SARASOTA -- Tristan Hillerich shuffled his feet in the pocket before launching a pass that rattled off his intended receiver's hands early in the third quarter.
It was just one of six drops by Cardinal Mooney receivers on Friday night.
But it caused a collective groan from the home stands at John Heath Field at Austin Smithers Stadium.
The dropped balls, which included a final diving attempt that came up empty, stalled some first-half drives that put the Cougars behind the eight-ball early.
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A second-half comeback ultimately fell short as visiting Englewood Lemon Bay eked out a 14-10 non-district victory, prolonging the Cougars' winless season another week.
"We've got to learn from it and get better going into districts next week," Hillerich said.
Lemon Bay (3-1) built a 14-0 halftime lead through 125 first-half rushing yards and two Mooney turnovers.
The Manta Rays only ran for 60 yards in the second half, though, as the Cougars (0-4) limited Lemon Bay's running game to one first down from the intermission break until the final possession.
"I think we kept lining up and tackled a lot better in the second half," Mooney first-year head coach Drew Lascari said. "We set the edge better in the second half. Our containment was better in the second half."
Meanwhile, Mooney's offense, particularly the passing game, struggled. Hillerich did complete his first six passes, but then pass drops keyed a 2-for-11 stretch that bled into the third quarter.
However, the Cougars' defensive prowess in the second half kept them within two scores.
The offensive breakthrough came when Hillerich went after new targets in the passing game and it yielded completions to Jake Santiago and Jack Koscho.
The latter snagged a 10-yard touchdown pass from Hillerich on the first play of the fourth quarter.
"I thought Jake really kind of came alive in the second half," Lascari said. "Jack Koscho had some big catches. But listen, we're capable of moving the football. We just need to do it on a much more consistent basis."
Then Mooney surprised Lemon Bay with an onside kick that the Cougars recovered.
The resulting drive yielded a Jake LaFemina 40-yard field goal with 8 minutes, 49 seconds remaining.
The Cougars forced a quick three-and-out before chewing up some clock in what amounted to their final offensive drive.
After picking up two first downs starting from their own 24, the Cougars were on their last set of fresh downs.
A key second-down pass attempt downfield from Hillerich went incomplete as Chad Wilkens made a diving attempt, but the ball ricocheted off his hands and hit the turf.
The subsequent third down play went for naught as Lemon Bay's Diego Guido breached Mooney's line and sacked Hillerich.
With less than 3:30 remaining, Lascari opted to punt.
"We thought about going for it on fourth for sure," Lascari said. "Our defense was pitching a shutout in the second half and we just kept getting stops. So I put faith in the defense. We had two timeouts in our pockets and I felt confident we could get a stop and obviously it didn't pan out the way we hoped."
Mooney didn't get the ball back as Lemon Bay picked up a first down before taking a knee.
Now the Cougars turn their attention to Class 3A-District 5 action next week. They host Clearwater Calvary Christian, a team they defeated in the first round of the playoffs last season, in their district opener.