CRESTON, Ohio –
In a battle of two of the top offenses in region 17, it was defense and special teams that proved to be the difference.
Making their second hour plus trip in as many weeks, the 13 seeded Cardinal Mooney Cardinals (6-6) made the long trek to Creston to take on the number 5 seed Norwayne Bobcats (8-4).
Late in the first quarter, Norwayne was set up for a thirty-yard field goal to take an early lead, but a low lined kick would be bated down by a Mooney defender to keep the score knotted at zero. The ensuing drive for Mooney would result in the Cardinals having to settle for their own thirtyyarder, however this operation would prove to be successful, ending in Nick Pregibon kicking it through for the opening lead of the night less than two minutes into the second quarter.
Norwayne would respond with scores on their next two possessions, a twenty-yard field goal and a sixteen-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Elijah Stanley to running back Jake Gill from sixteen yards out with just thirty-three seconds left in the opening half. The Bobcats would take a 10-3 lead into the break.
Starting with the ball to open the second half, Mooney would take a good return to their own forty yard to set up Ashton O’Brien and the Cardinal offense with favorable field position on their opening drive. O’Brien and company needed just over a minute and half to move the ball down the field and knot things up at 10, thanks to anO’Brien to Adyn Paige sixteen-yard touchdownpass on a wheel route in the endzone.
Mooney would score once more in the third quarter to take their first lead since the early moments of the second quarter, this time it was O’Brien’s legs that did the job, as he plunged one in from a yard out after connecting with Alec DelSignore over the middle at the goal line.
Ahead by a score, the Mooney defense continued to stiffen the Bobcats offense. After a huge stand on fourth down to turn Norwayne over, the Cardinal offense went back to work and extended their lead to two scores on an O’Brien to DelSignore four-yard touchdown with just a few ticks over six minutes left in the game.
Down but not out, the Bobcats willed their way back into the ball game. Staring fourth down and manageable with the ball in their own half, Norwayne quarterback Elijah Stanley stood tall in the pocket and delivered a down field strike to Jake Gill from fifty-six-yards out for their second scoring connection of the night, drawing the Bobcats to within a possession.
After an unconventional onside kick attempt that saw the Norwayne kicker line the ball into open space down the field with Mooney all pressed forward towards the line scrimmage, the Cardinals were able to narrowly recover and retain possession. The Cardinals were unable to finish the game out on the ground and were forced to punt the ball back to the Bobcats, who would take over with just under three minutes remaining in their own territory.
Gill would will the ball down the field for Norwayne catching passes and taking handoffs for big chunks, as the Bobcats offense would get all the way down to the Mooney four-yard line with less than a minute to go. After a huge tackle for loss on second down and one, Norwayne would have a false start penalty on third down to back them up five before firing an incomplete pass just shy of Stanley’s intended receiver.
Fourth down and seven, ball resting on Mooney’s ten–yard line the game came down to one final play. Stanley would take the shotgun snap and fire a pass across the middle that would be tipped by senior linebacker Logan Boyd, forcing the pass to fall incomplete but a marker was down. After a lengthy conference, the officials would wave off the flag for pass interference thanks to Boyd’s hand on the football. When the Cardinals needed it most, it was the senior linebacker who stepped up and made a play. One kneel down later, and the Cardinals escaped with the victory, 24-17.
Winning two playoff games in the same year for the first time since 2013, the Cardinal Mooney Cardinals have set themselves up for a valley dream matchup against the South Range Raiders (12-0). The Raiders were able to take care of business against the Liberty Leopards 35-6 in the opening round, before taking it to the Garfield G-Men 49-10 in the second round.
*Contributed By YSN’s Jamie Thomson