8/24 7:00 H
5A State Finals vs.Joliet (Catholic)(14-0)
Champaign (Memorial Stadium) - In what was one of the most heated games of the state finals weekend, as a steady rain blew sideways across the field at Memorial Stadium, Joliet Catholic managed to do the one thing no other team has been able to do all year to Morris. Score Twice.
In doing so continued to make it's reign on the state finals even more incredible, and they did it against the Morris Redskins whom the have a fierce rivalry with and was one of the most dominant teams in the state this year.
As a team Morris had managed to hold every team they played to 7 points or under. Morris' stone wall defense wasn't responsible for all of the 10 points Morris had given up by the end of the 1st quarter, but they were responsible for some and they worked hard the rest of the game to thwart the Hilltoppers' advances.
Joliet Catholic made the trip to state for a record 14th time. A victory would place them more firmly on top of all other title holders with 12.Chicago (Mt. Carmel)has 10 &New Lenox (Providence), who just won 6A, has 9.
Morris' & Joliet's first possessions would see punts after each teams defense stopped them with little yards gained.
Dan Sharp then showed how he's managed to win 6 titles in his 8 years as head coach at Joliet Catholic. On a 4th down around midfield, Sharp had his offense set up like they were going for the conversion, but then had Billy McKeon quick kick the ball. Joe Benson's hustle down the field helped corral the ball at the 2 yard line as he slid into the endzone after downing the ball.
Two plays later Morris QB Zach Jones fumble the ball and all state line backer Chris Jeske dove to recover the fumble in the endzone for a TD and with 7:38 left in the 1st quarter, Joliet Catholic had a 7-0 lead.
For the next 39 minutes, with the exception of a 42 yard Kevin Platt field goal, Morris & JC would play a game of hard hitting smash mouth football, exchanging blow for blow as the rain and wind let up even less than the two power houses' defenses.
Fans across the state had been hoping this would be the match up of the finals that they couldn't miss. The only game with two undefeated teams. The 5A final seen fans from Yorkville, Metamora, S.H.G. & Wilmington, out to see the colossal match up.
John Dergo was potential on defense even with the fact that he was the Redskins go to guy on offense. Dergo's 9 tackles had him tied with Eric Lines on Morris for the leading tackler in the 5A contest. Brandon Valentine came up big for the Redskins on defense as well. Getting the only sack of the game as well as recovering 2 JC fumbles.
It would turn out that JC was a little better at the defense game as defensive coordinator Cory McLaghlin was yelling at his defense about missed coverage as soon as they got back to the bench from a fumble recovery.
The Hilltoppers ability to stop Dergo on offense, he had just 64 yards & a 2.8 average. Along with Morris inability to find another outlet on offense. Jones was shut down in the air & on the ground. Even late in the game, Dan Darlington brought out a page from his playbook used against JC in the 2001 finals game, with the lonesome polecat formation. The hilltoppers, having seen it before were well prepared and stopped Morris' drive.
One of Morris' best scoring opportunities game early in the 3rd when they could have went for a field goal with the wind at their back on Joliet's 17, but turned the ball over on downs on a 4th & 4.
With 2:03 left in the 3rd, Morris' 29 yards field goal attempt would go wide left and be the last time they would ever get to the red zone.
The Hilltoppers would seal the deal on their record setting 12th title, with a King Kong sized drive that wasn't so much about the 89 yards they went to score, but the 6:21 they took off the clock. So with 2:52 left in the game John Kiernan's 11 yard run would nail the door shut on Morris.
Kiernan's 11 yard run still wouldn't erase the damage the Morris defense did to his rushing stats, as his -6 yards rushing was quite a bit less than JC's leading rusher Chris Clancey who piled up 97 yards on 12 carries.
The Hilltoppers' players who are well aware of possibility of private schools having to play a class or two higher than their enrollment, started yelling "Bring on 7A" after they accepted their 1st place trophy.
by Vincent Johnson
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