By Jon Moffett
There wasn’t a whole lot Cardinal Mooney coach P.J. Fecko could do but watch as Akron Buchtel’s Jarrod Wilson streaked down the field and into the end zone.
Wilson had just intercepted a pass by quarterback Kevin McGuire. And the junior safety returned it for a touchdown as time expired in the Division III regional championship game. The pick-six sealed a 35-10 victory for the Griffins and stunned the Cardinals.
With a trip to the state semifinal game on the line, the Cardinals (7-5) were heavy favorites. But Ricky Powers knew his Griffins (10-3) weren’t just another speed bump in the Mooney bus ride to Canton.
“My guys played a heck of a game, and I’m not surprised,” Powers said. “They’re resilient, they fight and they’re a very good football team.”
The Griffins did all they could to lose the game early. But Mooney couldn’t capitalize on the gifts.
After winning the toss, the Cardinals were forced to punt after several Charlie Brown runs. Senior A.J. Fox boomed the ball downfield as he has all year. Buchtel return man Ernest Calhoun touched the ball and it was recovered by Mooney.
That possession was cashed in on a 20-yard field goal by Fox.
The next series saw fumbled snap by Buchtel. The Cardinals drove down to the Buchtel 13-yard line. But McGuire’s pass bounced off the hands of his receiver and into those of Chevin Meadows.
A few plays later, Buchtel quarterback Steve Parker tucked the ball and ran 84 yards for a touchdown.
And while the Cardinals couldn’t contain the Griffin backs, their own ground game stalled.
“They were an extremely athletic team, and we knew that going in,” Fecko said. “They have tremendous team speed and recovery speed. I said going in that especially on the defensive side for them, they did a good job getting off of their blocks.”
The three-man front for Buchtel — who played with three down linemen and five linebackers in their base defense — of ends Shaquille Riddick and Jevonte Blackwell and nose tackle Kevin Jones were in the backfield almost immediately after the snap. Jones especially made several tackles for loss and gave Brown and the ground game fits.
“They did a tremendous job of getting to the football and making plays,” Fecko said.
Brown was the majority of an offense that lost Carmen Leonelli to an ankle injury on the opening kickoff. Brown rushed 30 times for 118 yards and a three-yard touchdown.
McGuire attempted only five passes. Two were intercepted and one was completed. The completion came on the Cardinals’ final series. The next pass was Wilson’s touchdown return.
“I give them credit,” Fecko said of his opponent. “They did a good job of making plays and coming up with stops when they needed to. And that’s why they’re moving on.”