By Steve ruman
One way or the other, Mooney was going to come out on top Friday at Niles’ Bo Rein Stadium.
On this particular night, it just so happened that Andrew Mooney the coach prevailed over Mooney the team.
Cardinal Mooney couldn’t overcome three crucial turnovers by way of fumbles, resulting in a Chardon Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin 17-12 win over the Cardinals in a Division IV, region 13 semifinal.
The loss ends the Cardinals season at 8-3. The Lions (9-2) will play Perry next Friday in a regional final.
“I tell our guys every day that there are five to six plays that change the outcome of every game,” Mooney said. “The game will be determined by how you react to those plays. We responded in the correct manner, and that was the difference.”
Early on, it appeared as though Cardinal Mooney was going to set the tone of the game with a punishing, time-consuming ground attack. Cardinal Mooney drove 81 yards on 16 plays to take a 6-0 lead. The drive ate up 8:05 of the clock, and ended when Jaylen Hewlett scored from 4 yards out early in the second quarter.
NDCL answered on its next possession with a Gabe Brkic 45-yard field goal. Then after holding the Cardinals to a three-and-out, the Lions scored again, this time benefiting from one of its own fumbles.
With NDCL facing a second-and-five at the Cardinal Mooney 35, Lions running back Harrison Richardson was bottled up near the line of scrimmage and coughed up the ball. However, teammate Ryan LaBanc picked up the loose ball and raced down the sidelines to the Cardinal Mooney 1.
Three plays later, Charles Forbes hooked up with Zach Zienka for a 1-yard strike to give NDCL a 10-6.
Mooney coughed the ball up on the final play of the third period, resulting in what proved to be the game-winning touchdown.
NDCL was stopped on a fourth-down play at the Cardinal Mooney 1-yard-line in the waning seconds of the third quarter. However, on the next play LaBanc forced a fumble, which he recovered in the end zone.
“Obviously you can’t turn the ball over, we’ve all learned that and know that from watching the game,” Cardinal Mooney coach P.J. Fecko said. “Then to highlight that even more, they can’t be turnovers for scores. It’s hard to overcome turnovers.
“We only had three possessions in the first half. In a game where you know there will be limited possessions, we really cheated ourselves because of the turnovers.”
Mooney cut the deficit after Pat Pelini’s 3-yard run midway through the fourth quarter.
The Cardinals’ last gasp ended with a lost fumble in the final 30 seconds of the game.
Chris Gruber (12 carries, 51 yards), Ray Anderson (10 carries, 41 yards) and Hewlett (12 carries, 40 yards) led a balanced Cardinal Mooney rushing game, while Pelini completed four of nine passes for 50 yards.
Meanwhile, Mooney called the NDCL victory the biggest in school history.
“We’ve never been this far into the playoffs before, and the program that the Cardinals are is what we want to be,” Mooney said. “Hats off to my team for rising to the occasion.”
The irony of defeating Cardinal Mooney wasn’t left unnoticed by Mooney.
“Yes, I heard about playing Mooney [in relation to my name] a few times this week,” Mooney said. “In fact I heard about it from an old college teammate who played at Mooney.”