Warren G. Harding football fans are only five years removed from the "Lynn Bowden era." The Raider legend and current Miami Dolphin was an absolute magician with the football as he racked up 6,279 yards and 88 touchdowns worth of total offense (includes one punt return & one kickoff return) in just two years with both ranking first in school history. While he'll always be remembered as a dynamic carrier of the football (390 carries for Harding records of 4,178 yards & 57 touchdowns), he was also a criminally underrated passer as he was 138-of-245 for 2,232 yards and 28 touchdowns & 10 interceptions in 25 games as a Raider. In addition to the aforementioned accolades, Bowden finished his Harding career ranked third in passing yardage and second in passing touchdowns. To date, his 19 touchdown passes in 2016 is tied for the all-time single-season lead with Alex Engram, who tossed for 19 scores in 2003.
Now in 2021, Harding has a quarterback who goes by the name of Dalys Jett. Eight games into his junior year, he's 67-of-133 for 1,254 yards, 17 touchdowns, and just three interceptions. To date, 10 of his touchdown throws have gone for at least 30 yards or more. That hasn't been done since Engram, Jett's older cousin, did it in Harding's 12-game season of 2003. Chris Ensign, the '91 Harding alum who helped lead the Raiders to the 1990 Division I state title, had 11 of his 16 touchdown passes that year go for at least 30 yards in their 14-0 championship campaign. To sum it all up, Jett is currently on a pace that's never been seen before at Harding. The only question is how far deep into the playoffs that he'll take the Raiders.
This past Saturday against Youngstown Cardinal Mooney, one of Jett's favorite weapons put on a heck of a show as senior Dom Foster sent a message to the NCAA's Atlantic Coast Conference. It read, "Syracuse is getting a dynamic playmaker!" as he hauled in 6 catches for a career-high 177 yards and 2 touchdowns. That performance represented the fourth highest receiving yardage total in Harding history and with those two scores, Foster now has sole possession of second place in school history with 16 career touchdown receptions.
For the season, Foster has 23 catches for 596 yards, an average of 25.9 yards per catch, and 9 touchdowns, which only trails Mario Manningham's all-time single-season mark of 11 (2004) by two. Lest we forget that Foster is also 16-of-26 for 122 yards with one touchdown & one interception, has 220 yards and 3 touchdowns on 31 carries, and has returned both a kickoff (81 yards) and an interception (48 yards) for scores. Speaking of returns, fellow senior Johnny Taylor also provided a huge breath of fresh air with a 65-yard punt return for a touchdown against the Cardinals. It went down as the longest punt return that Harding has ever had against Mooney and the second longest return of any kind. In 2003, former Raider Ben Elser caught a field goal that was blocked by Joe Phinisee and returned it 69 yards for a touchdown against the Cardinals.
Defensively, Harding came through with a complete effort to secure their second shutout of the season and their first since week two. It was the sixth shutout overall in the 31-game Harding-Mooney series with each both programs acredited with three apiece. Mooney's 49-0 throttling of the Raiders in 2007 is the largest blowout in the history of the series, but Saturday night's clash in Mineral Ridge belonged to the boys in white and gold. Despite not recording any sacks, the Raiders limited the Cardinals to 137 total yards on 49 plays. Over the last three weeks, Harding has tightened up their pass defense as they've only surrendered 229 yards through the air on 48 throws. They'll need to continue to click on all cylinders as they prepare to face a young and talented squad that continues to show a lot of improvement of its own every week.
When you talk about schools that have a long tradition of producing top notch talent, that discussion is incomplete if it doesn't include Youngstown Chaney. Mahoning Valley legends Brad Smith, Jerry Olsavsky, Michael Zordich Sr., and Matt Cavanaugh highlight a list of thirteen former NFL players that once roamed the halls at 731 S Hazelwood Avenue in Youngstown, which is tied for tenth in Ohio history.
While times have changed since the glory years of a once-loaded Youngstown City Series (Chaney, East, North, Rayen, South, and Wilson High Schools), current head coach Chris Amill Sr. is now restoring pride into the Cowboys' program with some future college football players of his own. The aggression starts Clive Wilson, a with 6-foot-4, 250 pound defensive end that officially committted to Boston College back in June. To date this season, the future Golden Eagle has 39 tackles (14 for a loss) and seven sacks in 2021. Linebacker J.R. Tellington is another senior who will likely find himself playing Power-5 football as he's backed up his offer from Kentucky with 30 tackles (15 for a loss) and si sacks of his own.
Speaking of Kentucky, it is one of many schools that were in on mega athletic quarterback Jason Hewlett Jr. Just a junior, he already had offers from the likes of West Virginia, Cincinnati, Virginia Tech, North Carolina State, and the entire MAC. Unfortunately, while his well-deserved hype had everyone in Cowboy Nation excited for this season, his ended prematurely in week 1 against Austintown Fitch when he suffered a severe injury. Thankfully, the minor setback won't cloud his bright future as on September 24, he verbally committed to the Bearcats of the University of Cincinnati.
While Hewlett's season-ending injury was a huge blow to Chaney, it hasn't stopped them from competing every game. Back in week 3, the Cowboys secured their first victory of the season over their crosstown rival Youngstown Cardinal Mooney. The 22-7 triumph was their second consecutive victory over the Cardinals and just their 11th win in 35 tries (includes one tie) over the parochial powerhouse.
Freshman Matt Jones has really embraced his starting role as he's completed 31-of-62 passes for 630 yards and five touchdowns while also adding 525 yards & another seven scores on 78 carries. His favorite targets this season have been Keivon Mitchell (11 catches for 173 yards & one touchdown), Jermaine Martin (9 catches for 98 yards & one touchdown), Jace Amill-Austin (7 catxches for 47 yards), and D.J. Waller, who is arguable the Cowboys' best playmaker as he has 8 catches for 169 yards and two touchdowns in just four games. Martin is the only senior included in the aforementioned list of players, so look for Coach Amill to continue to push his young group of players towards big improvements in the foreseeable future.
After a surprisingly slow start to the season, Harding is now on their first three-game winning streak since they won four in a row late last year. With Jett running the show offensively and the defense mixing things up and making big plays, they've seemed to have come up with the winning formula that could potentially take them on a nice run beyond the regular season. While head Coach Steve Arnold and his staff have a lot to be excited about, that couldn't be said enough about Amill's boys at Chaney. They've dealt with adversity all season long and while their games didn't always result in wins, the Raiders better not underestimate the Cowboys' toughness. Especially in Youngstown.