Cardinal Mooney stopped by Big Red
SALEM — The Eye of the Tiger could be faintly heard as Reilly Stadium was all but empty, aside from the workers cleaning up the aftermath of Friday’s Cardinal Mooney-Steubenville Division IV semifinal football game.
The Cardinals tried to convert on a fourth-and-long with 30 seconds remaining. Steubenville, ranked No. 1 all year in Division IV, held off fifth-seeded Cardinal Mooney, 19-14.
Where was that song during later parts of this game?
Cardinal Mooney (7-5) broke the scoreless tie after one quarter with Chris Gruber, a 5-foot-8, 160-pound tailback, finding a sliver of room in the Steubenville defensive gaps amply provided by a dominant Cardinals offensive line. Gruber outran the Big Red defenders for an 80-yard score early in the second quarter down the Cardinal Mooney sideline.
“Nothing better than a running back than seeing green grass (or turf in this case),” said Gruber, who was appreciative of his offensive line.
Then, penalties and fumbles (four in all) weighed on the Cardinals in the first half – more predominately in the second quarter. Add to that 77 yards in penalties.
Jacob Bernard’s two 1-yard runs and Javon Davis connecting a 12-yard pass to DaJuan Jones accounted for Big Red’s offense – all in the second quarter. Jones’ catch was a rarity as there wasn’t even a combined 100 yards passing. Not a surprise for two teams married to their running games.
Cardinal Mooney went to halftime down 19-7, wondering why it was self imploding.
That rectified quickly as the team’s defense held top-seeded Steubenville (12-0) on a couple of fourth-down plays.
Both teams were jockeying for field position until Gruber found an opening from 30-yards out, beating the Steubenville defender to the pylon by the Big Red sideline with 6:30 remaining. Andrew Philibin’s extra point cut the lead to 19-14.
Steubenville struggled with special teams with a failed conversion run and blocked extra point by Cardinal Mooney’s Nico Marchionda.
It left that glimmer of hope for the Cardinals.
Queue the Rocky music.
This was Mooney team rocked by injuries, the biggest being a hyperextended right knee of quarterback Antonio Page. He also has a partially torn meniscus. Other parts of the line and Cardinals team needed to have that next man up approach. Sometimes it easier said than done. Cardinal Mooney found a way to piecemeal it together and challenge a Steubenville team that seemingly gutted its town and filled the home side of Reilly Stadium.
Page was on the exercise bicycle as his team was on defense, but knew the team’s wheels were spinning at halftime.
“We had to come out and play our hardest, as hard as we could,” Page said. “Play with our hearts.”
Mooney’s defense held late in the fourth quarter, but Steubenville’s punter booted it to the Mooney 17 where the Cardinals couldn’t dig out of as the game ended.
Fecko looked as his team after Friday’s game and beamed with pride, overcoming numerous obstacles, self-inflicted or not, during the course of the four quarters and season.
“The determination, work ethic and the leaders that they’ve been is something they’ve built,” he said. “It’s a foundation they’re going to use for a very successful life. We’ve going to have a lot of successful folks in the locker room because they participated in the game of football at Mooney.
“I think these guys and these seniors, especially, have definitely left a great mark and have contributed well to this program.”
If you heard remnants of Eye of the Tiger following the Mooney buses up state Route 62, it wasn’t a coincidence.