MORRIS – Last week, Morris running back Ashton Yard pulled his hamstring.
As a result he didn’t start in Friday night’s big Kishwaukee River/Interstate Eight Conference White Division matchup with Kaneland.
But once Yard came into the ballgame, nobody could see any signs of injury as the senior standout toted the ball 23 times for a game-high 131 yards and a touchdown as Morris bested Kaneland 32-24 to stay unbeaten on the young season.
“I actually had a few injuries I was playing with tonight, but our offensive line was getting the job done,” Yard said. “I told them I was hurting, but I knew I had a good game against Kaneland last year, so I was pretty excited to play them again even though I wasn’t a hundred percent.”
Morris (3-0, 1-0 conference) registered 336 yards of total offense with Yard as the main weapon on the ground, while junior quarterback Carter Button threw for 111 yards and a score. Button also tallied a pair of scores rushing, while senior defensive lineman Ryan Wolenczuk came up with two key individual stops late in the game to close out the big win.
“Ryan’s a guy we challenged this week, and he came up huge when we needed it against a very good Kaneland offense,” Morris head coach Al Thorson said. “Obviously, Ashton had a big night, ran hard despite being hurt.
“We did a lot of things wrong early and throughout the game that we need to fix, but in the end I loved the effort from our guys in our first conference game against a great opponent.”
One of those miscues came on the first possession of the game when a Morris fumble deep in its own territory was recovered by Knight junior Anthony DeBlasio at the Morris 8-yard line. Four plays later, Kaneland junior quarterback Troyer Carlson scampered home from 1 yard at 8:45 to give the Knights a 7-0 lead after junior kicker Sam Bruno’s kick was true.
On the next series, Morris evened the score on a 17-yard touchdown pass from Button to AJ Zweres at 6:22. Estaban CiFuentes’ kick was solid with the scoreboard reading 7-7.
Button added his first rushing touchdown of the night from 8 yards out at 9:45 of the second period to put Morris in front 14-7.
But Kaneland (1-2, 0-1 conference) drew even 14-14 before the half as senior Tyler Bradshaw (19 carries, 93 yards) scampered home from five yards out at 3:01 to complete a nice drive that gave the visitors momentum entering the break.
“That score definitely lifted us up, and I thought we came out very solid in the second half,” Kaneland coach Pat Ryan said. “We got up early in the third quarter, we battled, played very well but just couldn’t come up with a win against a very tough ballclub on their home field.
“Even though we’ve lost two weeks in a row, I believe we have a very good football team.”
Kaneland took the opening drive of the second half and scored after a 30-yard field goal from Bruno at 7:28 to go up 17-14.
But Morris took the next possession and traveled 80 yards on 15 plays to go ahead 20-17 after Yards’ 1-yard touchdown blast with five seconds to go in the quarter.
Yard would scamper 46 more on a big burst up the middle early in the fourth and was ruled down at the Kaneland 1 before Button tallied from there to give Morris a 26-17 advantage with 10:19 left to play.
Kaneland countered as Carlson (134 yards passing) hit Dylan Sanagustin with a 30-yard scoring strike at 7:12 to cut the Morris led to 26-24. But the home squad turned to Wolenczuk and its defense to help close things out.
Wolenczuk produced a key fourth-down tackle for a loss deep in Kaneland territory that turned the ball over with 2:07 to go. Junior Jacob Swartz then scored on a 23-yard touchdown run with 59 seconds left to put Morris ahead 32-24.
The Knights still had a chance to tie things up, but Wolenczuk recovered a fumble scant seconds later to close out his team’s victory.
“It was a great night for me and for all of us,” Wolenczuk said. “My team and my coaches really pushed me this week, and I felt like a different person tonight. Coming up with those two plays in crunch time was very special for me. I’m very proud.”