The players, he would offer, understand what they need to do to get better and they’re 100 percent committed to doing it.
Mooney has never questioned the work ethic of his players, and that’s what made the first three weeks of the season so painful.
Facing NCAA Division III powerhouses Birmingham-Southern, Millsaps and Huntingdon, the Panthers were overmatched, and those games were effectively over by halftime.
As the Panthers headed into their off week, they were 0-3 and searching for answers.
“When you’re not getting paid back (with wins), it takes its toll,” Mooney said.
Saturday afternoon before an appreciative crowd at Callaway Stadium, the Panthers finally got that payback.
The Panthers stormed out to a 14-0 lead after the first quarter, and their lead never shrunk to less than 12 points as they thumped the Bishops 40-13 to get a win in their USA South debut.
In the fourth quarter, when the game was still in doubt, the Panthers put together back-to-back touchdown drives to put the game on ice.
The Panthers had everything working.
Offensively, the Panthers have to run the ball to be effective, and they punished the Battling Bishops for 329 yards, good for an average of more than five yards an attempt.
Kent Gibson, who is having a terrific senior season, led the Panthers with 120 yards on 21 carries with touchdown runs of one and 12 yards.
One of Gibson’s most impressive stats in the game was this one. Of his 21 carries, he gained yards on every one of them.
For the season, Gibson has run for 377 yards, and he’s gaining nearly six yards a carry.
Quarterback Ed Russ also had a big day on the ground Saturday with 99 yards on 19 attempts, and he has a team-high 377 yards this fall.
Another player who hasn’t been a huge part of the offensive game plan this season, senior Michael Jones, chipped in with 77 yards on 15 attempts, giving him 145 yards for the year.
Jones said he didn’t have any special feeling that he was going to get his hands on the ball more against N.C.-Wesleyan, but he was prepared just in case.
“The coaches get us ready,” Jones said. “Be ready when you’re number’s called. They preach that.”
Russ said to be an effective running team, everyone has to be committed to it, and that was clearly the case Saturday.
“We executed pretty well,” Russ said. “The offensive line did a great job. The receivers did a great job on the perimeter blocking.”
The Panthers also did a much better job hanging on to the ball against the Bishops.
After turning the ball over eight times the previous three games, the Panthers had just one interception on Saturday, and Mooney said that was more a matter of a defensive player making an outstanding play.
“To that corner’s credit, he made one heck of a play,” Mooney said.
The Panthers didn’t do much in the passing game, although Russ and backup quarterback Michael May did throwing touchdown passes to R.J. Miles and Cody Darracott, respectively.
Russ completed 5-of-18 passes for 50 yards with the touchdown and one interception.
So as satisfying as Saturday was, Russ said no one on the offensive end is satisfied.
“We need to get better,” Russ said. “We need to be razor sharp next time.”
Defensively, the Panthers had far and away their best effort of the season.
N.C. Wesleyan hit on two long pass plays and had 220 yards through the air, but the Panthers held the Bishops to minus-20 rushing yards thanks to a whole bunch of tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
Take the Bishops’ pass plays of 71 yards and 67 yards out of the equation, and the Panthers gave up barely 60 yards.
The Panthers also scored points on defense, with Scott Chewning returning a fumble 12 yards for a touchdown, and Nick Raszeja making a tackle in the end zone for a safety.
The Panthers recovered five fumbles.
“For the first time, we created our own breaks,” Mooney said.
Defensive back Anthony Cochran led the Panthers with eight tackles, and he forced a fumble and recovered one as well.
Carter, a standout linebacker, had seven tackles and forced a fumble, and defensive lineman Daniel Garrett had six tackles, including a team-high 2.5 tackles for loss.
Sean McNamee and Chewning each had four tackles, and they each recovered a fumble.
The Panthers also had a clean game on special teams, with punter Drake Nahrwold putting two of his five punts inside the 20-yard line, including one inside the 5-yard line.
Place kicker Will Jeffcoat made his lone field-goal attempt, and he did a solid job on kickoffs.
“All three phases was fantastic,” Mooney said.
The Panthers will try to keep it going when they host conference foe Averett on Saturday.
Game time is 1 p.m., and it will be LaGrange College’s homecoming.