Cardinal Mooney plays host to Hillsborough heavyweight Tampa Catholic

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No matter the level of competition, a football game is often won in the trenches. While skill players get all the glory, it's the guys up front that are the ones who help allow the skill players to make big plays in the first place. On Friday night, the linemen on both sides of the ball could very well be the difference in Cardinal Mooney's (3-0) game against the visiting Tampa Catholic Crusaders (3-1).

“[The playmakers] will do their thing, and they'll play well,” said Cougars Head Coach Joshua Smithers, who cites his offensive and defensive lines as the key to his team's upcoming game. “We haven't been as tested up front with a team as physical as Tampa Catholic. You win and lose some battles up front; that's the way football is.”

It's the mental mistakes such as false starts and busted assignments that Smithers wants his players to be able to eliminate. Smithers praised the play of his linebackers and defensive backs thus far in the season, and wants his lineman on the defensive side to follow suit.

After finishing an even 5-5 in 2012, the Cougars avoided four consecutive losing seasons. Undefeated so far in 2013, with their closest game being a 28-0 blanking of Avon Park last week, it's clear that this Cardinal Mooney squad is different than past ones.

“We had been playing a lot of freshman. Now these guys are juniors and seniors with more experience. With more experience comes more confidence,” Smithers said.

And while the Cougars don't have immediate history with the Crusaders, the now-upperclassmen will recall the 30-6 loss to Tampa Catholic in 2010 – the third loss in as many years that Cardinal Mooney had suffered to the Hillsborough County heavyweight. Now three years removed from their last game against one another, the Crusaders are still one of the upper echelon teams in the state, and tout a new head coach in Mike Gregory. The Cougars return the same head coach, but their program has since improved.

“The program was in a bit of a lull back then,” Smithers admitted. “Right now we're a much better football team.”

A Cougar victory at home in front of their fans on Friday night would undoubtedly be an important one, keeping Cardinal Mooney undefeated heading into the bye week and second half of the season. At the same time, however, Smithers tempers his outlook and says the game against Tampa Catholic is still just one game.

“We try not to value any one game more than another,” he said.

He did add, though, that the victory would help prove that his team can compete with anyone in the state. And earning that victory will begin up front where the unsung stars of the game do their work.

Kick-off at Cardinal Mooney for this game of the week is set for 7:00 p.m. ABC 7 will bring you additional coverage of the game on Friday's 6 p.m. broadcast, with stats and highlights on Football Friday Night at 11:15 p.m.