Despite losing their most valuable player to graduation last year, Kyle McCarthy, the defending Division IV state champion Cardinal Mooney Cardinals were rolling right along this season at 4-0 going into their week-five match up against Canton Central Catholic.
Now they're 5-0 after a 42-14 victory over the visiting Crusaders but they may have lost their best player this year in the process as Derrell Johnson, the guy who replaced McCarthy under center for the Cardinals, went down with a knee injury right before the half.
The preliminary results are still sketchy as to the full extent of the injury but the immediate prognosis is not a favorable one at this time for Johnson who could miss anywhere from six weeks to the rest of the season.
"I broke my leg. I broke my fibula and I'll be out for probably about four to six weeks," said Johnson on Monday night. "So now I'm hoping that my team keeps it up and we get to the playoffs and I'll be able to return and finish off a great season."
And a great season indeed was Johnson and the Cardinals having prior to the injury. Johnson came over to Cardinal Mooney from Campbell Memorial High School and had some Mooney fans already over the loss of McCarthy. Johnson's rare blend of size and athleticism at the quarterback position added even another dimension to the Cardinal offense, be it on the ground or in the air, from a year ago.
On the ground, Johnson had rushed for close to 800 yards and in the air he already threw for five touchdowns, a relative healthy number in Mooney's ground-based attack on offense.
"Personally I think I was ahead of schedule," Johnson said. "I was surprised in where I was and how things were coming along and I was very happy with my production thus far."
According to Johnson, he was scampering free on another long run of about 45 yards with under a minute before halftime when a Crusader defender with the angle caught up with him at about the one yard line and grabbed him from the back of his pads. As he flung Johnson to the right his ankle got caught in the turf at YSU's Stambaugh Stadium and caused the small bone in his left leg to fracture.
"I have a hairline fracture in my fibula and I'm waiting on the results tomorrow (Tuesday) from the MRI," Johnson said. "I get my MRI results back tomorrow and hopefully there is nothing torn and I'll be able to return if we make playoffs. I'm just going to keep praying and keep hoping and try to stay in the best shape that I can.
"I have no pain in my leg right now and I'm hoping that I have a speedy recovery, as fast as possible, and I'll be able to return sometime at the end of the season."
Mooney is now in the process of doing some scrambling of their own to find the right player to fill the position in a similar manner to the way Johnson did. But that's a tall task in such a short time for Coach P.J. Fecko (pictured in background), to say the least.
Backup quarterback Tony Brunetti took over for Johnson in the Central Catholic game and he will likely be the first in line to man the position going forward for the Cardinals.
"He's been getting some reps here and there during the season and I think he's going to get it done," Johnson said. "He's very smart and he knows the offense pretty well."
Johnson will now focus on getting healthy so he can make a late-season return but in the mean time he'll try and contribute to the team in any manner possible.
"No matter what I'm going to stick by my team mentally and just be there for them and motivate them and help out and be there spiritually for the team," Johnson said. "I'm going to cheer them on every step of the way and hopefully I'll be able to return. And if the results don't come back in the way that we need for me to return, then we're just going to start bearing down with the colleges and make a choice and go with it."
Johnson has heard from a few of the colleges that have been in touch with him during the recruiting process so that has lifted his spirts a bit. Iowa, Akron and Ohio State are three schools that Johnson mentioned who have called him with comforting wishes after he sustained his injury.
"They showed me that they really cared and they let me know they were still behind me all the way," Johnson said. "So I'm just going to keep working hard and keep my hopes up high."
His confidence is high that he'll still be able get everything done in the classroom, despite the setback, to satisfy the academic requirements of the schools that are still recruiting him.
"I'm right there, I'm right on the edge and I'm excited about that," Johnson said. "And hopefully everything will go my way with this injury and we'll get back at it."
Johnson attended the Ohio State-Texas game and is being recruited by Jim Heacock at Ohio State. Although he's played quarterback on offense the past two years, OSU could be looking to make him a wide receiver if they should eventually offer him a scholarship.