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Defensive turnaround helped Cards

Cardinals’ next test

will be most difficult

By Dan Hiner

dhiner@vindy.com

YOUNGSTOWN

The Cardinal Mooney defense has been tested all season. And after advancing past Poland in a Division IV regional quarterfinal, the defense will be tested once again as the Cardinals take on Steubenville.

But the Cardinals’ defense wants Steubenville, the top team in Region 13. Mooney players Danny Simko and Brent Weaver said Steubenville shouldn’t underestimate the Cardinals because they have played talented teams all season.

“At first we were a little ragged, but our defense has picked up every week — especially in the playoffs, we’ve been getting closer and closer together,” Simko said. “We know it’s do or die, so basically our mentality is that we’re not gonna take anything from any offense we play.

“Doesn’t matter if it’s St. Ignatius or Hoban. We’re not gonna take it from Steubenville this week. We’re just trying to get together.”

Mooney defensive coordinator Pat Kelley has been taking a calmer approach. He’s told his players to play within themselves and focus on what they can do.

“We control what we can control,” Kelley said. “That’s the only thing we’re worried about, we worry about the people between the four walls of the locker room and the things that we can do to get better day by day.”

The Cardinals’ defense struggled during the first half of the season, but after losing 10-9 at Akron Buchtel, they’ve turned things around.

Mooney has held opponents to 12.2 points per game over the last four weeks. During that span, the Cardinals have given up 190.2 yards per game (144.5 rushing and 45.7 passing).

The outlier was the 49-21 win over Ursuline in the Holy War in Week 9.

“Early in the season, we had some really good teams we were playing,” Weaver said. “It was nice going against some of the best players in the state. But it really helped because the amount of talent they had helped us prepare for the rest of our season.”

Mooney head coach P.J. Fecko said the defense started playing better in the win over Boardman in Week 5. The Cardinals have held opponents to 14 points or less in six of the last seven games.

The Cardinals might also be without starting quarterback and safety Antonio Page. He is considered “day-to-day” following an injury during the first quarter of the Poland game.

If Page doesn’t play, Mooney will have find a replacement. But Kelley said the defense is deep enough to replace him if needed.

“We had some guys at his position earlier in the season because Antonio was playing corner when other guys were hurt,” Kelley said. “We moved some guys around and we have some guys that played a lot. I think we’re gonna be OK.”

They said the semifinal against Poland and the early portion of their schedule helped prepare them for Steubenville. Now, they just need to prepare like it was any other week on the schedule.

“Those games were tough physically and mentally, but I think they propelled us to be able to handle games like these and other games we see in the future,” Mooney corner Nico Marchionda said.



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