On September 18, 2009, Warren G. Harding took a 2-0-1 (weather-shortened game led to tie against East Cleveland Shaw) record into Stambaugh Stadium to take on Youngstown cardinal Mooney. The Raiders grabbed the momentum on the opening kickoff when they forced the Cardinals to start the game at their own seven-yard line. However, on the very first offensive play of the game, Mooney legend Braylon Heard took the stretch hand off and dashed 93 yards for a touchdown. That set the tone towards a dominant 31-6 victory for Mooney, who went on to complete their first ever 15-0 season as the Division III state championship.
Saturday night, Mooney paid homage to their 2009 squad by placing them on the cover of their program and introducing them at halftime of their game against Warren G. Harding. As great of a tribute as that was for one of the Mahoning Valley's most accomplished teams ever, it was the Raiders that set the tone and pulled away from the Cardinals a score strikingly similar to the 2009 matchup's in a much needed 31-7 road victory. Junior Elizah Smith opened up the scoring just past the midway mark of the first quarter by plowing into the end zone from three yards out. While Mooney successfully utilized the play action pass to tie the score with 10:17 remaining in the second quarter, the Raiders floored the gass by closing the game with 24 unanswered points. Senior Marcus Brown attacked the right side of the field for 38 of his 92 rushing yards to score with 7:13 remaining in the second quarter and eventually, he matched Smith with a three-yard touchdown run of his own in the third quarter. Both of them will enter week 9 with six rushing touchdowns apiece.
Win or lose, you just can't hear about Harding's efforts on the football field without mentioning the play of junior quarterback Elijah Taylor, who was previously well established after a solid sophomore campaign in 2018, and senior Ty Artis, who is having a breakout seasion for the ages. Saturday night was no different as the two hooked up for a spectacular 56-yard touchdown pass that saw Artis catch the ball in double coverage at the 22-yard line before shaking both defenders en route to his seventh touchdown catch of the year, his eighth score overall. In addition to having 582 yards on 19 catches (30.6 yards per catch), he's now dangerously close to Mario Manningham's single-season Harding records for receiving yards (821 in 2004) and touchdown catches (11 in 2003). Whatever the case may be, that's a nice conversation for any player to be in, let alone one who entered this season with just one catch for 35 yards in his high school career. Artis has made the most of his opportunities and the Raiders will look for him to have even more in the upcoming weeks.
Speaking of records, Taylor is now 18 completions away from tying the single-season mark (136 by Michael Surin in 1981), 12 completions shy of the all-time mark (229 by Clayton Waite from from 1986 to 1988), 143 passing yards from that single-season mark (1,605 by Surin in 1981), 114 passing yards from tying the all-time mark (2,937 by Waite), and 2 passing tocudhwosn away from tying that all-time mark (28 by Lynn Bowden from 2015 to 2016). Meanwhile, Noah Murry's 42-yard field goal in the thrid quarter was just two yards shy of Tony Capers record 44-yarder against Cleveland East Tech in 1965.
Harding will look to sharpen their skills against a very deceiving West Toronto Prep team, who enters this week with a record of 0-7. Before writing them off simply because of their record, you should note that some of the Golden Warriors' losses have come at the hands of Ohio powerhouse Akron Hoban, Pennsylvania powers Erie Cathedral Prep and Erie McDowell, and Tennessee's Brentwood Academy, the alma mater of current NFL players Jalen Ramsey (Los Angeles Rams), Dawson Knox (Buffalo Bills), and Derek Barnett (Philadelphia Eagles).
The goal of the Canadian prep schools that offer American football is to expose their athletes to the toughest competition possible, which often times, results in losses. However, Harding can't underestimate the experiences of West Toronto Prep, who still has to play Cleveland St. Ignatius in week 10. They'll be led by quarterback Yvenson Saintus, who will line up all over the field. He'll look to get the ball in space to wide receiver Jason Briones while Jonathan Menary is a 6'4", 205 pound tight end with reliable hands. Defensively, linebackers Nuer Gatkuoth and Shamal Sterling pack a powerful punch while senior Jalen Elibert-Fowlkes will bring a tough presence at cornerback with his 5'11", 190 pound frame.
Mooney's 2009 team, as well as several of their other past teams, eliminated the theory that great high school football only exists in Division I. In fact, with programs like Massillon, Hoban, and Massillon Perry, you can make an argument that the top teams from Division II-Region 5 alone could compete with any other region in Ohio. After a tough loss to Massillon early in the season and close losses to Canton McKinley and Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary, Harding is woring towards using their experiences to build themselves up to rejoin the conversation as one of Ohio's best. That's what they'll need to be if they hope to make any noise after week 10, which won't even be possible if they don't take care of business over the next two weeks. Their first order of business is to take care of an unfamilar foe in West Toronto Prep.
LEEEEEEEET'S GOOOOOOOOOO RAIDEEEEEEEEEEEEEEERS!!!