Any high school football team, in any year, that travels to Massillon for a game, better be ready for the fight of their lives. Tigertown breeds their youth different down there. In fact, both of the last two seasons yieled Division II state runner up finishes and the orange & black brought back a slew of future FBS players and tough kids for yet another run in 2020. All things considered, Warren G. Harding traveled to Stark County this and gave a montrous effort defensively, which included two interceptions by senior Emari Burgess. Trailing just 7-0 at halftime, the Raiders nearly held the Tigers' powerful offense scoreless in the 3rd quarter before a blocked punt set up a 3-yard touchdown run by Raekwon Venson with 0:38 remaining in the period. With the Harding offense unable to generate drives in the fourth quarter, they eventually fell 24-0.
Despite Harding's current 1-2 record, the coaching staff can pinpoint moments from the Massillon and Cleveland Benedictine games when things started to go south for the Raiders. Again, the defense has been pretty stout, but there's hiccups here and there that eventually blow up in their face. Moving forward, they'll look to iron out the wrinkles and get an even high level of consistency. That aspect of their game would certainly be aided by the offense moving the chains for fresh sets of downs, which again, was limited this past Friday. However, while the offense had their issues the other night, they know that they're capable of making plays, especially through the air. To date, senior quarterback Elijah Taylor is the school's all-time leading passer by nearly 600 yards and 3 touchdowns. He'll look to spread the ball and bounce back and start turning his big numbers into big wins this week.
Sadly, Harding shared a very difficult loss last year with Austintown-Fitch as Coach Phil Annarella passed away unexpectedly on June 8, 2019. At the time, the former leader of both Warren Western Reserve and Warren G. Harding was heading into his 13th season as the Falcon's head coach before he succumbed to natural causes. Fitch fought hard through the tragedy as then-interim coach Jon Elliot led them to victories in their first three games before a tough 10-7 week 4 loss to Harding was the start of a five-game losing streak. After closing the 2019 campaign with wins over Boardman and Youngstown Cardinal Mooney, the Fitch administration decided to regroup and head in another direction for 2020.
On December 11, 2019, Fitch hired 2003 alum T.J. Parker as their new head coach. He enjoyed a successful collegiate career at Bethany where he was a four-year starter and record setter in career receptions (175), receiving yards (2,141) and receiving touchdowns (18). En route to those accomplishments, Parker also set single-season records of 71 receptions and 9 touchdowns in 2006. That experience helped him eventually land the running backs coaching job at Westminster College, where he completed three seasons before returning home to lead his alma mater. He's passed his knowledge on to junior quarterback Devin Sherwood, the Falcons leader on offense as he's completed 46-of-68 passes for 674 yards and 7 touchdowns. Other key playmakers for Fitch include running back Tyree Mitchell and wide receivers Nate Lesskovec, Jaden Murray, Jamell James, and Donnie Ellis.
It doesn't get much closer than the Harding-Fitch rivalry. The Raiders currently own a 16 to 14 all-time advantage in head-to-head wins while also having a slight edge of 541-532 in the all-time score. This week's cover photo features Billy Price, a 2013 Fitch alum who is will kick off his third season with the Cincinnati Beangals today against the Los Angeles Chargers. Both of these programs have a proud history of tough players playing a tough brand of football, but only one will come out victorious on Friday.
Good luck Raiders!