By Steve Wilaj
For the first three quarters Friday night, the Cardinal Mooney defense was getting bullied by the Erie McDowell rushing attack.
Trojans running back James Conner, a University of Pittsburgh recruit, was having his way with the Cardinals, well on his way to 160 rushing yards and his team with an eight-point lead late in the third quarter.
Safe to say, the Mooney defense was bending. But rather than breaking, the Cardinals flipped the switch, blanking Erie in the fourth quarter and leading the way to a 27-21 victory.
“They’ve got good backs and they tried to run it down our throats,” Mooney safety Marcus McWilson said. “We just kept after it and made some big stops.”
The biggest stop for the Cardinals (3-4) came on the last play of the third quarter.
Erie, leading 21-19 and in Mooney territory, elected to go on 4th and inches. But before Conner could get his hands on the ball, Trojans quarterback Jake Tarasovitch fumbled the snap and was tackled in the backfield.
“It was a huge momentum shifter for Mooney,” Conner said. “We were moving the ball. Then with the turnover, the crowd got into it and their players started believing. It was a momentum swing.”
Mooney used that momentum to immediately regain a lead which they never surrendered, capping the ensuing drive with a McWilson 3-yard touchdown run.
“I think our guys responded well and came out and played with a lot of desire,” Mooney coach P.J. Fecko said.
That desire was on display during the fourth quarter shutout by the Cardinals defense.
“They run an offense that puts you in a difficult situation at times and they did a good job of moving the ball,” Fecko said. “Our defense came up with some stops when we needed to.”
Erie (2-5) struck first, ending a lengthy drive of 6:42 with a Khyre Drayer 1-yard TD run. However, Mooney answered with 13 straight points.
Justus Ellis-Moore found the end zone from 5-yards out, which was followed by a 1-yard touchdown run by Marcus McWilson. The Mooney backfield duo each topped 100 rushing yards, McWilson with 124 and Ellis-Moore with 103.
“Our offensive line was great and you gotta credit the coaches, too,” McWilson said. “Our line kept after it, kept their blocks, and we made big runs.”
McWilson’s largest run was a 76-yard TD in the third quarter to cut the Trojan lead to 21-19.
Although the Trojans’ Conner finished with 160 yards and two TDs, the senior back felt this was one Erie let slip away.
“Coach was telling us that we just don’t know how to finish the game out right now,” Conner said. “We had the lead and should have come away with the ‘W,’ but we just don’t know how to close yet.”