There are three things in life that are certainties: death, taxes and Cardinal Mooney making the high school football playoffs.
Shockingly, that wasn't the case in 2012 when the Cardinals stumbled into the abyss. After beginning the year 2-2, including a 41-15 drubbing of eventual Division III state champion Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary, the defending 2011 state champ Cardinals lost four of their final five games to finish 3-6. That mark was Mooney's second worse in school history. The final loss of the season was the hardest to swallow because Mooney was mauled by crosstown rival Austintown Fitch, 49-7 in the heavily anticipated showdown.
Now, in order to wipe out the bad feeling of that loss to Fitch, the Cardinals are eagerly awaiting the start of this season. Before the 2013 season starts on Aug. 31, however, 14-year Mooney head coach P.J. Fecko must declare winners in some open battles for the starting lineup.
2013 Cardinal Mooney varsity football team
At least Fecko will have more than 30 seniors to choose from to fill the starting 11 on both sides of the ball, but the most important position on the field has neither a senior nor a couple players battling for it. Returning to play quarterback will be junior Jon Saadey. Saadey saw significant snaps at starting signal caller in 2012 and finished the year with 500 yards passing and a 54 percent completion percentage. Alas, he only helped the Cardinals score a very un-Mooney-like 22 points per game.
One senior returnee who should be getting the ball a lot from Saadey is running back/receiver Mark Handel. Handel was a jack-of-all-trades for the Cardinals a year ago, combining for 770 all-purpose yards as a rusher, receiver, kick returner and punt returner. Joining Handel and Saadey will be senior Denver Martin who made his way through opposing defenses for 333 yards. Seniors Anthony Dermotta and C.J. Bias are two other Cardinals who should see some time in the offensive backfield.
Handel is Mooney's leading receiver returning, but he isn't the Cardinals only candidate to catch passes. Speedy senior Tim Durkin and lanky 6-foot, 3-inch pass catcher Marcus Penza are two guys ready to snare throws from Saadey this season.
The battles that Fecko will have to decipher will be along the offensive line and the defensive line where Mooney has lost plenty of star players over the past couple of graduating classes. Historically, the Cardinals are incredible on the ground, but last season they could only average 214 rushing yards per contest behind the ineffective offensive front.
That defense rested plenty last year for the heretofore clamp-down Cardinals. Mooney gave up an uncharacteristic 30 points per game last fall, helping in its failing season. Also aiding in that atrocity was that the Cardinals gave up slightly more than 300 yards per game and only forced eight turnovers. Handel led the defense with three of those turnovers and will return to anchor the secondary along with Martin, Saadey, Handel, Durkin, Ke'shawn Bray and Ahmad Moore.
There will be a battle royale amongst the Cardinals battling for defensive line and linebacker although there are some worthy upperclassmen vying for those important spots. Senior kicker Zak Kennedy hit 14 extra points last season and will be depended upon to put a few more points on the board for Mooney this year as well as giving the defense a break by backing up opposing offenses inside their 20-yard line on kickoffs.
Improving on that ghastly 3-6 record may not be a kick for the Cardinals because their schedule is brutal. The season starts with a visit from a charter school from Philadelphia who replaces juggernaut Cleveland St. Ignatius on the slate. Unfortunately, Imhotep of Philly just so happened to finish 14-1 last year with that loss coming in the state championship game. A visit to Boardman follows one week later setting the stage for a local schedule that also includes rival Ursuline on Oct. 25 and the rematch with Fitch at Youngstown State University on Nov. 1.
Cardinal Mooney already got one victory this year when it was decided in June that the school will stay on the South Side for the foreseeable future. Remaining on Erie Street will carry on one tradition for Mooney. Recapturing a playoff position on the gridiron in 2013 will go a long way in recapturing another one.