After missing the playoffs last season, Cardinal Mooney High started 2018 with eight consecutive wins and hopes for an extended postseason run.
But the Cougars’ season ended with three consecutive losses, culminating in a 34-31 loss Friday night in a Class 3A-Region 3 quarterfinal against Clearwater Calvary Christian.
“We really played a great second half and then they got the ball with 6 minutes to go and 80 yards to go, and they scored,” Cougars coach Paul Maechtle said. “That’s been a familiar scenario throughout the season defensively, unfortunately.
“They just kept making little gains after gains and plays after plays, and we couldn’t get off the field. We just haven’t been able to get off the field as quickly as we’ve needed to all year.”
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The third-seeded Cougars (8-3) were upset by the sixth-seeded Warriors (6-5), a team they beat 34-22 in the regular season and had beaten in four of the previous five games in the series, after Warriors junior Aidan Shahriari made a 22-yard field goal with 1:18 left.
The Cougars can blame injuries, especially at quarterback, for their late-season downturn.
They had to piecemeal their quarterback play at the end of the season and started sophomore defensive back Connor O’Sullivan, their fifth-stringer, on Friday. He split time with senior running back Isaac Green.
The rotation was necessary after the Cougars lost starting quarterback Ryan Bolduc and backup Geno Giardina to knee injuries.
They had better luck in their previous game against the Warriors, who were without junior running back Jordan Niles entirely and sophomore wide receiver Richard Ilarraza for part of their game earlier this season. Niles had 24 carries for 118 yards and Ilarraza four catches for 111 yards in their revenge game on Friday night.
“We were the beneficiaries of the bad luck this time,” Maechtle said.
O’Sullivan performed well in his spot start, completing 9 of 13 passes for 152 yards and one touchdown. He was helped by junior running back Tray Hall, who had 23 carries for 202 yards and three touchdowns.
Bolduc, Hall and many other key contributors return for next season, giving the Cougars an opportunity for an excellent 2019. But injuries perhaps kept them from advancing deep into the playoffs. Calvary Christian advances to play Tampa Berkeley Prep in next week’s Class 3A-Region 3 semifinal, a team the Cougars beat 28-17 earlier this season.