CANTON – Since it was announced that Steubenville Big Red would be dropping to Division IV last spring, the whole world seemed to be pointing to a potential match-up between the two-time Division III Champion Big Red, and the reigning Division IV state champion Youngstown Cardinal Mooney Cardinals.
The game the world was waiting for finally commenced Saturday night at Fawcett Stadium in Canton, where Cardinal Mooney snapped Steubenville’s 42 game winning streak with a 35-20 victory. Mooney now owns a 27-game win streak of its own.
Before the game, Mooney Athletic Director and Hall-of-Fame former coach Don Bucci said the team that makes the fewest mistakes will win this clash of the titans. Bucci’s words turned out to be prophetic as Mooney took advantage of four first half Big Red turnovers to build a 28-0 halftime lead. The Cardinals withstood a furious late Big Red rally to hold on for the win.
The early stages of the game seemed to find Big Red in control. With Mooney breaking in a new quarterback, Tim Marlowe started for injured Dan McCarthy, the Cardinals couldn’t get the offense on track early. Also the Mooney defense had trouble containing Big Red’s duel threat quarterback Dwight Macon, as he led Big Red to the Mooney five yard line.
“High School football is a game of momentum and a game of field position and neither the momentum nor the field position was in our corner early,” said Mooney head coach P.J. Fecko. “Fortunately we were able to get that swing and once we made a few plays we got the momentum on our side and rode it the rest of the game.”
The swing Fecko was looking for came from Penn State recruit Michael Zordich, who stripped the ball right out of the hands of Macon and recovered it himself to turn the tide of the game towards Mooney.
Soon after recovering the fumble, Mooney found itself in a third-and-long situation from its own two yard line. There the Cardinals turned to another future Nittany Lion tailback Brandon Beachum, who got the Cardinals out of trouble with a 62-yard run.
“Everything fell into place for us,” said Beachum. “Our coaches got a feel of what they were doing defensively and made a great call. The guys up front opened up a hole and I just ran through it.”
Beachum would later finish the drive off with a four-yard touchdown run. It was the start of a career night. Beachum finished the game with 237 yards on 32 carries and three touchdowns.
As the rain came down in Canton, mistakes kept pouring for Steubenville. After being forced to punt on its next possession, Marlowe returned the punt 68 yards for another Mooney touchdown as the first quarter expired.
The next two Big Red plays from scrimmage each resulted in fumbles, one by Macon and one Steve Davis. Each one would lead to Mooney touchdown drives that stretched out the Cardinal lead to 28-0 at the half.
Mooney was playing its first game without team leader McCarthy, who suffered a herniated disk in last week’s semifinal win over Akron St. Vincent St. Mary. McCarty is headed to Notre Dame. Fecko knew that Marlowe could do the job filling McCarthy’s shoes.
“He (Marlowe) did a great job. We had full confidence in Timmy,” said Fecko. “He’s been able to take some snaps throughout the season, and he’s a guy that has made plays offensively and defensively for us all year, just not at quarterback.”
Marlowe pointed out that McCarthy was instrumental in getting him ready for his first career start.
“Danny’s my best friend,” said Marlowe. “I’ve been driving him to practice and he’s been helping me out, he was giving me information on the sideline. He’s our captain, our leader. We won this regional championship for him.”
After getting down 35-0 in the second half, Steubenville showed the heart that carried them to 42 straight wins with three straight touchdowns. One on a Bronko Busick run, and two Macon touchdown passes, one to Jeremy Banks, and one to Josh McCloud.
Big Red head coach Reno Saccoccia was still proud of his team in defeat.
“I’m always proud of our kids, I was proud of them in the first half, we just can’t turn the ball over so much,” Saccoccia said.
With the defeat of Steubenville, Mooney now takes over the state’s longest winning streak at 27 games. They advance to the state semifinals for the fourth consecutive season.