The Cardinals ran out of time in Raider territory.
By BRIAN RICHESSON
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
WARREN -- P.J. Fecko sat against a wall inside the Cardinal Mooney High locker room.
For the second straight year, he watched his football team push Warren Harding to the edge of defeat in a Steel Valley Conference thriller, and for the second straight year he watched it fall just short.
The Cardinals ran out of time Saturday night at Mollenkopf Stadium, helplessly watching the final seconds tick away and their game-winning drive stall at Harding's 26-yard line.
Final score: Harding 22, Mooney 20.
"High drama," Harding coach Thom McDaniels labeled it.
A resilient second half brought Harding (4-0) back from a 14-6 deficit. Backed by the running of senior Jon Richardson and the leg of senior kicker Omar Omar, the Raiders scored 16 straight points to forge a 22-14 lead.
"They had an explosive third quarter, and we weren't able to get that momentum back until the end," Fecko said.
McDaniels added, "We're inexperienced and young, so we don't necessarily make adjustments well, but I thought we did today. It helped us play better football."
Mooney (3-1) had appeared finished, but Kyle McCarthy wasn't.
The senior quarterback capped an incredible performance, in which he rushed for 130 yards and two touchdowns, by scoring on a 5-yard run with 43 seconds remaining.
"Kyle's a great athlete, and probably more so he's a great competitor," Fecko said. "He finds a way."
The 5-yard touchdown run, which McCarthy made possible by escaping Harding defenders who seemingly had him stopped in the backfield, brought Mooney to within 22-20.
But on the two-point conversion attempt, McCarthy was buried by a host of defenders on an outside run to the right.
Mooney had appeared finished. It wasn't.
Junior Desmond Marrow recovered junior Will Kandray's onside kick, giving Mooney the ball at Harding's 48-yard line with 43 seconds remaining.
"They got a great bounce, the kind of bounce you want," McDaniels said. "They executed it well."
McCarthy went to work again, running for a 14-yard gain and finding Marrow on two pass receptions.
But on third-and-4 from Harding's 23, McCarthy was held to a 2-yard gain. With no timeouts, the Cardinals were forced to rush their field goal unit onto the field, drawing an illegal substitution penalty in the process.
"Kyle has the capability to break it or get us down closer to field goal range," Fecko said of the third-down play. "It was a decision that didn't work out."
When the ball was reset at Harding's 26 with one second remaining, Mooney couldn't get a potential game-winning field goal off in time.
"That certainly added to the drama of the evening," McDaniels said.
Idle for the past two weeks with an injured ankle, Richardson returned to the Raiders' line-up Saturday, rushing for 175 yards on 26 carries and two touchdowns -- of 14 and 7 yards.
The latter scoring run, with 4:39 remaining in the third quarter, got the Raiders to within 14-12.
"It's great to have him back and healthy," McDaniels said. "Jon's a senior, so in those situations he should get the lion's share of the carries."
Enter Omar, who gave Harding the lead for good -- 15-14 -- when he booted a 33-yard field goal with 36 seconds to play in the third.