The teams played each other every year from 1995-2010
By ryan buck
Cardinal Mooney football coach P.J. Fecko could not pinpoint the exact dates of memorable clashes with state power Cleveland Benedictine.
There are many and Fecko, a 1993 Mooney graduate, has watched and been a part of so many football games that some memories seem to run together.
“There’s obviously a long history with them over the years,” he said. “A lot of great games and a lot of great memories for a lot of people on both sides.”
Following Monday evening’s practice, Fecko opened the doors to former Mooney coach and now-athletic director Don Bucci’s office and studied the team portraits and attached results for each of his mentor’s 34 seasons.
Fecko found what he was looking for and the Cardinals will see an old, yet familiar foe Friday night at Solon’s Stewart Field in a Division IV regional final.
Mooney and Benedictine have met three times before in the state playoffs, all in the second round. Benedictine defeated Mooney 21-17 at Akron’s Rubber Bowl in 1981 on its way to a Division II state title. In 1985, the Cardinals returned the favor in a 47-0 win at the same site. The Bengals won the 1994 contest 33-13 in Warren.
The natural rivalry — both are Catholic high schools — became an annual event. From 1995 through 2010, they met every year with Mooney winning 10 of 16.
This week’s game brings back a rush of memories for Fecko, who followed the early playoff games closely as a boy when his older sisters were attending Mooney.
“They’ve always been great battles and teams on both sides have had some success,” he said. “Two really good, storied programs. They have some great tradition and some great players go through their program and we do as well.
“It makes for a really fun night.”
History, however, means little when the Cardinals (8-4) and the Bengals (9-3) take the field in Solon.
Both teams’ seniors were merely freshman when they last played.
“I know there’s been some hard-fought battles between Mooney and Benedictine in past years and I know we used to play them a couple of years back,” said Mooney senior safety Joe Kleeh. “It’s exciting to play them again.”
Benedictine routed the region’s top ranked team in Chagrin Falls in a regional semifinal, 52-35.
“Obviously, they’re a team that has really gotten on a roll in the latter part of their season and on through the playoffs,” Fecko said. “They’re playing really good football right now.”
The Bengals feature one of the state’s best players, regardless of division or class. Kleeh describes Benedictine junior running back and linebacker Jerome Baker as a “powerhouse.”
“They do a great job of running the ball,” Fecko said. “They have an outstanding running back who has performed well all year and has some great talent and ability.”
Baker is just as highly touted on the other side of the ball.
“They play really good team defense,” Fecko said. “They don’t have any glaring weaknesses which is not uncommon meeting an opponent this late in the year. It will be quite a challenge.”
For Kleeh and his teammates, they have their own chance to pen a chapter in Mooney history.
“Through the whole process and these last two weeks of playoffs, I know that we’ve got a bunch of guys that want to go to our ultimate goal to win state and we’ve got guys that will do anything to reach that goal,” he said.