Week 7- Boardman (4-2) @ Warren G. Harding (2-4)
Every week, Warren G. Harding's football team shakes up some kind of school record. As of right now, they just don't have much to show for it in the win column. However, with quarterback Dalys Jett seeming more comfortable by the day, things on "Tuff Street" are definitely trending in the right direction. Just ask senior Tyirq Ivory, who recently became the first Harding player in school history to haul in two (or more) touchdown receptions in three consecutive games as all six of his touchdowns this season have come since week 4. That record-setting effort helped the Raiders leave Akron with a 20-17 victory over St. Vincent-St. Mary. It was Ivory's fourth career game with multiple touchdown catches, which only trails the seven that were recorded by Mario Manningham from 2002 til 2004.
As solid as Ivory's performance was the other night (4 catches for 80 yards and two touchdowns), Jett's 55-yard touchdown strike to Syracuse commit Dom Foster was arguably his greatest play to date as a Raider. After scrambling out of the pocket, Jett stopped at the Fighting Irish's 40-yard line and threw a dart as he was gettting sandwiched by two defenders. Foster caught it at the 25-yard line and raced the rest of the way for what proved to be the game-winning score. It was Jett's third touchdown pass of the game, which gave him 13 for the season. Eleven of those have come in the last three games. Harding's single-season record for touchdown passes in a season is 19, which is shared by both Alex Engram (2003) and current Miami Dolphin Lynn Bowden (2016). Ivory and Foster both have six touchdown catches apiece while Manningham's school record of 11 has stood since 2003.
Harding's defensive efforts this past Friday were headlined by sacks from Mar'Rall Brown and Kincaid Tyson and interceptions from both Tazion Wallace and Devin Boss. Trevon Allen also added to his collection of big plays this year when he forced and recovered a Nathan Lenz fumble deep into Raider territory that prevented the Fighting Irish from adding to their 7-0 lead in the second quarter. After George Linberger powered St. Vincent-St. Mary's ground attack with 107 yards and one touchdown in the first half, the Raiders limited him to just 23 yards on eight carries the rest of the way.
While last Friday's main focus was to slow down the running game of the Fighting Irish, this week's challenge involves an even bigger offensive line and a group of athletes than can match Harding's. First-year Boardman head coach Seth Antram has his Spartans off to a 4-2 start with their losses coming to Massillon Jackson and Cleveland Benedictine, which currently has a combined record of 11-0. The Spartans are battle tested and won't be intimiated by Harding's athletes. That athleticism begins with Purdue commit Terence Thomas, who wasn't available back in week 3 when the Spartans lost at Jackson 20-14. He can line up at quarterback, wide receiver, or defensive back. The Spartans' ability to move him around the offense is made possible by the skill level of quarterback Anthony Hightower, who currently has 500 yards of total offense and four touchdowns.
Whoever Boardman lines up at quarterback will have the luxury of throwing to one of the best athletes in the entire state in wide receiver Cam Thompson. The reigning 2021 Austintown District boys 100 meter dash champion is currently showcasing that speed on the gridiron in a major way as he's hauled in 18 catches for 402 yards (22.3 yards per catch) and four touchdowns while also having two scores courtesy of special teams under his belt. In my preseason article that highlighted my picks for the "25 Opponents To Watch" for Harding this year (can be found here- https://bit.ly/3EQmzzV), I noted that Thompson came into the season with scholarship offers from Robert Morris and Youngstown State. Any young man who advances to the college level to play football is beyond blessed, but I'll personally argue with anybody that Thompson is a "Power-5" level talent. If there is a more skilled athlete out there, I really want to see him. You won't find much better than Thompson at the high school. This week, the Raiders better make sure they keep eleven sets of eyes that are aware of his presence whenever he's on the field.
All of the above regarding Boardman is enhanced by their monstrous offensive line. Seniors Joe Sferra (6-foot-3, 290 pounds) and Cortland Love (6-foot-3, 270 pounds) are Division I recruits that headline a very experienced offensive front for the Spartans. In addition to providing great pass protection for Thomas and Hightower, they also open up gaping holes for Sean O'Horo to plow through. WKBN's "Big 22" nominee gets it done on both sides of the field. Offensively, he runs with a purpose and is a load to bring down. Defensively, he's not afraid to sacrifice his body to make big plays. He symbolizes the toughness that Boardman represents. Win or lose, opposing teams better be in for a fight when they're facing the Spartans.
Any team in any sport can talk all they want about how talented they are, but having an abundance of that doesn't mean that you know how to win. Every team's formula for success is different, which is what Harding is currently figuring out. They've shown signs of being not just a good, but a great team. The key is for them seems to be gaining more control of games early on instead of simply trying to get things rolling after they start trailing. Nobody in Warren is going to want brownie points for being 2-4, but given the situation, things couldn't be more intriguing. Despite their record, the Raiders still believe that they can turn things around and begin to make some noise. The talent to do so is there, so it's all about finishing the job.
If the 2021 OHSAA playoffs started today, Harding would be seeded 13th and be set to travel to #4 Hudson for a rematch that I'm sure most of Warren is eager to eventually get. However, a win over Boardman would result in an addition of 6.0 Level 1 computer points and 21.0 Level 2 computer points. That alone would boost Harding's current computer average from 4.1293 to 6.864 without even considering what Youngstown East (plays Howland this Friday) and St. Vincent-St. Mary (plays Ursuline this Friday) do this week. In other words, the Raiders have a huge opportunity to strengthen their playoff chances. If they continue to do so, their subpar start to the season ultimately won't matter much. All they want is a chance to really prove what they can do out there regardless of who the opposition is. Boardman won't make that task easy, so we'll see what happens.