Published: Thursday, November 23, 2006
Mooney ready for challenge
The Cardinals meet
Bellaire in a rematch
of last year's semifinal.
By JOE SCALZO
The lasting image of last year's Mooney-Bellaire state semifinal came just seconds after the game's final play. Cardinal cornerback Jason Hehr was holding his helmet aloft and running to the middle of the field celebrating while Big Reds wide receiver Trey Masciarelli laid on his stomach, just a few feet away from where a desperation pass was tipped away by Hehr in the end zone.
Both players are seniors now. And Hehr knows he's in for a challenge.
"They were one of the best, if not the best, offenses we played last year," said Hehr, whose team won 20-13 last year to advance to the state final. "They're such a prolific passing team."
Last year, Bellaire was led by quarterback Nate Davis, who is now starting at Ball State and helped throw a scare into the Michigan Wolverines a few weeks ago. Nick Rocchio has replaced Davis and has had an even better season throwing the ball, setting Ohio Valley Conference records with 3,175 yards and 43 TDs. Masciarelli, who caught 16 touchdown passes last season, has 62 catches for 1,345 yards and an OVC-record 20 TD catches.
"They have a really good football team," said Mooney coach P.J. Fecko, whose team will play Bellaire Friday night in Steubenville. "Last year, Nate Davis was an outstanding quarterback and he got a lot of the attention. This year, the attention is more on the whole team."
Coming off solid game
Hehr and senior cornerback Dom Scarnecchia are coming off a solid game in which they held a potent Orrville offense in check for most of the night. Mooney gave up its most points of the season (21), but were able to put pressure on Red Riders quarterback Kyle Simmons, forcing him to scramble to buy time. Hehr and Scarnecchia were matched up in man coverage (the Cardinals prefer not to double team), allowing Mooney to bring pressure with its linebackers.
"It was good preparation for this week," said Hehr. "We had to cover the receivers for six or seven seconds."
Mooney won't change its defensive scheme, which means Mooney's two corners are in for another challenge.
"We like to come after people," said Fecko. "I don't see that changing this week. It's tough to change your philosophy at this point in the season."
While several other Cardinal defenders have got a lot of attention this year specifically, junior linebacker Michael Zordich and senior defensive tackle Ishmaai'ly Kitchen junior defensive end Taylor Hill has flown under the radar despite a terrific season.
"This kid causes a lot of havoc," said legendary Mooney coach Don Bucci, now the school's athletic director. "When you talk about that junior class, people always name the big three of McCarthy, Zordich and [running back Brandon Beachum], but he's in their class as far as an athlete."
Big play last year
Incidentally, it was Hill's play that proved to be the difference in last year's Bellaire game. Hill forced Davis to fumble and then scooped it up and ran 13 yards for the touchdown early in the second quarter.
It's still the only defensive touchdown of his career.
"I just remember [Davis] dropping back and I hit his hand," said Hill. "It was so close, I grabbed it and ran it in."
Hill knows that if Mooney's defensive scheme is going to work, he and his teammates must apply pressure on Rocchio.
"We have good corners," Hill, who had two sacks against Orrville, said. "But we've got to help them out."
Kitchen, the district defensive player of the year, injured his right ankle against the Red Riders but is expected to play Friday, Fecko said. It's a testament to the Cardinals' talent that they barely missed a beat in his absence last week.
"It's awesome to play with these guys, especially the defensive unit because we're very tight," said Hehr. "Everyone's very team-oriented and they play at such a high level that it increases your level of play."
Hehr, incidentally, also has a little personal motivation. His older brother, Jeff, was a basketball and baseball standout for the Cardinals who is now a junior infielder for Eastern Michigan. (Many feel he's got a good chance of playing professionally.)
The younger Hehr, however, stuck with football and track.
"We've always been competitive in everything we've done," said Jason Hehr. "He's done a lot to help me get to where I'm at and I've always heard about him my whole life. I'm just trying to live up to expectations."
He knows he's got a big challenge ahead of him this week, but he's excited about it.
"I loved playing them," he said. "Their fans are unreal and with their offense, you've always got to pay attention to what's going on."