Nothing comes easy during a football season, especially for a team that has reached the No. 1 ranking.
That is the case for the Morris football team, which last week attained the top ranking in the Associated Press’ Class 5A poll.
This week, Morris takes its 4-0 record to LaSalle-Peru, a game that begins a stretch of three games away from home. The following week sees a visit to Richmond-Burton and the week after that is to Woodstock before they return home for a Week 8 matchup with Ottawa and finish the regular season on the road at Sycamore.
LaSalle-Peru sports a 3-1 record, its only loss to Metamora in Week 2 by a 16-8 score. The Cavaliers have beaten East Moline United 31-21, Woodstock North 21-13 and Plano 47-14. Morris, meanwhile, has wins of 49-10 over Coal City, 31-14 over Antioch, 32-24 over Kaneland and 41-0 over Woodstock North.
Last season, Morris defeated LaSalle-Peru twice, 31-7 in Week 8 of the regular season and 42-0 in the opening round of the Class 5A playoffs, a fact that Morris coach Alan Thorson is certain hasn’t been lost on the Cavaliers.
“We are the defending conference champs and we beat them twice last year,” Thorson said. “They are going to remember that. Along with where we’re at in the polls, we know that we are going to get their ‘A’ game.
“LaSalle-Peru is a very physical team on both offense and defense. They run the same kind of offense, the triple option, that we saw last week against Woodstock North. L-P is a tough place to play.”
Thorson noted that Cavaliers quarterback Brendan Boudreau and running back Maalik Madrigal are the two main cogs in the triple option offense.
“The quarterback is a hard runner,” Thorson said. “And the fullback is a big kid, about 210 pounds. He was a wide receiver for them, but they wanted to get him the ball more so they put him at running back.
“We will have to stay with our defensive assignments against that type of offense.”
Morris, meanwhile, has spread the wealth offensively this season. Four different players - Ashton Yard, Jacob Swartz, Carter Button and Sam Reddinger - have all gained more than 100 yards on the ground through four games. Through the air, Button has completed 29 of 40 passes for 404 yards and seven touchdowns against just one interception. A.J. Zweeres is the main receiver with 16 catches for 241 yards and four touchdowns, with Will Knapp adding five catches for 101 yards and three TDs. Zweeres has also been a weapon on special teams, averaging 27.5 yards per kickoff return and 24.9 yards per punt return. He returned a punt 70 yards for a TD last week.
“We have been using the No. 1 ranking as a motivation for our guys,” Thorson said. “We know there is a target on our backs and that everyone wants to knock us off. We have told the guys, ‘If you are going to be ranked No. 1, you better play like it.’
“Our guys have been very good about not getting a big head about being ranked No. 1. They want to go out and prove they deserve it.”