Massillon too much for Harding, 51-21

Warren G. Harding quarterback Elijah Taylor signals to a receiver before a play in the Raiders’ loss at Massillon.

MASSILLON — Steve Arnold looked back at his Warren G. Harding team in the southwest corner of Paul Brown Tiger Stadium.

The Raiders football head coach knew what this game meant. It’s history and plenty of it, plus some ugly moments between both teams. It was personal.

The hostility may have been why it only took a minute and 13 seconds for Kay’Ron Adams, who recently verbally committed to Rutgers University, to break for a 55-yard touchdown run for an early Raiders lead.

That pre-game momentum was fleeting as Massillon countered with a strong dose of running back Jamir Thomas and quarterback Aidan Longwell in the Tigers’ 51-21 victory Friday.

The Tigers scored the next 23 points after Adams’ TD, including a sack of quarterback Elijah Taylor in the end zone by Massillon’s Nakoa Keefer with 6:18 left before halftime as Massillon (3-0) took a 23-7 lead.

Warren G. Harding’s Jesean Sledge breaks up the attempted touchdown pass to Massillon’s Tre’Von Morgan in the first half at Massillon.

“It meant a lot, but in the bigger picture it didn’t mean anything because we couldn’t sustain it,” said Arnold, whose team is 1-2. “The penalties, moving the ball. We couldn’t stop them tonight. They didn’t punt one time. The game was decided by then.

“It’s kind of frustrating we come out, score and start out well. They got going and we couldn’t stop them defensively.”

Alex Payiavlas was the only thorn in Longwell’s side Friday with two interceptions. His first with 4:50 left before halftime came with a 55-yard return, putting the ball at the Massillon 5.

That pick resulted in Taylor going in over the pile on third and goal from the Massillon 1 with 3:28 before the half, cutting the Tigers lead to 23-13.

Down 37-13 with 3 minutes left in the third quarter, it seemed Harding was down and out. However, it was Massillon’s defense that had a rare lapse. The Raiders took full advantage, along with a roughing-the-kicker call near the start of the fourth quarter.

Warren G. Harding’s Deavion Burgess goes on a sweep in the first quarter.

Taylor took the ball on a second-and-10 with 11:16 left in the game and found a cutting Adams for a 32-yard touchdown as Harding showed signs of life.

Adams then rushed through the heart of the Massillon defense for a two-point conversion. That made it 37-21, and it looked like Harding was on the verge of a comeback.

The following onside kick went off the hands of a Massillon up man and the Tigers took over on the Harding 45. Massillon dominated the game from that point forward.

The Raiders had nine penalties for 75 yards, some of which called back decent plays by the WGH offense. That happened in Week 2 against Cleveland Rhodes, too, but they came back to bite the Raiders on Friday.

“I mentioned last week we can’t have penalties against a very potent offense and good football team on the road,” Arnold said. “You can’t hurt yourself, but you have to give these guys credit. They played a helluva football team, kind of an error-free football game they played.”

Thomas had a career-high 29 carries for 267 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Massillon offense. Longwell was 12 of 20 for 170 yards and three touchdowns along with those two picks to Payiavlas.

“They have weapons,” Arnold said. “He’s fast (Thomas), strong and plays a demanding, physical style of football. He’s been here for a long time. I have a loss for words what they did offensively to our defense.”

Massillon outgained Harding in total yards 550 to 246, led by Thomas’ rushing attack. The Tigers rushed 47 times for 380 yards.

“He’s a really good football player, first,” Massillon coach Nate Moore said of Thomas. “He runs really hard. He’s got an extra burst this year that he didn’t have last year. He’s the key to our offense. Just a really good player.”

Adams finished with 20 carries for 134 yards, all but 33 came in the first quarter. He had two receptions for 34 yards.

Taylor was 7 of 15 for 69 yards passing and that 32-yard strike to Adams in the fourth quarter.

“It’s just playing hard, being disciplined, being in the right place, getting off blocks,” Moore said. “We tackled, wrapped up. You just go out and try to play really good defense.”

Friday, as much momentum as Harding had coming out in the first couple of minutes, Massillon flexed its muscles the remainder of the game by dominating the line of scrimmage.

“I think they wore us down up front,” said Arnold, whose team travels to Austintown Fitch next Friday. “This is the first time I’ve seen us get pushed around up front. That’s kind of frustrating.

“We go back and we get better. We’ve got Week 4. We’ll get better.”