When my friend Bob Lichtenfels and I decided to do a comparison of Youngstown Cardinal Mooney and the Gateway Gators, I felt a little awkward in having to profile the Ohio team in Mooney. Not that I don't love the Mooney program and all they represent, but I also think highly of the Gator program as well.
I've gotten to know the Gateway coaches and players from seeing them at combines and 7 on 7's. I think the world of the Gateway program, including great kids like Cameron Saddler, Shayne Hale, Dorian Bell and others. I will be sad for Gateway after Saturday's game because they will be leaving Fawcett Stadium with a loss. Take it to the Bank.
I will concede to my friend Bob that Gateway has a speed advantage. They just might have a little bit more talent as well across the board. I have no doubt the Gators will play hard and play well. But this isn't the Cleveland Benedictine team the Gators beat a few years ago. This is Youngstown Cardinal Mooney and in case you haven't noticed, they don't lose football games very often. They won't lose this game either.
The Mooney head coach, P. J. Fecko, is a master at winning big games. The last game lost was the state championship game in 2005. It was a game they played without star quarterback Derrell Johnson. They played sophomores like Danny McCarthy and Mike Zordich that day. They learned about big-time football that day, and they haven't lost again.
Now they add stars like Taylor Hill, Brandon Beachum and Johnny "The Bull" Simon to McCarthy and Zordich. They will not lose this game. They will hang around for three quarters and deliver a knockout punch in the fourth. It might be a sack by "The Bull." It could be a touchdown run by Beachum or a big stop by Hill. McCarthy might determine the outcome by keeping the ball on an option and taking it to the house. But in the end I'm guessing that "Captain Z" makes a play that turns the tide.
On a team full of leaders and winners, Mike Zordich stands out as both. He could lead Beachum into the end zone on a run, or knock somebody out and cause a fumble from his middle linebacker spot, but somehow Zordich will make his mark on another Mooney victory. He simply won't let his team lose this big game.
It might be close but when the clock runs out it will be Cardinal Mooney winning a classic football game. Let's call it Cardinal Mooney taking this game by a score of 24-20. You can take that to the Bank.
Sorry Bill, the only thing you're taking to the bank this week is the deposit slip from your paycheck. Mooney is a very talented team that much is a given. With the kind of talent and tradition they have you'd be considered an idiot to pick them to lose. Well give me the dunce cap and I'll wear it with pride because the Gateway Gators are making the trip to Canton to do one thing and that is to win.
Ever since head coach Terry Smith found out that his Gators would play in the Kirk Herbstreit Challenge against Mooney this has been the only game on their minds. Everyone who has seen this squad has automatically called them a contender for the Class AAAA State Championship game and rightly so. Yes, expectations are high in Monroeville this year and it may be a bit unfair, but it is what it is and these kids are ready for the challenge.
Bill Greene you're my boy and all and I enjoy your work and camaraderie, but I think after this one you may be heading back home with your head down and your tall between your legs. Here is why I think the way I do and don't get me wrong I have the utmost respect for P.J. Fecko and his team, I think they are great, but in this format my hands are tied and since I live in Pennsylvania I have to be the bad guy. Greene painted me into the corner in his Vince McMahon like story here so let's play along.
Mooney is a power running football team. The Gators will see plenty of Beachum and McCarthy. Gateway is a team full of athletes, so initially you'd automatically say edge to the power, but to quote the great lee Corso "Not so fast my friend." If the front line of the Gateway defense can protect their gaps and take up space and blockers it will allow the talented linebacking corps led by Hale and Bell to roam free and make plays from sideline to sideline. If they can force Mooney to pass then they will have a huge edge with a number of talented defensive backs Such as Saddler and Jonathan Pryor. McCarthy is a run first, run second, pass third type of quarterback. This Gateway team has too much skill to be beat via the air. Mooney has no offensive line this year. Jared Emerson quit and all they have back really is Simon. I don't care how much talent Mooney has if your line doesn't get it done the odds are stacked against you.
The Mooney defense is tough with Zordich, Beachum, McCarthy, Hill and Simon. I think Gateways talented stable of running backs may find the going tough, but make no mistake if Saddler gets a seam you will not catch him. Where Gateway has an advantage again is their skill players. Robby Kalkstein is not your prototype big time quarterback playing in the biggest classification, but he gets the job done and has a pretty good arm and makes very few mistakes. The difference makers will be Corey Brown and Pryor on the outside. Brown, although he is only a junior is a freak. He is literally a human highlight reel and I just don't see Mooney matching up well here. Now, even if Mooney puts McCarthy on Brown, the junior will get his share of balls. The difference here though could be Jonathan Pryor. Pryor can absolutely fly and I can see Mooney focusing its efforts on Brown. This is also where Saddler becomes so dangerous, I don't care what kind of linebacker's you have, they won't have the quickness and foot speed to keep up to Saddler in the flats or downfield. Another area that Gateway is vastly improved in is on the offensive line. The Gators feature Eric Warning who has a handful of MAC offers and junior Colin Rodkey. These two could help provide the keys to a Gator win.
The X-Factor as usual will be Cameron Saddler. I expect the game will be close, but he will make a play whether it is a punt, kick, interception or fumble return for a score it will be a big play and it will change the game. The Gators also have a fantastic young kicker in Ryan Lichtenstein.
The Bank wrote a check that I don't think he'll be able to cash. Remember F.D.I.C as the Gators win the Border War and bragging rights.