Mooney’s fast start keys romp
By JOE CATULLO JR.
Beginning with Friday’s opening kickoff at Fawcett Stadium, the Cardinal Mooney High School football team showed its fans that it was going to be a great night against Steubenville.
Mark Handel returned the opening kickoff 47 yards and the Cardinals soon scored on Jon Saadey’s 1-yard run. Later in the first quarter, Handel put an early nail in the coffin of a 37-7 win with a 39-yard interception return for a touchdown.
“It felt good,” Handel said of stealing Steubenville quarterback Mandela Lawrence-Burke’s throw. “I didn’t think he was actually going to throw it because there was nothing open, but it ended up coming our way.”
The Cardinals defeated Steubenville in the OHSAA Division IV semifinal matchup. Mooney (10-4) clinched its 12th appearance in the championship game.
Friday at 3 p.m., Mooney will go for its ninth state championship against Clarksville Clinton-Massie at Massillon’s Paul Brown Tiger Stadium.
“He’s been outstanding all year; it’s well-documented,” Mooney coach P.J. Fecko said regarding Handel. “He’s been making plays for us all year, but he’ll be the first one to tell you that the people he has surrounding him enable him to make plays. The important thing is Mark does a great job of capitalizing in those situations.”
The biggest factor was the Cardinals’ defense. They allowed 156 yards on 51 plays and forced three turnovers, including Handel’s interception. Big Red (9-5) also converted only two third downs on 12 attempts.
“We were able to keep field position in our corner,” Fecko said. “Then, our defense did a good job of swinging momentum. From there, offensively, we were able to consistently put points on the board and keep the momentum in our corner.”
Another momentum-swinging factor was Mooney kicker Zak Kennedy. Not only did he kick four extra points, but he also booted three field goals (38, 43 and 38 yards).
“It’s just that whole idea of playing good defense, moving the ball down the field and scoring points,” Fecko said. “They don’t always have to be touchdowns as long as we’re finishing those drives with some points.
“With that, it keeps the field position in our advantage, and that’s a big part, too.”
C.J. Amill led the Cardinals with 82 rushing yards and a touchdown. Saadey threw for 100 yards and recorded two rushing touchdowns. Handel finished with 52 rushing yards and one score along with the interception return.
For Big Red, Johnnie Blue compiled 69 rushing yards and Steubenville’s only touchdown with 1:20 remaining in the third quarter. The Cardinals led, 27-7, at that point.
“We knew they were going to run the ball,” Joe Kleeh said. “We play better against the run. We just lined up and were hitting people all night.”
Niko Petrides finished with 21 rushing yards and 35 receiving. No other Big Red player compiled more than three rushing yards.
“We got beat by a very good football team,” Steubenville coach Reno Saccoccia said. “We had a horrible start, giving them that kick return and then giving them some easy plays. But our defense played well after that. We just were never able to develop any chemistry on offense.”
In the other semifinal, Clinton-Massie rallied to knock off unbeaten Kenton, 21-20.