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Rally falls short: Harding topped by Massillon in thriller, 49-46

Staff photo / R. Michael Semple Warren G. Harding’s Dom Foster looks for running room during the first half of Friday’s matchup against Massillon.

WARREN — On the night Warren G. Harding was honoring its 1971 AP Poll state champion football team, the Panthers almost put together a comeback for the ages.

Almost.

Trailing Massillon by 21 at one point in the second quarter and by as much as 16 at different points in the second half, Harding rallied late but came up just shy in a 49-46 loss to the visiting Tigers on Panther Throwback Night at Mollenkopf Stadium.

“I can’t question our kids’ effort,” Harding head coach Steve Arnold said. “Did we make some mental mistakes? Yes, and it maybe came back to bite us a little bit. I think this game showed what we’re capable of from an offensive standpoint.”

That starts with quarterback Dalys Jett, who pieced together a career night. The junior completed 21 of 34 passes for 360 yards and five touchdowns, and added 75 yards and a score on the ground. He was picked off once.

His yardage total came just six yards shy of Elijah Taylor’s single-game record of 366, which was set at Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary in 2019. His six touchdowns in the air set a new single-game program record, according to records kept by WGHFootball.com. Additionally, he tied Lynn Bowden’s single-game record of seven total touchdowns in a single game.

His favorite targets were Tyriq Ivory and Dom Foster.

Ivory caught 10 of Jett’s passes for 194 yards and two scores, while Foster nabbed five receptions for 100 yards and three touchdowns.

As a whole, Harding outgained the Tigers 448-402.

“It shows that we’re potent and can do some things offensively,” Arnold said. “We have to keep getting better. Dalys didn’t have a perfect game. … But when you’re throwing for 360, and he made some plays with his legs. There were times he threw the ball, and he had time and our receivers made plays. It was a collective effort.”

Despite the high-flying offense, Harding (1-3) struggled to get its ground game going, and the run defense suffered a similar fate against the Tigers (3-1). The Panthers were kept to 88 yards on the ground, 75 of which were Jett’s.

Meanwhile, Massillon running back Willtrell Hartson, who holds offers from Boston College and Temple, gashed Harding for 279 yards and two touchdowns on 35 attempts.

“They ran the ball on us and beat us up. I think that was the difference in the game,” Arnold said. “They just pounded it and pounded us running the football. That was the difference in the game, and we have to improve the rest of the season.”

The Panthers also got off to a sluggish start, as Austin Brawley took the game’s opening kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown to help kickstart a 28-7 start for the Tigers.

The Panthers, however, rallied late in the second quarter. Jett hit Foster for a 22-yard score, their second touchdown connection of the night at that point, with 1:09 left in the half. After a Massillon 3-and-out, Jett found Ivory for a 38-yard touchdown to pull Harding to within 28-19 going into halftime.

After halftime, however, Hartson took over. The tailback scored three times after the break, which enabled Massillon to keep the Panthers at a two-score distance throughout the second half until the very end.

Harding made a furious rally at the end, as Jett found Konyae Redd for a 34-yard touchdown with 4:03 to play and then hit Dom Foster for their third and final touchdown connection of the night, a 26-yard strike with 24 seconds to play.

Trailing by three with such little time to go and no timeouts, the Panthers made one final onside kick attempt, but Massillon was able to come up with the ball to preserve its victory.

“We haven’t put (a complete game) together. It’s either been great offense or great defense,” Arnold said. “We have to put this thing together for four quarters.”

Harding hosts Ursuline next week.

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