WARREN G. Harding knew full well the strength of its football team was squarely upon the shoulders of a talented, hard-hitting junior running back in Keemari Murry and two NCAA Division I linemen prospects in James Daniels and Javon Provitt.
Daniels verbally committed to the University of Iowa in early August, while Provitt is still weighing his decision. Neither can officially sign their letters of intent until Feb. 4, 2015.
That leaves the rest of the young, but unproven talent on the Raiders squad.
Harding is coming off a 4-5 season and started the 2013 campaign being lambasted by Austintown Fitch, 48-0.
Friday, the Raiders got more of the same in a 49-14 Falcons victory - even seeing the Ohio High School Athletic Assocation's new mercy rule, where if a team that leads by 30 more points there will be a continuous clock. The clock only stops for change of possession, time out, end of the quarter or a score. The clock returns to normal after the point-differential returns to less than 30 points.
The question wasn't the running clock for Harding, it was whether it can take what it learned from Friday's game and move on.
Harding's defense was decimated by Fitch's spread offense with the top-flight talent of three seniors - running back Darrin Hall, quarterback Antwan Harris and wide receiver Joey Harrington.
Hall has numerous offers from most Division I schools around the country and maintains around a 3.5 GPA. Harris, a very shifty signal caller with a great arm, has his pick of Mid-American Conference schools, but if he outperforms his 2013 self, he might be getting better suitors. Both Hall and Harris combined to rush for around 3,000 yards last season. The two eclipsed the 100-yard mark Friday and could match or surpass their 2013 totals.
Harrington, who had 332 yards on 21 receptions and five scores in 2013, seems to be on track to eclipse that this year as he had six catches for 79 yards on Friday - including a 53-yard score as the clock reached triple zeros prior to the half.
"They're a potent offense. There's no question about it," WGH coach Steve Arnold said.
The game was tied at 7 after one quarter, but the Harris to Harrington connection before the half was the backbreaker for the Raiders.
It wasn't that Harding was getting pushed away by a Fitch line which is dominated by underclassmen. The Raiders couldn't wrap up the Falcons' offensive players and the big plays killed Harding's chances.
Harding had a chance to get back into the game, despite being down by four scores to with 8 minutes left in the third quarter following another Harris TD run. He got one in the first half.
The Raiders had success moving the ball behind Daniels, Provitt and the rest of the offensive line with Murry plowing his way forward. He finally hit paydirt with an 81-yard scamper with 7:19 left in the third. The only thing is Harrington broke off an 85-yard kickoff return for a score on the next play.
The only plus for Harding was its running game, but Fitch found ways to stack the box and not give Murry much of anything, most of the time. Murry accounted for most of the Raiders' rushing yards - 187 of them.
It forced sophomore quarterback Lynn Williams to throw the ball. He was almost picked off a couple of times, but there were some drops as well. Williams went 0 for 7, but the youthful quarterback just needs to develop his timing. He's still learning, but that curve won't be that long. It's OHSAA Division I football and the window for development is short.
"They dared us to throw the football," Arnold said. "We moved the ball offensively. We were moving the ball. Then they dared us to throw the football. You've got to be able to throw the football at some point and time. That's something we've got to work on."
Harding needs a balanced offense going forward to see any kind of success this season, especially with crosstown rival Howland coming to Mollenkopf Stadium this Friday.