Mooney has improbable run to title game


THE 2013 Cardinal Mooney High School football team won’t be defined by a pass interference call late in Friday’s Division IV state championship that may have cost the Cardinals their ninth state championship in school history.

Clarksville Clinton-Massie’s 1-2 brotherly rushing attack of Bayle and Chase Wolf, along with a stout second-half defense, pushed the Falcons to their second straight championship. Clinton-Massie now has its tradition. Hopefully, the Falcon faithful can build on this success and cultivate it for years to come – something Cardinal Mooney has done in its storied history.

The Cardinals long been seen as the team to be beat, role model or, in the case of those parochial bashers around the state, the evil empire – comparable to the disdain people have for the New England Patriots or the New York Yankees.

But I digress. This is not about administrators with their sweeping ultimatums to not play parochial teams because of “unfair” advantages. When in reality, they’re cheating the area fans of long-awaited matchups that would pack football stadiums – bringing profits to not only the athletic departments, but to the booster organizations from their concessions as well. It’s not even about competitive balance or even the notion of a public-private split, which would mean the end of some state championships. That’s for another column.

This is about a Cardinal Mooney team, no, a program, that has worked its way to the top of the Ohio high school food chain by its tireless work ethic.

The Cardinals have won state championships in the 2000s with names like Simon, Zordich, Beachum, McCarthy and Heard. Most recently, in 2011, it was with the names McWilson and Love. Top echelon names. Players moving on to colleges like Nebraska, Notre Dame and Kentucky.

This 2013 team was different. It was a team led by running backs 1A and 1B, better known as Mark Handel and C.J. Amill.

Handel, a 6-foot, 180-pound senior, and Amill, a 5-10, 165 pound junior, were scat backs that benefited from an offensive line that sometimes opened gaping holes through the defense or gave them enough time for them to skirt around the line and down a respective sideline.

Despite first looks, they were tough. Look at Amill, who took pounding after pounding by the speedy, but tough Clinton-Massie defense. The diminutive junior back always bounced up – never showing an ounce of regret, getting himself in the midst of what could be seen as a multi-car pileup on turf.

Then there are people like senior Denver Martin, who was the ultimate utility player. Whether it was on defense, offense, special teams, you could find the 5-11, 190 senior ready to lend a hand, or foot. Martin averaged about 46 yards a punt this season.

Cardinal Mooney coach P.J. Fecko said in a prior interview that this team was not in it for personal gain. They were in it for one goal – the school’s ninth championship.

“We have a great group of individuals that make up a really great quality team,” Fecko said after Friday’s 27-21 loss to Clinton-Massie. “I’ve been around a lot of teams and this is a special team. They obviously had something special. You could tell early on. The leadership of these seniors was outstanding all year. I think they showed a lot of character, poise, determination and mental toughness throughout the whole season. I think that rolled on into the playoffs and into today. These seniors have left the Mooney program a better place.

“They represented our school, our alumni and the whole city of Youngstown in a positive manner. They’re to be commended for that.”

But if someone should be commended, who will probably deflect any credit, it should be the Cardinal Mooney coaching staff. This by far, is the best coached Mooney team the Cardinals have had under Fecko, whose team has been to seven state championship game since 2004 going 4-3.

After starting 2-2 to start this season and coming off a 25-0 loss to Division III state champion Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary – a team Mooney regularly beat in the postseason in past years – it seemed, to those from the outside looking in, that the Cardinals might not be anywhere near a threat if they get to the postseason.

They proved everyone wrong, especially in the Division IV, Region 11 final against Cleveland Benedictine. Cardinal Mooney rallied to edge out a strong-willed Bengals team.

The Cardinals finished the season 10-5, but don’t think Cardinal Mooney won’t find a way to get back to the state championship once again.

Rest assured those returning players and coaches won’t forget when offseason workouts begin.

“You have competitive edge, you have competitive juices to you,” Fecko said about losing Friday’s title game. “It’s part of the game. It makes you to reach back, get back in the saddle, get off the ground, dust yourself off and figure out a way to get back in there and do it again.

“We’ve been fortunate. This is my seventh trip here. I’ve been fortunate in that. Hopefully, God willing, stay healthy and see if we can’t make it again.”

Although this trip didn’t result in a state championship, it was a memorable one and one which made the Cardinal Mooney family proud because this was a team of overachievers.