By Steve Ruman
Concession sales tonight at Stambaugh Stadium likely will take a major hit.
Forget about it! Fans will likely be exiting the gates by 9:30 p.m. because neither team favors the pass.
The nation may fall back one hour to standard time Sunday morning, but tonight’s Hubbard-Cardinal Mooney match-up will resemble a decades-old throwback style of play.
Hubbard and Mooney square off tonight at 7:30 at Youngstown State University in a Division IV Region 13 quarterfinal game.
The Eagles (8-2) finished sixth in the region. The Cardinals (7-2) earned a first-round home game with a third-place ranking.
Hubbard and Mooney have met 13 times on the gridiron, with Mooney winning every one. Most of the match-ups between the Mahoning Valley schools took place in the 1970s while both were members of the Steel Valley Conference.
For fans wishing to get a glimpse of what the rugged, run-oriented SVC looked like, Hubbard-Mooney is must-see football.
Combined, the two teams have thrown the ball just 134 times this year. It’s not as though the Eagles and Cardinals can’t throw — Mooney quarterback Antonio Page has been very efficient, completing 31 of 56 passes for 617 yards. Hubbard’s Shannon Slovesko is 24 of 49 for 279 yards.
But as they say, if it’s not broke, don’t fix it, and right now the Hubbard and Mooney running games are clicking on all cylinders.
Hubbard has run the ball 480 times for 2,969 yards and 38 touchdowns. Sophomore sensation Rafael Morales leads the way with 1,417 yards and 17 touchdowns.
Junior Tyreq Moorer (827 yards, nine TDs, 95 attempts) and sophomore Davion Daniels (463 yards, eight TDs, 68 carries) are among 15 Hubbard players who have touches from the backfield.
Seventeen Mooney players have carried the ball for a very balanced running game. Senior Jaylen Hewlett is averaging 8.9 yards per carry, with 748 yards and seven TDs. Ray Anderson (511 yards, four TDs), Page (428 yards, nine TDs), Chris Gruber (204 yards, two TDs) and Alex Sepesy (114 yards, two TDs) have all reached triple-digits.
Remarkably, Hubbard and Mooney are averaging exactly 6.2 yards per carry.
“This is just one of those games which will be decided up front, it’s one of those games that will be controlled at the line of scrimmage,” Mooney coach P.J. Fecko said. “Coaches always say that penalties and turnovers are key, but that’s especially true in this type of game.
“Special teams will play a major role,” Fecko said. “Field position will be magnified because the length of the game will be likely be shortened. All of the running will produce a rapidly moving clock.”
Fecko noted that Hubbard’s ground game is tough to defend “because their backs present different styles of runners.”
Defeating the likes of Warren Harding, Ursuline and Austintown Fitch to close the season has provided Fecko with some expectations of what it will be like to defend the Eagles.
“In a way, we were fortunate to play those teams down the stretch, because they like to run and they all feature some really good and diverse backs,” Fecko said. “And again, those games prepared us for the type of game we’ll likely experience [tonight]. We saw how quarters can disappear in a hurry, so we know we have to value every possession.”
Mooney opened the season with a resounding 42-6 win over Cleveland Heights. It then lost to Boardman before winning three straight. The Cardinals’ other loss came at the hands of Buffalo (N.Y.) Canisius before its three wins against former SVC opponents closed the regular season.
Boardman scored a pair of touchdowns in the final 1:53 to rally for a 28-26 win over Mooney. Spartans coach Joe Ignazio said his club benefited from the fact it was playing a local rival — something that could play a role in tonight’s contest.
“Our guys, they were geared up for the game, they were mentally ready and they took it to another level,” Ignazio said. “Anytime you play a local opponent like a Mooney that has such a storied tradition, you’re going to want to give it that extra push.
“Also, [Rafael] Morales was at Mooney last year, so I am sure that will add to the mix. Any time you have two local teams playing in the postseason, there are underlying stories which add to the intrigue.”
Ignazio noted that the strength of Mooney’s running game “is its depth and its different style of runners.” He said that the key to stopping the Cardinals on offense is to force them into passing situations — a scenario that is easier said than done.
“You obviously want to get them in third-and-long situations, but that rarely happens,” Ignazio said. “They are very strong and fundamentally sound up front, so it is very tough to stop their running attack on a regular basis. In short-yardage situations, they don’t throw a lot, but they can be effective with their passing game.”
Hubbard opened the season with four straight wins before falling to Howland. The Eagles rebounded with double-digit wins over Niles and Jefferson, then suffered its only other loss in a 20-14 home setback to Struthers (9-1).
“The key to beating Hubbard is to control the ball and limit their number of possessions,” Struthers coach Curt Kuntz said. “They were a bit banged up when we played them, and they were making some changes at quarterback at the time, which I think altered their game a bit
“Overall, they are very sound. They are good at what they do, and they have a good kicking game. Hubbard won’t beat itself.”
Kuntz said the Hubbard-Mooney match-up is especially intriguing because the two teams “mirror each other in so many ways.”
“This game truly can come down to something as simple as a penalty, a holding call or something like that because neither team can afford to put itself in a second-and-22 situation,” Kuntz said. “A turnover, a penalty, one big play can make all the difference because of the similarity of these two teams.”
Hubbard is making its 14th playoff appearance, all since 1999. The Eagles missed the postseason once during a nine-year stretch from 2006 to 2014, then failed to qualify a year ago.
Mooney also missed the playoffs last year, but has advanced in 12 of the last 14 years. It has appeared in 28 tournaments, winning eight state titles. The Cardinals own a 61-19 playoff record. They have played in 17 state title games.
On paper, the Eagles and Cardinals possess similar numbers. Hubbard is averaging 30.3 points per game, while Mooney is scoring at a 28.4 ppg clip.
Defensively, Hubbard is yielding 13.6 points per contest, while Mooney is surrendering an average of 15.1 ppg.
“It’s not too often that a pair of local teams meet in the playoffs, so when it does happen it adds to the excitement for both communities and for the entire area,” Fecko said. “There is always going to be an extra buzz, especially when the match-up includes a pair of local teams who usually don’t play during the regular season.
“But, that’s for the fans. We can only worry about ourselves and what we do, and I’m sure Hubbard will come in with the same mindset. We just have to play our game.”
Hubbard coach Brian Hoffman did not respond to interview requests for this story.
The winner of tonight’s game will play either Crestwod or Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin on Nov. 11 in a Region 13 semifinal.