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No. 3 Cardinals clipped by Lions, 17-12
November 17, 2016

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A large amount of turnovers is an absolute recipe for disaster for any football team.

When those miscues happen in a playoff contest, they are magnified about a million percent.

The usually disciplined Cardinal Mooney outfit has won several of the state championships partially because it has been careful with the football, but that wasn't the case Saturday.

Notre Dame Cathedral Latin faced state-powerhouse Cardinal Mooney in a Division IV Region 13 semifinal at Bo Rein Stadium in Niles.

The No.3-seeded Cardinals lost three fumbles to the seventh-seeded Lions, one of those resulting in a game-clinching touchdown, as they were ushered out of the tournament with a 17-12 defeat.

Mooney finished 2016 with an 8-3 overall record.

"You can't turn the ball over,'' Mooney head coach P.J. Fecko said after the season-ending setback. "And they can't be turnovers for scores. It's hard to overcome those turnovers.''

Fecko's kids held onto the ball long enough to orchestrate a time-consuming scoring drive that started in the first quarter and finished early in the second. A 16 play, 81-yard drive culminated when senior running back Jaylon Hewlett slithered into the end zone from four yards away. Unfortunately, that 6-0 early second stanza lead was the only one the Cardinals enjoyed all evening.

On the Lions' third possession of the game they got into field position for a long 45-yard field goal that made the score 6-3 in favor of Mooney. Cathedral Latin then took the lead for good with 1:24 left before half time thanks to a 1-yard touchdown pass. That short score gave NCDL a 10-6 advantage at intermission.

The Cardinals kept things close throughout the third quarter and thought they made a possible game-changing play late in the period. Mooney's defense, which was seriously stout in its first-round win over Hubbard a week ago, was backed up against its own goal line.

On fourth and goal from the Mooney 1-yard line, the Lions were turned away by the daunting Cardinal defense. That stop gave the Cardinals an enormous boost of energy. Sadly, their momentum was mashed a moment later.

The Lions' defense did their own destruction by forcing the Cardinals to fumble the ball in their own end zone. The loose pigskin was picked up by NCDL for a touchdown and a 17-6 lead entering the fourth quarter.

Although Mooney's Pat Pelini, the son of Youngstown State University coach Bo Pelini, scored on a 3-yard run four minutes into the final frame, it was the last time the local kids crossed the goal line in 2016.

Pelini and Hewlett are just two of the seniors who saw their Mooney careers come to an end after the loss in Niles. There are a dozen other seniors who put on the Cardinals' gold uniforms for the final time last Friday. Stalwarts such as Ray Anderson, Cleveland Gruber, Alex Sepsey, Chris Vivo and Joe Kopp will be hard to replace, but knowing Fecko, he'll get the job done.

In 2015, Mooney missed out on the postseason party, so bouncing back this season with one playoff victory showed grand improvement. Another upgrade this offseason should have the Cardinals lasting even longer in the 2017 playoffs.

The Lions (9-3), who beat No. 2 Crestwood a couple of weeks ago, play top-seeded Perry (12-0) in the first regional final in school history 7:30 p.m. Friday.

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