In 1971, Warren G. Harding outscored their ten football opponents by a combined score of 322 to 41, and effort that included five shutouts, en route to being crowned the Class AAA AP Poll champion. Three years later, Harding blanked three opponents while outscoring their opposition 409 to 72. It was capped off by a dominant 41-8 victory over Upper Arlington in the Class AAA state championship game. It was the third big school title ever won via playoff system. What better way for Harding to pay tribute to their days as the Panthers by wearing their old school colors in a 34-0 shutout victory over their arch rival Youngstown Ursuline.
It was the school's largest margin of victory over the Fighting Irish since their 42-7 victory in 2005. It was only fitting that Harding's first score came on the defensive side of the ball as a sack by Emarion Perkins forced a fumble into the end zone that was recovered by fellow junior Jabari Felton. It was one of four tackles on the night by Perkins that went for a loss, but he wasn't the only stingy defender as he combined with Felton (1.5), Jarriel White Jr. (1.5), Ty Artis, Chester Adams, Marcus WIlkins, and Majaurice Williams to give the Panthers' defense 11 plays that went for negative yardage. Adams, Artis, and Jordan Brantley each hauled in interceptions for Harding to further limit the Irish as just 50 of their 142 total yards came courtesy of the pass. That toughness never resulted in a lack of discipline as the Panthers were only penalized one time for five yards.
Offensively, Harding continued to show their versatilty as quarterbacks Marcus Brown and Elijah Taylor both threw touchdown passes to Brandon Arnold (5) and Jamel Anderson (46), respectively. Junior Elizah Smith had a solid showing with 15 carries for 76 yards and an impressive 20-yard touchdown run that closed the scoring for Harding. The special teams continued to be a strength for Harding as Noah Murry nailed two short field goals (25, 21) while showcasing his leg strength as two of his kickoffs resulted in touchbacks. Meanwhile, Cavin Stouffer also made sure that field position was never an issue as he cleared 247 yards on 7 punts (35.3 yards per punt). All of these aspects will need to show up on the field again next week as Harding will travel to take on an unfamiliar foe in football, but a very familiar name.
In the early 2000's, Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary High School made national headlines as they traveled the country showcasing the talents of current NBA superstar and future Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer LeBron James in nationally televised games against some of the best high school basketball teams in the country. In the process, they won three of their nine basketball state titles in 2000, 2001, and 2003. Older fans may even remember another former McDonald's All American from St. Vincent-St. Mary and NBA player and Jerome Lane, whose name will live in infamy from his powerful backboard shattering dunk for the University of Pittsburgh against Providence back on January 25, 1988. He previously led the Irish to the 1984 OHSAA Division II state basketball championship in 1984.
As big of an impact that Lane had and James currently has on the game of basketball, St. Vincent St. Mary's history of success in sports far exceeds their accomplishments on the hardwood as they're credited with 23 more OHSAA state championships to give them a grand total of 32 as a school. Six of those (1972, 1981, 1982, 1988, 2012, 2013) have come in football, so the Fighting Irish are no strangers to the gridiron. In fact, 2014 alum and fomrer Ohio State Buckeye Parris Campbell, who starred on the 2012 and 2013 state championship teams, was recently selected in the 2019 NFL Draft by the Indanapolis Colts. Heading into week 4 of his first professional football season, he has 5 receptions for 37 yards and one toucdhwon, which was a 12-yard score in week 2 against the Tennessee Titans.
As impressive of an alumni base that the Irish have, they just aren't living off the accomplsihments of their former students. Their schedule is filled with not only some of the most storied football programs in OHSAA history, but some of the strongest in the Buckeye State today. Like Harding, they took a tough one on the chin at the hands of Massillon by the score of 44-14 in the season opener and they fell hard this past week in the "Akron Holy War" to another current powerhouse in rival Archbishiop Hoban in a 30-0 defeat. Nevertheless, the Irish are a worthy opponent that has already shown that they can put their foot on the throat of their opponents as they have a recent 42-7 victory over Cardinal Mooney. Harding's defense can expect a heavy dose of running behind the 6'9," 300 pound monster Savion Washington, who currently holds a scholarship offer from Browling Green. He also provides great protection for his quarterback Luke Lindsay, who is 41 of 72 for 634 yards, four touchdowns, and three interceptions. Josh Nickerson is among teh more versatile athletes for teh Irish as he enters week 6 with 355 yards and 3 touchdowns worth of total offense.
With the 2019 football season already at the midway point, potential playoff positioning will start becoming a much bigger topic of discussion throughout Ohio. The last couple weeks have been huge for Harding, so their outlook on the postseason is starting to look more and more positive. A victory in Akron this week would go an awful long way to a favorable draw in week 11, so the aformentioned execution on both sides of the ball will have to be present against a Fighting Irish team that will live up to their name and "fight" Harding for four quarters.
LEEEEEEEEET'S GOOOOOOOOOOOOO RAIDEEEEEEEEEEEEEEERS!!!!!