Prep football | Unsportsmanlike conduct call leaves Cardinal Mooney one point short against St. Pete Catholic

Unsportsmanlike conduct penalty results in missed extra point with 1:32 left

jdill@bradenton.comNovember 16, 2013 

SARASOTA -- The call left fans shouting and players confused.

But not Cardinal Mooney head coach Josh Smithers.

"When I knew he scored, I turned around telling them we were kicking," Smithers said. "If it's a penalty, it's a penalty. We have to do a better job of not putting ourselves in that situation."

The call in question was an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on junior wide receiver Sean Morris after he scored a 67-yard touchdown with 1 minute, 32 seconds remaining in the Cougars' Class 3A-Region 3 semifinal against St. Petersburg Catholic on Friday.

Morris held the ball over the goal line as he scored. The penalty backed the Cougars up enough for kicker Blake Young to attempt a 35-yard extra point. It was wide left, and the ensuing onside kick traveled out of bounds.

And just like that, the Barons ran the clock out and left John Heath Field at Austin Smithers Stadium with a 35-34 victory that ended Mooney's season.

"It's definitely hard to lose that, especially when it's the finale," Smithers said. "We've done some of these things in the past and gotten away with it. It's a lesson to be learned. It's not anybody's fault. I've got to do a better job of coaching those types of things. You can't take anything away from St. Pete Catholic."

Mooney (7-3) defeated St. Pete Catholic in the regular season 14-12, and Friday's playoff encounter mirrored that October showdown with the Barons tallying 206 rushing yards in the first half on more than 40 offensive plays, while Mooney's offense was kept off the field for the most part until the second half.

That's when the Cougars started controlling the clock, limiting the Barons to just eight plays in the third quarter.

However, the final play of that period was a back-breaker for a Mooney defense that struggled to shut down St. Pete Catholic's high-powered rushing attack the entire night.

The play featured Barons' junior running back Jaquan Fuller running toward the sideline only to stop in his tracks, elude some would-be tacklers and reverse fields away from Mooney's defense to churn out a 26-yard gain and a first down.

"You just have to keep your legs going and find a hole," said Fuller, who amassed more than 1,000 rushing yards this fall for the Barons.

But later, Mooney's defense delivered a pivotal stop on fourth-and-one by getting penetration up the middle to halt St. Pete Catholic's other 1,000-yard rusher, sophomore Tony Jones.

Mooney's offense didn't respond right away, but finally did early in the fourth quarter when quarterback Reese Vita hooked up with Morris for an 83-yard touchdown pass down the sideline.

"They played cover-zero the whole night, so it was tough in the third quarter a little bit because we were throwing into the wind," Smithers said. "Sometimes that ball will catch it. ... It was a little easier in the fourth quarter."

The Cougars converted a two-point pass to tie the game at 28 with 8:44 remaining.

Then Fuller, who finished with 155 rushing yards on 24 carries, notched his fourth touchdown of the game when he ran a sweep into the end zone from 18 yards out on a fourth-and-four play.

"He's phenomenal," Smithers said. "He's tough. He was tough the first time. He's tough to tackle."

But Mooney wasn't finished and had one last chance after forcing the Barons to punt with less than two minutes remaining.

That's when Vita found Morris, and the Mooney faithful erupted.

The celebration was short-lived when the unsportsmanlike penalty was called, and Young's kick hooked wide.

And so ends Mooney's season, where 14 seniors depart the team to graduation.

"It was great; we made huge strides," Smithers said. "We won the district for the first time since '06, finished the regular season 7-2. I couldn't be any more proud of this team. We really turned it around. Hopefully, we'll keep the ball rolling into next year."

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