CANTON - It couldn't have ended any other way for Cardinal Mooney.
On Friday night at Fawcett Stadium in Canton in the Division III state championship game, the Cardinals won their 8th title after a harrowing defensive stand that was a microcosm of a season scarred with setbacks and polished with comebacks.
"I didn't get nervous because I was aware of who was on the field - what kind of players we have," Mooney coach P.J. Fecko said. "From our very first game this season here against Canton McKinley, to the next week against Boardman, and then against Red Lion, and other games, we've been in similar positions, which have prepared us."
The Cardinals secured a 21-14 victory when Shawnee quarterback Brad Jarzab lofted 4th down pass to the left corner of the end zone, but cornerback Ryan Farragher jumped and tipped the ball away from Tyler Sherrock at the last moment. The Cardinals took posession and melted away the last few seconds from the victory formation.
"That final drive seemed to last forever," Mooney quarterback P.J. Quinn said. "I had confidence our defense would stop them, but it was crazy because a state championship was right there - everything we worked for was so close, and we got it."
Mooney almost celebrated minutes earlier when a fourth-down pass from Jazrab, the Division III co-offensive player of the year, zipped by everyone's head and on to the turf, but the line judge on the Shawnee side flagged sophomore linebacker Anthony Dermotta with a pass interference.
On the next play, senior linebacker Cameron Divito jumped an out-route with nothing but green in front of him, but he got there just a second late. What little momentum Mooney reclaimed with the breakup was crushed on the next play, when another Jazrab incomplete pass was followed by a pass interference call, this time on junior defensive back Marcus McWilson.
Two runs by the Braves' bruising back Alex McCrory put the ball on the 12, where his team eventually faced a fourth-and-inches situation. Lined up next to Jazrab in the shotgun, McCrory jumped early, and was tagged with a false-start penalty, which set the stage for the game's last play.
"It wasn't the first time we've seen a quarterback that can run the ball as well as he did," Fecko said. "But we were able to chase him around enough on that last play for him to pull up and throw the ball, and that's when Ryan made that great play on it."
The win gave Fecko his fourth state championship since taking over the program in 2000.
"They are all very special, and eventually I'll be able to reflect on this one and remember all of the little moments that will help define this team," Fecko said. "I have a great coaching staff, and thanks to leadership of the seniors, these players came together as a team, and made great individual efforts as well."
One of those individual efforts came from senior tailback Roosevelt Griffin, who got Mooney on the board in the beginning of the second quarter when he followed his line's zone blocking on the right and dashed down the sideline for an 18-yard score.
The Braves answered with an eight play drive that ended when Jazrab scrambled for a 15-yard touchdown run, but Griffin wasn't done yet. He accounted for 37 yards on the next drive, which ended when Quinn plunged in from thr 2-yard line.
"I'm just happy to contribute to this team winning a state championship - I really can't describe how it feels," Griffin said. "We had a lof of opportunities on the corners, and I was able to bounce a few runs to the outside because the line executed so well."
Having watched Jazrab run with success, the Mooney defense dialed up the pressure on the next drive when junior linebacker Courtney Love blitzed and sacked Jazrab. On the next play, Jazrab created some time, but junior safety Marcus McWilson jumped in front of his lofted pass at the Cardinals' 46, and returned it down to the 18.
Three plays later, Quinn once again plowed into the endzone, and Mooney grabbed a 21-7 lead.
"Marcus has such great awareness, and he's made those plays for us all season," Fecko said.
The interception was McWilson's fourth of the season, and each seemed to come at turning points in the game.
"I think you have to have a knack for moment in a game," he said. "I sat back there and tried to bait him into thinking his receiver was open. Then when I saw him pull his arm back, I broke on it."
Mooney didn't score the rest of the game, but its offense was still effective.
"We moved the ball well, and ate a lot of clock," Fecko said. "We couldn't finish a drive, but we were still able to dictate firld position, and our defense played as well as it's played all season."
The Braves got to within one score when Jazrab scrambled for his second touchdown, but the Cardinals only allowed him to complete one of his last six passes in the final drive."
"That's the time when we knew it was ours to take - all we had to do was stop them," Mooney defensive lineman Austin Trgovcich, who has a sack on the last drive, said. "This is what we've done all season, so it was fitting for us to win the state championship that way."