There might not be a more opportune time to face the Youngstown Mooney High School football team than now.

There might not be a more opportune time to face the Youngstown Mooney High School football team than now.

The Cardinals have won seven state championships and are coming off one of their greatest seasons a year ago when they beat DeSales 35-7 for the Division III title to complete a 15-0 season.

However, Mooney returns only five starters back, none of whom plays a skill position on offense something to provide at least a little solace for Pickerington North as it prepares to play host to the state powerhouse on Friday in the first matchup between the programs.

While the Cardinals likely won't stray far from an offense which averaged fewer than five pass attempts per game last season and focused on the power running game, they have a new set of players leading the way.

Senior quarterback Kevin McGuire (6-foot-1, 190 pounds), senior running back Carmen Leonelli (5-8, 175) and junior running back Roosevelt Griffin (5-10, 185) all are unproven. Seniors Nick Gemma (6-0, 205) and Nick Hargate (6-0, 205) both started last year at tight end but predominantly were blockers.

Senior Mike Rossi (6-3, 240) is expected to anchor the offensive line.

North coach Tom Phillips expects Mooney to run what he calls a stretch offense, where the focus is getting whoever carries the ball outside of the tackles. The Cardinals also ran option plays during their preseason scrimmages.

"We've got to have all 11 hats on the ball and we've got to be relentless," Panthers junior offensive and defensive lineman Pat Elflein said. "They like to run stretch plays on the outside. I think our defensive line has been coming along real well and our interior guys are all real tough."

It should be an interesting early test for a Panthers defensive unit which Phillips believes features its fastest secondary since he became the coach in 2007. Senior free safety Tony Traylor is the only returning starter in the secondary, but senior strong safety Gabe Nimmons, senior cornerback Justin Young and junior cornerback Seth Gamby all have experience as well as athleticism.

Throughout the preseason, senior defensive lineman Darien Bryant also shined for the Panthers, according to Phillips.

"They're kind of like us in that they're going to be trying to find their identity," said Phillips, whose team also returns only five starters from a year ago when it finished 7-4 and lost to Pickerington Central 14-12 in the first round of the Division I playoffs. "They graduated their entire offensive line, but the skill with the guys they have is exceptional. I love their quarterback. Hes tough and runs the ball."

Defensively, Mooney is rebuilding a defense which allowed just five touchdowns over its five playoff victories last season.

Senior Chris DeChellis (6-1, 210), Rossi (6-4, 285) and senior Clarence Scott (5-7, 195) all are returning starters among Mooney's front seven. Gemma should lead the linebacking corps.

Elflein is among a trio of returning offensive linemen who are in their third seasons as starters for North, along with senior Alex Huettel and junior Luke Carothers.

The only skill position player back for the Panthers is senior wide receiver Devin Lomax, who had 13 catches last year.

Junior Zach Olszewski takes over at quarterback after seeing little action last year. Junior Alston Robertson and seniors Shomari Smith and Traylor are expected to be the top running backs for an offense which should show a mix of the run and pass.

"There's no doubt that it's going to be a great challenge and a great opportunity for us," said Phillips, who served as an assistant at Youngstown Boardman from 1987-2000. "We started practicing for Mooney early, just trying to get a feel for what theyre going to do."