14-0 lead over Buchtel after one quarter of play. The Griffins clawed right back into the game in the second quarter as quarterback Stevie Diamond hit receiver Artrell Wallace on a 23-yard touchdown reception; the extra point was blocked. (14-6 Raiders).
Harding marched down the field once again with the ground game and the passing attack helped by receiver Devon Morgan. Buchtel's defense is their strong suit and they played physical throughout the entire contest. With just several minutes before halftime and the Raiders at the Buchtel 3-yard line, quarterback Drew McKowan fumbled the snap and Buchtel's own Durean Johnson recovered.
The mistake proved costly as Harding could have gone into halftime with a 21-6 lead but instead went into the locker room up 14-6. Buchtel cut the deficit in the third quarter after a 3-yard touchdown run by running back Justin Hill and the point after was secured. Harding had only a 1-point lead and the pressure was put on.
Special teams is such a vital part in football and can win and lose you games. On the ensuing kickoff, Buchtel forced a fumble and recovered, giving them prime position to take the lead for the first time in the contest - and did just that. Kicker Demetrion Duvall nailed a 20-yard field goal giving Buchtel a 16-14 lead with 6 minutes left in the third quarter.
Fast forward to late in the fourth quarter, Raiders safety Raylin Adams intercepted the football for a pick-six... so they thought... The interception return was taken back due to a penalty, but it actually helped Harding as they ran the ball and took a lot of time off the clock. With a minute and some change left in the fourth, Ryan Powell scored from a few yards out to give Harding the 20-16 lead pending a two point conversion. The conversion was no good and it was now up to the defense to finish the matchup.
Buchtel had the ball last with under a minute left in play and quarterback Stevie Diamond ended up throwing a game-ending interception to senior cornerback Khamari Adams. Harding came way with the victory 20-16 and is looking to clean up their sloppy play and turnovers, which almost proved to be extremely costly.
This Friday is the Panther Throwback game at Mollenkopf Stadium and Harding will welcome a new opponent for the first time in the history of the program - The Farrell Steelers of Pennsylvania.
Over the last decade, the Farrell Steelers have established themselves as a premiere football program in the State of Pennsylvania. Farrell's record over the last five years is 55-8, and last season they registered 10 wins to only 2 losses. Not only that, Farrell has won seventeen of their last 18 regular season games and are known for their athletic athletes and physical defensive play.
In 2018, Farrell won the Pennsylvania Class A State Championship 55-20 over Lackawanna Trail, securing a state title for the first time since 1996. They finished the season 15-2. Just a year later in 2019, Farrell won the State Championship again with a 10-7 overtime win over Bishop Guilfoyle.
The Steelers have four State Championships and in 1995-1996 they won it back-to-back as well. The tradition of excellence and winning football games is on full display and this team is excited and hungry to come into Mollenkopf Stadium on Friday to play some bigger competition and display their winning ways.
Offensively, Farrell runs a spread offense and is led by quarterback Kabron Smith, who threw for 1,919 yards and 22 touchdowns as a junior. This will be Smith's senior campaign, and he is hoping to improve his play and carry the Steelers to an even better record in 2023.
In the first game of the season versus North East, Farrell established that they want the ball in Smith's hands at quarterback. While the run to pass ratio was 50/50, it is misleading as the Steelers had a large lead in the fourth quarter and decided to run the clock and ran the ball more than pass. However, from quarter one to three, Farrell passed the ball nearly every play and seemed to really believe in Smith and his ability as the signal caller.
Brandon Chambers was Farrell's running back a season ago but the coaching staff has decided to have him switch to receiver. The receiving corps is extremely strong with many fast and physical athletes. They can spread the ball out and really execute the vertical passing attack.
Sophomore running back Juelz Johnson is their running back and is looking to establish himself after rushing for 200 yards a season ago.
Farrell Defense & Matchup to Watch:
Defensively, Farrell employs a 4-3 defensive front with majority of their coverage being cover 3. They want to create havoc on defense and do that by bringing cornerback blitzes at times along with different blitzes by their linebackers.
The amount of pressure they put on North East was evident as their quarterback was picked off a decent number of times and seemed confused. Applying pressure and confusing Raiders quarterback Drew McKowan is going to be their goal this week.
We've never done this before but the matchup to watch will be Raiders quarterback Drew McKowan versus the Farrell defense as a whole. McKowan on Saturday went 9/16 for 131 yards and two interceptions. While Buchtel's defense was physical and most likely still will be more physical than Farrell's, it is still up to Drew to stay calm, cool, and collected as he continues to transition into his role as the Raiders' starting quarterback.
Expect the Steelers to continue to bring cornerback blitzes, linebacker blitzes, and potentially drop defensive ends and/ or defensive tackles in the passing windows if they decide to get a bit more crazy. While this is not common in high school football, anything is possible to disrupt the timing and accuracy of McKowan this week.
Again, we probably won't see true fire zone blitzes from the Farrell Steelers but what you can expect is a consistent pass rush and a need for McKowan to take his checkdowns and make plays by not forcing the football. If this can occur, along with establishing the run game once again this week, Harding will look to match their 2022 win total in just week three of the season this Friday at Mollenkopf Stadium.
At a Glance:
Warren Harding Raiders
Head Coach: Steven Arnold
Record: 65-54 (1-1 - 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 - Win - 20-16
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: Amp Pegues
Record: 41-8 (1-0 - 2023)
Years as HC: 5
Record Last Year: 10-2 (1st Place Region 3)
Aug. 25 - at North East - Win - 32-14
Sept. 1 - at Harding
Sept. 8 - Grove City
Sept. 15 - Greenville
Sept. 22 - at Hickory
Sept. 29 - at Wilmington
Oct. 6 - Sharpsville
Oct. 14 - Sharon
Oct. 21 - at Slippery Rock
Oct. 27 - Cathedral Prep
The Raiders will face off against the Farrell Steelers at Mollenkopf Stadium on Friday, September 1st at 7:00 p.m.
Special Note: It is the Panther Throwback Game; make sure to arrive early to ensure proper parking and admission.
*NO Cash Options at the Gate. You MUST order online at the link below.