8/26 12:00 H
6A Quarter-finals vs. Morris (12-0)
Hilltoppers Picked Off
Morris - For any fan of high school football that disagrees with the IHSA's policy of regional playoff quadrants over a top seed based bracket system, the Morris/Joliet Catholic game could be the best defense for your argument.
On a night that John Dergo could only describe as "Indescribable", anything was possible as 8,600 people packed into Morris Community High School's stadium, some finding a perch in the trees that surround the field that normally seats about 2,000, to watch what should have been a Thanksgiving weekend game in Champaign.
Folks showed up in team jackets from Coal City to Rochelle & other football fans from as far away as Gibson City & Metamora lined the field to see the clash of the titans in 6A.
Morris getting a real home field advantage for the first time in the schools last 6 meetings game out pumped up along with their fans. Jamie Cumbie sacked Joliet's QB Billy McKeon on the first offensive series of the game to force the Hilltoppers to go 3 & out.
John Dergo would help get Morris out in front and in the drivers seat right off the bat, as he ran 81 yards on Morris's first play from scrimmage to put the Redskins up 7-0 three minutes into the game.
The Hilltoppers would respond right back, after pounding the ball down Morris' throat & going for it on 4th & 1 on their own 41, Billy McKeon would bounce off a couple of Morris tacklers before spinning out of another one as he sped down field for a Hilltopper TD with 4:29 left in the first.
The two teams would hunker down & play defense for the rest of the first. With Jordan Kielian getting a tackle for a loss for the Hilltoppers & Cumbie had one as well for the Redskins as both teams running games were brought to a halt.
Morris got within scoring distance to start the second quarter. getting down to the 29 before being stopped on a 4th & 8 situation.
With Joliet Catholic getting the ball back on their own 29 they would get 9 yards before McKeon hit a wide open Joe Benson for a 3 & 1 pass that would turn into a 63 yard TD reception, putting the Hilltoppers up 14-0.
As Morris took over looking at 14 unanswered Hilltopper points, things started to look like they might go back to the way they had always been when these two teams meet, as Dan Cramner had a tackle for a loss & Kevin Rouse & Adam Kurator combined for a sack of Morris' QB Donovan Monahan. Placing Morris at 4th & 22 on their 9 yard line.
A short punt would give the Hilltoppers excellent field position, but Morris' defense would step up an a Hilltopper 33 yard field goal would go wide left.
With 2:04 left in the half Morris would move the ball a few yards before Dergo busted loose around the right, scooting 67 yards to tie the game up 14-14 with just 49 seconds left in the half.
Morris would come out gunning in the 3rd and have Joliet playing catch up for the rest of the game. Dergo would bust loose for a 46 yard run that Nick Clancy would save from becoming a TD. But Monahan would find big Jamie Cumbie on a mis match in the endzone for a 10 yard TD strike. Putting the Redskins up 21-14 2 minutes into the second half.
Dergo would get in the Joliet Catholic backfield stopping them for a loss before running for a 67 yard TD on Morris' next possession, giving them their final score of the night with 7:41 left in the game.
Knowing that it could be their last chance to even things up, JC would put together a drive that had them pounding the ball up the field before going for it on 4th & 6 on the Morris 25, where McKeon found Dan Hrvatin open for a touchdown after chewing up five & half minutes of clock.
While many might not remember this play for years, one of the keys to Morris' upset victory may have came from a high snap on a punt that Dergo ended up running for a first down. The resulting drive which would end again in a punt, sucked up 2 minutes off the clock, giving the Hilltoppers the ball back with 10:28 left in the game instead of 12:00.
In what would turn into a bad case of de-ja-vue for the Hilltoppers & a celebration for the town of Morris that most likely will still be talked about long after this story is written. The Hilltoppers would get the ball at their 40 and drive all the way to their 8 before going for it on 4th & 2. A pass into the endzone would get picked off at the line by Dergo & returned to the 35.
Morris would go 3 & out as punt and the Hilltoppers would start this time on their own 20, with 3:04 left to play. another furious drive ensued, with McKeon spiking the ball to save time and finding an open receiver by the sidelines, before getting the Hilltoppers back into the redzone.
With 28 second left Dergo would again get an interception as he ripped a McKeon pass out from the hands of Hrvatin and ran it out of bounds at the Morris 17 as he headed straight for the Morris bench to celebrate as the clock stopped at 19 seconds with the change of possession.
Head coach George Dergo said that the game plan was to "make them stop us. We were going to run it right at them and not do anything different till they proved they could stop us."
George's son & player of the game, John Dergo said that it was "indescribable". "You've worked your whole life for this & everybody was thinking that it would be our last game. The seniors knew we needed to do something & the juniors knew 'it could be [the seniors] last game, so wee need to step up' and we did it.
When asked if he thought that this game might be looked at or talked about as more important than a possible title victory after the season, coach Dergo said "Well the town loves their football & they're all fired up right now, they just don't want their football to go away."
by Vincent Johnson
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