Four state championship game appearances in four years. That accomplishment alone is probably worthy enough for P.J. Fecko
to be named the ONN/Ohio High coach of the year in 2007, despite Mooney
losing in the Division IV state final contest this season to Coldwater,
Four state championship game appearances in four years.
That accomplishment alone is probably worthy enough for P.J. Fecko to be named the ONN/Ohio High coach of the year in 2007, despite Mooney losing in the Division IV state final contest this season to Coldwater, 28-27.
But Fecko, himself, may have made the best case on his own behalf when he described the year of his Cardinal Mooney Cardinals who went into this season with probably the highest of expectations ever faced by any team in all of the rich history of their tradition-laden school
“It was really an exciting year,” the coach said. “It was a year that was wrapped in a lot of different emotions and a lot of different feelings, starting with all of the anticipation and expectations leading up to the year. But I think the way that we battled through the schedule that we faced and came out on top in so many big games against some really great competition and some outstanding athletes across this part of the country for that matter, made it really special.
“Obviously to end the way we did was not how we planned on it and not the way we wanted it to but it is what it is and that’s how it went down.”
More than anything, however, the coach of the year award is a fitting tribute to Fecko and the tremendous senior class of 2008 that he’s had the opportunity to coach over the past four years.
“More so than all of the victories as well as the defeat at the end of the year,” Fecko said, “this award is all about the relationships that were built with the players, especially this senior class that has been very successful here since the day they arrived.”
But when a team is supposed to win the way Cardinal Mooney was this season, the head coach usually doesn’t end up winning any coach-of-the-year awards.
But for the most part, over 14 games and three quarters, Mooney went out and played winning football like they were expected to despite have a big bull’s-eye on their chest all season long.
“We definitely did a great job of winning,” said Fecko whose team this year matched the 14 wins of a season ago, the most-ever wins logged in a season at the Youngstown parochial school. “I think our guys worked hard at it each and every week and never took anything for granted and went out and played hard and performed. We knew that nobody was going to give everything to us and everybody was going to play at a high level when they faced us.”
And after going 4-1 during the postseason this year, Fecko, who turned 33 in November, now has a playoff record of 18 victories versus just three losses which rounds out to a winning mark of 86 percent.
“It’s definitely a great accomplishment looking back on it but unfortunately just my name is attached to that record and there is such a combination of things that factor into that including the many people who have contributed to all of those wins,” Fecko said. “But it is exciting to look back and see the success that we’ve had and where we’ve come from. It’s very rewarding.”
Winning two state championships over the past four years is not something that the eight-year head coach at Mooney was expecting to accomplish four years ago, coming off of an 8-3 campaign which marked his first-ever playoff season in 2003.
After all, Fecko had taken over at Mooney in 2000 following the departure of the legendary Don Bucci, who won four state titles with the Cardinals. Fecko’s first three teams went 5-5, 0-10 and 5-5.
“We obviously had a plan that we wanted to have a successful program four years ago and we believed that we would,” Fecko said. “To what level we would reach, you obviously don’t predict that but we definitely have accomplished a lot. You don’t actually realize it until you step back and really have a chance to look at it and see what you’ve accomplished but it definitely is something that is very, very special. We wanted to be a great program again and I think we’ve reached that level and hopefully we can continue it.”
Against Coldwater, Mooney seemed like they were well on their way to winning their third state title in four years, leading 21-7 and marching down the field for another score in the fourth period, when the bottom fell out.
“Obviously, we would like to change the outcome of that game and be state champions, but unfortunately we’re not and we can’t change that,” said Fecko, whose team had to play their final three games of the post-season without ONN/Ohio High state player of the year Danny McCarthy, their most-important two-way player on the squad, because of an injury. “But I know one thing that, for sure, we wouldn’t change is that I wouldn’t go into that game with any other team than the one I had, with the players I had and the focus that they had. I wouldn’t trade those guys for anything in the world.”
Mooney dealt with the lofty expectations from going into the season with the “Big Four” of McCarthy, Michael Zordich, Brandon Beachum and Taylor Hill. The Cardinals played against a very difficult schedule with everyone gunning for them. They had to overcome the adversity of losing not only their best player at the most important part of the season, but also losing their only returning starter on the offensive line who quit the team in the preseason.
Still, Fecko and his staff managed to get their team to the state title game for the fourth year in a row.
“It was a fun year. It was definitely fun,” Fecko said. “It was just a joy to go out to practice every day. Any time you’re with a group, staff-wise and player-wise, that I was blessed to be around this year it’s always exciting and it’s always fun. No regrets.”