The Cardinal Mooney High football team is like a rubber ball. It was built to bounce back.
Mooney (5-2) started the season with three consecutive wins before dropping two games in a row, 48-25 against First Baptist Academy and 23-9 against Carrollwood Day School. In the former, the Cougars gave up more than 300 passing yards; in the latter, they allowed more than 250 rushing yards. Fans could be forgiven for thinking the magic of Mooney's early season had worn off, but that was not the case. Mooney Coach Jared Clark said normally he would be worried about a team's mindset after losses like that, but this team is different. These Cougars don't panic, ever.
"The Tuesday after that (Carrollwood Day) loss was our best practice day of the whole year," Clark said. "We had another great one on Wednesday and that's the reason we were able to play a great game against Calvary Christian on that Friday."
Mooney did respond, beating Calvary 27-21. Mooney recorded eight tackles for loss in that game, throwing the Warriors off rhythm by putting them in long-yardage situations. Senior quarterback Tayven Clark led the way offensively, throwing for 190 yards and rushing for 88, accumulating all four Mooney touchdowns.
The Cougars kept the momentum going last week, beating Bradenton Christian 44-14 on the road. In that game, it was sophomore running back Carson Beach who took over, rushing for 165 yards and four touchdowns. The defense again played a big part in the win, forcing two fumbles and recovering both.
Mooney didn't quit. Now they have a chance at a standout season. Clark is no small reason for that. According to MaxPreps, the senior has completed 69.3% of his passes for 13.1 yards per completion. He's thrown 12 touchdowns and a single interception. Clark has also run 496 yards — just 46 yards behind Beach for the team lead — and three scores.
"He's (Tayven Clark) been great," freshman wide receiver Ryan Matulevich said. "He puts his whole heart into this. I think he's missed me maybe once all year and I've been thrown to 30 or 40 times. It's great to have a quarterback like that throwing me the ball."
But like always, the Cougars are more than a one-man show, something that makes Jared Clark proud. Sometimes it is Beach. Sometimes it is Matulevich, who has impressed in his first high school season, racking up 566 all-purpose yards. Sometimes it is junior linebacker Jack MacKinnon, who has four sacks, or junior linebacker J.R. Rosenberg, who leads the team with 63 tackles. Even senior punter Pierse Stanton is a weapon, averaging nearly 40 yards per punt with seven downed inside the opponent's 20 yard line.
"We all love each other," Jared Clark said. "Whoever steps up, we just want to get the win, however it comes. Doesn't matter to us."
It is not talent, but culture and chemistry, that makes the Cougars dangerous on Friday nights. They believe they can make noise in the postseason. But as Jared Clark told his team at practice on Tuesday, the Cougars cannot go 8-2 until they go 6-2. To do that, they will need to beat Cambridge Christian (1-5) on Friday at home.
"The key is the same as it is every week," Clark said. "Play hard on the guy across from you and have faith. Don't flinch when it gets bad. The other team has players, too. They're coached up, too. Just play hard for the guy next to you. Compete your tail off."