Updated: Sep 3
It was a memorable night on Friday at Mollenkopf Stadium for the legendary players, coaches, and families of the 1972 AAA State Champion Warren Western Reserve Raiders who were honored with the 50th Anniversary Ceremony. The Harding Raiders were dressed in black and yellow jerseys with "We Will Win" stitched on the back name plate area and the coaches in yellow polos with the WWR Raider logo.
The only goal on the minds of the newer generation of players and coaches was to play hard for those who set the foundation for Warren Football -- and Harding did just that. The next task was to finish with a victory to make the night one to truly remember; however, the Raiders did not execute in crucial moments of the game, resulting in a 28-14 loss to a tough and physical Ursuline Irish football team.
On the very first play from scrimmage, the Raiders ran the football outside and gained just two yards, but there was a penalty on the play. Starting behind the sticks has been a consistent theme all season for the offense and something that has been preached and coached over and over. Several plays later the offense stalls and punter Jake Daugherty is called into action. Ursuline brings a 7-man pressure to try and block the punt, the protection is decent enough and the ball gets kicked. The Raiders defense is ready to come onto the field when there is a penalty marker that flies out of the referees pocket... roughing the kicker, 15-yard penalty - automatic first down. The offense is back in business with the goal of getting on the scoreboard on their opening drive.
Five plays later, the offense stays on the field to go for it on 4th and 5 on the 40-yard line going in. The plan was to run a jailbreak screen from the inside or 'Z' receiver Devin Boss. The Irish sniff it out and their offense begins in great field position. Defensively, the Harding Raiders have been stout starting games off early, even with several key athletes being banged up and relying on a younger secondary who continues to get more playing time and experience under their belt. After a quick three-and-out, the Raiders offense led by quarterback Dalys Jett returns to the turf.
It only took two plays for the offense to get on the scoreboard at the half-way point in the first quarter. Jett takes the snap, turns the right corner on a quarterback stretch play, and runs 64-yards for the first touchdown of the night. Momentum is in the Raiders' favor and the atmosphere within the stadium is electric. Past and present Raider fans are experiencing what we all know and expect out of the offense -- scoring touchdowns.
Slowly but surely the offense begins to endure self-inflicting wounds, the theme of the 2022 season and the defense begins to make mental mistakes, resulting in the Irish scoring the next 28 points. At one point in the game, it was 14-7 Ursuline with roughly 2-minutes until halftime. The Raiders were driving for a game tying score just before the half. Quarterback Dalys Jett has been making defenders miss all night with his running abilities and his name was called with 1:19 left on the 18-yard line.
Jett takes the snap, hesitates for a quick moment (Q-Draw) and explodes on the left side of the turf. He's at the 15, the 10, the 5... oh no, he lost the football. The stadium goes silent; disbelief, heartache, and just pure disappointment is in the atmosphere at Mollenkopf. The pigskin is loose and it rolls out of the back of the end zone, resulting in a touchback. The Raiders will enter halftime down by 7-points instead of tying the game. Several mental mistakes and execution, resulted in the 28-14 loss to a team who is off to a 4-1 start.
While reaching the halfway point of the season with a 1-4 record was on no individual's mind this season, one thing is for sure - the Raiders will continue to be coached, will continue to show up for practice, and will continue to never give up. There is still a fight on this football team and that fight and determination will continue this week when Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary (STVM) visits Mollenkopf this Friday, September 23rd, on Homecoming night.
St. Vincent-St. Mary Report:
Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary has a winning tradition and a culture of excellence in the State of Ohio. Over the last century, the Irish have won six State Championships, winning the most recent in a back-to-back effort in the 2012-2013 seasons. From 2007-2015, the Irish had consistency from their head coaching position with Dan Boarman leading the charge with an 89-26 record at St. V's. Since then, the Irish have had three coaches, all whom have above .500 records, but are short term in their approach of staying as the leader of the program.
Marcus Wattley spent the 2016-2017 season with the program and registered a 17-9 record. Then comes coach Bobby Nickol, who the Harding Raiders faced last year, beating him and his team 20-17 in a physical matchup. Nickol stepped down in November of 2021 (24-16 record) and immediately the school began a search for their new head coach. The school announced the hiring of Terry Cistone, a 1979 graduate of STVM. Cistone's father, John Cistone was the head coach of STVM when the Irish won back-to-back State Championships in 1981 and 1982. It comes full circle for the Cistone family and now the son can instill his culture and beliefs.
Note: Terry Cistone was an assistant coach under Nickol and was the running backs coach during the 2021 season when Harding faced the Irish.
With a 3-1 record to start the 2022 season, St. Vincent-St. Mary is just one win away from tying their win record last year (4-7). It seems as if Cistone is bringing the winning culture back to St. V's and the Harding Raiders will look to stop their physicality on the offensive and defensive side of the football.
St. V's Defensive Outlook:
St. V's employs a defense that runs a 4-3 front. On the defensive front you have the following athletes: #7 Ali Haynes - 5'9" 210 lbs - SR, # 10 Nathan Lenz - 5'11" 205 lbs - SR, #14 Ryan Price - 5'8" 175 lbs - SR, #71 Bryson Getz - 6'2" 225 - SR. These athletes are all seniors and the height is something that is an advantage this week as the Ursuline Irish had taller and bigger athletes on the defensive line last week. It is somewhat encouraging for a Raider offensive line that has struggled to get the running game and pass protection going. The challenge is always to protect the quarterback but the challenge for the Raiders' offensive line this week will be to block the 4-3 front and open up the offense in all phases (run/pass).
