St. Edward didn't allow Harding any opportunity in the second half.
By BRIAN RICHESSON
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
WARREN -- The Lakewood St. Edward High football team mastered the Mollenkopf mystique.
Backing up their national ranking, the Eagles ended Warren Harding's long reign of dominance at Mollenkopf Stadium with a 45-12 victory Saturday night.
In Thom McDaniels' head coaching era, the Raiders had established a 32-game winning streak at their home field and a 25-game streak in the regular season.
St. Edward, ranked 25th by USA Today and second in Ohio's Division I poll, ended all that in dominating fashion Saturday.
"We've played in places like Cincinnati and Indiana, so we're used to being on the road in a hostile environment playing quality teams," St. Edward coach John Gibbons said.
Balancing an efficient offense with a stubborn defense, St. Edward built a 17-5 halftime lead and didn't allow Harding any opportunity in the second half.
"Our defense played exceptionally well," Gibbons said. "They [Warren Harding] have so many big playmakers, and we did a pretty darn good job of preventing the big play."
The Raiders, ranked fourth in Div. I, managed just 149 yards of total offense as St. Edward held quarterback Roger Matlock (13 of 24 for 73 yards), running back Jon Richardson (24 yards on 15 carries) and receiver Mario Manningham (eight catches for 73 yards) in check.
"We never established our running game, and that isn't a team you want to play when you're only one-dimensional," McDaniels said. "When you're one-dimensional, it's easy pickings."
While the St. Edward defense was in command, so was quarterback Anthony Gardner. The elusive senior rushed for 88 yards and two touchdowns and passed for another while completing 9 of 15 for 147 yards.
"Our offensive line opened up the passing game, and Gardner keeps you honest back there," Gibbons said.
Rubbing it in
The first half ended with Harding players and coaches entering the tunnel to their locker room and, above them, a throng of St. Edward students chanting "overrated."
St. Edward and Gardner -- and the Eagles' defense -- stung the Raiders over the first 24 minutes for the 17-5 lead.
"We needed our A game, and I don't think we delivered our A game," McDaniels said. "I'm sure this team can execute at a higher level than we did."
Gardner hurt Harding in many ways, using his athleticism and quickness to escape the pocket and run while also finding a host of receivers spread across the field.
Gardner scored on an 11-yard run with 3 minutes, 46 seconds remaining in the half to erase Harding's 5-3 lead, which it built on a safety caused by Matlock and Omar Omar's 32-yard field goal.
The Raiders fell behind 17-5 when Gardner connected with Joseph Kleinsmith for a 43-yard gain to set up Paxton Rose's 3-yard scoring run. After that, Harding could never recover and now must prepare for a Steel Valley Conference test at Ursuline next week.
Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, wearing a red Buckeyes windbreaker, attended the game, afterward mingling with people at midfield and by the Warren Harding locker room.