Youngstown Ursuline at Warren G. Harding. It was too intriguing of a match up
to pass up.
Although I had just seen the Raiders a week earlier in their victory over St. Ed's in overtime, the thought of Delbert Ferguson going up against his former teammates was something that I had to see. And as a bonus to that, I would get to see the (once) highly-touted Brandon Braxton in action for the first time this year.
Because of players like Louis Irizarry and Ferguson at Ursuline the past few seasons, I was able to see Braxton play on more than one occasion prior to this year. I, for one, have always been under the impression that Braxton had a lot of improving to do to come anywhere close to the lofty ratings that were bestowed on him by so many others.
Unfortunately, with Ferguson's main role at Harding being relegated to that of a blocker for Richard Davis, a very talented runner in his own right, he didn't have much success on the ground against his former mates. Unofficially, Ferguson did get 15 totes on the evening but only managed 40 yards while Richard Davis had eight carries for 90 yards and three touchdowns of 14, 5 and 34 yards. Davis is a 10.9 second 100-meter guy with a 40 ½ inch vertical jump.
When I asked him after the game, Harding coach Thom McDaniels said his running game is starting gel.
"I think so," the coach said. "I've got no concept or idea about numbers or stats or anything like that; I just know that we seemed to be successful with both at different times through the course of the night, so yeah I would say so."
"Is there any rhyme or reason that you're trying to work out with the two," I asked him.
"None," he said adamantly. "We don't care who's in; that's got nothing to do with it. With Richard (Davis) playing as much defense as he is, we sort of rotate them at tailback, but no, I don't call plays based on who's in the game. Can't do it! Won't do it!"
Being the game had to be a big one personally for Ferguson playing against his former team, I was looking for some personal comment from McDaniels about Ferguson or if he said anything special to Ferguson. I asked McDaniels if he was proud of Ferguson for the way he's handled his new role at Harding.
"Everybody wants to talk about Delbert, but this is a team, and he's now a vital member of our team," McDaniels said. "He's fit in well as has Alex (Engram) and Ben Elzer and all the other kids that are new to the program. Yeah I'm very happy for him. For all of them. No more for any one kid."
Whether McDaniels cares or not, people outside of the Warren G. Harding program have an interest in a player like Ferguson because of the player that he was in his first three years in high school and for the way that he was rated so highly by many recruiting experts across the country going into his senior year.
It didn't help Ferguson's cause, obviously, that he missed the entire preseason with an hamstring injury, but it has to be considered a tribute to him as a player when you see him line up as a fullback in front of Davis, when he had done nothing but dot the I in his successful career at Ursuline.
Ferguson was excited after the game, nonetheless, to get the victory over his former team.
"It felt good. It was fine," he said with his customary ear-to-ear smile. "There was a whole lot of jawing, but that was expected. But it was all within the game. It was fine. The whole game was exciting, especially to come out with a win like that, that was the important thing. It was exciting."
When I asked him how he felt about his new role at Harding in contrast to how it was at Ursuline?
"It feels good. We're 6-0, that's the important thing," Ferguson said. "That's all that I'm really worried about is winning. That's the main thing."
He's seems to be getting more adept at blocking with each passing week. That's a dimension of his game that people questioned about him in the past.
"Of course it's going to help," Ferguson said. "Not all backs can block, and that's adding to my game so that's important."
"Was there anything he wanted to accomplish against his former team," I asked him.
"Of course, I wanted to do well, but the most important thing was coming out with the ‘W' and we did that, so that's all that I ask for," he said.
Ferguson and Davis team with Alex Engram and one of the state's best juniors, Mario Manningham, to potentially give them one of the best offensive arsenals in Ohio. On that particular night, Nebraska assistant Turner Gill was there to check out the play of all of those guys, particularly Engram, who is considered to be high on the Cornhuskers' QB list.
Engram was 9 of 18 passing for 121 yards including a 15-yarder to Manningham,
who made a terrific run after the catch for a touchdown. Manningham, who also
plays full-time on defense at cornerback for the Raiders, has logged four TD's
in the past three games, and three of them have been nothing short of
But Gill also had his eye on the quarterback on the other sideline, Daryll Clark. Clark was 20 of 29 for 223 yards with one touchdown pass. Reportedly, West Virginia is high on Clark and vice-versa.
As far as Braxton goes, he seemed to have his trouble handling Anthony Hoke during the early part of the game, and he even spent most of the third quarter standing on the sideline. Braxton, considered by many to be one of the top two linemen in Ohio going into this season, has the potential for greatness down the road but, in my opinion, has yet to begin to tap into that ability. Hoke, reportedly, has drawn the interest of the Michigan Wolverines, and the people in Warren consider him to be another Carl Diggs-type player, who also is from Harding.
Almost on cue, the rain came in buckets as the game ended, and Ursuline fell to Harding at Mollenkopf Stadium, 31-12, in a Steel Valley Conference contest. With the exodus of Fitch and Boardman to the Federal League, where they will begin league play next season, the once-prominent conference is on the verge of extinction, yet still looking for a lifeline.
McDaniels felt good for the first time this season about getting the victory.
"I think I feel best after this win when I compare this win with the other five," he said. "Without examining the film, I feel like maybe it was our best game. And that's a good football team, and they can win a bunch of games. That's a good football team we just beat tonight."
Back in May, McDaniels boldly told me that if Harding didn't win the state title this year that the school ought to fire him, and his attitude about winning this year certainly reflects that.
"There are only two results that satisfy us," McDaniels said. "One is to win and the other is to win and leave no doubt. And we've had a couple of games this year where we won but we didn't win and leave no doubt. I think we won tonight and left no doubt about being the better team."
QB Alex Engram
RB Delbert Ferguson