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Cardinal Mooney wins 60th Holy War

October 26, 2013
By LOU CALI JR. - Tribune Chronicle correspondent ( , Underthelights

YOUNGSTOWN - In what came as a shock to everyone at Stambaugh Stadium Friday night, Cardinal Mooney took the field (at game time) without its normal red jerseys.

Instead the Cardinals donned a camouflaged top that had equal amounts of non-patterned red and gold colors and black numbers. Breaking tradition may have been tough to handle for some.

Ursuline struggled trying to get a handle on the Cards' top running back.

Article Photos

Tribune Chronicle / Michael Taylor
Cardinal Mooney’s Joey Kleeh (29) knocks the ball out of the hands of Ursuline’s Damon Green (4), bottom. The Cardinals won, 29-14. Also pictured are Mooney’s Joey Tabachino, second from right (40) and Vince Vostatek (52).

Senior Mark Handel ran 23 times for 191 yards and three scores in the 60th edition of the Holy War and Mooney's defense remained stout when needed as the Cards came away with a 29-14 victory. Mooney (6-3) stopped the Irish (4-4) winning streak in the rivalry at three, their longest ever.

"I give all the credit to my O line," the 6-foot, 180-pound Handel said. "They've been getting progressively better as the year has gone along. They really got after it this week in practice. It was an intense week, but we had to put aside the distractions and I think the whole team did so."

Mooney's victory was a combination of outstanding line play, a defense and special teams unit that made big plays when needed and the running of Handel and C.J. Amill (20 carries, 98 yards).

And yes, of course, the new jerseys.

"We really didn't even know we were wearing them until coming down after pregame warm-ups. I think Coach (P.J.) Fecko kept that one to himself," Handel added. "I love them. I love them. I think it's a good change of pace. You know we've been wearing the same jerseys for 20 years. It's nice to change it up."

Fecko claimed he's not superstitious and has not yet thought about wearing them again.

"I was approached by a guy who came up with the idea of doing a different type of uniform," Fecko said. "I thought it over and said let's go for it. Kids didn't know. The staff didn't know until (Thursday) night. I was the only one on the staff who knew."

The Irish fumbled the ball away on their first two possessions. Mooney, which ran for 299 yards on the evening, took the lead after the first one. The Cards marched 66 yards on three running plays. Handel raced 22 yards on the first and scored from 38 yards out on the third. A bad snap on the point-after attempt kept the game 6-0.

Ursuline moved the ball to the Mooney 30 early in the second quarter. On fourth-and-1, quarterback Chris Durkin was stopped shy of the first down by Roosevelt Cooper. Mooney then began a 12-play march that took more than 6 minutes off the clock before Zak Kennedy's 30-yard field goal made it 9-0.

After forcing a punt, Mooney stretched its lead to 15-0 after a five-play drive that ended with Handel's 26-yard TD run with 1:20 remaining in the half.

"In big games, you turn the ball over and you make mistakes, you're not going to win," Ursuline coach Larry Kempe said. "I told the boys upstairs, two fumbles in the first half, an interception and missed tackles that is going to kill you. That's what did us in tonight."

The Irish certainly did not go quietly into intermission. It took Durkin just four plays to march 80 yards to get his team within 15-7 at the break. The score came when Durkin found Ben Phillips so wide open he turned his back to the end zone to make sure he caught the ball before racing the final 30 yards of a 59-yard touchdown.

On their second possession of the third quarter, the Irish drove from their 36 to the Mooney 10. Vince Yurcho came on the field to attempt a 26-yard field goal, which would have gotten Ursuline within six points. But Denver Martin blocked the kick and Jordan Jones eventually fell on the rolling football at the 42.

"We did a good job all game of swinging momentum and weathering some storms," Fecko said. "The blocked field goal was a huge momentum swing."

From that point on Mooney's offensive line controlled the game. The Cards scored on their next two possessions to open a lead of 29-7.

"We came in wanting to grind it out, eat some clock and run the football," Fecko said. "We found a couple of sets early on we had some success with. We thought it was very important to win the offensive and defensive lines and I think we did that."

Durkin did his best to keep the Irish in the contest. The Michigan State recruit finished 11 of 20 through the air for 231 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He also ran 23 times for 75 yards and a fourth-quarter score. Phillips caught five balls for 137 yards.