Mooney State Champs! First time in 51 years

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!!!

Mooney playing for state football title

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.

Verot football season opens

The atmosphere was charged with excitement as the Bishop Verot Catholic High School Viking Football Team kicked off its season on Sept. 4, 2020 at home in Fort Myers.

The crowd roared as the players run through a tunnel and onto the field for the first time, flanked by cheerleaders and looking eager and excited to play after an off season which had many wondering whether football would happen.

“I can’t believe this day has finally come,” one player shouted as he hopped up and down with excitement on the sideline as he prepared to play Tampa Jesuit. “Incredible.”

With stadium capacity limited to less than 25 percent, the crowd was not as rowdy as usual, but players, coaches and fans didn’t seem to mind and really appreciated the sense of doing something normal – enjoying Friday night football.

Parents in the stands were easily heard giving advice to players, coaches and referees alike. One parent noted that she was so happy the Bishop Verot staff was able to get the season started. “These boys worked so hard all summer and it almost seemed as if games would not happen, but here we are. I can’t say enough how well everyone communicated and prepared to be safe. I just hope for the next game there are more fans in the stadium. The boys love the big crowds.”

Temperatures were taken of everyone entering, all of whom needed a pre-distributed ticket. This was accomplished as each player, cheerleader and band member was given three tickets to the game. The only other students present were those who received tickets.

Masks were required when moving about the stadium, but fans could take them off while seated. The home side of the stadium was divided into sections and every other row was empty all to ensure social distancing. It is unclear when students will be allowed to attend the games as Athletic Director Jason Baumgardner explained that the situation will be reevaluated before each home game.

The opening prayer was given by Father John Belmonte, SJ, Diocese Superintendent of Catholic Education.

Those present saw a battle between the two schools that ended in a disappointing 28-21 loss for Verot. Senior wide receiver Malik Curtis wowed the crowd with blazing speed and dazzling plays and nine receptions for 226 yards and three touchdowns. Verot was down 22-0 early but fought hard to make it 22-13 at halftime. The battle continued with Verot coming up short on its final attempts to get in the end zone.

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