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There are many reasons why Jacobs senior quarterback Bret Mooney will remain etched in the memory of local fans for years to come.
The 6-foot-4, 210-pound signalcaller will be remembered for leading the Golden Eagles to a 7-3 record and their fourth-straight playoff appearance, adding to a school-record streak.
People will recall how the 17-year-old guided Jacobs to its first undefeated, outright title in the Fox Valley Conference's Valley Division. It was the second FVC title in program history overall, the first since 1979.
A team captain who committed to Colgate at midseason, Keith and Lori Mooney's oldest son will be remembered for his powerful arm and feather-soft touch, assets he used to complete 147 of 240 passes (61.3 percent) for 1,817 yards and 18 touchdowns.
Fans might even recount how much more mobile a quarterback the West Dundee resident became as a senior, thanks to off-season work with the track team, which he said increased his speed and agility. His improved foot speed led to 9 touchdowns and 704 rushing yards -- the 10th-highest total in the area -- on 139 carries (5.1 avg.).
Some will recall clutch plays in victories over rivals Prairie Ridge, Cary-Grove and Huntley and impressive performances from a statistical standpoint against McHenry and Woodstock.
All of the above are reason enough to name Bret Mooney the honorary captain of the 2013 Daily Herald All-Area Football Team in the Fox Valley, but statistics are not what people will remember most about his season.
You can bet when the Jacobs High School Class of 2014 gathers for its 25th reunion in 2039, the first thing people will remember about Bret Mooney is the miracle finish he pulled off to beat Crystal Lake South as time ran out, a play that will forever be remembered as one of the most improbable endings to a high-school football game in area history.
The Oct. 5 contest seemed destined for overtime. A determined Mooney ran the ball 3 times on the wet, muddy field to advance the Golden Eagles to their own 48-yard line, but only seconds remained when the quarterback took one last snap in regulation.
The play was supposed to be a hook and ladder, Mooney would say later, but he knew it wouldn't work because the Gators had placed four defenders in the end zone, 52 yards away. So he improvised.
Nearly sacked, Mooney scampered up the left sideline for 10 yards, then 20 yards as the final buzzer sounded. He avoided one tackler, but two more were closing fast. He slammed on the brakes at the CL South 26-yard line, turned on a dime, jumped and fired a lateral pass to all-Area junior running back Josh Walker, the fastest player on the field.
Walker caught the ball and made a beeline for the opposite pylon, scoring untouched to give Jacobs a surreal 26-20 victory. Jacobs players and fans swarmed to the end zone to celebrate. Multiple exhausted CL South players dropped to their knees in stunned disbelief.
"I'm still not sure how to explain that play other than it was just instinctual," Mooney said this week. "I definitely saw a jersey. Actually, I saw two guys there, but the other was farther back. I didn't make out that it was Josh until after I had let it go."
The play gave Jacobs its fourth straight win. For CL South, the loss proved to be the difference in finishing 4-5 and out of the playoffs for the first time in 13 years.
"When I look back on it, it was kind of a one-in-a-million play," CL South coach Chuck Ahsmann said. "Very few high school kids can run down the left sideline, stop, look back and find an open teammate who just happens to be the fastest guy on the team. You can attribute some of that to luck, but you have to attribute most of it to being a good player.
"If it weren't for Mooney, they would not have beaten us. It came down to him. He beat some teams at the end of games simply because he was the best player on the field."
Mooney again delivered in the clutch the following week. With his team trailing defending FVC Valley champ Cary-Grove 35-28 with just over a minute to play, he moved the Golden Eagles 43 yards in 9 plays to the Trojans' 15-yard line.
Facing third-and-10 with time running out, Mooney shook off a tackler, stepped up in the pocket and fired a touchdown pass to junior Nick Gierlak, drawing Jacobs within 35-34 with 2.2 seconds to play. Next came a perfectly placed 2-point conversion pass, again to Gierlak, which lifted the Eagles to their fifth straight win and added to Mooney's legend.
"He made a lot of great plays with the conference championship on the line," Cary-Grove coach Brad Seaburg said of Mooney that night.
Though the fantastic finishes against CL South and Cary-Grove transpired in vastly different ways, Mooney said a common thread ran through both.
"In those two moments nothing is thought about except scoring a touchdown," he said. "At that point there's nothing to lose, especially in the last minute when you need to score and a lot of people are depending on you. The only thing I'd think about is needing to score and not caring how it happened, just that it needed to be done."
In Week 8 at Huntley, Mooney ran for 2 touchdowns in the first half and threw a 49-yard bomb to childhood pal Hunter Williams in the second half of a 27-20 victory. He threw for a season-low 49 yards in Week 9 against Dundee-Crown, but that was mostly because D-C's scheme invited the run.
"We held him to 49 yards passing, but we had to commit a lot to the pass to do and it allowed them to run the ball on us," Dundee-Crown coach Vito Andriola said. "That's the ultimate compliment to Mooney because you're trying to take him away and make them prove they can run it with the Walker kid. And they did.
"We played against Mooney in the last game of the season both years and you could just tell this year how much time he put in during the off-season to get better, no doubt."
Mooney threw 240 passes in both his junior and senior seasons. However, as a senior he threw only 8 interceptions compared to 14 in 2012. He credits off-season instruction from Jeff Christensen at Throw It Deep Academy in Lockport for the improvement in his accuracy.
"They definitely helped me with my footwork and it made a huge difference," Mooney said. "I think that's what gives them the edge is that they work on your footwork more than your upper-body tactics. Before, if I didn't throw to the first guy I was looking for, it took me a long time to reset or I'd make a bad throw. They adjusted my footwork so my body moved faster and I could make decisions faster."
Jacobs (7-3, 6-0) finished the season on a disappointing note. Mooney and the offense did their part, putting up 35 points on their home field, but it wasn't enough to overcome Conant, which scored 42 points. The Mooney magic finally ran out late in the fourth quarter on a fourth-and-10 play at the Conant 7-yard line. Forced to throw into heavy coverage as he was being rushed, his final high school pass was intercepted in a crowd.
"It finished a little earlier than we had hoped, but it was a great year for him," Jacobs coach Bill Mitz said. "Lo and behold he led the school to its first outright championship by going undefeated through the league. He just did a phenomenal job. The areas he improved most were his running ability and his ability to make different reads. Those things together, I think, really helped him cut down on his interceptions, too."
In 20 games spanning a two-year varsity career, Mooney completed 278 of 480 passes for 3,903 yards and 34 touchdowns. Not only was he named all-FVC Valley and all-Area, both for the second time, he was named first-team all-state by the Illinois High School Football Coaches Association.
"I never would have thought from last year to this year I'd make all-state," Mooney said. "When I was little that was the thing I wanted more than anything. I didn't even think I'd make it after this season ended, so the fact I got it is really humbling."
So what will Mooney remember most about his final high school season?
"I would have liked to get that playoff win, but success comes in many different forms," he said. "I feel the bond I made with our coaches and players is something that can never be taken away. It was amazing to accomplish what we did as a team and have the community rally around us the way they did. I wouldn't trade it for anything."