Poland and Cardinal Mooney met Nov. 20 at Austintown Fitch with a trip to the Final Four of the Division III state playoffs on the line.
Prior to the game, there was a buzz usually saved for a BCS college bowl game. After the final gun sounded, the result of the game killed that buzz. After an even first half, Mooney masterly put an end to Poland’s season by putting up 17 unanswered points in a 24-7 victory.
The undefeated (13-0) Cardinals now advance to a rematch with 12-1 Steubenville this Friday at Canton’s Fawcett Stadium. The Big Red ended the Cardinals' season last fall in the regional finals.
Poland ended this season with only two losses and actually gave its cross-town advisory the most competitive game it had all playoffs. Yet, the Bulldogs never saw a team all year with the complete talent up and down the roster of these Cardinals. That roster includes West Virginia recruit Braylon Heard who shredded the Bulldogs’ defense for three touchdowns and earned the respect of Poland’s coaching staff who was trying to contain him.
After Heard’s initial TD from 21 yards out in the first quarter, Poland popped back into the game when Colin Reardon hit Darius Patton on a 22-yard touchdown pass to tie the score at 7 at halftime. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, that would be their final score of the night because the mighty Mooney defense flexed its muscle in quarters three and four. Mooney forced seven consecutive Poland punts at one point then made its biggest second half stand late in the third period. With the ball at Mooney’s three, Reardon was stripped of the ball by Mooney’s Pat DePizzo. The fumble was recovered by teammate Jonathan Negron ending the scoring threat and essentially the Bulldogs’ season.
The Cardinals kept the Bulldogs bullish running game to under 100 yards including just 28 from superstar senior Luke Wollet. Poland’s offense was only allowed 210 total yards by the killer Cardinals “D.”
“Our defense did good things and forced (Poland) into bad situations,” said Mooney head coach P.J. Fecko following the game. “We forced their hand a little bit.”
Meanwhile, Heard was a force all second half. He ran the ball in from 18 and 59 yards to finish with a trio of touchdowns and 187 yards on 20 carries. As a team, the Cardinals collected 250 yards rushing. Kicker A.J. Fox added a 28-yard field goal to go along with three perfect extra points to aid the Cardinals’ cause.
So now Mooney will try to kick the stuffing out of Steubenville. Before losing to the Steubenville last season, Mooney made it to the Final Four by beating the Big Red in 2007. So this will be the rubber game between the two schools, but Fecko is not concerned with the previous two seasons. He is only concentrating on 2009.
“Last year was last year,” he said. “You can’t worry about that. Not too many schools are still playing at this point (of the season).”
The Big Red rolled into the state semifinals with a 28-14 dumping of Dover. In these playoffs, Steubenville has scored 86 points combined so its offense may pose a challenge to the Mooney defense.
Senior quarterback Dwight Macon is a duel threat who leads the Big Red in total offense and will be one Steubenville stud the Cardinals need to stop.
Like Mooney, the Big Red also defeated Poland (24-13 in week 8) so coach Fecko will be able to use that film to compare and contrast his outstanding upcoming opponent.
As for the Bulldogs, they go home for the winter, but certainly not with their tails between their legs.
An 11 win season, a share of the All American Red Tier championship and a regional final appearance is nothing to sneeze at. Poland will lose some key components to its offense, but it will have young Reardon returning to learn more from head coach Mark Brungard, a former quarterback himself.
This weekend the Bulldog players can cheer on their brethren from the parochial school. After all, many of the Mooney kids grew up with them in Poland.
Photo by Mike Capps, Town Crier correspondent
The Cardinal Mooney Cardinals proudly hold the regional trophy that has earned them the right to advance to the step in reaching a team goal of capturing yet another state title. The Cards will have to go through the Big Red of Steubenville tomorrow in Canton at Fawcett Stadium.