Defensive stand gives Elder Div. I state title over top-ranked Warren Harding

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 2, 2002

CANTON -- Rob Florian ran for two touchdowns and threw for another as Cincinnati Elder beat Warren Harding 21-19 Saturday night to win the Division I state championship.

But it was a defensive stand that won it for the Panthers (14-1). Harding took over on Elder's 48 with 2:20 to play and moved to the 2-yard line on a 40-yard pass from Mike Kokal to Mario Manningham with 56 seconds to play.

After Kokal spiked it on first down to stop the clock, Richard Davis scored on a dive to the left to cut it to 21-19. The Raiders (14-1) went for two, but Kokal was hit as he tried to throw, and the pass fell incomplete. The onside kick went out of bounds and Elder ran out the clock.

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Florian set up and scored the game-winning touchdown. Elder took over on its own 20 with nine minutes left and chewed up almost four minutes while moving to the Harding 42. On the next play, Florian broke loose on a quarterback draw and reached the one before being tackled. He scored on the next play to make it 21-7.

The Raiders cut it to 21-13 on a long pass from Kokal to Manningham with less than four minutes to play. Kokal found Manningham, who was wide open, near the sideline and Manningham outran defenders for a 73-yard touchdown.

Elder locked down Davis and the Harding offense in the first half. Davis, who came in averaging more than 100 yards a game, was held to minus-2 yards rushing in the first half, and Harding had just 46 yards of offense.

Davis finally cut loose on the first play of the fourth quarter. Starting from the Elder 34, Mike Kokal tossed a short pass to Davis, who turned upfield, cut left and cruised into the end zone untouched.

The Panthers chewed up 8:19 on an 19-play, 83-yard drive to open the scoring. Florian gave the Raiders fits during the drive, repeatedly eluding Harding defenders on quarterback sweeps and draws.

A pass interference penalty gave the Panthers a first-and-goal on the six yard line, but a false start pushed them back to the 11. After an incomplete pass, Florian lined up in the shotgun, took the snap, sprinted up the middle, dodged a defender at the line of scrimmage and scored.

Elder took just three plays to score on its next possession when Florian hooked up with a wide-open Ian Steidel for a 51-yard touchdown pass, making it 14-0.