CHICAGO – The Morris football team began the season with a single goal in mind.
To win a state championship.
That is the goal every year for the Redskins, but a loss in the Class 5A semifinals last season gave them a bit more incentive heading into this season.
They are now one win away from that goal after beating Chicago Raby, 43-8, in the Class 4A semifinals Saturday.
The season started with six straight wins, including victories over recent nemesis DeKalb and Class 5A semifinalist Washington, before injuries to some key players hit and the Redskins dropped two of their last three regular season games to Kaneland and Geneseo.
The injured players returned for the first round of the playoffs, and the Morris team of the first six weeks returned as well.
The first two games were blowouts, and anyone with any injury concerns was able to rest for most of the second half in a 50-20 rout of Kewanee and a 62-7 thumping of Ridgewood.
That brought on a rematch with Rochelle in the quarterfinals, a team that Morris struggled with in its first meeting before emerging with a 34-30 victory.
The game wasn’t nearly as high-scoring as the first, but it was in no way less exciting.
Both teams gave everything they had and Morris came out with a 14-9 win.
In the semifinal against Chicago Raby on Saturday, the Redskins turned in what may have been their best performance of the season, dominating the Raiders on both sides of the ball en route to a 43-8 win and the 11th trip to the state championship game in school history.
“Our defense the last two games has come up huge,” Morris coach Alan Thorson said. “All week long, our guys heard what great athletes Raby had, and they took it kind of personal. They wanted to come out here and show how good they are, and they certainly did that.
“We are a complete football team.”
There had not been an aspect of the game where Morris has been lacking in the past four weeks. In fact, they seem to be still improving.
“You can’t ask for more out of a team than that,” Thorson said. “We want to be playing our best at the end of the year, and we are.”
That even goes for the offensive line, which was the biggest strength of the team at the start of the year. As good as they were at the start, they are even better now.
“Our offense all starts with the linemen,” Thorson said after the team ran for 297 yards Saturday. “We put a big challenge on them before the game. We told them we didn’t want to come out of the ‘T’ formation all game, and they made that happen.
“What we are seeing now is the result of four years of hard work since they stepped foot in this school. [Assistant] Coach [John] Wodziak does a great job with them, but these kids have put in the time and effort and they are seeing the results with a trip to the state championship.”
Thorson knows that his team can put the memories of the Kaneland and Geneseo losses behind them.
“We just want to keep playing good football,” he said. “People may have questioned us after the two losses, but we knew what kind of team we had.
“Now, we are healthier than we were then, and these kids are beyond confident. They truly believe in each other and in the coaching staff. That can take you a long way.”