Updated: Sep 12, 2021
From a historical perspective, you couldn't have asked for a better offensive output from Warren G. Harding against one of their fiercest football rivals of all time in Massillon Washington. For starters, junior quarterback Dalys Jett set single-game school records in completions (22) and touchdown passes (6), tied Lynn Bowden's record for most total touchdowns in a game (7), and threw for the second most yards ever (357).
Meanwhile, his leading receiver in Tyirq Ivory tied Raider legend Mario Manningham for the second most catches by a Harding player in a game (10), which led to the third highest receiving yardage total in school history (179). His counterpart, future Syracuse Orangeman Dom Foster, hauled in five catches for 102 yards and tied Manningham's record for the most touchdown receptions in a game with 3 (Manningham did it twice). When you include Jett's 29-yard touchdown run and 33-yard touchdown pass to Konyae Redd, it led to 46 points, which is the most that Harding has ever scored against the Tigers.
Despite all of the aforementioned efforts, Massillon tailback Willtrell Hartson plowed his way towards 286 yards and four touchdowns while super athlete Austin Brawley went toe-to-toe with AVI Foodsystems with the fireworks as he returned the opening kickoff 91 yards for a touchdown and blocked two extra point attempts to lead the Tigers to a 49-46 victory at Mollenkopf Stadium. The result illustrated that while Harding is fully capable of showcasing their explosiveness in big games, they'll need to have all of their ducks in a row moving forward.
By Harding's traditionally high standards, starting 1-3 isn't exactly the ideal situation that they want to be in. However, after playing arguable one of the toughest schedules in all of Division II up to this point, the growth and maturity from the first four weeks could potentially pay dividends moving forward. They'll look to continue installing those internal upgrades this week against another old foe that, like Massillon, is quite familar with Harding as well. In fact, probably even moreso this year than in the past.
From 1998 thru the 2003 football season, current Youngstown Ursuline head coach Dan Reardon was an assistant on Harding's staff. While none of the current Raiders were yet to be born back then, those years should bring back many found memories to those that follow Warren football. The valuable experience that Reardon got on "Tuff Street" back then led to his original eight-year stint as the head coach of the Fighting Irish. He led them to an overall record of 72-29 and three-peated as OHSAA Division V state championship in 2008, 2009, and 2010.
After moving his family to Colorado in 2012, Reardon served as the head coach of Poudre High School for two years. After coaching at Wheat Ridge High School in 2014, Reardon decided to relocate back to Northeastern Ohio the following year to take the head football job at Canton McKinley where he went 30-15 in four seasons. Now, he's in his third year of his second go-around with a program that he led to 75% of their state championships (the other one was in 2000) in Youngstown Ursuline.
Reardon has plenty of reasons to feel optimistic about the Fighting Irish's state championship aspirations in 2021. That begins with their top signal caller in senior quarterback Brady Shannon. A University of Central Florida baseball commit, Shannon has completed 58-of-90 passes for 774 yards, 11 touchdowns, and just 2 interceptions. His favorite target has been Dean Boyd, who will be furthering his acdemic and athletic careers after this year at Harvard University. The Raiders' secondary also has to be on the lookout for Marc Manning, Jakylan Irving, Dan Evans, and Will Burney.
As great as Shannon has been for Ursuline in his career, tailback Demarcus McElroy was their main headliner this past week against Austintown Fitch. The senior bulldozed his way to career-highs of 359 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 43 carries. In fact, that yardage total only trails Kevin Ellerbem who holds the Fightin Irish's rushing record with 379 yards (5 TDs) against Boardman in 1989. McElroy as led the charge all season long as he enters the midway point of the season with 88 carries for 744 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns to go along with a 94-yard kickoff return that he had in the season opener against Columbus Bishop Hartley.
While Reardon is more familar with Harding's tradition as a whole, McElroy is just as acquainted with the talent among the current Raiders. Over the last several years, he's played for the Youngstown-based VSN Trailblazers, an AAU basketball program that's ran by his father, Ed McElroy. It's the same team that Ivory and Foster have played the last several summers for. This Friday will mark the first time that these three friends will share the same football field.
One week after taking on a former fellow member of the original All American Conference, Harding will turn it's attention to a friendly rivals from their Steel Valley Conference days in Ursuline that is averaging 46.8 point per game. As we've just seen, the Raiders can score with the best of them, but this matchup will ultimately be decided by who makes the most stops defensely. The Fighting Irish have already proved that they can seal big wins with clutch defensive plays, which is something that Harding will have to do if they plan on securing victory this week.