Self-inflicted wounds was the storyline that highlighted a 21-7 loss to the Hudson Explorers on Friday night at Mollenkopf Stadium. The Raiders are looking to move past their mistakes and head into week 4 continuing to find their identity in all three phases of the football, especially on offense where they have struggled.
During the week 3 battle versus Hudson, the Raiders began the game with a three-and-out and the offense could not get the ball moving. With roughly 5-minutes and some odd change left in the first-quarter, the Harding defense once again forced a massive stop on defense and the punting unit for Hudson came on the field. Hudson punter Nolan Yanak had a fantastic night and averaged 41 yards per punt. Yanak's best punt of the night came late in the first quarter where he placed his punt in a perfect position with a high hang time. The ball placement, velocity, and the hangtime, all played in for what would be the first play of the game on special teams for the Explorers. Raiders return man Raylin Adams was fielding the punt when he muffed it and the Explorers recovered on the 10-yard line. A few plays later, running back Ian Ludewig ran it in for a 10-yard touchdown to put the Explorers up 7-0 on the Raiders.
The specials teams blunder was not the only one of the night for the black and gold, as the next one proved to be the true game changer, giving all momentum to Hudson. With 6:50 seconds left in the third quarter, the game at 7-0 with Hudson still leading, the Raiders went for a 35-yard field goal attempt from kicker Jake Daugherty. The junior placekicker has had an up-and-down junior campaign this season but what would happen next was not on the coaches minds at Mollenkopf Stadium. Snap is good, hold is good, ball is kicked... and it is BLOCKED... recovered by Hudson's Gio DePompei, who returns it 80-yards for a touchdown, putting Hudson up 14-0 late in the third-quarter.
There was a late surge from the Raiders after Hudson punched it in again in the third-quarter with 2:19 seconds left. Raiders quarterback Drew McKowan, who was in for the injured Dalys Jett, proved to be a bright spot at times for the Raiders on offense. McKowan went 14 for 26 for 144 and 1 interception while also rushing for the lone Raiders touchdown of the night. McKowan's rushing yards were more than the Raiders running backs as he had 13 rush attempts for 41 yards, an average of 3.2 yards per carry. McKowan also had a long 40-yard run on an impressive scramble, avoiding countless defenders on a trip to the endzone. The sophomore made a few mistakes, but overall was a bright spot for the future of the Raiders and life after quarterback Dalys Jett, who will be looking to reach the next level here in a few months with college football.
Besides the special teams being the Achilles' heel on Friday night, the offense needs to continue to find its identity to even remotely come close to making it a competitive game on Friday at Paul Brown Tiger Stadium.
Massillon is a tough task any time the Raiders face them. The last time these two historical teams played, the final was 49-46 Massillon and the Raiders never gave up in the process, coming back after being down by multiple scores heading into the late fourth quarter. This will be the 87th meeting between the two opponents and the Massillon Tigers lead with a 58-25-3 record.
When these two face off on Friday night, it will be slightly different than last year. The Raiders are without a few senior receivers who lit up the scoreboard and made it a competitive game late in the fourth quarter in 2021. This time it will be a younger team filled with sophomores (Raiders) versus a more veteran team filled with a good amount of juniors and seniors (Massillon). Do not get it twisted, the Tigers have a sophomore quarterback in Jalen Slaughter; however, this sophomore has been putting on an impressive outing in the three games he has played in thus far. Slaughter last week against Mansfield Senior, went 10 for 16 for 146 yards and two touchdowns with a long of 51-yards. Cool, calm, and collected is what Slaughter brings to the table.
Another stud on the offensive side of the football is senior tailback Willtrell Hartson, who is listed at 5'-10", 200 pounds. Hartson last Friday rushed for 104 yards on 16 carries and earned a touchdown. This is an average of 6.3 per carry. Against a very good Cincinnati Moeller football team in week one, in which the Tigers lost the football game 49-31, Hartson was a bright spot in his rushing abilities, going for 127 yards on 26 carries and earned four touchdowns. This is an average of 4.8 per carry. Between Hartson and Slaughter, the Tigers' offense has firepower that the Raiders will need to slow down. The bend but don't break mentality on defense will be in full force this Friday night.
