- September 3, 2021
Jared Clark's first game as Cardinal Mooney High's football coach was a family affair, in both a metaphorical and a literal sense.
Metaphorically, Clark, a Mooney alumnus, was home. The Cougars took the field against North Port High on Sept. 11 at home as an unknown. They were 2-8 last season and lost players at key positions, including quarterback. What they would look like, especially with limited practice time, was anyone's guess.
In Clark's first game, the Cougars looked like a team with a clear vision.
Cardinal Mooney defeated North Port 42-7. The Cougars used a quick start to their advantage when safety Charlie Cooper intercepted a North Port pass and followed blockers to the end zone for a touchdown. Clark said getting that early lead calmed everyone down. The Cougars never looked back.
Offensively, Mooney was led by Clark's literal family in the win. Junior quarterback Tayven Clark, Jared Clark's nephew, made his first varsity start. He helmed a similar system as the one used by Jared Clark when he was the offensive coordinator at Riverview High, a run-first spread system, and he did it well.
"Listen, I have been hard on Tayven [during practice]," Jared Clark said. "I want him to earn everything he gets here. I think he had an amazing camp and I thought he was going to have a great night. Then he came out and executed like we wanted. I am very, very proud of him."
Tayven Clark accounted for three touchdowns, two passing and one rushing, with no interceptions. He completed four of his five pass attempts and added 35 rushing yards. Tayven Clark said he did not feel nerves before his first start, only excitement. After waiting this long, he said, he just wanted to play, and it felt exactly like he hoped. When asked where he wants to get better, Tayven Clark gave an answer any professional player would be proud to hear.
"I'm not sure," Clark said. "We'll have to go look at the film and figure it out."
Cardinal Mooney also got contributions from sophomore running back Lauriel "Scoota" Trotman, who ran for two touchdowns and had another called back because of a penalty. Trotman finished with 103 rushing yards.
Jared Clark proved intense on the sidelines, but he smiled more as the game came closer to completion. Clark said he had not thought about what the moment of his first win would feel like, instead focusing on what he can do for his players.
"I was thinking about getting these guys in shape and getting them ready to play their butts off," Clark said. "That's the part I envisioned: their effort and how hard they went. That's what I'm proud of right now.
"It feels great. I'm the type of guy that hates losing more than he likes winning, so it's a relief. It's exciting."
The game was the perfect homecoming for Clark. Now, he'll look to keep the party going.
The Cougars (1-0) are playing a stunted scheduled because of the pandemic. After an off week, they will have six games left, starting with a road game against Victory Christian Academy (1-0) on Sept. 25. A win would match last season's total.