If there was a downside to the 55-0 victory, it was Warren Harding's 10 penalties, including eight for illegal procedure.
By BRIAN RICHESSON
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
WARREN -- Mike Phillips did what the Warren Harding High football team couldn't do the past two seasons against Cincinnati Moeller.
With all eyes on senior running back Maurice Clarett early in the first quarter, Phillips faked a handoff and took off down the left sideline for a 59-yard touchdown run with 9 minutes, 27 seconds remaining.
Phillips' run set the tone for the Raiders en route to their 55-0 victory Saturday at Mollenkopf Stadium.
"I thought physically we were a dominating football team tonight," Harding coach Thom McDaniels said. "We were clearly the aggressor."
Phillips proved that early.
"The whole defense shifted to him," Phillips said of Clarett on the play. "They keyed on him so much that it was nothing but green [for me]."
McDaniels said, "We felt it was important to play well early, to do something good early."
Revenge: The victory took away the sour taste that accumulated for Harding after losing to Moeller 19-0 and 42-0, respectively, the last two seasons.
"We knew we had to beat them," Phillips said. "Everybody remembers the bus ride back home [from Cincinnati last year], all the sad faces."
Many observers wondered how Harding would react after shutting out undermanned Cleveland South 76-0 in the season opener at Mollenkopf.
"A lot of people doubted us," Phillips said. "But I knew how good we were, and we showed tonight that we're a great team."
Any questions were answered early when the Raiders assumed a 35-0 halftime lead, using a variety of players to score.
Taking turns: Junior Prescott Burgess recovered a fumble and returned it 20 yards for a touchdown, while junior backup quarterback Mike Kokal, a transfer from Warren JFK, and senior Dave Herron scored on runs of 18 and 26 yards, respectively.
Of course, there was Clarett, the Ohio State recruit, who put on his own show. The 6-foot, 231-pound Clarett ran for 168 yards (130 in the first half) on 14 carries and three touchdowns.
Clarett's 31-yard touchdown run capped the first-half scoring and his ensuing 36-yarder, which came following a blocked punt by Herron, was the first Harding touchdown of the second half.
Clarett electrified the crowd with just under five minutes remaining in the third quarter, when he caught a punt at midfield, eluded a number of Moeller players and escaped to the end zone.
"I just wanted to make a play," Clarett said of his touchdowns, "because the defense was making plays."
While Harding's offense was putting up points in a hurry, its defense was just as impressive, holding the Crusaders to 71 total yards.
The Raiders hit Moeller hard and fast, never giving senior quarterback Tony Cunningham room to operate.
Moeller's woes: One week after Cunningham threw for 280 yards in a loss to Fairfield, he completed just 1-of-10 passes for 1 yard Saturday. He was also intercepted by junior linebacker Stefon Alexander in the first half on a turnover that led to Herron's touchdown run.
If there was a downside to the Raiders' victory, it was the 10 penalties they committed, eight for illegal procedure.
McDaniels knows there is work to be done, but defeating a school rich in tradition like Moeller is cause for excitement in Warren.
"We wanted to win and we expected to win," Clarett said. "We had a good week of practice, and we felt we had a good game plan."