This banged up, shadow-of-its-championship-self Mooney team that limped into the state tournament with a 5-4 record gave every other team in the region hope that it had a chance to advance without resistance from the Cardinals. As we enter the regional championship round, guess who’s here to crash the party? If you answered the defending state champion and seven-time state champion Cardinals you are exactly right.
Mooney made the most of its opportunities in its regional semifinal game against Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary on Nov. 13 in Uniontown and came home with a 27-20 victory. The win over the Irish was Mooney’s second this season (Mooney defeated St. V’s in week 8) and gave the local kids their 19th win in 20 tries against the school that LeBron built.
With just 30 seconds remaining in the game it seemed as if that Mooney domination over the Akron team was coming to an end. The game was tied at 20 and the Irish was inside Mooney territory and driving toward a potential game-winning score. Irish quarterback Kevin Besser backed up to pass, but his toss was taken away by Mooney’s Carmen Leonelli who barely scooped the ball off the ground and loped 71 yards for the go-ahead touchdown. Although St. V’s had one more chance to force overtime, Besser tossed another interception that sent the Cardinals flying into the third round.
Making Mooney’s trip to the regional title game even more impressive was how the team has been able to rally with so many banged up ballplayers. As many eight Cardinals were clipped in recent weeks including star running back Charlie Brown who returned with ire against the Irish. Brown had Irish defenders crying “good grief” with his 185-yard rushing performance in round two. Brown’s most backbreaking run came late in the fourth quarter when, with Mooney trailing 20-13, he bounced outside for a 59-yard run down to the Akron one yard line. Clarence Scott picked up where Brown left off and plunged in from the one yard line to tie the score setting up Leonelli’s game-ending heroics. That touchdown was Scott’s second of the game from one yard away. Cardinal kicker A.J. Fox was another important piece to the winning puzzle punching two balls through the uprights from 21 and 19 yards out.
Another Cardinal who returned against SVSM was quarterback Kevin McGuire who wasn’t incredible against the Irish, but managed the offense enough to allow the Cardinals to advance. McGuire may need to be more of a weapon this week when Mooney meets Akron Buchtel in Ravenna on Saturday night. The Griffins upset Parma Padua, 32-21 in their regional semifinal to improve their season record to 9-3. Buchtel built a 25-7 lead in that contest only to allow Padua to pull to within four points in the fourth quarter. Should the Griffins’ defense do a similar collapse this weekend, the Cardinals will certainly seize control.
Buchtel is built around the quarterback play of Tyler Jones who had 86 yards rushing and 113 yards passing with a touchdown last weekend. Marlon Oden is another offensive weapon for the Griffins. He ran the ball 16 times for 140 yards against Padua and should pose a challenge to Mooney’s front seven on defense.
If Buchtel sounds familiar it may be because it was the team that ended Poland’s season in round one of the tournament, 20-18. Although this Akron school has one playoff victory against an area outfit, you can be sure that a second one against these battle tested and resilient Cardinals will be much more difficult to come by.
Photos by Mike Capps, Town Crier correspondent
Just prior to the ending of the first half with Mooney vs. St. Vincent-St. Mary, Cardinals quarterback, PJ Quinn breaks away for 44 yards and a couple of plays later Mooney goes into halftime, 10-0.