WGH rolls; ready for Massillon

Staff photo / R. Michael Semple Warren G. Harding’s Marcus Brown reaches the ball into the end zone ahead of Cleveland Rhodes’ Ziair Daniels (background) and Jumerious Hope (24) during the Raiders’ 56-0 victory.

WARREN — Warren G. Harding football coach Steve Arnold saw Friday night coming.

“You preach to the kids that this week wasn’t about our opponent, it was about us getting better and trying to get things in place for the next few weeks,” said Arnold, whose squad roughed up Cleveland Rhodes 56-0 in a tune-up for next week when Massillon comes calling. “We needed to see improvement from a tough Week 1 loss and put the work in because our schedule definitely is difficult and, we’ve got so few guys returning and so many getting their first playing time on Friday nights.”

The offense, which had to replace all five linemen from last season, seemed a bit out of sync most of the game, but it received plenty of help from a stout defense and some special teams plays.

The defense, led by junior lineman Jabari Felton, limited the Rams to 81 total yards, including negative-12 rushing. The Raiders (1-1) also forced a plethora of fumbles and recovered four. The Rams let the ball hit the turf eight times.

“We feed off each other on defense, from the line to the linebackers to the backfield,” Felton said. “We’ve got some big-time players with (lineman) Jarriel White, (linebacker) Tank Perkins and a bunch of others. We just feed off the energy and try to spread our disease.”

Staff photo / R. Michael Semple Warren G. Harding’s Tyriq Ivory makes a reception and rushes for yardage as Rhodes’ Ziair Daniels tries to tackle.

Felton had three of the Raiders’ six sacks and had a fumble recovery, as did Ty Artis, Dom Foster and Jasier Graham.

Elizah Smith scored the first points on a 2-yard run with 3:15 remaining in the first quarter and nearly two minutes later, Jordan Brantley provided a pick-6, returning an interception 16 yards to paydirt for a 14-0 lead.

The Raiders led 35-0 at the half. Marcus Brown ran 15 yards for a touchdown, Elijah Taylor threw a 12-yard scoring strike to Tyriq Ivory and Artis returned a punt 35 yards for a score about midway through the second quarter to precipitate a running clock. Noah Murry finished 8-for-8 on extra-point kicks.

“We scored on defense and special teams and so we had some pretty good balance, but I thought the key was our defense was dominant,” Arnold said. “But there is plenty to work on and that’s good. We’ll be playing in one of the biggest games in the state next week, and we have a lot of work to do.

“We want to see if we can improve more from the second to the third week than we did between the first and second weeks. We’re dealing with 16-, 17- and 18-year old kids and they may not have been focused so much on their opponent this week. They better be next week.”

Staff photo / R. Michael Semple Harding’s Chester Adams, right, tackles’ Rhodes’ Tim McQuire in the backfield.

Smith added a 2-yard touchdown run in the third quarter and the Raiders substituted freely from there. In the fourth quarter, Foster ran seven yards for a touchdown and then threw a 50-yard scoring toss to Ivory with 6:18 remaining, for which he felt compelled to apologize profusely to Rhodes coach Robert Andrews after the contest.

Harding didn’t amass big offensive numbers. Without the late 50-yard pass, their longest drive was 31 yards thanks to defense and turnovers. Taylor was 7-for-14 for 44 yards and Smith led the Raiders’ rushing with 27 yards on 10 carries.