The Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School football team earned the Florida High School Athletic Association Class 1S state championship in Tallahassee on Dec. 8, 2023, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
This is the first Cardinal Mooney Cougar state football title since 1972.
The Sarasota team defeated Trinity Catholic High School of Ocala with the final score of 31-27, at Ken Riley Field at Bragg Memorial Stadium (Tallahassee), home of Florida A&M University. The team scored the winning touchdown with 47 seconds to play in the game. An interception on the last play of the game sealed the victory.
The star of the game was junior wide receiver/defensive back Chris Mccorkle who scored on a 39-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Michael Valentino. Mccorkle then intercepted a desperate “Hail Mary” pass in the end zone with all zeroes on the play clock.
The exciting game was hard fought, with Trinity Catholic scoring first before Cardinal Mooney rattled off three touchdowns by early in the second quarter. They included a 75-yard pass from sophomore quarterback Devin Mignery to Mccorkle to tie the score at 7. Then a four-yard touchdown run from senior Carson Beach brought the score to 14-7. This was followed by an 82-yard pass from Valentino to wide receiver Teddy Foster, bringing the score to 21-7.
However, Trinity managed to tie the game by halftime. A 33-yard field goal from Nino Scheitz put the Cougars up 24-21 in the third quarter, but two field goals from Trinity, including a 49-yarder with 1:10 to play in the game, put the Cougars behind. Just 23 seconds later, the game-winning pass and reception brought a long-awaited championship to the Sarasota team.
An emotional Head Coach Jared Clark, who spoke after the game, said “This is a special group of young men… We won this (championship) 51 years to the day of the last one… Some of the ‘72 guys were on the sidelines. There is so much love from the alumni… I’m so proud of these kids… It is these young men and the coaching staff. These guys are amazing!”
Senior quarterback Valentino, who suffered from a punctured lung and broken ribs early in the season posted on social media, “What a journey. Thank you Jesus for the ups and the downs. Love this team! Jeremiah 29:11.”
Sophomore quarterback Mignery posted to social media as well, saying “All the hard work finally showed yesterday! Love all my brothers!”
In an interview after the game, Mccorkle, who finished the game with two catches for 116 yards and two touchdowns, plus an interception, said, “It feels great. I don’t even know what to say right now. I’m shocked we even won this. My mindset and where I wanted to be, we got where we needed to be. (Trinity Catholic) thought they were just going to run right through us.”
During the game, each of the Cougar coaches wore a special shirt for the game, which had an American Flag motif, with stripes down the left arm and stars on a field on blue on the right arm, with the word “FAITH” in Cougar red on the back.
A large contingent of fans, including parents, students, and faculty, travelled to cheer on the Cougars, who finished the season 12-2. Many more gathered to watch the game at viewing parties at both Miller’s Ale House and the Daiquiri Deck in Sarasota.
At Miller’s Ale House, the atmosphere was more like a professional or college championship versus a high school one. The passion for the Cougars was clear as everyone wore Cardinal Mooney colors, “State Bound” shirts and more, cheering the great plays and moaning when the final result was in doubt in the final minute of the game.
No matter, the Cougar fans erupted in delirium in both the stadium and at the viewing parties when the final touchdown was scored. More raucous celebrations commenced when the “Hail Mary” pass from Trinity was intercepted in the end zone, sealing a long-awaited victory.
A community-wide celebration for the Cougars will take place in the Mooney Stadium on Fruitville Road at 7 p.m., Tuesday, Dec. 19. A highlight film will be played on an inflatable screen. Each player will be called up and given a “State Championship” shirt. The celebration is delayed because of exams at the school.
Prior to leaving for Tallahassee on Dec. 7, a pep rally was held in the Mooney gymnasium for the students and supporters. Deacon Jack Milholland Jr., Mooney Class of 1977 and Permanent Deacon at Our Lady of the Angels Parish in Lakewood Ranch, provided an invocation and blessed the players with holy water.
The cheerleaders then performed before the players made one last run through the tunnel and through the gym to the cheers of the students and supporters. Parents with signs of support lined the driveway as the buses carrying the team, with a Sheriff’s Office escort, headed for Tallahassee.
The team made a stop at neighboring St. Martha Catholic School and St. Mary Academy where the students lined the driveway with their own signs of support. The players took the time to get out of the buses and give their youngest fans fist-bumps and high-fives.
Enroute, the team stopped at the University of Florida in Gainesville to visit their football training facilities.
Upon arrival in Tallahassee the team took part in a practice before ending their day at the Vigil Mass for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary at the Co-Cathedral of St. Thomas More.
This victory by the Cougar football team will be savored by the players, the coaches, the students, the faculty, and the alumni for many years to come. The 1972 team is still spoken about with reverence 51 years later, with several of the players regularly returning to the school to watch games and be recognized.
Congratulations State Champion Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School Cougars!!!