MORRIS – The Morris football team will try to win the fourth state championship in school history Friday night, when they take on Rochester in the Class 4A title game at 7 at Huskie Stadium in DeKalb.
It won’t be easy, as Rochester has built a powerhouse in the past decade, winning six state championships in the last seven seasons.
The Rockets have been in the playoffs for 12 straight seasons under coach Derek Leonard.
Rochester has put up numbers that are remarkable this season. The Rockets (13-0) have outscored their opponents 619-179. That’s an average score of 47.6-13.8.
They are led by all-state quarterback Nic Baker, who threw for 3,491 yards and 50 touchdowns against just two interceptions in the first 12 games of the year. He has also run for 378 yards and 11 scores.
“Their quarterback [Baker] is very good,” Thorson said. “He is the real deal. He’s what makes that offense go, and he is very good at what he does. Rochester is very well-coached and do what they do very well. They have won as much as they have for a reason.”
Morris has shown the ability to slow down high-powered offense throughout the season, as the Redskins have allowed just 158 points all season, an average of 12.2 per game. The most points they have allowed in a game is 30.
“Our defense has really stepped up and played huge, especially in the playoffs,” Thorson said. “We know we have a big challenge ahead of us, but our guys are excited for it.”
Rochester’s brand of offense is a spread, up-tempo offense, designed to exploit holes in the defense. Morris has seen this type of offense before.
“Teams like DeKalb and Kaneland in our conference run the spread,” Thorson said. “So did Ridgewood and Raby in the playoffs. We have seen this style of offense, but not at the level that Rochester runs it. It’s hard to simulate the speed that they run their offense with in practice, but we have faced teams that got the snap off quick.”
Morris will try to counter with its superior size and controlling the ball with the running game. The offensive line of Noah McCorkhill, Dylan Swartz, Nolan Feeney, Brennan Goff and Nathan Korte have been clearing the way for running backs Kameron Dransfeldt and Chatten Dryfhout throughout the season, and the Redskins will try to continue that trend in the title game.
“We haven’t really seen anyone similar,” Rochester coach Derek Leonard said. “Their size definitely concerns me. They like to pound you, and they have hard runners. They are everything Morris has always been since I have been coaching. They are big and physical and they will play their kind of game.
“You’ve gotta stop them or they will run over you. You can’t get behind them. They are well-coached and physical. They are huge up front and we haven’t really seen that style of offense. Plus, they are usually a 5A team and play a 5A-6A schedule. Everything you hear about them is true.”
Morris has also returned to health after losing some starters due to injury late in the regular season. While quarterback Mitchell Mayberry’s numbers don’t stack up to Baker’s, Thorson feels confident in the junior’s ability to keep the Rockets honest.
“Mitch hasn’t had to throw much, especially during the playoffs,” Thorson said. “That’s because our running game has been so good. But, we like to balance things out, and he has a good arm, makes good decisions and is poised in the pocket. Plus, the line protects him very well. He has only been sacked twice this season.
“We know that the running game is our strength, but we aren’t afraid to put the ball in the air.”
While Rochester has a championship to try and defend, the Redskins have had a singular goal of trying to get it for themselves.
“Ever since we lost in the semis last year to Peoria, these kids have had their eyes on a state title,” Thorson said. “We lost last year on a Saturday, and that next Monday, they were in the weight room and focused on this year. They have put in so much time and effort and it’s great to see them get this chance.
“We aren’t going to change our routine much this week, but we also want them to know that this is special. Not many teams get this chance, so we want them to enjoy it.”