If you've followed Warren G. Harding football this year, you seen and heard plenty from senior quarterback Elijah Taylor. His 108 passing yards and two total touchdowns this past Friday against Maple Heights might not seem like much of a big deal for a player with his resume, but that performance made him the first Harding player in history to pass for at least 1,000+ yards in three different seasons. After what was likely his last game ever at Mollenkopf Stadium, Taylor has his eyes set on even bigger things and he's excited to know that he's not alone.
The Raiders rushed for a season-high 251 yards against the Mustangs, who hadn't given up a single point since September 11 against Bedford. While it's likely that they came into the contest concerned about slowing down Taylor, it was junior Brysen Powell, all 5'6" 140 pounds of him, delivering the biggest blows as he finished the night with career-highs of 21 carries for 176 yards and two touchdowns of his own. The last one of the pair was a career-long 56-yard scoring spurt that gave his Raiders a comfortable 35-6 lead with 0:53 remaining in the third quarter. Harding's final score came on a 21-yard field goal from sophomore kicker Luke Klaholz, the first points of his young career. He was in for freshman starter Jake Daugherty, who made all five extra points for black and gold.
While a team's offense usually steals all the big headlines, enough can't be said about the efforts of Harding's defense this season. Seventeen different Raiders recorded at least one tackle while Emarion Perkins (2), Jabari Felton, DeAveion Burgess, Marco Patierno, Davonte McElroy, and Sam Waldman all made stops in the Maple Heights backfield. In addition to his defensive performance, Perkins also got in on the scoring action with his 34-yard touchdown run at the 9:39 mark of the second quarter. These efforts and then some will need to be duplicated this week as Harding has revenge on their minds.
Austintown Fitch is coming off of their first undefeated regular season since 2013, and for any haters trying to put an asteriks by it because of the shortened season, don't waste your time. The Falcons' regular season victories came over Harding, Steubenville, Boardman, Ursuline, Youngstown Chaney, and a dominant 42-14 road triumph over traditional powerhouse Cleveland Benedictine. After a week 7 bye, it was business as usual as they put a running clock on Twinsburg with a 35-0 to open up the postseason. Their 25-21 comeback victory over the Raiders literally tells the story of Fitch football over the last year or so. Despite the obtacles and heartbreak that their school has endured, their kids work hard and represent themselves extremely well on the field. Heck, if you call yourselves trying to deal with the Falcons in any year, you better put on your hard hat and be ready to fight as they always get the maximum out of their talent.
All this has been guided by first-year head coach T.J. Parker, who has the luxury of having as dymanic quarterback that there is in teh Mahoning Valley right now in Devin Sherwood. The junior can get in done with his arm or his legs and his versatility opens up the entire field for his teammates as he finished 14-of-18 for 194 yards and four touchdowns against Twinsburg. Sophomore Jamell James got in on the fun as he ended the night with 146 yards and two touchdowns worth of total offense. In all, the Falcons finihsed with a 400 to 175 advantage in total yards.
This will be the first playoff game between Harding and Fitch since the second round of the 1990 playoffs, which resulted in a 31-6 victory for the Raiders en route to their 14-0 finish as the Division I state championship. I'll leave you all with an 11-minute "hype video" of Harding highlights against Fitch from the last 30 years.