By ED PUSKAS
Warren Harding’s game plan against a prolific Mentor offense was to avoid getting into a shootout by playing methodical, smash-mouth football with its big offensive line and running back LeShun Daniels.
Mission accomplished, to a point. Daniels ran for 219 yards and two touchdowns on 37 carries, Harding scored scored on impressive drives on its first two possessions and finished with 396 yards and kept the ball almost twice as long as Mentor.
But that wasn’t enough. Cardinals quarterback Mitch Trubisky and waterbug-like wide receiver Nick Delisa dominated the first half with big play after big play as Mentor outlasted Harding, 45-35, in a Division I, Region 1 quarterfinal Saturday night at Jerome T. Osborne Stadium.
The Raiders (9-2) pushed the Cardinals at different times in the game, but it wasn’t as close as the final score indicated. Harding scored the game’s final points on an 11-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Lamar Carmichael to wideout Jalyn Powell with 21 seconds to play.
“We knew we couldn’t win a shootout,” first-year Raiders coach Steve Arnold said. “It turned into a shootout. We didn’t think they could stop us. There were a couple possessions when we were going in [to the end zone] and we shot ourselves in the foot with a couple of penalties and a fumbled snap.”
Those few missteps were all it took for Harding to lose the momentum of a quick start and for Mentor (10-1) to take over.
Trubisky, bound for the University of North Carolina, passed for 356 yards and five touchdowns and ran for another 94 yards and another score and Delisa caught five passes for 171 yards, including touchdowns of 52, 9 and 19 yards.
Most of their damage came in the first half, when Trubisky was 12 of 13 for 269 yards and Delisa had all three of his touchdown catches. The Cardinals led 32-14 at halftime. They scored touchdowns on each of their first five possessions until Trubisky took a knee to run out the clock on the first half.
Trubisky’s 19-yard touchdown run on Mentor’s first drive of the second half made it 39-14 and all but sealed the Cardinals’ victory. They kept the Raiders at bay with two Mike Muzic field goals, one each in the third and fourth quarters.
Mentor will face Lakewood St. Edward (11-0) next week in a regional semifinal. St. Edward beat Mayfield on Saturday afternoon.
“We’re going to have to play better next week,” Cardinals coach Steve Trivisonno said. “We stopped ourselves [in the second half]. We should have put 60 on them.”