Back in the mix
Scrappy Raiders earn much-needed win over Fitch
WARREN — The Warren G. Harding and Austintown Fitch football teams put on an old-fashioned defensive struggle in honor of the late Phil Annarella, who guided both clubs.
Annarella, who died last spring, may have enjoyed the spirited and intense battle that was highlighted by physical, hard-nosed play by both teams, but he likely would have said both squads have some work to do in execution.
The Raiders did just enough Friday night to pull out a 10-7 win over their guests at Mollenkopf Stadium.
“It was far from a thing of beauty, but we’re growing some, especially on defense,” Harding coach Steve Arnold said. “We only had one starter back offensively and a few on defense. It’s taking time for us to find out who we are. You know, I told the boys all week long to forget about last week’s loss to Massillon and concentrate on what lies ahead. Last year, we started 1-2 and won the next seven. There’s no reason to say we can’t do that this year.”
The Raiders improved to 2-2 and will host Ursuline next week after beating the Falcons for the fourth time in the past five meetings.
Fitch was looking to open with four consecutive wins for the first time since 2013 when it finished 12-1 after losing in a Division I, Region 1 final.
“We got outplayed and outcoached tonight,” Fitch coach Jon Elliott said.
“They had the answer for what we wanted to do offensively, and they just weren’t going to allow us to run the ball. But that’s who we are this year. We have to run the football.”
The Falcons trailed 10-0 with 7:38 remaining, when Harding’s Noah Murry was wide right on a 40-yard field-goal attempt at that point. Murry had increased Harding’s 7-0 halftime lead to 10-0 on a 36-yard field goal midway through the third period.
Fitch then made its move, driving 80 yards on 12 plays with sophomore quarterback Devin Sherwood capping the march with a 1-yard keeper. Carlo Walters tacked on the extra point.
Although Harding’s Deaveion Burgess recovered the onside kick, the Raiders went three-and-out, and Fitch had one last possession that netted one yard in four snaps.
“We made some big plays in that drive to keep things going and give ourselves a chance, but it wasn’t enough,” Elliott said. “Tyler Evans made a great catch down there on the goal line, and C.J. Woodberry also had some key plays. But we’re going to go back and take a look at what we’re doing overall because for the better part of the game, (Harding) just dominated us defensively. We can’t get sacked and have as many negative-yardage plays as we didn’t tonight.”
The Raiders hit a few big plays to take the halftime lead, as they covered 79 yards on six plays. Ty Artis caught a 46-yard aerial from quarterback Elijah Taylor and they connected on a 22-yard scoring strike two plays later to give the hosts a 7-0 lead with 2:42 left in the first half.
“I feel like we moved the ball pretty well at times, but it was a big play here and one there,” Arnold said. “We’re not getting enough consistency where we can finish drives. We’ve stalled in the red zone quite a few times already this season, so that’s an area of concern that we have to address next week.”
Taylor was 11-for-19 passing for 193 yards, with Artis grabbing four balls for 120 yards and Tyriq Ivory snagging four for 27 yards. Elizah Smith led Harding on the ground with 71 yards on 17 carries.
Sherwood was 10-for-15 passing for 124 yards, and Nate Leskovac rushed for 46 yards on nine carries. Evans had three catches for 57 yards, but the Falcons were limited to 112 yards rushing on 43 carries.