MORRIS — Mahomet-Seymour may have sealed its fate before Saturday night’s Class 5A quarterfinal game at Morris even started.
When they took the field for pre-game warmups, the Bulldogs carried their school flag with them and planted it in the middle of the block ‘M’ at the 50-yard line.
That didn’t sit well with the Morris players, and by the time the night was done, the home team had come away with a punishing 35-14 win. After the team handshakes, Morris players grabbed school flags of their own and put them at midfield.
“We didn’t like them planting the flag,” Morris receiver/defensive back A.J. Zweeres said. “We saw them put it in the middle of the ‘M’ and we didn’t like it. This is Morris football. It means a lot more to us than just this year’s team. It’s a tradition in this town and with a lot of families and you don’t disrepect that.”
Morris (10-2) made its displeasure felt early, receiving the opening kickoff and embarking on a 12-play, 57-yard drive. The first 11 plays were on the ground before quarterback Carter Button hit A.J. Zweeres for an 8-yard touchdown pass. Esteban Cifuentes’ extra point kick gave Morris a 7-0 lead with 5:57 left in the first quarter.
On Mahomet-Seymour’s first offensive play, Morris linebacker Sam Reddinger forced a fumble, and Zweeres recovered it at the Bulldogs’ 30. On fourth-and-3, Zweeres grabbed a 23-yard scoring pass from Button for a 14-0 Morris lead.
“That play has been pretty successful for us all year,” Zweeres said. “Carter and me have hit for seven or eight touchdowns on it this year. We were wondering what play to run on fourth down, so we just went with one that we know works a lot.”
Mahomet-Seymour entered the game unbeaten and averaging 47.6 points a game, and its offense showed up, driving 83 yards on 14 plays, the last 8 yards on a run by Quenton Rogers, to cut the Morris lead to 14-7 with 10:15 to play in the second quarter.
Morris, which plays in the semifinals at Peoria next week, answered quickly.
Zweeres returned the ensuing kickoff 40 yards to the Bulldogs’ 45, and Ashton Yard went 45 yards on the first play for a touchdown and a 21-7 lead. Yard finished with 147 yards on 29 carries.
“The offensive line was opening huge holes,” Yard said. “We knew this was going to be the type of game where you had to run hard. All the backs ran hard and Carter hit the passes he needed to.”
Mahomet-Seymour countered with a seven-play, 63-yard drive that ended with a 12-yard run by Rogers. During the march, Rogers, who entered the game with 58 catches for 1,124 yards, caught his only pass, an 18-yarder on a screen. For the rest of the game, he was blanketed by Morris cornerback Broc Grogan.
“I was physical with him at the line,” Grogan said. “I got more confident as the game went on. I enjoy getting that dog coverage on the other team’s main guy. I could tell he was getting frustrated.
“I think he only caught that one screen pass. He didn’t get anything down the field. I was on him at the line and A.J. was over the top.”
Morris nearly scored again, but fumbled inside the Mahomet 5-yard line. Morris forced punt and attempted a 33-yard field goal, but it bounced off the right upright with :01 left until hafltime.
“The kids were a little down at halftime,” Thorson said. “I told them, ‘Look. This team [Mahomet] hasn’t trailed at halftime all year, and we should probably have 10 more points than we have. We’re fine.
“I am just so proud of these kids and the way they played tonight. In my almost 20 years at this school, them planting the flag at midfield might be the coolest thing I have seen. This whole night, the snow flurries you could see in the lights, it being a quarterfinal game, you couldn’t script it better.”
The second half saw Morris run its offense almost exclusively in the T formation and it put together long, time-chewing drives that ended up in the end zone. Sam Reddinger (7 carries, 49 yards) ran in both touchdowns after halftime, one from 7 yards and one from 11 yards, and Morris finished with 257 yards rushing to go with 70 yards passing from Button on 3-of-5 accuracy.
“Some people might see that and think it’s boring football,” Morris offensive lineman Justin Hemmersbach said. “But that’s our kind of game. Just line up and know it’s just about beating the guy in front of you.
“We saw that flag before the game and we didn’t like it. We’ve kind of been there. We were a little too cocky last year, coming in undefeated and we lost in the second round. Now, it’s all about these five playoff games. We wanted to come out and reclaim our field.”
The defense, meanwhile, shut Mahomet-Seymour out in the second half. Morris forced three turnovers in the contest, getting an interception each by Zweeres and Luke Brown, and Zweeres’ fumble recovery. Besides his 40-yard kickoff return, Zweeres also had punt returns of 16 and 24 yards. He caught two passes for 31 yards and two touchdowns and ran nine times for 26 yards.