While the four football teams that Warren G. Harding has lost to have a combined record of 17-3, the players, coaches, and fans of the program aren't in the business of making excuses. With the losses coming by a total of 28 points, the Raiders, even with a record of 1-4, have outscored their opposition 174 to 154 for the season. There's several key moments and factors from each game that stand out as back breakers.
With the high powered offenses that the Raiders have faced, they've needed to pick things up several notches on offense. After joining Lynn Bowden as the only player in Harding history to score seven touchdowns in a single game last week against Massillon, junior quarterback Dalys Jett also joined the current Miami Dolphin as the only other Raider to account for at least six touchdowns in back to back weeks. In fact, Jett's 426 total yards against Youngstown Ursuline only trail, you guessed it, Bowden's 497 yards in his aforementioned seven-score game against Chardon in the 2016 playoffs.
In the process of Jett's recent emergence, wide receivers Tyirq Ivory and Syracuse commit Dom Foster became the first duo in Harding history to each record back-to-back games with at least 100 receiving yards. Ivory is also the first Raider to catch two touchdowns in back-to-back games since Mario Manningham did it in against Akron Archbishop Hoban and Lakewood St. Edward in 2004. For the season, Jett leads the Raiders with 15 total touchdowns (10 passing and 5 rushing) while Foster has accounted for 11 (5 receiving, 3 rushing, 1 passing, 1 interception return, and 1 kickoff return).
Even with all of the impressive accolades listed above, the fact is that Harding enters the bottom half of the season three games below .500. Many have actually suggested that the Raiders should be even more aggressive offensively. That strategy would've definitely been ideal against Medina and Hudson, but in any case, the Raiders need to figure out how to turn their production into wins. Defensively, they did pretty well as a whole in week 1 against Medina quarterback Drew Allar, who is verbally committed to Penn State.
This past Friday's challenge against Ursuline's Brady Shannon went quite differently though as the senior quarterback and University of Central Florida baseball commit racked up 370 passing yards and one touchdown while workhorse Demarcus McElroy batted clean up with 143 yards and five touchdowns on 34 carries. However, after Jett's 48-yard touchdown run gave Harding a 49-43 lead with 2:23 remaining in the game, it was Ursuline speedster Jakylyn Irving who threw the final dagger as he returned the ensuing kickoff for an 85-yard touchdown. The Raiders will have to tighten things up pretty quickly as they eye a meeting with another battle-tested squad.
You can't mention Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary High School without bringing up the name of the living legend himself. From 1999 til 2003, LeBron James graced the halls of the now-infamous parochial giant that sits at 15 North Maple Street in the "Rubber Capital of the World." As much as we could all write a book much longer than this article just on "King James" himself, St. Vincent-St. Mary's resume doesn't begin or end with their glory days with arguably one of the greatest basketball players in NBA history as six of the school's 33 state titles in sports have come in football. In fact, three of those (1972, 1981, 1982) came before LeBron was even born. Ironically, he was born the same year that St. Vincent-St. Mary won their first state championship in basketball back in 1984.
As for this year's football team, the Fighting Irish have a balanced set of weapons that operate behind a huge offensive line that's led by Tariq Montgomery. The 6-foot-5, 310-pound monster ended his college recruitment this past July when he verbally committed to the Thundering Herd of Marshall. His work up front has made life much easier for quarterback Nathan Lenz. The consistent signal caller is 24-of-34 for 391 yards, seven touchdowns, and three interceptions while also adding 86 rushing yards on 22 carries. Meanwhile, the bulk of the ground game will come courtesy of George Linberger. He enters week 6 with 84 carries for 556 yards and seven touchdowns under his belt. Don't be surprised to see teh Fighting Irish sneak some groundwork in for D'Anthony Keller, who has 235 rushing yards and 2 touchdowns on just 23 carries.
While you never know where the Fighting Irish will line him up at, Harding better keep an eye on Shawntel Lodge. His 2021 workload includes four carries for 95 yards & one touchdown; 10 catches for 246 yards & one touchdown, 20.0 tackles (17 solo), three interceptions; and three kickoff returns for 176 yards & another score. Defensively, the Raiders will also have to navigate through the skill sets of Luke Shenigo (25.5 tackles, two interceptions, one tackle for a loss, one sack), Ryan Price (20.5 tackles, one TFL, 1.0 sacks), and Bryson Getz (20.0 tackles & 2.5 sacks, two TFLs).
Harding has one-third of the formula that they need to really break through and finish the season strong. Offensively, they've proven that they can drive the ball and score at will, but hiccups on defense and special teams have come back to bite them in recent weeks. With the OHSAA's current 16-team playoff format, it's not too late for the Raiders to make a run for postseason play as their upcoming games against Boardman (currently 4-1), Austintown Fitch (3-1), and St. Vincent-St. Mary of course (3-2) will offer huge opportunities for computer points. Hopefully, their trip down state route 76 to Akron will be the beginning of a journey towards a successful ending to the regular season.