Moon football coach Ryan Linn has preached to his players all season about finishing games, and its finally starting to pay off.
After dropping back-to-back decisions against Armstrong and Upper St. Clair in Weeks 1 and 2, the Tigers responded with a pair of last-minute victories against Allegheny Nine conference opponents. Moon (3-2) will seek its third straight win Friday night when it hosts Fox Chapel.
Two weeks ago, Nick Morrow kicked a short field goal in the closing seconds against Hampton to lift Moon, 26-24, and last week Jamal Littlejohn found the end zone with less than three minutes remaining to send the Tigers past North Hills, 38-31. In both contests, Moon trailed in the fourth quarter. Linn believes the comeback victory versus Hampton was a turning point for the team.
“We’ve talked to the kids about finishing games,” Linn said. “We practice the hurry-up and tempo everyday. They knew we could get chunks of yards real quick, so they got out there, executed and kicked a field goal to win. It showed them they could finish games.”
It’s no surprise senior quarterback Cole Konieczka, who started for Moon last year, has been at his best in the team’s two victories, throwing for nearly 400 yards and scoring six total touchdowns.
“To have a quarterback who’s been in your system and seasoned, there’s no value for that,” Linn said. “He’s been unbelievable in regards to his growth and leadership on and off the field.”
On the season, Konieczka has thrown for more than 800 yards and eight touchdowns and rushed for another three scores.
His play behind center has opened up a running game that struggled to gain steam early in the season. Junior tailback Brady Sunday set up last week’s game-winning score with a 53-yard burst, and he’s averaging more than four yards per carry on the season.
“We’ve talked for the last few weeks, we’re getting five-man boxes because of our passing game,” Linn said. “So Brady [Sunday] is starting to see some looks to get himself going. If we can get him rolling as the season winds down, he’s going to wear down some teams, because he’s a strong runner.”
The defense is still a work in progress as the coaching staff searches for the right mix.
“Opportunistic—they’re making plays when they need to,” Linn said. “We’ve been playing a lot of kids on defense, probably 16 to 17 kids a night. You’re just trying to find that right mix.”
Junior Malcolm Johnson was inserted into the starting lineup just before kickoff against North Hills, and he responded with the game-sealing interception. His performance suggests the Tiger are not far off.
“Guys stepping up when they get their opportunity,” Linn said.
The Tigers were 3-5 against league opponents last year, and a win against Fox Chapel would match their total from a year ago just four games into the conference slate. The Foxes have lost two straight and four of five overall, yet Linn expects a fight.
“It’s going to be a tough one,” Linn said. “I told the kids this a desperate football team coming in who needs a victory. Be prepared for anything and everything.”
Moon failed to reach the playoffs a year ago, but the wins over Hampton and North Hills have the Tigers thinking postseason aspirations at the halfway point of the schedule. A third straight victory would inch them closer to their goal.
“I think that’s the next step for our team,” Linn said. “We put two together, can we string a third good game together? That’s what we’ve been preaching on being consistent.”