Football: Harvest Prep Warriors overcame obstacles to reach regional semifinal

Jarrod Ulrey
ThisWeek group
Junior Jaylen Jennings rushed for 1,623 yards and 22 touchdowns on 163 carries and was the district’s Offensive Player of the Year. Harvest Prep finished 7-2, reaching a Division V regional semifinal.

A rough start to the fall didn’t keep the Harvest Prep football team from ending its season on a high note. 

Although the Warriors began their season Aug. 28 with a 56-25 victory over Buckeye Valley, they had been quarantined from Aug. 10-24 because of a COVID-19 coronavirus issue. 

They then had a 39-game league winning streak snapped with a 20-10 loss Sept. 4 at Columbus Academy, a defeat which ultimately prevented Harvest Prep from capturing its seventh consecutive league title. 

The Warriors won their next four, however, and finished 4-1 in the MSL-Ohio behind the Vikings (5-0) before reaching a Division V, Region 19 semifinal. Last season, Harvest Prep competed in Division VII, Region 27 and was a state semifinalist. 

“This season wasn’t regular at all facing the fact that we couldn’t do our regular camp. We rarely lifted and had a lack of leadership in the first half of the season,” junior running back Jaylen Jennings said. “I’m very proud of this team knowing even though we didn’t achieve our goal, we started to become closer as the season progressed and fought until the very last play of our last game.” 

Harvest Prep was the fifth seed for the playoffs and avenged the loss to Academy with a 20-17 victory over the fourth-seeded Vikings on Oct. 24 before falling 21-14 to top-seeded Ironton on Oct. 31 to finish 7-2. 

That was the final prep game for a 13-member senior class that matured as the season wore on, according to coach Milan Smith. 

“In all honesty, our seniors didn’t start off as great leaders and in the early part of the season, our seniors didn’t take leadership as seriously as they should have,” Smith said. “Having said that, they ended up taking on that leadership role really, really well. It showed the second time against Columbus Academy. Some of the seniors were first-year players and didn’t get a chance to really help us.” 

The biggest losses to graduation will be Phillip Gibson-Perry (LB), who was the district’s Defensive Player of the Year, Patrick Moore Graves (OL/DL) and Manny Mullens (TE/DL), who both were first-team all-district on offense, Jalen Davis (WR/DL) and Rashaun Goines (WR/DB), who each were first-team all-district on defense, and Terrence Kee (LB/QB), who was special mention all-district. 

Davis finished with nine receptions for 125 yards, Goines had 14 receptions for 301 yards and four touchdowns, and senior Josiah Carroll (QB/DB) added 328 yards and 20 rushes. 

Senior Mike Dungy (OL/DL) was special mention all-district. 

The team’s top offensive threat was Jennings, who finished with 1,623 yards and 22 touchdowns on 163 carries and was the district’s Offensive Player of the Year. 

Sophomore quarterback Aidan Rogers ran for 269 yards and three touchdowns on 55 carries and was 49-for-84 passing for 807 yards and five scores while earning special mention all-district. 

“I believe this was a good season for us honestly,” Gibson-Perry said. “Although we lost the league streak of (39 consecutive wins), we ended up getting our revenge on Columbus Academy in the playoffs when it really mattered. Our defense was amazing all year and I’m really happy that I was able to be the leader of it.” 

Other key players eligible to return include juniors Chandler Burrell (TE/LB) and Avery Garner (OL/DL), who each made special mention all-district, juniors Joe Johnson (OL/DL), Edjay Sumo (WR/DB) and Jermaine Townsend (RB/DB), sophomore Xavier Cain (OL/DL) and freshmen George DeCarlo (LB) and Shawn Ruffin (H-back).  

Garner was only eligible for the first five games because of the OHSAA transfer rule. 

Harvest Prep opens next season against Eastmoor Academy, which perennially is one of the top teams in the City League, and then follows with Division III regional runner-up Hartley in Week 2. 

“The way it was set up this year, we were actually playing in the fourth round (of the playoffs) and usually that’s the state semifinal round,” Smith said. “That part, given what everybody had to deal with, you’ve got to feel comfortable with the way we’re moved up two divisions and competed with one of the best teams in the state in that division (Ironton). It says a lot about what the kids have done to build the program and what the coaches have done to build the program. 

“We’ve got a nice core of juniors. We think every year we’ve got a chance to win the state championship. We go into every season believing we’re one of the best teams in the state of Ohio and when we finish the season with a loss you’re not that team, but it gives us areas we need to work on to become a more complete team.” 

julrey@thisweeknews.com 

@UlreyThisWeek 

•Record: 7-2 overall 

•MSL-Ohio standings: Columbus Academy (5-0), Harvest Prep (4-1), Liberty Union (4-1), Buckeye Valley (3-2), Bexley (1-4), Whitehall (1-4), Grandview (0-6) 

•Seniors lost: Josiah Carroll, Jason Colin, Jeffrey Colin, Jalen Davis, Michael Dungy, Phillip Gibson-Perry, Rashaun Goines, Terrence Kee, Silvanus Kent, Omar Martinez, Patrick Moore Graves, Manny Mullens and Neiko St. Clair 

•Key returnees: Chandler Burrell, Xavier Cain, Avery Garner, Jaylen Jennings, Joe Johnson, Aidan Rogers, Shawn Ruffin, Edjay Sumo and Jermaine Townsend 

•Postseason: Defeated Piketon 41-8; def. Academy 20-17; lost to Ironton 21-14 in Division V, Region 19 semifinal