Goss: Potential game-changer slips through Morris’ fingers
November 24, 2012 4:56PM
Morris' Craig Claire (60) looks at the clock towards the end of Saturday's IHSA State Championship game between Morris and Montini high schools, hosted at the University of Illinois in Champaign, IL. | Paul Bergstrom ~ For Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 26, 2012 6:28AM
Morris entered halftime trailing Montini 13-0 in Saturday’s Class 5A state championship game at the University of Illinois in Champaign.
The Redskins were far from done, but they needed a big play or two.
The opportunity came on the first snap of the third quarter. Montini quarterback Alex Wills attempted a pass to the left side. Morris’ 6-foot-5, 250-pound All-Stater Danny Friend had his hands on the ball, in stride, at the Broncos’ 27-yard line.
The thing is, the Indiana-bound Friend, besides being a defensive end, also is the Redskins’ tight end. He is an outstanding blocker and an ideal target for quarterback Zach Cinnamon because of his soft hands.
This time, however, the potential defensive touchdown slipped through his fingers for an incompletion.
The play epitomized the frustration of the day for the Redskins, who so badly needed that game-changer to happen.
“It was right in my hands and I just couldn’t bring it in,” Friend said, eschewing any excuses.
“I was waiting all day for us to make a big play,” All-State linebacker/running back Jeff Perry said. “Danny unfortunately dropped that interception. That might have been the big play we needed.”
When Montini is involved, you automatically think offense, with big plays abounding on both sides. The epitome was last season’s 5A title game where the Broncos and Joliet Catholic combined for 115 points and well over 1,600 yards of offense.
But this one was different. Morris was not perfect defensively but hardly could have done a better job than holding Montini to 19 points. Unfortunately, the Redskins’ offense could not dent Montini’s defense until the final minute of the 19-6 loss.
“We thought we could run on them, but we also thought we could make a big play or two,” Morris coach Alan Thorson said. “But we never got the big plays we were looking for.”
The Redskins’ track record in reaching this title game was reason for optimism. Their offense had been rolling.
“Even though we were two scores down at halftime, we were pretty upbeat,” Thorson said. “We were down 14 in the fourth quarter at Washington (in the quarterfinals) and came back and won.
“We were kind of like, let’s settle down and go get this done. We were a little jittery when the game started, but then we were OK in that regard.”
Thorson agreed the Redskins, who are 3-7 all-time in title games, could not have done a much better job defensively.
“But for whatever reason, offensively it felt like we were not clicking right, if that’s the right word,” he said. “A lot of the credit goes to Montini. Their defense took us out of our game.”
Cinnamon, who transferred from Streator for his senior season, was a primary recipient of rude treatment from the Montini defense. The Broncos sacked him five times on a day when they totaled 10 tackles for loss.
“Zach has been a warrior all season,” Thorson said. “He probably should have gotten rid of the ball quicker to stop some of those sacks. But he hung in there and took a lot of big hits.
“His effort alone showed what we are all about.”
“Sometimes you dream about having a chance to do something,” Friend said. “Our dream all along was to get here. The difference is, our dream did not end with us losing the title game.”
Montini coach Chris Andriano, whose Broncos claimed their fourth straight 5A title, said he knew the battle that loomed.
“Morris is a program with plenty of tradition,” he said. “They are very respected statewide. Believe me, to beat a team like that in the finals is special. Beating Marian Central, Joliet Catholic and Morris the last three weeks, we really had to earn this.”
When the playoffs were getting under way, we discussed how Lincoln-Way West and Joliet Catholic, in addition to Morris, were threats to end Montini’s run in 5A. The way it played out, with Lincoln-Way West falling to Joliet Catholic 21-20 in overtime in the quarterfinals, the Hilltoppers losing to Montini 40-37 in the semifinals and Morris beating Sacred Heart-Griffin 30-20 in the semifinals, indicates we had the three best in 5A outside Montini.
The Broncos are the problem. Three of their four consecutive titles have come against our area (they beat Joliet Catholic in 2009 in addition to 2011).
As great a guy as Andriano is, this is getting old.