Warren G. Harding wins 2nd game in a row, beating Boardman 38-20
WARREN — Heading into Friday’s matchup against Boardman, Warren G. Harding head football coach Steve Arnold was nervous.
It was homecoming, and sometimes a player’s attention can be drawn elsewhere.
“I told the team before the game, before we came out, I told them I was worried because it was homecoming weekend,” Arnold said. “They are kids and sometimes they look at other things, and the first three or four plays of the game were bad.”
The Raiders (3-4) overcame those mistakes though.
Naujeat Jones caught two long touchdown passes and Israel Reynolds added two more as the Raiders secured their second straight victory for a 38-20 win over the Spartans (1-6).
In accordance with Arnold’s concerns, Harding’s victory didn’t start the way the Raiders would’ve liked.
After the Raiders received the opening kickoff, junior quarterback Chaz Coleman was forced off the field due to an equipment violation. Backup quarterback Drew McKowan stepped in and completed a pass to Donovan McCoy, who fumbled it, allowing Boardman’s Aiden Berg to pick it up and return it 30 yards for a touchdown.
Javonte Jones then returned the ensuing kickoff to Boardman’s four-yard line, setting up a short touchdown run for Antonio Smith. The senior running back picked a bad snap up off the ground and scampered into the end zone off the right side.
“Initially I was worried, but then we got it rolling from there,” Arnold said.
With a mixture of run and pass, the Raiders showcased a balanced offense all night long. Reynolds rushed 16 times for 79 yards and two scores. Smith also shined at times, carrying the ball nine times for 31 yards.
But the Raiders really shined in the passing game. Coleman completed nine of his 16 pass attempts for 219 yards, finding Jones five times for 179 yards.
“Izzy ran hard again, Naujeat made some big plays offensively and we showed the potential that we can be a big play offense, while also completing short passes and picking up big yards after the catch,” Arnold said. “We have to continue to do that.”
On both of Jones’ touchdowns, the Raiders scored early in their drive. On Jones’ first touchdown, Coleman found his senior wide receiver behind the Spartans’ secondary for an 84-yard score.
Then, after forcing Boardman to turn the ball over on downs, Coleman found Jones across the middle and the talented wideout did the rest of the work, breaking a few tackles in the open field for a 69-yard score.
“Naujeat has the capability of beating teams deep like that, but the other thing is he has really blossomed,” Arnold said. “His speed is deceiving, he’s long and he catches the ball. His strength is deceiving because he can break out of tackles. We need him to be able to continue to develop because that will allow us to run the football because you have to be concerned with our passing game on the perimeter.”
On their second touchdown drive of the game, the Spartans pinned Harding on its one-yard line. Smith danced out of the end zone for a 12-yard gain and then picked up another 11 yards on the next play. Harding then methodically marched down the field for a 99-yard, 12-play drive, which Reynolds capped off with his first score of the night.
Boardman’s Zach Haus completed 25 of his 49 pass attempts for 218 yards, finding both Willy Torres and Jaylen Soto for scores of six and seven yards, respectively. Most of Haus’ incompletions though came from an over-active secondary as Harding broke up passes all night wrong, which Arnold was encouraged by.
“We got our hands on a lot of balls, which is good, but selfishly, as a coach, I would like to see picks,” Arnold said. “But when you get your hands on balls, like deflections, that tells you that you are active defensively. So we weren’t passive and I was pleased with that but we still have to shore up our tackling.”
After losing four of their first five games, the Raiders have won their last two games and will now hit the road for a matchup against Cardinal Mooney next Friday at Mineral Ridge. Boardman will head to Dover to take on the Crimson Tornadoes.