BRADENTON — They delivered precision passing in the first half.
They churned out an effective ground game in the second half.
But Cardinal Mooney displayed a suffocating defense throughout its Kickoff Classic against host Bradenton Christian on Friday.
Consequently, the Cougars shutout the Panthers 44-0 in the preseason tilt.
"We're pretty sound on defense," Mooney head coach Josh Smithers said. "We practice pretty well every day. These guys are good. We're more athletic, we've got more speed, we're getting off the ball better up front this year."
The game's opening was a near-carbon copy of Mooney's spring game, except defensive back Ryan Branch finished off a pick six on Friday.
Branch snagged Panthers' quarterback Joey Giardina's screen pass and waltzed in untouched on the first play from scrimmage.
In the spring game, Branch had an interception off a similar bubble screen, but was tripped up a yard short of pay dirt.
That defensive gem to start Friday's game against the Panthers enabled some ease for Mooney quarterback Reese Vita.
The sophomore signal-caller, who tallied about 170 passing yards in the spring, surpassed that total with 199 passing yards in the first half. He did not attempt a pass in the second half as Mooney built an insurmountable 34-0 cushion by then.
But during the interim, Vita tossed three bombs, with two going for touchdowns.
His chief target, Elijah Toussaint, caught three passes for 88 yards and a score.
"That was the game plan," said Vita, who completed 8 of 11 passes. "To take a lot pressure off (running back) Anthony (Caiazzo), but still give him the ball."
Last fall's main offensive weapon, running back Anthony Caiazzo, was stymied for just 48 rushing yards on nine carries. Caiazzo delivered two 300-plus rushing games in back-to-back weeks in 2011, but the Panthers stopped his running room in the first half.
However, Caiazzo did burn BCS with an 84-yard catch-and-run from Vita early in the second quarter to make it 20-0.
"We think we're better this year at the skill positions, and we feel like that if teams load the box and try to stop Anthony, we feel like we're going to be able to throw the football around," said Smithers, whose club lost out on a playoff berth in a district tiebreaker last fall. "And with Reese, it's definitely possible."
Meanwhile, Mooney's defense wreaked havoc for BCS and Giardina, a freshman QB.
Giardina threw three interceptions, but showed promise with a 28 and 20-yard completion mixed in. However, the Cougars limited the Panthers to 79 yards of total offense for the game.
Mooney even shut BCS down late in the fourth quarter
"It started on the D-Line," Cougars linebacker Austin Interial said. "The D-Line was amazing, and got all of the rushers out of our face."
Panthers head coach Allan Gerber put the onus on himself for the loss.
"This is on me," Gerber said. "I did not do a good enough job, preparing these kids for this game."