Turnovers play big role as Mooney tops Hubbard

Tribune Chronicle / Eric Murray Rafael Morales (5) of Hubbard looks for running room Friday night in the Eagles’ 27-9 loss to Cardinal Mooney.

YOUNGSTOWN — Most football coaches will tell you that one of the keys to winning games is winning the turnover battle. That old adage proved true for the Cardinal Mooney Cardinals on Friday night, as they defeated Hubbard, 27-9, in a Division IV, Region 13 first-round playoff matchup at Stambaugh Stadium.

Mooney had three takeaways and scored 14 points off of turnovers, which proved to be the deciding factor in the victory.

“I thought we played very well in the first half, no question about it,” Hubbard coach Brian Hoffman said. “Turnovers are part of the game, and they (Mooney) capitalized on the turnovers that we presented.”

In the early going, it was actually Hubbard which took advantage of a turnover. The game, which was almost exclusively kept on the ground by both sides, was scoreless through the middle of the second quarter, until a Cardinals muffed punt was recovered by Hubbard’s Dillon O’Hara, giving the Eagles the ball at Mooney’s 39-yard line.

The Eagles ran 12 plays and more than five minutes off the clock to go 39 yards for the first score of the night, a Rafael Morales 2-yard touchdown run. However, the extra point was missed, keeping the Eagle lead at 6-0, with 4:31 left in the first half.

Tribune Chronicle / Eric Murray Hubbard’s Dillon O’Hara (7) prepares to cut through a hole opened by his blockers in the Cardinal Mooney defense.

Hubbard subsequently forced a Mooney punt, and got the ball back with 1:49 remaining, and at it’s own 15-yard line. At that point, the Eagles were looking to run out the rest of the first-half clock, but on the first play of the drive, the momentum in the game completely shifted.

A bad handoff exchange led to a Mooney fumble recovery. Five plays later, the Cardinals’ Jaylen Hewlett punched it in from 1-yard out, and with Paul Graziano’s extra point, Mooney suddenly had a 7-6 lead with just 38 seconds before halftime.

“I think it was important, because of the giveaway earlier in the quarter,” Mooney coach P.J. Fecko said of the late first-half fumble recovery. “Because of the (muffed) punt return, we lost a lot of momemtum on that. To get the turnover back, and put the ball in and then we’re up one going into half, it was important. At that point, we kind of stole the momentum.”

Indeed the Cardinals did, as they came out strong to begin the second half. Patrick Pelini picked off Davion Daniels’ pass and returned it to the Hubbard 22. Four plays later, Hewlett scored his second 1-yard touchdown, giving Mooney an eight-point advantage.

Hubbard (8-3), however, did not go down without a fight, as it began a long drive late in the third quarter. The drive went on for over eight minutes and got the Eagles down to the Mooney 5-yard line. The drive stalled, however, and Hubbard settled for a Colin Burdette 22-yard field goal, closing the gap to 14-9, with 6:36 remaining in regulation.

Mooney once again stole the momentum back, as Chris Gruber returned the ensuing kickoff 54 yards, down to the Hubbard 36. Facing a second-and-7 at the Eagle 23, Pelini took the snap and faked a handoff, which sucked the defenders inside, and then Pelini bounced outside, before cutting up the middle and into the end zone for a 23-yard score.

Pelini’s touchdown proved to be the game-sealing score for the Cardinals, as they went ahead by 12 points with just over four minutes remaining. Hewlett eventually added his third touchdown of the night, allowing Mooney to win going away.

“There’s a lot that I’ll take away from this season,” Hoffman said. “Most importantly, I’ll take away having an opportunity to work with the 54 kids on our team, (including our) 18 seniors. I enjoy getting to work with them day-in and day-out, and they came to work every day. Just sorry it’s over.”

With the win, Mooney (8-2) advances to the second round of the Region 13 playoffs, where the No. 3-seeded Cardinals will once again be the higher-seeded team. Mooney will take on No. 7 NDCL, which upset No. 2 Crestwood, 28-27, Friday night.

While Mooney has carried plenty of momentum with it in recent weeks, it’ll need to improve on its offensive performance to make a deep playoff run. The Cardinals scored just 20 combined points in their Week 9 and 10 victories over Ursuline and Austintown Fitch, and prior to the final few minutes of the Hubbard game, they had scored just 14.

“I think consistency and personnel. We got a lot of guys in and out with injuries and we prepare and do different things with different quarterbacks and different receivers. We’ve got to gain consistency there in keeping 11 guys on the field,” Fecko said. “We’ve just got to finish a little bit better. We’re getting down into where we need to be, but we’ve just got to do a better job of finishing.”