After watching film, there is no question that the strength of this defense is the defensive line, which has been playing lights out in the last few games. The Tigers' defensive line plays a multitude of fronts. Here is a list of several that has been seen on film: 4-2, 4-3, 3,4 and a 3-4 Tite look. As for the back end of the defense, the secondary plays a good amount of cover 4, but there is a mix of cover 3 sprinkled in there. Against Archbishop Moeller, when the Tigers had to defend the goal line, their secondary played man-to-man, which is common practice in a goal line defense. Overall, cover 4 and then the multitude of the defensive fronts to try and confuse opposing offensive lines is what the Tigers do very well.
Speaking of the defensive line versus the offensive line, that is our matchup to watch for this week's game.
Matchup to Watch: Harding Offensive Line & Blitz Pick Up From Running Backs VERSUS Massillon's Stout Defensive Line
The Raiders' offensive line continues to perfect their craft every single week and each week there is a massive challenge. This week, the Tigers' multitude of defensive fronts, and the strength and power from the defensive lineman, pose a challenge for the Raiders' offensive line. This week the matchup to watch is the Harding offensive line AND the ability for the Raiders' running backs to help in blitz pickup versus Massillon's stout defensive line.
This is a common sense matchup and something that needs to be done effectively in order for not only the Raiders signal-caller whether that is Dalys Jett or Drew McKowan to have time to throw the ball, but to also open up lanes for running back Ryan Powell, who statistically had one of his worst nights versus Hudson. Powell averaged 2.2 yards per carry on 10 carries for a total of 22 yards. Hopefully Powell bounces back and the pressure on the quarterback can subside against a very good Massillon Washington football team.
If the Raiders' offensive line and running backs can have a day versus the Tigers' stout defensive line and give time for throwing the football and opening up lanes in the running game, it may be a competitive football game. Not only that, the Raiders' defense needs to be able to tackle in the open field, and defend the Tigers' ability to throw with quarterback Jalen Slaughter. If they defend the pass, it is up to the defensive line of the Raiders to wrap-up and make sure that running back Willtrell Hartson does not have a field day on the football field. We all know what Hartson can do versus a very good football team, he displayed that in week one. We also know what he can do versus any football team, he has done that in all three weeks of the season.
Ultimately, the key for the Raiders is to continue to work on their offensive identity and for the defense to have the best week of practice of their young Harding careers. There is a lot to defend heading into this matchup, but one thing is for certain -- never doubt the Warren G. Harding Raiders and their physicality and pure determination to never give up.
At a Glance:
Warren Harding Raiders
Head Coach: Steven Arnold
Record: 63-47 (Includes 1-2 this Season)
Years as HC: 11
Record Last Year: 5-6
Defense: 3-4, 4-3
Aug. 19 at Medina - Loss - 10-33
Aug. 26 vs Buchtel - Won - 14-7
Sept. 2 vs Hudson - Loss - 7-21
Sept. 9 at Massillon
Sept. 16 vs Ursuline
Sept. 23 at St. Vincent-St. Mary
Sept. 30 at Boardman
Oct. 7 vs Mooney
Oct. 14 at Chaney
Oct. 21 at Fitch
Head Coach: Nate Moore
Record: 73-21 (Includes 2-1 this Year)
Years as HC: 8
Record Last Year: 11-3
Defense: 3-4, 3-4 Tite, 4-2, 4-3 (Multitude)
August 19th vs Archbishop Moeller - Loss - 31-49
August 26th at GlenOak - Win - 35-7
September 2nd at Mansfield Senior - Win - 33-0
September 9th vs Warren G. Harding
September 16th vs St. Edward
September 23rd vs Austintown Fitch
September 30th vs Middletown (DE)
October 7th vs Canisius (NY)
October 22nd vs Canton McKinley
The Raiders will face off against the Massillon Tigers on Friday, September 9th 7 p.m. at Paul Brown Tiger Stadium.
Address: 1 Paul E Brown Dr SE, Massillon, OH 44646