Trinity Catholic loses a heartbreaker to Cardinal Mooney in the state championship

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Posted December 8, 2023 | By Madison Omana/Special to the Ocala Gazette
Photos By Peyton Baker/Special To The Ocala Gazette

Trinity’s storybook playoff run has come to an end after almost winning it all. The Celtics fell 31-27 to Cardinal Mooney early Friday afternoon at the Bragg Memorial Stadium in Tallahassee, Florida.

Fans were treated to a constant back-and-forth battle during the Class 1S state championship, which Trinity kicked off with a three-yard touchdown run by junior running back Austin Holder. Senior kicker Cooper Badics sealed in a 7-0 lead for the Celtics. 

It wasn’t long before the Cougars struck back, as sophomore quarterback Devin Mignery threw to junior Chris McCorkle and completed a 77-yard touchdown pass to tie up the game. Soon after, a pass interference call on the Celtics gave its opponent half the distance on a new third down. This play allowed the second quarter to open on a first and goal for the Cougars. 

Only six seconds into the second quarter, the Cougars took the lead with a 4-yard rushing touchdown by senior wide receiver Carson Beach, making the score 14-7. They continued their offensive drive when senior quarterback Michael Valentino threw an 83-yard touchdown pass caught by wide receiver Teddy Foster to tie the game up. 

The Celtics followed this with a defensive spark when junior defensive lineman Zach Johnson tipped and intercepted an attempted screen pass by Valentino, running it back to the 12-yard line. Holder rushed for a combined 10 yards to get the Celtics to first and goal.

With 3:25 left in the first half, senior running back Jamarkus Starkes scored with a 3-yard touchdown run to bring it to 21-14.

Senior wide receiver John Hayes caught a screen pass for a first down at the 24-yard line, which set up a subsequent 19-yard touchdown pass by junior quarterback Preston Wright to tie up the game with 40 seconds left in the half.

In a halftime interview with Bally Sports’ Alexandra Decapua, Trinity head coach John Brantley said it was an “uphill battle” going into the playoffs with a losing record, but he acknowledged his team’s and coaching staff’s no-quit attitude. 

“Finish. We gotta finish. We’ve been a long year, uphill battle, we need to finish.” he said. 

Consistent rushing plays throughout the third quarter set up the Cougars for a 33-yard field goal attempt by senior kicker Nino Schuetz, giving them a 24-21 lead. 

The tit-for-tat mentality continued into the fourth quarter when Badics tied up the game with a 31-yard field goal. On a 4th & 11th down, Badics kicked a career-record 49-yard field goal, giving the Celtics the upper hand in the last 80 seconds of the game. 

The Cougars ultimately took back the lead with a 39-yard touchdown pass caught by McCorkle. Their momentum pushed them into the final drive of the game, where an interception picked off by McCorkle clinched the Cougars its first state title since Dec. 8, 1972.

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