Mooney needed only to beat Bellaire at Harding Stadium in Steubenville to advance to the state title game for the second-consecutive season. The Cardinals had lost to Big Red on two other previous postseason meetings in 1995 and 1996.
It started out as a showdown between Nate Davis...
...and Derrell Johnson.
Davis helped his team to the game's first score on the ground...
...and through the air.
Davis completes a pass to Trey Masciarelli on this play.
And eventually Davis himself caps off the initial touchdown drive with with this 5-yard run to give Big Red a 7-0 lead with 4:31 in the first period.
Johnson used his legs to help Mooney get things going on their initial scoring drive. Before he was injured and left the game, Johnson had 8 carries for 93 yards.
Nate Burney's 5-yard touchdown run on this play in the second quarter made the score 7-6. The PAT was blocked.
Burney had 37 carries in the game for 167 yards and the one TD.
Just moments later, Mooney got on the board again when Taylor Hill first forced a fumble by Davis...
...and then picked up the ball and ran it in from 13 yards out.
Taylor Hill is one of a few of the impressive sophomores for the Cardinals.
Davis operated almost exclusively out of the shotgun formation.
For the game, Davis was 6 of 18 through the air for just 79 yards with 2 interceptions.
Burney was the go-to guy even when Johnson was in the game.
But Johnson could rack up the yards quickly. He got 36 yards on this run...
...but was injured at the very end of it. Johnson went out with 8:12 remaining in the second quarter and never returned.
Junior Tony Brunetti came in for Johnson and finished the game at QB for the Cardinals. Brunetti quarterbacked Mooney during the regular season when Johnson went down with an injury.
And it was Brunetti who finished the scoring drive with a 1-yard run to give the Cardinals a 20-7 lead with right around 6 minutes left in the half.
Brunetti didn't throw a pass all game, Mooney didn't even attempt one the entire game, and the Cardinals finished with 299 total yards - all on the ground.
Burney helped get Mooney close to another score before half time...
...but Brunetti came up just short of the goal line on this run and the half ended with Mooney leading 20-13.
It was almost all Burney for Mooney in the second half.
But when Mooney fumbled away the ball on their first possession of the second half, Bellaire was on the march. This run by junior Artis Johnson helped Big Red get closer to the goal line.
Eventually Davis snuck in from 1 yard out to close the gap to 20-13 (PAT blocked) with about 8 minutes left in the third.
And then Burney gave Bellaire the ball right back when he put it on the carpet.
Davis had another short field on their second possession of the half.
But Mooney's defense stiffened and kept Big Red off the score board the remainder of the game. Here sophomore Dan McCarthy puts pressure on Davis on this incomplete pass.
But Mooney kept feeding Burney and he kept moving the chains for the Cardinals.
Mooney shut Davis almost completely down in the second half through the air. Davis was just 1 of 7 for 6 yards in the second half. Dom Scarnecchia breaks up this pass intended for Masciarelli.
Junior fullback Mike Cylar was another option Mooney went to on occasion.
Mooney's offensive line is big and powerful.
Davis took one last crack at it on offense when he had Bellaire on the move after he hit junior Jason Keyser for a completion this play.
But when Davis' final Hail Mary pass attempt fell to the ground in the end zone, Mooney began celebrating their return trip to Canton. Sophomore Mike Zordich earned his first trip as a player to the state final.
Davis' senior season came to an end. Bellaire finished the year at 13-1.
Burney will be in Fawcett Stadium next Saturday at 11 a.m. trying to defend their D-IV state title against Ross Homan and the Coldwater Cavaliers.
With or without Johnson, Mooney head coach P.J. Fecko, a former player under the legendary Don Bucci, will try to earn the Cardinals their first back-to-back state titles.
And these crazy Mooney fans, who happen to love the Ohio State Buckeyes, will be cheering for the Cardinals to bring home another state title to Youngstown.