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Cardinal Mooney’s 1973 team reflects on state championship ahead of 50th anniversary celebration

Staff photo / Neel Madhavan Four members of Cardinal Mooney’s 1973 state championship football team, from left, Mike Lodyn, Bill “Thunder” Thornton, then-assistant coach Dom “Duke” Colaprete and Ron Stoops Jr., stand in the school gym amongst the Cardinals’ championship banners.

YOUNGSTOWN — Summers in the Mahoning Valley during the 1970s were oppressive.

Daily temperatures ranged from the high 80s to low 90s most days, but combine that with the humidity and the smog from the steel mills that blanketed the area and the heat index could climb into the 100s.

However, summer is also preseason for high school football, and in 1973, Cardinal Mooney, coached by the late, legendary Don Bucci, was coming off a disappointing 5-5 season the year before.

“I remember that summer. It was terrible that summer, it was just brutal,” said Mike Lodyn, a senior left guard and outside linebacker on the Cardinals’ 1973 team. “With all the smog and smoke in the air, they used to give out smog alerts. Most of the high schools in the area, (when that happened), they either didn’t practice or they just went out in helmets and shorts. Don wouldn’t have it — we’d be in full pads.”

At one point that summer, the Mooney players were performing poorly in practice, so Bucci threw the team off the field in disgust.

Lodyn said some of the players started jeering Bucci amongst one another after they returned to the locker room.

“Me and a couple other guys got pissed,” Lodyn said. “We told them to shut the hell up. So we went and got Coach Bucci and we went outside (the locker room), and we told him this will never happen again.”

That marked a turning point for Mooney. The team came together after that and really started to believe, and it set the tone for how the 1973 season would unfold.

From there, the Cardinals would go on to finish with an 11-1 record, winning the Class AAA state championship in the process by defeating Warren Western Reserve 14-3 at the Rubber Bowl in Akron for the first football state championship in school history.

“That year was something else — we could have never dreamed it before the summertime, but we just kept winning,” said Ted Bell, a senior running back and defensive back on the 1973 team. “It was a magical season.”

Submitted photo. Cardinal Mooney’s Dave Lockshaw (16) and Bob Sammartino (85) lift the 1973 Class AAA state championship trophy, alongside head coach Don Bucci.

This week, Mooney is honoring that 1973 team on the 50th anniversary of its state championship victory. On Friday, the school is hosting a rally in the gymnasium at 2 p.m. Members of the Mooney community are encouraged to attend.

That evening at 7 p.m., the 2023 iteration of the Cardinals will host Villa Angela-St. Joseph for its home opener at Stambaugh Stadium. Players, coaches, cheerleaders, band members and Goldsteppers from 1973 will be announced and honored at halftime of the game on the field.

“We were all in it together,” said Bill “Thunder” Thornton, the 1973 team’s senior center. “One of the things that made that year special for us was that we all just played for each other. …Nobody was uncomfortable in the locker room. We all rooted for each other and we all pulled for each other.”

Mooney opened the 1973 season on a tear. Behind a dominant defense, the Cardinals started the season 5-0, shutting out their first three opponents, which included Akron East, East Liverpool and Holy War rival Ursuline.

Following a pair of one-score victories over Hubbard and Boardman, Mooney faced a stiff test against the defending Class AAA state champion, Warren Western Reserve. A Mooney fumble led to the lone score of the game, and ended up being the difference, as WWR pulled out the 6-0 victory to hand the Cardinals their first and what would be their only defeat of the season.

“(The kids) were resilient — there were a few close games, but they kept winning,” said Dom “Duke” Colaprete, a guard and linebackers coach on the 1973 team. “When they lost to Reserve, there was no devastation, most of the starters said, ‘Coach we’re going to meet them again,’ or ‘Coach, we’re going to meet them in the playoffs.’ They had that belief. They had that strength. They had that goal and they succeeded.”

From there, Mooney closed out the regular season with comfortable wins against Campbell Memorial and Struthers, a stretch that also included a tough win over Austintown Fitch.

But heading into the final game of the regular season against Chaney, Mooney was left on the outside looking in. They had a shot at making the then-four team playoff, but the Cardinals needed help in the rankings — Massillon had to beat Canton McKinley.

