Week 7- Akron North (0-2) @ Warren G. Harding (3-3)
A great local idea for a mini ESPN docuseries would be, "2 For 2: The Konyae Redd Story." Over the last two weeks, the junior made his first two catches of his varsity football career. The first of which was a 47-yard touchdown catch while the latter went for a 44-yard score. Redd has stepped up when his fellow Raiders needed him most and his emergence couldn't have come at a better time as they eye their third consecutive trip to the playoffs, their fifth in in the last six years. While it should be noted that the OHSAA made every team eligible for the postseason due to the pandemic, it's also worth mentioning that Harding is seeded seventh out of 26 teams in Region 5. In other words, they weren't exactly handed an opportunity to play beyond the regular season. They earned it and they'll look to make noise in what has been a very unusual year.
Back to Redd's touchdowns... Who did he catch them from? That would be senior Elijah Taylor. He's only the only quarterback in Harding history to eclipse 4,000+ passing yards for his career. Nothing major. This past Friday against Columbus Bishop Sycamore, he also because the first quarterback in school history to record two games with at least 4 touchdown passes. Dom Foster (27 yards), DeAveion Burgess (28), and Quincy Brown (8) were the recipients of the other three against the Franklin County based prep school as multiple sets of hands continue to contribute for the Raiders. Since the 1990 consolidation with Warren Western Reserve, there's only been eight Harding quarterbacks that threw more than the 11 touchdown passes that Taylor threw thus far in this shortened season, which includes his feats in 2018 & 2019 (13 & 14 TD passes, respectively). His top targets this year have been Burgess, whose career-year inculdes 26 catches for 230 yards and 2 touchdowns, and Foster, who enters week 7 with 18 catches for 341 yards and 5 touchdowns.
Taylor's consistency has been aided by a group whose job isn't to catch passes from him... The Harding defense, which limited Sycamore to just 9 first downs the other night. While the majority of those came late in the game, the Raiders got punched in the mouth early when Sycamore quarterback Noah McClendon found receiver Kamari Griffin on a 68-yard bomb for a touchdown just over three minutes into the game. After the defense buckled down, Harding scored the game's next 30 points. That effort included the first interception in junior John Taylor's career and the first "pick 6" of senior Damari Freeman's career. Both of Jabari Felton's two tackles were sacks while fellow junior Marco Patierno also reached the Sycamore quarterback behind the line of scrimmage. In all, 19 different Raiders recorded at least one tackle on Friday as they look to build quality depth for what they hope will be a long postseason run.
The top six seeds in the Division II-Region 5 playoffs received byes. Those were rewarded to (in order) Akron Archbishop Hoban, Austintown Fitch, Hudson, Cleveland Benedictine, and Walsh Jesuit. With Harding seeded seventh, they'll face the bottom seed this Friday in Akron North. The two haven't met on the gridiron since the 2009 season finale, which resulted in a dominant 63-24 victory for the Raiders. Unfortunately for North year, all the schools in the Akron City Series originally postponed the start of their season. Even when the Vikings' season was supposed to start on September 19 against Akron Ellet, that was ultimately cancelled due to a shooting at the East-Firestone game in Akron two days prior. It's been a rough go for the student athletes in Akron, especially the seniors who didn't ask for any of the nonsense that has limited their ability to play the game they love.
As the bottom seed, North isn't bringing the greatest resume into Mollenkopf Stadium this Friday. However, regardless of what the final score will be, just being out there on the field will be a victory for those kids as, at no fault of their own, they've had a plethora opportunities stolen from them this year on. That's on top of dealing with the negative vibe of 2020 in general. I'll also say this... You can never underestimate a young man with an opportunity, especially one from Akron. We all know about the upbringing of LeBron James, arguably one of (if not thee) greatest basketball players in NBA history, ifs from Akron, where he was also a heck of a football player in his day at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School. Notable football legends from North include former NFL players Mike Fox, Leonard Humphries, and the late Gene Thomas. Other familiar names from the "Rubber Capital of the World" include current NFL players Paris Campbell of the Indianapolis Colts (SVSM), Jarrod Wilson of the Jacksonville Jaguars (Buchtel), and Whitney Mercilus of the Houston Texans (Garfield). One on the long list of72 former NFL players from Akron includes legendary Pittsburgh Steeler James Harrison, a Coventry alum who may possibly have a spot in Canton's NFL Pro Football Hall of Fame one day.
Harding has dealt with their own in-house issues this season that may have potentially held them back from having a stronger regular season campaign. However, they never made excuses and continued to strive for greatness and now, it is time to show the rest of the state just how far they've come. While they enter this game as a heavy favorite, we're still dealing with kids, so again, nobody can be underestimated at this point of the season as you never know who is ready to have the breakthrough performance of their young life.
Good luck Raiders!