CANTON- On a day that comes around once every 100 years, Steubenville Big Red and Youngstown Cardinal Mooney locked horns in a high school football game worthy of the occasion.
When it was all said done on 11-11-11, Mooney escaped with a 24-22 victory thanks to a Connor Durina 30-yard field goal with just five seconds remaining on the Fawcett Stadium clock.
The victory moves the 8-3 Cardinals into next week's Region 11 championship game against Dover. Big Red drops the curtain at 11-1.
Durina's kick finished a fourth quarter that the fans in attendance Friday won't soon forget.
Big Red entered the final 12 minutes clinging to a 16-7 lead. Roosevelt Griffin cut into that advantage when he sprinted 49 yards for a touchdown. Griffin would fumble on the next Cardinal possession but the Cardinals recovered from that miscue a few plays later when Marcus McWilson picked off a Marcus Prather pass. His return gave Mooney a first and goal at the Steubenville three.
Griffin plunged over for a yard away and Durina added the extra point to give P.J. Flecko's club a 21-16 advantage with 4:37 left.
Reno Saccoccia's club, however, wasn't through. With Prather hitting four of six passing attempts, the Big Red moved 78 yards to retake the lead. The drive culminated when Evan Westlake made an outstanding grab in the back of the end zone. Luke Smith's kick put Steubenville up 22-21 and set the stage for the controversial finish.
After a P.J. Quinn pass fell incomplete, Big Red was nailed with a 15-yard penalty for alleged helmet-to-helmet contact. Mooney later converted on a fourth and seven, setting up a first down at the Steubenville 20. Griffin was hit for a loss and appeared to the loose the football. However, he was ruled down by contact.
The officials flagged Big Red for another 15 yards, this time for a personal foul. Apparently, the flag was not dropped for anything actually done in the course of action. Instead, Big Red was penalized for holding on to the football following the no fumble call.
Mooney's game winning field goal came three plays after that call.
"I want to congratulate them on their last drive," Saccoccia said. "I'd like to congratulate our players on a great game and a great year. I thought we had the fumble and I'm not sure what happened on the personal foul."
Mooney scored on its initial possession, marching 72 yards in eight plays. The touchdown came on a 24-yard pass from Quinn to Farragher.
Big Red knotted things at seven early in the second period when Prather found Westlake from 30 yards away. The scoring toss came as Prather rolled to his right and threw back to his left.
Steubenville got its first lead of the evening just before the half as Jo Jo Pierro bulled in from a yard out. His run capped an 88-yard drive, 80 of the stripes coming via the air. Prather hit on four straight finding Pierro, Matt Petrella, Pierro again and LeShawn Luke.
The only score of the third period (a Big Red safety) came when Manard Reed tackled Quinn in the end zone. A great punt by Smith pinned Mooney back at its one-yard line.
"It was one of those games where momentum kept swinging back and forth," Fecko said. "We ran into field position issues in the third quarter but we were able to flip field position in the fourth quarter. When you look at the penalties, we gave us some big yardage; it was nice to some yards back during the last drive."
For the night, Mooney was flagged 10 times for 70 yards and Big Red drew 11 for 85.
"Offensively, we couldn't move the ball on the ground, so we got everything in the air," Saccoccia added.
"We had to run the ball enough to keep them honest."
Big Red finished with just 34 rushing yards on 27 trips. Through the air, Prather hit on 19 of 32 for 285 and two touchdowns.
Mooney had 305 total yards (204 on the ground and 101 via the pass). Griffin ended with 150 yards and a pair of scores.
"Our kids came up with a beautiful drive at the end of the game," Saccoccia said. "We played great defense the whole game. It was just one of those things."
Big Red forced Mooney into three turnovers (an interception by TeShawn Luke after a huge hit by Najee Murray and fumble recoveries by William Houst and L. Luke.
"I have been the head coach here for 29 years and I have been involved in some great games," Saccoccia continued.
"I'll never forget this team because of the way they left two a days as a very average team. They ended the season as real men with intestinal fortitude, dedication and a love of the game. I am never going to forget these seniors.
"They did a great job. I want to congratulate them, congratulate the coaches. I think I have the best coaches in the state. Our seniors stepped up all year, they led us all year. They gave a great senior effort tonight and we gave a great team effort. It was just a tough loss."