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Mooney, Steubenville ready for another battle

November 29, 2013
By JOHN VARGO - Tribune Chronicle ( , Underthelights

YOUNGSTOWN - Steubenville's football history has been well documented, having made the playoffs every year since 2001 and claiming three state championships in 1984, 2005 and '06.

Cardinal Mooney's tradition runs deep as well, with the Cardinals claiming eight state championships and coming off their fifth losing season in the team's history in 2012.

The last time these two powerhouses met in the playoffs, it was during a Division III, Region 11 semifinal on Nov. 11, 2011, at Canton's Fawcett Stadium.

Steubenville, which held a 16-7 lead heading into the final quarter, saw Cardinal Mooney rally and win on a 30-yard field goal with seconds remaining for a 24-22 victory en route to winning the team's eighth state championship later that year.

"That was our sophomore year," Cardinal Mooney senior running back Mark Handel said. "Not too many of us played. It was a crazy game. They're a real good football program. Obviously, we had a good football team that year, too. We got some calls that went our way toward the end and the last-second field goal to win it."

The two teams collide in the 11th playoff meeting between both teams tonight at Fawcett Stadium. This time, it's a Division IV state semifinal matchup. Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m.

Fact Box

Division IV

state semifinal

WHO: Cardinal Mooney (9-4) vs. Steubenville (9-4)

WHERE: at Fawcett Stadium, Canton

WHEN: tonight, 7:30


"The most memorable part, in every single game I've been a part of, is the way our guys have played - the way our guys have come together as a team, the way our guys have gone out and executed and fought on the field, battled physically and left everything out on that field in really a memorable point to me. I can't pick a single person or play. Those things stick out to me," Fecko said.

Cardinal Mooney holds a 7-3 edge against Big Red in the postseason.

"Mooney is a very good program and playing them is a great challenge for us," Steubenville coach Reno Saccoccia said. "I really can't refer to it as a rivalry since we've only beaten them once since I have been coach. We've played them tough a couple of times but that's all in the past. The focus now is on this team. We are the regional champions and we are going to go out there and play and coach and coach to the best of our ability."

Both teams enter tonight's game with 9-4 records. Ironically enough, both teams weren't underdogs heading into their respective regional finals.

"We reached the state semifinals by our guys understanding that they need to compete at a high level and beat those opponents along the way," Fecko said. "Like I said in prior interviews, I don't buy into what records say or what seed anybody is in. I think the quality of schedule is very, very important. I think we play a very good schedule that prepares us to be in the playoffs."

Tradition is something that has propelled the Cardinals throughout the years, to a certain extent.

"I think tradition means a lot to the kids in the locker room and means a lot to how they approach things. It's not going to effect the play of the field," Fecko said. "Those guys are going to have to sink or swim on their own. Nobody is going to come out of the sky to help them or out of the stands to help them. They way things are approached, obviously, positive encouragement from former alumni and that overall feeling of pride of where the bar has been set. You're striving as a competitor to reach that bar. In our case, we try to raise that bar a little bit higher."

As for Cardinal Mooney, it enters Friday's game with two 1,000-yard rushers. Mark Handel and C.J. Amill have each racked up more than 1,000 yards through the regular-season and postseason - led by a dominant offensive line.

"This is a typical Mooney team with heart, determination and outstanding coaching," Saccoccia said. "They played an outstanding schedule and their 6-4 record was a little different than our 6-4 season. Both of us have been beaten by good teams. Their 6-4 is just a little bit different than ours."

Steubenville's Mandala Lawrence-Burke is the team's signal caller, who doesn't throw up the big numbers, but, more importantly, doesn't make mistakes.

He's been 72 of 118 for 944 yards with 10 touchdowns and two interceptions. Junior Lucas Herrington is Lawrence-Burke's favorite target, with 31 catches for 448 yards and eight scores.

Johnnie Blue is the Big Red's top rusher with 728 yards for 125 carries and nine touchdowns.

Handel said Steubenville is a rough and tumble team that must be respected.

"They play physical for four quarters. They're going to come at you," he said. "You have to match their intensity, their physicality - play together and play our game."

And, if the Cardinals are in another situation where they have to come from behind, you can bet Cardinal Mooney will be ready. Handel saw Mooney rally against Steubenville in 2011. Last week, in a Division IV, Region 13 final, he saw his Cardinals win after being down 14-0 to Benedictine early.

"It's the same types of things he's learned throughout the season and even last week," Fecko said. "You break down things to every single play. You try to win every single play. AS you do that, the momentum swings. It's very similar to being down 14-0 the other night. You don't panic. You go out, execute and make plays."

Ed Looman, who writes for the Herald Star in Steubenville, contributed to this story



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