For the first time in 51 years, the Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School football team from Sarasota is playing for a state title.
This is the first Mooney team to reach the State Championships since 1972, when they won. This is also the first team to get past the state semifinal, last reached in 2006.
The Cougars (11-2) will battle Trinity Catholic High School (6-7) from Ocala in the Florida High School Athletic Association Class 1S State Championship 10 a.m., Friday, Dec. 7, 2023, at Ken Riley Field at Bragg Memorial Stadium (Tallahassee), home of Florida A&M University.
The Cougars earned the right to the state championship game by beating North Florida Christian High School of Tallahassee 41-14 in the state semifinal game at home on Dec. 1.
The Cougars entered the championship game on a five-game winning streak, dominating playoff opponents 54-14 and 42-0 before beating North Florida Christian.
Mooney’s last loss was on the road to Bishop Verot Catholic High School in Fort Myers on Oct. 20. Bishop Verot lost its 2S regional final 38-32 to Booker High School in Sarasota on Nov. 24.
Meanwhile, despite its 6-7 record, Trinity Catholic is riding a three-game winning streak in the playoffs, winning their regional final game by a score of 51-36.
Mooney Head Coach is Jared Clark, a 2000 graduate of Cardinal Mooney who went on to play college football at the University of Notre Dame.
Clark is in his first year at the helm of the team and told reporters after the state semifinal game that he expected the team to play for a state title because he knew the talent was there.
Some of that talent Clark mentioned includes Teddy Foster (defensive back), who is committed to play at the University of Florida, and Zy’marion Lang (wide receiver, defensive back), who is committed to the University of South Carolina. The team captains are George Leibold, Teddy Foster, Ryan Sugg and Zeshon Casimir. The starting quarterback is Michael Valentino and the star running back is Carson Beach.
A pep rally and send-off with students, parents and alumni took place on Dec. 6. IN addition, parents lined the school driveway with signs of support and cheered as the buses carrying the team headed off to Tallahassee with a Sheriff’s Office escort. Across the street from Cardinal Mooney, the buses went through the parking lot of St. Martha Catholic School and St. Mary Academy as students there cheered on the team.
A group of 51 students will go to the game on a sold-out bus, leaving in the early morning hours of Dec. 8, while other students, parents, alumni, and other supporters will be travelling independently. A local viewing party is also planned for Miller’s Ale House in Sarasota.