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Band of brothers

Harding bounces back, beats Howland

September 7, 2013
By MIKE McLAIN - Tribune Chronicle ( , Underthelights

WARREN - In a show of solidarity, members of the Warren G. Harding Raiders coaching staff led the team onto the field locked arm-in-arm prior to Friday's game against the Howland Tigers at Mollenkopf Stadium.

Then the Raiders went out and lost a fumble on the first play from scrimmage, making coach Steve Arnold wonder if that solidarity was about to crumble. The turnover didn't prove costly, but it was a painful reminder of Harding's five-turnover game a week earlier in a 48-point loss to Austintown Fitch.

It took one play on the Raiders' next possession to make Arnold realize someone wasn't out to get him. Running back Keemari Murry sprinted through an inside hole and raced untouched on an 80-yard touchdown run, the first of three for the sophomore in Harding's 21-16 win.

Article Photos

Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple
Warren G. Harding’s Keemari Murry breaks away from Howland defenders Jerry Kovachich (46) and T.K. Fortson (23) and rushes for a first-quarter touchdown. Harding defeated Howland, 21-16.

"Coming off a performance from last week, you know how people are," Arnold said. "They're down on you. You know what? Our fans were great tonight, but we knew all we had was ourselves. We knew coming off a lack of a performance last week that we needed to bond together."

The Raiders evened their record at 1-1. The Tigers slipped to 1-1.

While the Raiders rode the sprinter legs of Murry, who rushed for 196 yards on 21 carries with touchdown runs of 80, 46 and 7 yards, the Tigers steadily gave the ball to running back Jaquore Marrs. The junior responded with 95 yards on 31 carries, but it was his 78-yard return of a kickoff that cut Harding's lead to the final margin with 3:38 remaining in the fourth quarter that made for some tense moments.

The Raiders all but secured the win when John Coleman picked up a first down on a 2-yard run on their next possession.

"The effort was great," Tigers coach Domininc Menendez said. "We told the kids it was going to be a four-quarter war, and that's what it was. Sometimes you just run out of time."

In an era of spread offenses, jet sweeps and shotgun formations, both teams relied almost exclusively on their inside running games. The Tigers attempted only one pass and had zero yards through the air. Playing without first-string quarterback Lamar Carmicheal, who's out with a foot injury, the Raiders completed two of just three pass attempts for 39 yards.

"We're going to do what's best for our football team and for our kids," Menendez said. "Whether you run or throw, you better do something well."

The Raiders sorely needed Murry's performance after gaining just 31 yards against Fitch. There's no question that the loss to Fitch stung the players deeply.

"We're coming as a family," Murry said. "After the loss we became stronger and we're going to keep doing it as the season goes on."

Trailing 7-0 after Murry's 80-yard score and the extra point by Nate Marchek, the Tigers marched 53 yards on nine plays to score on a 29-yard field goal by Jacob Lowe.

Coleman was stopped short of a first down a fourth-and-1 call on the next possession, giving the Tigers the ball at the Raiders' 44. Harding returned the favor by stopping the Tigers on downs at the Raiders' 28.

Howland took the lead when freshman linebacker Victor Williams intercepted a pass by Hasan Muhammad and returned it 47 yards for a touchdown. The extra point by Lowe gave the Tigers a 10-7 halftime lead.

For the Raiders the three-point deficit was a gut-check moment.

"I told the team at halftime that we have 24 minutes and we're playing for our season," Arnold said.

The Raiders regained the lead when Murry broke loose on his 46-yard scoring run at the 4:37 mark of the third quarter. It appeared as if Harding had put the game out of reach when Murry scooped up a pitch from Muhammad and scored on a 7-yard run to extend the lead to 21-10 at the 3:51 mark of the fourth period.

The Tigers, however, added to the drama in the final minutes when Marrs burst through the middle of the blocking wedge and sprinted down the right sideline. A pass for the extra two points failed.

Howland's attempt of an onside kick was recovered by Harding's Keith Adams.

Harding hosts Massillon Friday. Howland is home to face Lakeview the same night.