Ball control will be the Raiders' key to victory.
By TOM WILLIAMS
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
WARREN -- Warren G. Harding High football coach Thom McDaniels sees similarities between the Raiders and their playoff opponent, Lakewood St. Edward.
"The Ed's program had been down for quite some time," said McDaniels, who came to Harding last year.
"The hiring of John Gibbons was done specifically to put St. Ed's back on the Division I football map. They upgraded their schedule -- a year ago, they played Massillon.
"They play [Cleveland St.] Ignatius every year. They play a very respectable schedule and they're undefeated. So it's safe to say that St. Ed's is back."
So is Warren Harding, the region's fourth seed.
First in 11 years: The Raiders are in the postseason for the first time since the 1990 team won the state title.
Their only blemish was a Week 9 loss to Cincinnati Elder (24-14).
McDaniels agrees that his Raiders have played a quality schedule.
"That's what you're supposed to do if you want to be respected as a great program in Division I in Ohio," he said.
St. Edward compiled its first 10-0 regular season since 1975. Gibbons, who guided Lake Catholic to two state titles, is in his third season with the Eagles, who lost to Solon in the first round of the playoffs last season.
McDaniels noticed another similarity.
High compliment: "They have the best tailback that we've seen, and we've seen some good backs so that's a high compliment," said McDaniels, referring to senior Raishaun Stover who rushed for a school-record 1,920 yards.
Stover, who scored a school-best 33 touchdowns during the regular season, rushed for 219 yards and scored the winning touchdown against Mayfield last week.
The Raiders boast tailback Maurice Clarett, who has 1,592 yards in 11 games and 23 touchdowns.
A difference comes at quarterback.
"They have the second-best quarterback that we've seen, who runs a pretty sophisticated offense," said McDaniels of junior Shaun Carney, who completed 86 of 148 passes for 1,344 yards and 10 touchdowns.
"He provides great leadership, and he's a runner and a thrower. So I understand why they've been so successful offensively," McDaniels said.
Better QB: McDaniels said Cincinnati Elder quarterback Keith Bolger "is maybe the only quarterback we've seen who is better than [Carney].
"They have a couple of good receivers -- they have a lot of great parts.
Another difference comes on defense, where the Raiders have the edge with five shutouts.
"Defensively, they are young and they've given up some points. My impression is that they are a little further ahead on offense than defense," McDaniels said.
"But they are pretty diverse and pretty balanced. If we can keep the ball away from them, I think we can help our defense win the game.
"We have great faith in our defense because I think we are an awfully good defensive football team.
"But even a good defense needs a little help from the offense. We need to take care of the ball and we need to control the ball.
"If we hit home runs and get great plays we'll take them. But if it takes 16 plays and eight minutes to score, that will be fine with us, too."