As the Cardinal Mooney High (9-2) and Lakeland Christian (7-4) football teams jogged to their locker rooms tied at 14-14 at halftime of their Florida High School Athletic Association Class 1S regional semifinal game, it appeared that Cardinal Mooney would be forced to play a close game into the fourth quarter, something it has not had to do often in 2023.
The third quarter proved that assumption to be false.
The Cougars outscored the Vikings 22-0 in the third quarter, scoring three times on passing touchdowns. Senior quarterback Michael Valentino hit senior receiver Zy'marion Lang for a 50-yard touchdown, then sophomore quarterback Devin Mignery found sophomore receiver Bo O'Daniel for an 18 yard score. Valentino finished the Cougars' third-quarter attack with a 37-yard strike to sophomore Joshua Henderson.
The fourth quarter continued the Cougars' momentum on both sides of the ball. By the final buzzer, the scoreboard read 54-14 in Mooney's favor.
Senior running back Carson Beach had both of Mooney's first-half touchdowns, both times pounding the ball into the end zone from the one-yard line, and added another in the fourth quarter. He finished with 156 yards and received praise from his head coach postgame.
"He loves the game of football," Mooney Head Coach Jared Clark said of Beach. "He’s worked his tail off for four years. And he just keeps getting better every week."
In addition to his third-quarter touchdown pass, Mignery threw a 23-yard touchdown to sophomore Mason Jordan in the fourth quarter. Sophomore linebacker Duke Bergstrom put an exclamation point on the victory with an interception returned for a touchdown late in the contest.
With the win, the Cougars will advance to the Class 1S regional finals. They will play host to Victory Christian Academy (6-5) at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 24. Victory Christian upset top-seeded Zephyrhills Christian Academy 29-26 in the regional semifinals.