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Mooney-Struthers clash starts up front

November 14, 2013
By JOHN VARGO - Tribune Chronicle ( , Underthelights

Players like Cardinal Mooney's Mark Handel or C.J. Amill will look for the holes in the defense or quickly skirt around the defense and up the sidelines.

Running backs like Struthers' Luke Witkowski, Nick Pollifrone or Michael Sullivan won't hesitate to break through an opposition's line and find a few yards or a significant gain.

If either Cardinal Mooney or Struthers will impose their rushing game during Friday's Division IV, Region 11 semifinal at Eastwood Mall Field at Bo Rein Stadium in Niles, it's going to depend on the respective teams' lines when the game kicks off at 7:30 p.m.

Article Photos

Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple
Struthers quarterback Gary Muntean (12) evades the pressure of Hubbard’s Jake Frost, left, and Cole Bencetic, right, during a game earlier this season.

Take third-seeded Cardinal Mooney (7-4).

It's offensive line has been the staple of the Cardinals success throughout the years. Running backs have come and gone throughout the years, but premise remains the same - rely on a heavy dose of muscle and skill up front to open up holes in the defense.

"Their offensive line is very big, physical and well-coached," Struthers coach Curt Kuntz said. "They run very few plays on offense. That makes them a lot better than most teams because they're very good at what they do. If they run the same play 10 times, they might hit 10 different places by the scheme that they have. The running back makes the defense wrong. He kind of runs to where you're not. That's what they hang their hat on and their extremely good at it."

Cardinal Mooney coach P.J. Fecko knows full well second-seeded Struthers didn't get to be 9-2 by accident.

"They're obviously a very good football team," he said. "They're a team that has chalked up a tremendous amount of yardage and points running the football. It's going to be important to establish the line of scrimmage defensively and offensively. That's a pretty big key, especially with the play both teams like to play."

That's why Mooney must force Struthers to throw the ball more that it normally does.

"First down is going to be important," Fecko said. "The more they're in second and long. Then, the defense starts to dictate a little bit more to the offense. If you can establish that part of it, then they get behind the chains a little bit, which I know as a running team is not always the best situation for you."

This season, senior quarterback Gary Muntean has been the Wildcats' bedrock.

"We take advantage of what the defense gives us," Kuntz said. "We have certain reads, certain things. We tell him, at different times, if it's not there, we tell him either to eat it or put it in the stands and go on to the next play of the game. If we hand the ball to the official after every single play of the game, we're going to win a majority of them.

"That's what Gary's No. 1 attribute has been, being coachable not trying to be selfish and trying to make plays that we're really taking a chance on. He's another coach out there on the field, doing it like we drew it up on the board, being very smart and unselfish."

This season, Struthers has been all about being unselfish.

"It starts up with your offensive line, No. 1 giving you a chance to do something," Kuntz said. "No. 2, it goes to our quarterback, who will get us into the right play. We put a lot on his plate to do things like that. It goes to him. Then, our running backs are doing their job make the correct read and run where they're supposed to. We're fortunate enough to have three guys that are pretty inter-exchangeable. Luke has done a great job for us as a leading rusher. He has 1,400 yards. Nick Pollifrone is a lot of reason for that. He's one of the most unselfish kids that I had a pleasure of coaching because he could have had that many yards himself. He doesn't care as long as we win. He's willing to put his nose in there and block. Playing a fullback in today's society, who has the talent to be a running back, but willing the way for Luke or Sullivan, who is another good running back."

And if Cardinal Mooney is to be successful as well, it will rely on more than its offensive line.

"They're going to have to create the holes and seams to do things," Fecko said. "Secondly, the second-level people are going to be pretty key as well those linebackers and low safeties of making plays on the runners on both sides. In that second level would be the running backs of taking care of the football hitting the holes that are there or creating some stuff when there's not and that kind of thing."