Mooney defense on a dominant stretch
By Brian Dzenis
Cardinal Mooney’s foot- ball players have been having a lot of fun playing defense and they’ve been getting results along the way.
In their last three games, the Cardinals have given up 18 points. In last week’s Division IV playoff opener against Hubbard, they forced four fumbles — recovering one — and pulled in two interceptions during a 27-9 victory.
Two-way mainstays Ray Anderson and Jaylen Hewlett each put in work on both sides of the ball, but said the side without the ball is the one they like best.
“I like offense, but I like hitting guys rather than taking the blows,” Anderson said. “You can hype up your team with one tackle.”
Hewlett, who scored three rushing touchdowns against the Eagles while also playing defensive line, concurred.
“I like playing d-line and linebacker. If you’re the linebacker, you just float to the ball and see all the stuff developing with where the guards pull and where the fullback goes and stuff,” Hewlett said. “D-line is fun, too. You make people fall down. You take on blocks and then shed blocks.”
The Cardinals (8-2) have allowed more than 20 points just twice this year. Their 35-34 victory against Warren Harding and area star quarterback Lynn Bowden put them in the spotlight, but there was evidence they were on their game as far back as Week 1. Mooney opened the season against Cleveland Heights, who boasted a four-star Rivals.com recruit in wideout Jaylen Harris. The 6-foot-5 Harris is linked to Ohio State and Alabama.
“Cleveland Heights had the No. 1 receiver in Ohio, and they were like, ‘Our corners can’t matchup with him. We can’t get the job done. Our offense is too slow,’” Hewlett said. “He ends up with two catches for like 40 yards and we beat them 42-6.”
Mooney coach P.J. Fecko credits the work of Hewlett and Vinny Gentile on the defensive line, Anderson at linebacker and Darrell Jackson and Pat Pelini in the secondary for his team’s success at stopping other teams. All of them have been key play makers on offense as well.
“Those guys have really been iron men,” Fecko said. “They’re not just playing offense and defense, but special teams as well.”
Mooney will try to take down Chardon Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin (8-3) on Friday night in Niles. The Lions were upstarts in the Division IV, Region 13 bracket as the No. 7 seed, but upended No. 2 seed Crestwood, 28-27, last week. Fecko and his team are a three seed, but the four-time state champion coach learned to ignore seeding years ago.
“I’ve been through it too many times,” said Fecko, now in his 17th season. “Strength of schedule means a lot and sometimes you end up in a five-, six- or seven-spot, but you played quality opponents that prepared you for the playoffs and that’s what [they’ve done].
“If you look at their schedule and the folks that they’ve played in their league, it doesn’t matter if they’re a one-spot or an eight-spot. What matters is who they’ve played through the course of a season and they’ve played some good folks.”
Only two of the Lions’ regular-season opponents made the playoffs. They beat University School 38-0 on Sept. 10 and lost to Archbishop Hoban, 41-21, on Oct. 21.
Mooney will be ready for NDCL and any star player they have coming to Niles on Friday night.
“We take a lot of pride in our defense. We know 11 guys beat one guy every night,” Anderson said. “If we all depend on each other and we all do our jobs, we can come out with a victory.”