Jacobs quarterback Bret Mooney knew he was running out of time and felt the pressure from Cary-Grove’s defensive line.
Mooney stepped up and scrambled a few steps before feeling something that “felt like 1,000 pounds on my leg.”
That was C-G defensive tackle Michael Gomez, a 249-pound bull of a player, who was dragging Mooney to the ground.
“I couldn’t really move and I knew I wasn’t going to break that tackle,” Mooney said. “I tried to stay up as long as I could.”
Mooney somehow managed to fire a dart to wide receiver Nick Gierlak in the end zone for a 15-yard touchdown, then hit Gierlak moments later for the two-point conversion.
It was a signature play in a season replete with signature plays for Mooney. It gave the Golden Eagles a crucial 36-35 victory and a decisive advantage toward the Fox Valley Conference Valley Division football championship with two remaining games, which Jacobs won.
A week earlier, Mooney took off on a wild ramble in a tied game as time expired, running 26 yards before lateraling back to midfield to running back Josh Walker, who took the ball the last 30 yards for a touchdown that beat Crystal Lake South, 26-20.
“Anytime we had the ball in his hands and the offense on the field, we felt we could score against anyone,” Jacobs coach Bill Mitz said.
Mooney gave the Eagles every reason to think that way. For his ability to deliver big plays and for leading Jacobs to its first FVC or FVC Valley title since 1979, Mooney is the Northwest Herald Football Player of the Year, selected by the sports staff with input from area coaches.
Prairie Ridge’s Shane Evans, a four-year offensive starter who also played defensive tackle this season, and Crystal Lake Central quarterback Kyle Lavand, who set school records for passing yards and touchdowns, also received strong support.
Evans, who will play at Northern Illinois University, helped the Wolves to five consecutive wins and the Class 6A playoff quarterfinals. Lavand led the Tigers to the FVC Fox Division title.
Mooney, who committed to NCAA Division I Colgate, is the first Jacobs player to win Player of the Year honors since Jim Kolzow in 1999. Mooney, who is 6-foot-4, 210 pounds, completed 144 of 243 passes for 1,877 yards and 17 touchdowns, with eight interceptions. He also rushed for 672 yards and eight touchdowns.
The running part of his game was the most striking difference from Mooney’s junior season.
“Mobility, by far,” said Walker, when asked where Mooney was most improved. “He was more of a pocket passer last year. This year he was moving a log. He had the opportunity to run and was a lot faster.”
Mooney said work with former NFL quarterback Jeff Christensen’s Throw It Deep Quarterback and Receiver Training Academy helped with his footwork, while speed and agility work with Rocky Scalise at Going Vertical in Huntley helped increase his speed. Mooney improved to the high 4.6s for his 40-yard dash time, dropping almost two-tenths of a second.
Mooney noticed the difference right away when he was able to escape rushing defensive linemen.
“At the beginning of the year, I wasn’t expecting to be able to do that,” Mooney said. “I honestly didn’t know how it would pan out. I knew I’d be faster and be able to make more plays, but didn’t know to what extent. Once I realized that I could, I took advantage of that through the season and it was nice. Now, I want to do that at the next level as well.”
Mitz considers Mooney one of the best quarterbacks he’s coached in 28 years at Stevenson and four at Jacobs.
“We’ve had some good ones,” Mitz said. “But he’s right up there. It’s going to be interesting to see what he does [in college].”
Jacobs’ division title was its first outright football championship in school history (the Eagles tied in 1979 with Crystal Lake Central), a point of pride with Mooney.
“It was awesome winning the first since 1979 and the first we had sole possession, it’s a great accomplishment,” Mooney said. “We didn’t win a playoff game, but I hope we started a tradition and they keep the trend going.”
Jacobs lost its Class 7A first-round playoff game to Conant, 42-35, and had a shot at the end for another dramatic comeback. This time, Mooney was intercepted deep in Cougars territory.
“There was a feeling there of what are we going to run for our two-point [conversion],” Mitz said. “He just made play after play for us. I can’t say enough about him.”