“They played an afternoon game at McKinley, and we played at 7:30 at South against Chaney,” Lodyn said. “So as soon as we got to the locker room, one of the coaches came out and said Massillon beat McKinley, so we knew all we had to do was beat Chaney and we were in.”

Mooney shut out Chaney 28-0 to conclude the regular season. But, the Cardinals’ reward for making the playoffs? A showdown with undefeated Cincinnati Archbishop Moeller.

Throughout the season, Mooney’s success had invigorated the school and the community. The school rallies were raucous and the team’s support extended beyond just Mooney, as well.

“Everybody was on cloud nine,” Lodyn said. “We had a great week of practice (before facing Moeller). Throughout the school — and that was a time when we still had 1,500 kids in the school — it was crazy. …Back then, there wasn’t that dislike for Mooney, like some of these schools have now. Where it’s you’re taking our kids, you’re doing this, you’re doing that. There wasn’t that stuff back then. Most schools in the area put ads in the newspaper wishing us luck.”

Moeller was a powerhouse of its own and had a long regular season winning streak, but Mooney ultimately dominated the state semifinal 34-7, which set up a revenge matchup against Warren Western Reserve.

As the only football state championship to ever feature two Mahoning Valley teams, it was a showdown that captivated the entire area. Even the mayors of Warren and Youngstown got in on the action with a little friendly bet.

The WWR-Mooney title game really put the Youngstown area and the Mahoning Valley on the map, football wise.

“It paved the way for making Youngstown a hotbed for high school football,” said Ron Stoops Jr., a junior on the 1973 team, whose late father, Ron Stoops Sr., was the team’s defensive coordinator and was an assistant coach for the Cardinals for nearly three decades.

“Mooney went on to win seven more in the years since 1973, which is more than any other school in the area. But also other schools have won state championships since and I think it demonstrated that you could do it. …It also catapulted Mooney forward to being one of the best programs in the state, especially in the 80s when they won three state championships. It created a great tradition.”

This time around, in the title game, Mooney was on the better end of the turnover battle against WWR. The Cardinals recovered two fumbles and turned them both into touchdowns from Bell and fullback Dave Handel.

Mooney exacted its revenge, defeating Reserve 14-3 and handing the Raiders their only defeat of the season, while also ending their 28-game winning streak.

Bell was the difference maker, just like he had been all season. In addition to his touchdown, he ran for 135 yards. Bell, still considered by some to be the best running back to ever come out of the area, finished the regular season with 27 touchdowns and 1,825 yards rushing to lead the Cardinals. During his career playing for Mooney, Bell ran for 4,108 yards.

“I played on the scout team as a junior so I got to see (Bell up close),” Stoops Jr. said. “Everybody doesn’t readily think of (Bell’s) vision, his ability to see a hole and his balance. He was a well put together athlete. He was a terrific basketball player too and I used to marvel at watching him play. He had all the tools and he was fast. He wasn’t the fastest back to ever play at Mooney, but he was fast. …His spin move is what I remember as one of his patented moves. He had the whole package.”

Several players from the 1973 team went on play major college football, including Bell, who briefly played at Michigan State before an injury ended his career.

Also, the 1973 season was the start of Bucci’s reign as one of the winningest coaches in Ohio high school football history.

“He was strong-minded and to get your thoughts in, you had to fight and you had to persuade him that this was the way it should be done, but then he was open to it,” Colaprete said. “He was very organized and gave great speeches at halftime, before the game and after the game. He was a true mentor to the kids.”

Before he passed away in February at the age of 89, Bucci coached the Cardinals from 1966 to 1999, compiling a 306-89-5 record and he led Mooney to four state championships (1973, 1980, 1982 and 1987) in the process.

But, there’s still nothing quite like that first one.

“To this day I have more people come up to me and talk about that game than any other game I’ve been a part of,” Bucci told the Tribune Chronicle and Vindicator back in 2021. “It really grabbed the attention of our entire area. It wasn’t just Mooney or Warren fans who were excited about the game. It was everyone in the Mahoning Valley, even people who weren’t football fans. That was a special time for football in the Mahoning Valley.”

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