Hubbard, Mooney to have running battle Friday
WARREN — A Division IV, Region 13 first-round high school football matchup has a chance to be the quickest playoff game in the state.
Because Hubbard and Cardinal Mooney don’t like to pass the ball. Or, better put, they’re really good at running it.
The teams have combined for 134 passing attempts compared to 833 rushing. What that means to the coaches is if Mooney (7-2) or Hubbard (8-2) can win the battle in the trenches during Friday’s 7:30 p.m. matchup at Youngstown State’s Stambaugh Stadium, they have a decisive advantage.
That’s a recipe for success Cardinals coach P.J. Fecko knows well. He’s used it almost exclusively in leading Mooney to four state titles in his 17 seasons as coach. He sees a similar style with the Eagles.
“One of their keys to their success all year has been their guys up front,” Fecko said. “On the offensive and defensive sides of the ball, they’ve done a really god job of controlling and establishing that line of scrimmage. That’s been a major part to their success.”
Hubbard, a six seed, is led by sophomore sensation Rafael Morales. The 6-foot-1, 215-pound tailback ran for 1,417 yards and 17 touchdowns on 218 carries this year. Junior running back Tyreq Moorer (5-8, 183) brings another 827 yards and nine TDs on 95 attempts, while quarterback Davion Daniels, who splits time at the position with Dillon O’Hara, rushed for 463 yards and eight TDs on 68 carries.
The Eagles ran for 38 touchdowns while passing for just two. O’Hara has completed 7-of-17 passes for 81 yards, zero TDs and two interceptions. He took over for sophomore Shannon Slovesky during the season.
The obvious key for Hubbard and coach Brian Hoffman, who was unavailable for interview requests, is getting Morales going.
“He’s a bigger power type back that has pretty good feel — he knows how to find the hole and has pretty good vision once he’s approaching it and getting through it,” Fecko said. “He’s a big guy that’s a powerful player.”
The third-seeded Cardinals have a few of those themselves.
Mooney boasts an even more balanced attack, led by the power running of 6-0, 240-pound Jaylen Hewlett, who’s averaging 8.9 yards per carry. He has 748 yards and seven TDs on 84 attempts. Then there’s Ray Anderson (511 yards, 4 TDs), Antonio Page (428 yards, 9 TDs) and Chris Gruber (204 yards, 2 TDs).
The distribution of the ball is part of an unselfish approach that’s been the driving force behind the Cardinals’ success, and the chemistry started early.
“In the offseason, you could see the seniors creating a real bond with this whole team,” Fecko said. “They cultivated such a positive chemistry with all the classes. You could tell in doubles that everyone was on the same page and moving toward a common goal.”
The little bit of passing by Mooney comes from Antonio Page, who’s completed 31-of-56 for 617 yards, five TDs and three interceptions.
The Cardinals rely on a bruising running attack and a defense that’s played well as of late. Mooney allowed just nine points in its last two games (against Ursuline and Fitch). Fecko likes the way his defense is playing entering the postseason.
“They’ve done a really good job of playing team defense,” he said. “Everybody has done a good job of being accountable and being responsible — and being exactly where they need to be. That allows everyone to make plays. There’s a tremendous amount of trust with that unit. With that trust obviously comes success because you can trust that the guy next to you is going to be where he needs to be, and all I have to do is take care of my responsibility.”
This the second matchup between the two coaches, with Mooney throttling Hubbard, 55-0, in 2008, a year the Cardinals went undefeated on their way to a state title.
Fecko hopes a similar path is forthcoming.
“It’s two things: worrying about yourself and understanding why you’re in the playoffs,” said Fecko of the keys to winning in the playoffs. “You deal with focusing on yourselves — getting better and getting prepared to play. It’s also important that you know that you get into the playoffs and you strive to get into the playoffs for one reason, and that’s (because) it’s part of your quest for a state championship. You have to understand that that’s the reason you get in there. You can’t feel overexcited that you’re in the playoffs because that becomes the finality of your quest.”
That’s going to be the case for one of these two area teams.