Bowden leads WGH to regional championship game
RAVENNA — Maurice Clarett put on quite the offensive display 15 years ago at Kent State University’s Dix Stadium.
Warren G. Harding fans still talk about the 401 yards he amassed against St. Edward in a Division I regional semifinal on Nov. 10, 2001.
On Friday, Lynn Bowden, who shares the rarified air reserved for some Harding standouts such as Omar Provitt, Mario Manningham and Clarett — Mr. Football in the 2001 season — made his legend grow.
Bowden led the Raiders to a 49-31 Division II, Region 5 semifinal victory over previously undefeated Chardon at Ravenna Stadium, not too far away from the KSU campus.
Bowden made the unique blue turf his own with 368 yards on 25 carries and six touchdowns.
“He’s in that class,” WGH coach Steve Arnold said. “Unequivocally. He’s in that class with Reese, Omar, Mario. He’s right there with them.”
The third-seeded Raiders (11-1) now play fourth-seeded Hudson (10-2) next Friday in the regional final at a site to be announced on Sunday. Hudson beat top-seeded Aurora in the other Region 5 semifinal, 14-7.
This point is where Harding’s season ended last year, a second-round loss to Mayfield. Arnold has been pointing to this game since January.
“Last Sunday when we came in I wrote on the board, ‘We haven’t accomplished anything yet. All we did is get to where we were last year,’ “ he said.
Trailing 28-14 at halftime, second-seeded Chardon (11-1) came out with 10 unanswered points, including a 48-yard field goal by Ethan Ziegunfuss to cut the Harding lead to four, 28-24, with 11:43 remaining in the game.
The Hilltoppers, who were masterful in their Wing-T offense, went on a 15-play, 79-yard drive that lasted almost seven minutes to start their second-half scoring as Joe Cyvas scored his second touchdown, this one from 4 yards out.
Chardon rushed for 372 yards, coming short of Harding’s total of 425.
Harding couldn’t counter as Bowden punted for the only time in the game. Bowden, who was 8-of-14 for 129 yards, had two incomplete passing plays that were heavily covered by Chardon players.
Remember those incompletions and one on an ensuing drive on second-and-8 from the Harding 37. That set up a third-and-8 with 11:26 remaining.
The Harding faithful, who filled the stands at Ravenna Stadium, were looking for Bowden to run and shake his way to another score.
Instead, he threw the ball to Geno Gonzalez in the right flat. Gonzalez caught the pass four yards down the field and sped by the Chardon defense for a 35-24 Harding advantage with 11:14 remaining.
Hilltopper quarterback Tommy Benenati, who was 3-for-8 for 54 yards, had his first interception of the season as he overthrew his receiver on the eighth play of the drive and Tavon Hooks snared the pass at the WGH 15 and took it to the 28.
Benenati’s pass to Jon McKnight was on target at the WGH 30 on the second play of this particular drive, but the ball went in and out of the outstretched hands of McKnight.
That set up the backbreaker for Chardon as Bowden took the ball and jetted up the left sideline 72 yards for the score and a 42-24 WGH lead with 8:27 remaining.
“The thing he does extremely well is he puts it into another gear,” Arnold said. “He kind of lulls you to sleep. He’s weaving and weaving, then he’s gone. He puts him into another gear.”
Chardon turned over its next drive on downs, giving Harding the ball at its own 8.
On second-and-6 on the 12, Desemen Douglas told Bowden to trust him. Douglas threw a key block and freed Bowden to run down the WGH sideline and go 88 yards for the score with 4:48 remaining.
“Pre-snap he took a look,” Bowden said. “He said, ‘Lynn, I got you. Just follow me.’ That’s exactly what I did. I trust my teammates. They trust me. When he tells me to do something, I’m going to do it.”
Before the second half, Arnold told his team to “trust your teammate. Don’t be a hero.”
He was referring to the defense.
Harding’s defense made its biggest stand with less than six minutes before intermission. The Raiders held the Hilltoppers to one of a handful of three-and-outs they’ve had this season.
“When you do your job, that will enable someone else to make a play,” Arnold said.
Harding went on a nine-play drive in three minutes to score with 60 seconds remaining, capped by a 3-yard scamper by Bowden.
Friday’s performance put Harding in a regional final for the first time since 2006 when the Raiders lost to Mentor in a Division I regional final.
“Our ultimate goal is to bring that state trophy back to Warren, Ohio,” Bowden said. “Obviously you have to take it step by step. This is a huge step we took right here.”
Friday’s performance put Bowden into Harding’s legendary status, but he won’t take complete credit.
“That 368 came from hard work all week in practice,” Bowden said. “Linemen, tailbacks and receivers blocking for me. Without them I could not make anything happen. I don’t go out here and prepare for Friday by myself. It’s a team effort.”