By Steve Ruman
Cardinal Mooney finds itself in very unfamiliar territory as it prepares for Friday’s game against unbeaten Lakewood St. Edward.
For the first time in 11 years, Mooney owns a losing record beyond the midway point of the season. You have to go back to 2001 to find a Cardinals team which was 2-3 after five games. That year, they finished 1-9.
Between 2002 and 2011, there were just two weeks in which Mooney had a losing record. Both times (2002, 2008), it was the result of an opening-week loss, but on both occasions the Cardinals were never below .500 from that point on.
Yet if you think the Cards are in panic mode, think again.
The way Mooney coach P.J. Fecko sees it, his team’s approach this week is no different than it has been for the past decade.
“We view each and every game as a must-win. That’s been our approach throughout my career,” Fecko said. “And when you look at our history, we really have been in a great deal of must-win situations over the years. This group is used to being in situations where our backs are against the wall.”
Mooney is 14th in Division IV, Region 11. A nine-year playoff run is on the line as the Cardinals close the season against opponents who currently own a combined 17-6 record.
Following Friday’s home game with the Eagles, the Cardinals host Erie (Pa.) McDowell (2-3). They then finish with games against Ursuline (3-3) and Austintown Fitch (6-0).
St. Edward is third in Division I, region 1. The Eagles hold the same ranking in the latest Associated Press statewide poll.
“This is as quality an opponent that we have seen or will see this year,” Fecko said. “The thing that makes St. Ed’s difficult to beat is that they are fantastic at all three phases of the game. They have no weaknesses. They’re putting up big numbers on offense. Defensively, they make huge stops when they need to.”
The Eagles are averaging 43.6 points-per-game. Quarterback Ryan Fallon has thrown for over 900 yards and six touchdowns, completing 49 of 81 passes. Running back Dwayne Aaron has rushed for over 500 yards, while Alex Middleton is part of a deep receiving corps. Last week in a 34-23 win at Erie McDowell, Middleton snagged four receptions, including two touchdowns, for 87 yards.
Justus Ellis-Moore leads a balanced Mooney running game. The senior has rushed for 547 yards and eight touchdowns. Three other backs have rushed for 100 or more yards.
Mooney enters the game well-rested, having last played Sept. 21. The Cardinals had an open date after a 24-21 double-overtime loss to Mentor Lake Catholic.
“The break gave us the opportunity to gather ourselves and to heal some bumps and bruises,” Fecko said. “We treated it somewhat like preseason camp. We got back to working on fundamentals.
“Hopefully we’ll come out Friday refocused and ready to go.”
St. Edward is one of five Division, Region 1 schools on the Mooney schedule. Of those, four are ranked in the top eight, while a fifth (Boardman) is currently 12th.