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Offense struggles, but WGH forces seven TOs

September 3, 2011
By Tim Cleveland , Underthelights

WARREN - Warren G. Harding coach Rick Rios had to be thankful for his defense Friday night against East.

The Raiders' defensive unit forced seven turnovers to overcome a weak effort by the offense for the second consecutive week.

Despite the disparity in the turnovers, Harding was only able to hold on for a 9-2 victory at Mollenkopf Stadium.

Article Photos

Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple
Warren G. Harding quarterback Josh Martz (12) tries to corral the snap as Raiders lineman Josh Krok (72) blocks East’s Desmond Bentley during the first half Friday night at Mollenkopf Field. Harding won, 9-2.

"For the second week in a row, I liked how our defense came after it," Rios said. "I thought our defense did a great job stopping the run, which is what we needed to do. This week we caused some turnovers, though."

The Raiders' offense was only able to muster 101 total yards, while the defense forced five fumbles - scoring all their points off the miscues - two interceptions and allowed just 118 yards.

"I think it is the game," East coach Brian Shaner said when asked about the turnovers. "When you turn over the ball that many times, you should really get blown out.

"Our defense stepped up. We only lost by seven with that many turnovers, it shows our defense is making strides. That side of the ball's very strong. Offensively, we've got to tighten things up. We can't turn the ball over that many times against any team and expect to win."

Harding's defense went to work on East's first possession, as George Leflore put the ball on the ground and Terrelle Bruner recovered at the Panthers' 19.

The Raiders cashed in as Dominic Milano-Jones kicked a 30-yard field goal just 2 minutes, 25 seconds into the game.

East turned the ball over three more times in the first half, as Rayshawn Johnson was intercepted by Osha Jackson later in the first quarter. Johnson and Leflore fumbled in the second quarter, which were recovered by Chance Harper and Aundra'ez Cambridge, respectively.

East's best chance to score in the first half came late in the second quarter. After blocking a Kyle Cogley punt and recovering at the Harding 22, East drove to the 13 where it faced a fourth-and-1. The Raiders' defense came up huge again as they stopped D.D. Fleetion for no gain.

Rios said Harding's offensive difficulties started with the line.

"Our inconsistent play up front," he said. "That's two weeks in a row. In the scrimmages I thought our offensive line played fairly well, and we were pleased with how well they were jelling. Tonight, I though we were very inconsistent, hit and miss. We put ourselves in some very bad situations."

The Panthers got on the board in the third quarter, as they took advantage of a Harding mistake. The Raiders were punting from their own 10, but the snap to Cogley was high. The punter leaped up and brought the ball down in the end zone, but lost his balance and fell down for a safety. The Panthers were within 3-2 with 8 seconds left in the third quarter and seemed to have the momentum.

That momentum dissipated immediately, as after the free kick Leflore fumbled yet again, which was recovered by Jalyn Powell at the Raiders' 49.

Harding's offense was finally able to put something together, as Jimmy Rumple drove the Raiders to a touchdown in 10 plays, taking up 5:09. Rumple completed a 22-yard pass to Powell and rushed twice for 15 yards on the drive.

The Raiders faced a fourth-and-3 on the East 23, and converted as East jumped offsides. Four plays later, LeShun Daniels went in from 2 yards out. After missing the 2-point conversion, Harding led 9-2 with 6:01 left.

Rios said the work the Raiders did in preseason practice allowed them to wear East down late in the game.

"We said tonight that the conditioning program we put them through was going to pay off," he said. "Tonight we saw that in the fourth quarter a little bit."

East had two more drives, which ended with turnovers Nos. six and seven. Johnson's fumble was recovered by Harper (his second fumble recovery of the game), and Robert Thompkins was intercepted by Lyndal Kimble. The latter turnover came with 1:25 remaining and Harding was able to run out the clock.

"Chance Harper's a player," Rios said. "We expect a lot of big things out of him, and he made some big plays for us on defense. I've got to give credit to our defense. We had 11 guys out there going to the ball and they created some turnovers."

Shaner felt the turnovers were the difference in the game.

"I definitely think the outcome could've been different (without the turnovers)," he said. "It is what it is. We're going to bounce back, we're going to get better. This was a tough night for these guys. This was a big game for us."

East is at Hubbard next week, while Harding hosts Howland.

Rios has no doubt what his team needs to work on in the next seven days.

"We've got to pitch and catch the ball a lot better than we did tonight," he said. "That's two weeks in a row we haven't thrown the ball extremely well. I'm disappointed in the way we've executed our passing game. We've got to shore that up and shore up picking up the blitz."

tcleveland@tribtoday.com