By Doug Chapin
Though plenty of fans in the stands on both sides offered complaints about poor offensive play, both coaches were quick to praise their defenses following Warren Harding’s 9-2 triumph over East Friday night at Mollenkopf Stadiumon .
“For the second week our defense got after it,” Harding coach Rick Rios said after his first victory at the school. “We did a good job stopping the run and we knew we had to do that this week.”
“Our defense played phenomenally, they played with speed and aggressiveness,” East coach Brian Shaner said. “If our defense plays that way all year, we’re going to be tough to beat.”
Neither team netted more than 130 yards from scrimmage for the game and there were only 14 first downs, two by penalty.
The difference was in turnovers. The Panthers (1-1) lost five fumbles and threw two interceptions, while Harding (1-1) was without a turnover. A blocked punt did lead to a good scoring opportunity for East and a high punt snap on the ensuing Raider possession led to the Panthers’ only points.
“Offensively, when you turn the ball over six times you should be blown out,” Shaner said. “Hats off to our defense. To have six turnovers and only lose by seven points to a team like Harding is something.”
Harding’s Terrelle Bruner recovered an East fumble on the second play from scrimmage to set up Dominic Milano-Jones’ 31-yard field goal. That was the only scoring until the final seconds of the third period, when Harding punter Kyle Cogley leaped to snare a high snap and came down on his knees in the end zone.
But the Raiders then dominated the final quarter, outgaining East in net yardage, 83-4, and picking up five first downs to none for the Panthers.
“We worked our guys hard in conditioning starting in July and it paid off, especially on a night like tonight,” Rios said. “You could see that we wore them down a little and had success in the fourth quarter.”
LeShun Daniels finished off a 10-play, 51-yard touchdown drive with a 2-yard scoring run with 6:01 left in the game. The big play was a 22-yard gain on a slant pass from Jimmy Rumple to Jalyn Powell. The Raiders also benefited by gaining a first down on fourth-and-3 on an offsides call against East.
“I was disappointed in our inconsistency up front,” Rios said. “During the summer our offensive line came together and played well. The last two weeks, though, we’ve been inconsistent.”