For the third time this season , Warren G. Harding outgained their opposition in total yards as they held a 348 to 214 advantage over Austintown Fitch this Friday night. Unfortunately, the Raiders are now 1-2 in those games and 1-3 for the season. The unique thing about it this time is that for the first time this season, the Raiders gained more yards on the ground than they did with the passing game as junior Brysen Powell had a career-best performance as he rushed for 149 of their 221 rushing yards and 1 touchdown. His classmate Delmar McMillian set the tone early and often as well as he finished with 73 yards on 9 carries and of course, senior quarterback Elijah Taylor made a little noise with his arm as he finished with 127 passing yards and 1 touchdown, a 30 yarder to Curt Dorsey for the first score of his career.
The Raiders did so many positive things on Friday night, which included holding Fitch's dynamic quarterback Devin Sherwood to a season-low total of 105 total yards (100 passing and 5 rushing). Unfortunately, 46 of those passing yards came on one play with 8:53 remaining in the game when he connected with Tod Simons for the go-ahead touchdown that made the score 25-21. Harding made a huge push to take back the lead, but the Falcon defense came up big with a stop on 4th down at their own 10-yard line with just 1:34 remaining in the game, which signaled another heartbreaking loss for the black and gold. Their three losses have come to teams that will enter week 5 with a combined record of 9-3, so Harding will look to figure it out as the close the season with a pair of "Fighting Irish" squads, who enter this week with a combined record of 6-2.
The first green and gold lineup that the Raiders will face is a very familar foe in Youngstown Ursuline. That said, while the Fighting Irish may be recognizable, this year's group is signaficantly inproved from a year ago. In fact, their three wins are already more than the two that they won last year. That may not seem too significant to some, but with Warren being familiar with the work of former Harding assistant and current Ursuline head coach Dan Reardon, we all should have expected the Fighting Irish to start emerging back towards excellence. After all, he previously led Ursuline to three consecutive Division V state championships from 2008 to 2010. They accomplished those feats by beating the likes of Harding, Massillon, Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary, Steubenville, Cardinal Mooney, Akron Buchtel, etc. in the regular season alone, which prepared them for their big postseason wins against dominant small school programs like Coldwater, Kirtland, Liberty-Benton, Cuyahoga Heights, etc.
While those games were all a decade or so ago, it illustrates the road that Ursuline traditionally travels to build themselves up to face the best that their respective division has to offer. This year, they'll compete in the postseason within Division IV , but first, they'll travel to Warren for their annual meeting with the Raiders. The Fighting Irish are led by junior quarterback Brady Shannon, a versatile multi-sport athlete who opened up the month of September by earning his first FBS football scholarship courtesy of the University of Akron. He'll have the luxury of having two FBS commits to throw to in Air Force commit Terrell Dillworth and Miami (OH) commit Matt Reardon, the coach's son who is also a solid punter. Dante Walker and Trenton Hill will share the duties at running back and the Raiders will have to keep an eye on junior DeMarcus McElroy, a three-year starter who is capable of making big plays on either side of the ball.
The good news for Harding is that they know they have the talent to make noise in any game. With that in mind, due to the extreme circumstances that the current Covid-19 pandemic has caused this year, the OHSAA will allow every team into the playoffs, which will begin in three weeks. In other words, it's not to late for the Raiders to put it all together and turn their season around. They'll look to work on their consistency issues against a much improved Fighting Irish squad, who will definitely live up to their nickname and give their best "fight" at Mollenkopf Stadium on Friday. This week's photo features Harding legend Jalen Hooks, a 2018 alum and current Akron Zip who, as pictured, opened up the 2016 Harding-Ursuline matchup with a 65-yard touchdown catch from 2017 alum and current Miami Dolphin Lynn Bowden. Harding will look to make big plays early and often as they try to fight off their longtime nemesis.
Good luck Raiders!