Harding hopes for better playoff outcome

High school football fans throughout the area know of the exploits of Warren G. Harding senior quarterback Lynn Bowden and the slew of outstanding skill players on the Raiders’ roster.

Harding (9-1) has in the neighborhood of 30 seniors on a team that suffered a heartbreaking second-round playoff exit a year ago. The Raiders are loaded with big, rangy, fast receivers and a handful of running backs who can break a long touchdown run at any time.

Bowden and his fellow skill position players start their 2016 playoff chase on Friday when they host Brecksville-Broadview Heights at Mollenkopf Stadium beginning at 7:30 p.m.

But it may be a lesser known position group that has keyed Harding’s success this season. Coach Steve Arnold cited the Raiders offensive line as a pleasant surprise for 2016.

“We lost like three and a half starters, so it was kind of like how would the offensive line do, how would they gel,” Arnold said. “We returned only Dan Angelo (6-1, 225, Jr.) who had started every game, and Taj Harper (6-3, 310, Sr.), who started sparingly, so that was a big concern. I have to give credit to all those guys and also our offensive line coaches.”

All those guys include linemen Jarrett Lenney (6-0, 245, So.), Mike Kuntz (5-6, 195, Jr.), Jowan Poole (6-0, 235, Jr.) and Jerrell Coleman (5-7, 305, Sr.), plus tight ends Collin King (5-8, 202, Sr.) and Cory McPherson (5-10, 210, Jr.).

They have helped the Raiders to a 402-point season and that’s a good thing since Harding could be involved in an offensive shootout on Friday against the Bees (8-2).

“They are a very talented team. They like to throw the football around a little bit,” Arnold said. “They have a very good quarterback, good receivers, and they like to run an up-tempo offense, so we’re going to have our hands full defending their skill guys.”

On the other side, Brecksville has yielded 371 points.

“They have given up a lot of points. Definitely, their strength is their offense. We think we can score some points and we’ve got to slow down their high-octane offense and play solid special teams.”

After coming close — a 23-21 loss to Mayfield — to reaching the regional final level of the playoffs in 2015, the Raiders of 2016 have been looking forward to reaching Week 11.

“The focus is a little bit better because we’re in Week 11 and now it’s a situation where you lose and you go home, it’s do or die,” Arnold said. “I would say our focus is a little more intense, though I have to say it’s been pretty good all year.”

While fans and pundits debate how far the Raiders might go in the playoffs this season, Arnold insists his players are not looking past their next opponent.

“Our total focus is on Brecksville. We’re not thinking about anybody down the road, we’re not talking about anybody down the road,” he said. “All our focus is on Brecksville.”