Everything but a W

Raiders can’t finish Fitch as late TD dooms WGH

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes Delmar McMillian of Harding is tackled by Fitch defenders Reggie Floyd and Tyler Evans during the first quarter Friday night at Austintown.

AUSTINTOWN — Warren G. Harding led in almost every statistical category against Austintown Fitch.

The Raiders held the edge in passing yards and rushing yards. They had twice as many first downs. They scored first, but they didn’t score last — and that allowed the Falcons to hold the edge in the only statistical category that mattered: the scoreboard.

Fitch’s 46-yard strike from junior Devin Sherwood to senior Todd Simons for a touchdown with 8:53 left in the contest finished the Falcons’ comeback in a 25-21 victory at Austintown Falcon Stadium.

It was the Fitch’s first win over the Raiders since a 35-20 victory on the road in 2017.

“Honestly, it feels like a hump,” Fitch coach TJ Parker said. “We definitely felt like we were the better team, and they (Harding) came out with a great game plan, (and) we didn’t practice for that all week. They completely changed things up and you saw the effect it had on us.

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes Harding's Brysen Powell attempts to make a move over Fitch's Dan Evans III during the second quarter.

“But we kept telling our kids, just keep chipping away and chipping away. They remember, they’ve seen the stats of the last five years and that doubt starts to creep in and we erased that and got over that hump, and I can’t lie to you, it feels pretty good.”

Sherwood read the game-winning play well.

“Well, they played cover zero against us, they (were) manned up across the board,” he said. “So, I kinda knew where I was going with the football. I gave a little play-action fake and (Simons) just beat his guy 1 on 1”

Harding ran for 209 yards compared to the Falcons’ 104. The Raiders passed for 152 to 114 of Fitch.

The Raiders (1-3) got the scoring started early on a 6-yard TD run from Brysen Powell to give Harding an early 7-0 lead. It didn’t take long for Fitch (4-0) to respond as Jamell James ran in from 32-yards out to make it a 7-6 game after Jabari Felton blocked the Falcons PAT.

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes Harding's Curt Dorsey goes in for a touchdown during the second quarter at Fitch.

With 8:42 left in the second quarter, Harding quarterback Elijah Taylor connected with Curtis Dorsey on a 30-yard score to put the Raiders up 13-6 following a muffed hold on the PAT. A few minutes later, Cam Smith fell on the ball in the end zone after Fitch blocked a Harding punt to make it a 13-12 game still in favor of the Raiders.

“I was dropping back, I see Dan Evans, he’s running a slant, Evans knocks the ball out, I see the ball on the ground and knew I had to hop on it and give the offense an opportunity,” Smith said. “It feels good (to beat Harding) because coming into this game we knew that they played some good teams, they’ve played Massillon and Benedictine, and they were close with those teams for the whole game.

“We knew it was going to be a tough game, but we knew we had to play sound and knew we had to come out and play aggressive to get the deal done.”

Late in the second quarter, Austintown moved down the field with a drive that was capped off by a 1-yard touchdown run by Nate Leskovac. Smith intercepted a Raiders pass moments later to end the first half, and the Falcons went into the intermission leading 18-13.

Harding retook the lead with a 10-yard run from Marco Petierno to make it a 21-18 game in favor of the Raiders after Emari Burgess hauled in a successful two-point attempt.

The connection from Sherwood to Simons was the next score of the contest, and for Simons, who had 62 total yards, this game meant more.

“Last year I actually got injured and knocked out of that game (against Harding), so it meant a lot to me to come back and make a big play for the team.”

The Raiders (1-3) marched down the field late in the game and made it to the 10-yard line but failed to find the end zone. A pass to the corner of the end zone on fourth-and-8 was just out of the reach of the intended receiver with 1:30 left in the game, and Fitch ran out the clock.

With as much buzz as there is surrounding the Fitch offense, Parker credits play on the other side of the ball for the win.

“It’s not just the last drive, it’s all season,” he said. “Our offense is so explosive that a lot of people want to focus on how good our guys are on offense and what we’re doing on offense. But our defense has always been a Fitch defense and this one is no different. They know how to buckle down and they made plays all night and they got it done when they had to, and I’m so proud of them. Coach (Nico) Mancuso and coach (Joe) McMahon just dialed it up all night and it was awesome.”

Sherwood ended 8-of-20 passing for 114 yards with 32 yards rushing. Jamell James led the Falcons on the ground with 73 yards and a touchdown.

Elijah Taylor was 12-of-23 passing for 152 yards and a score. Powell led Harding with 149 yards on the ground. The Raiders outgained Fitch, 361 to 218.


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