High School Sports

Once a doormat, Harding High busting out for big wins this season

Harding wide receiver Jaquan Rankins had nearly 100 yards total offense in Friday’s 54-46 win over Providence. He’s scored eight touchdowns in three weeks
Harding wide receiver Jaquan Rankins had nearly 100 yards total offense in Friday’s 54-46 win over Providence. He’s scored eight touchdowns in three weeks jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Friday night, the Harding Rams won their second straight football game, beating Providence 54-46. Harding won its fourth game of the season and that means a lot.

The Rams had not won four games in a season since 2009.

“This is called ‘The Moving Mountains Turning Point’ right here,” and elated Harding coach Sam Greiner said. “We always talk about moving mountains here. Well, Providence is an unbelievable football team. Their coaches are good. It was like a chess match. And for us to beat a well-coached, sound, football team like that - on our homecoming and Senior Night - it’s a turning point to let them know that hey, we are for real. It’s no fluke. We want to, and we expect to win. And we expect to win our last two games, too.”

In the 1980s, Tom Knotts, the most legendary of Mecklenburg County coaches, built Harding into a power. His Rams reeled off four straight seasons of double-digit wins, made a couple appearances in the N.C. 4A Western Regional championship and lost in the 1987 state final to Garner. Knotts left for West Charlotte after the 1988 season and Wiley Floyd led Harding to a 9-4 record in 1989.

Since then, Harding hasn’t been heard from much.

▪ Harding has had two winning seasons in the past 26 years.

▪  Since 1993, the Rams have had nine seasons with one win or none.

▪ Greiner, who was 1-10 in his first season in 2015, is Harding’s ninth coach since the 2000 season began.

But Greiner just might stick.

After being blown out in many games early in the 2015 season, Greiner’s Rams became competitive in their final three games of 2015, losing by an average of about two scores, a huge change from the first eight, when they lost by an average of 31 points.

That’s carried over into this season, when star running back Quavaris Crouch -- who had three touchdowns against Providence -- has run for more than 1,000 yards and piled up national recruiting offers as his team has started 4-5. And in their past three games, Harding is averaging 50 points. Friday, the Rams beat Providence for the first time since 1992. Here’s how:

Quarterback Braheam Murphy, who lives with his coach, threw a 40-yard pass to Trayvon Corbett to give Harding a 34-27 lead at halftime. In the fourth quarter, Jaquan Rankin’s 62-yard interception for a touchdown gave him his eighth score in three weeks and his team a 54-39 lead.

Providence scored and stopped Harding, forcing a punt. But Rams punter Mikel Bell blasted a 52-yard punt that pinned Providence inside its 10 with less than two minutes left. Harding’s defense did the job. Afterward, Greiner kept saying how big a win this was. It was Harding’s final home game of the season. Five of their final six games on the schedule are on the road, including the final two -- at Olympic next week and at West Meck Nov. 6.

“We put that belief in them,” Greiner said. “We talked about this last year. Everybody understood we were 1 and 10, but the foundation was laid. We were competing in games. We didn’t win a lot, but we competed down the stretch. They knew we were building something great.”

▪ Greiner credited Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ athletics director Sue Doran and CMS Health and Physical Education specialist Kim Cooke with helping the Rams get a new $90,000 weight room that’s made a big difference. The movement began when the Cam Newton Foundation donated $7,500 to the school to go toward the effort. Newton visited the school with rapper Ice Cube and actor/comedian Kevin Hart, who were in town to promote a movie last December.

Greiner remembers Hart being shocked at the condition of Harding’s weight room.

“Hart was bench pressing with the guys and we had to put a towel down,” Greiner said. “He was like, ‘Oh my God, this is where y’all bench?’ And it was bad. There was mold. It was dirty. Sue and Kim worked really hard to find the money for us.”

Said Ardrey Kell coach Joe Evans, whose team narrowly beat Harding 59-54 Oct. 6: “That weight room has made a huge difference for them. You can see it in how their kids look. They’re stronger now. Sam’s doing a great job over there. They just play so hard.”

Friday’s Observations

▪ Two of South Carolina’s best high school quarterbacks met Friday in Rock Hill Northwestern’s 38-25 win over Fort Mill Nation Ford. And they did not disappoint.

Northwestern’s Gage Moloney completed 20-of-29 passes for 304 yards and three touchdowns. He also averaged nearly 40 yards punting. Nation Ford’s Kirk Rygol ran for 34 yards and a score and completed 36-of-54 passes for 333 yards and two touchdowns.

▪ One of the best of the recent N.C. high school football rules is the running clock. I remember the days of 92-0 games and now, if a team is up 42 in the second half, the clock runs. So Friday, for example, when Hickory Ridge was up 55-0 over South Rowan -- en route to winning its fifth straight game -- the clock ran in the second half. It prevents injuries and hurt feelings, which can lead to needless over-aggressive play.