One of the positives to St. V's defensive front is that they never change it. Sometimes you have teams who run a 4-3 as their base defense and then in certain situations they mix in other fronts such as a 3-4. This is not the case and it actually is a positive. When you have just one defensive front being deployed by the opposing team, it helps the offensive line of the Raiders who can just focus on how to block one front. It makes it easier and does not confuse the athletes as much. The only thing that may confuse athletes, and this happens each week, is the defensive front stunting or moving their athletes into different gaps, with the goal of gaining penetration.
As far as the secondary, the Irish run cover 4 (zone) and their cornerbacks and safeties who play are junior and seniors. Starting cornerback (#9) is Kai White who is a junior that is 5'9" 165. White on film has a nature ability to plant and drive on the football. Akron Butchtel ran a quick arrow route with their inside receiver and White laid an outstanding hit on him, knocking the ball loose. White will be someone to watch for this week in the secondary.
The safeties are seniors with Torell Hopson III (#4) who is 6'1" 175 and Connor Jones (#6) who is 5'8" 160. Despite the height and weight on Jones, he plays with some physicality. He reminds me of our own #6, Devin Boss who has a similar physique and build. Both may look smaller on the depth chart but when Friday night comes, they are flying all over the place and making plays defensively.
St. V's Offensive Outlook:
St. V's offensive game plan implements one element that the Raiders defense has not seen yet -- a split back formation. Within a split back formation, you have the quarterback in shotgun formation and to his left there is a running back and to his right there is a running back. This makes it extremely difficult on defenses knowing which back will take the handoff. It could go right or it could go left. You can pull your right guard or you can pull your left guard. There is a 50/50 chance every single time, which does make it difficult but not impossible to stop.
Everything else the offense does, the Raiders have seen in their first five games. The receivers for St. V's include the following athletes: #4 Torell Hopson III - 6'1" 175 lbs - SR, #8 Jaeson Anderson - 6'0" 175 lbs - JR, #11 Sir Charles Gordon - 6'3" 200 lbs - SR, and other supporting cast. The receiving corps is on the taller size, making it a matchup to watch this week due to the Harding cornerback's being slightly on the shorter size.
St. V's quarterback Gabe Mansel is a sophomore and has played well but relies on the running game to make his quarterback play more successful. Mansel is 6'1" 185 lbs and has been consistent in recent games. The running backs which are in the split back formation, are #2 D'Anthony Kelker 5'9" 165 (SR) and #43 Caden Spry 5'10" 200 (SR). Spry is listed as a hybrid athlete who plays defensive end but on the offensive side he plays halfback and tailback. He is utilized as a fullback at times when inside the red zone and leads block on ISO run concepts. Stopping Kelker and Spry will be the goal but also they sprinkle in #5 Santino Harper 5'9" 195 (SR) at times as well.
Matchup to Watch: Raiders' Defensive Backs versus St. V's Physical Wide Receivers
Whether it is the Harding cornerbacks guarding the taller St. V receivers, or it is the corners shedding blocks and wrapping up, the matchup to watch this week will determine the outcome of the football game. Harding's cornerbacks are undersized but that is the nature of life and coaching the athletes you have. While St. V's receivers are taller and can make plays, the underappreciated part of their game is their physicality and ability to block. An issue in recent games has been the cornerbacks and even the safeties of the Raiders shedding blocks and wrapping up and making tackles.
This matchup is something that I truly believe will be the difference maker. Especially with the Irish utilizing a split back formation. If the running backs get loose in the secondary, the defensive backs must wrap up and drive their feet to make tackles or else it will be a long night at Mollenkopf Stadium.
The split back formation from St. V's will be a challenge this week for the Raiders but something that I know can be mitigated. On the offensive side of the football, the Raiders need to stay ahead of the sticks and things will be much better. Execution on all plays and blocking just the 4-3 defensive front will make the Raiders more successful on Friday night.
At a Glance:
Warren Harding Raiders
Head Coach: Steven Arnold
Record: 63-49 (Includes 1-4 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 - Loss - 12-41
Sept. 16 vs Ursuline - Loss - 14-28
Sept. 23 at St. Vincent-St. Mary
Sept. 30 at Boardman
Oct. 7 vs Mooney
Oct. 14 at Chaney
Oct. 21 at Fitch
St. Vincent-St. Mary
Head Coach: Terry Cistone
Record: 3-1 (First Season as HC)
Years as HC: 1
Record Last Year: 4-7
Aug. 18 vs Glenville - Loss - 0-25
Sept. 2 vs Barberton - Win - 35-0
Sept. 9 vs Buchtel - Win - 34-13
Sept. 16 vs Sandusky - Win - 42-14
Sept. 23 at Harding
Sept. 30 at Ursuline
Oct. 7 vs Archbishop Hoban
Oct. 14 vs Cleveland Heights
Oct. 21 at Walsh Jesuit
The Raiders will face off against Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary on Friday, September 23rd 7 p.m. at Mollenkopf Stadium.
Special Event Notice: Homecoming. Arrive slightly earlier to ensure you do not miss anything.
Ticket Information: Tickets are sold online. We are not affiliated with the school and can not change the policy. Make sure to head to this link (https://wghathletics.org/event-tickets) and buy tickets ahead of time. There will be none sold at the gate.