Hickory Ridge scored five touchdowns on its first 10 plays. The point was made. Ditto Mount Pleasant’s 70-0 win over Central Academy and many other games throughout the state.

The rule is good for the health of the game.

▪ After losing 38-21 to Vance last week, Mallard Creek needed to clean up its penalties -- which had been killing the Mavericks -- and play a complete game.

For the most part, mission accomplished. The Mavericks dominated a good A.L. Brown team, ranked No. 16 in the Observer’s Sweet 16, winning 24-7 on the road Friday. Mallard Creek got a modest (for Mallard Creek) nine penalties for 80 yards, the same amount of total yardage the Wonders had. AL Brown suffered through five fumbles, too.

Friday’s Roundup

Davidson Day 41, Harrells Christian 0: Sam Hartman threw three touchdown passes to Nolan Groulx, Clayton Cribb ran for two touchdowns, and Keygan Mayfield had a 65-yard kickoff return for a touchdown as the Patriots improved to 7-2. Davidson Day plays at Rabun Gap (Ga.) next Friday at 4 p.m.

Ardrey Kell 56, Berry 6: The Knights (6-3, 4-1 SoMeck) won their fourth straight game and set up next week’s showdown at Charlotte Catholic (8-1, 5-0). The Knights can tie for the league lead and get in position to win the title. Catholic can win at least a share with a win.

Hough 31, West Charlotte 0: Hough led 28-0 at halftime on the Lions’ homecoming. Quarterback Jackson Gibbs threw for 135 yards and two touchdowns.

Olympic 43, South Meck 14: Olympic (2-7, 1-4 SoMeck) ended a five-game losing streak with the big upset. South Meck (4-5, 2-3) lost its third straight.

Charlotte Country Day 28, Providence Day 9: In a game where the winner would earn the fourth and final playoff spot in the N.C. Independent Schools Division I playoff, Providence Day suffered eight turnovers. Country Day’s Wes Bingham threw for 89 yards and two touchdowns, and freshman Twan Flip had 78 yards total offense and a score. Providence Day’s Gabe Montgomery ran for a game-high 119 yards and freshman Porter Rooks had 125 yards total offense.

Friday Night’s Top Performers

Baarkiar Anderson, Concord Robinson: Three interceptions in 49-23 win over East Rowan

Elijah Bowick, Ben Norris, Myers Park: In a 47-7 win over Independence, Bowick caught eight passes for 170 yards and a school-record five touchdowns. His mark is second-most in county history behind the record of six set by Independence’s Mario Raley. Norris had 12 tackles, two sacks and two other tackles for losses.

Canaan Cox, Statesville Christian: 260 yards rushing, five touchdowns and 305 all purpose yards in a 57-7 win over SouthLake Christian.

Damon Early, Hough: He had two sacks, three tackles for loss in a 35-0 win at West Charlotte. Hough limited the Lions to 135 yards total offense and six first downs.

Jerry Howard, Rock Hill Northwestern: He ran 20 times for 148 yards and a score in a 38-25 win over Fort Mill Nation Ford. He caught six passes for 95 yards and a second score.

Milan Howard, Charlotte Catholic: 103 yards rushing, two touchdowns on 12 carries in a 42-6 over West Mecklenburg.

Bates Jones, DeMarkes Stradford, Melvin Rouse, Charlotte Latin: Jones, a Davidson basketball recruit, was 14-for-18 for 247 yards and three touchdowns in a 35-10 win over Charlotte Christian that gives the Hawks a share of the CISAA regular-season title. Jones also ran eight times for 37 yards and a score. Stradford ran 25 times for 168 yards and a score. Rouse caught seven passes for 134 yards and a touchdown.

Tim Newman, Charlotte Country Day: Freshman ran for a career-high 34 times for 93 yards and caught two passes for 53 yards and a score in the Bucs’ 28-9 win over Providence Day. Country Day plays rival Charlotte Latin next week and can win a share of the league title with an upset win.

Sage Surratt, Lincolnton: Senior had five catches for 130 yards and two touchdowns in the first half of Lincolnton’s 49-6 win over Newton-Conover. He became the state’s all-time leader in career receiving yardage in the game (unofficially 4,897 yards), breaking the old mark of 4,876 set by Independence High’s Mohamad Massaquoi 12 years ago. Surratt is already the leader in career receptions. Also Friday, Surratt had a 24-yard interception return for a score in the first half.

Khamal Howard, East Mecklenburg: 20 carries for 250 yards and five scores in a 70-6 win over Garinger.