So, a couple of weeks ago, I attended the Morris and Seneca 7-on-7 passing session held at Morris Community High School.
The headline was “A curious football first,” and at the onset, I mentioned that it was “fairly certain that the two have never engaged in any football activity” before that day.
Three days later, I got an email from Sam Marshall letting me know that the Redskins and Fighting Irish had indeed met on the football field before.
“I don’t know how to start this but I was reading your article about Seneca and Morris playing 7-on-7. The article stated that Seneca and Morris never played a football game against each other,” he said. “Back in 1984 the freshmen played against each other at Morris and it was a good game. Morris won 8-0 scoring with 2 or 3 minutes left in the game. I don’t know if you care or not just letting you know.”
Well Sam, I do care. In truth, this is the kind of thing that sets me off on a fact-finding mission to flush out details.
The first thing I did in researching this column was to grab my senior yearbook. It just so happened that I graduated from MCHS in 1985, which means the 1984 football season was in there — including the freshman team. I knew that Old Man Dergo was the coach but it was pretty cool to run down the list of players on that team. Amongst those were Kevin Feeney, Jeff Reents and Eric Werden, all of whom I have stayed in touch with over the years. Details of the game are vague at best.
“I looked in my yearbook and did not see anything as far as schedule or results,” Werden said. “I don’t have any memory of that contest but I have to believe that if it did happen is was a J.V. or some sort of ‘B’ game.”
As I later found out, it was a regular freshman game for Seneca and a “B” game for Morris.
Reents also could not remember details of the game, even though he was one of the Redskins’ leading tacklers in the game. Instead Reents, the head football coach at Wilmington, shared his memories of playing for Old Man Dergo.
“I loved playing for Coach Dergo,” Reents said. “He did a great job of getting us started in the Redskin program as freshmen. He was always very truthful with you as a player, and I enjoyed listening to all of his stories.”
Feeney is the current principal at Wilmington. He shared a lot of memories about playing on that team and that year in particular.
“I don’t remember a whole lot about that particular game. I can give you a little more information about that team. The freshman head coach at the time was coach Dergo (George’s dad) and the assistant was Tim Kukman. Overall, we had a really good group of guys that made a four-year commitment to the Morris High School football program,” Feeney said.
“Players like Jeff Reents, Rob Stapp, Wes Fleetwood, Jason Clemons, Brett Davis, Dave Bennington, John Bryant, Brent Pierce, John Evans, Jim Watson, Marty Benson, Bubba Baker, Jim Washburn, Kent Pelligrini, Mike Hansen, Brett Steele and Buddy Mitchell were leaders on that team.
“Like all coach (Dan) Darlington teams, each year we improved as a football team. Our senior year we won the conference championship going 8-1 during the regular season. The biggest victory our senior year was against heavily-favored Plainfield, who had six Division I football players on their team — led by John Ivlow. We won the game in overtime stopping Ivlow on the potential game winning 2-point conversion at the 1-yard line. That was the first time our class beat Plainfield in high school — they beat us freshman, sophomore and junior years. They were a ton.
“We lost to Providence Catholic in the first round of the playoffs (they were also 8-1). That was back in the day when teams were not seeded entering the playoffs. Providence went on to win their first state championship that year. They were led by Pete Bershich, who went on to play linebacker for Notre Dame and the Minesota Vikings.
“As a freshman group In 1984, we were all inspired by the varsity team that won the state championship that year against Benet Academy. I remember that senior group as freshman not winning a single game. I was fortunate to have two brothers playing on that team — Mike (sophomore) and Jim (senior). The 1984 season was a great experience for all of us.”
Marshall said that he remembers the game quite well since it was a true David and Goliath experience for the Fighting Irish.
“I was on the Seneca freshmen team that played against Morris,” Marshall said. “I remember thinking ‘We’re playing Morris, this will be fun. The school is so much bigger than us, can we even play against them?’ I think the score shows that we did play with them. Like I said it came down to the last 2 minutes of the game before Morris scored. It was a hard fought game the whole way.”
Seneca’s freshman coaches that year were Doug Evans and Don Brown and that freshman team went 3-1, beating Reed-Custer, Coal City and Plano that year.
I actually pulled out the old Morris Daily Herald microfilm and researched the one and only time Morris and Seneca played a real football game on the gridiron.
‘Skins top Seneca 8-0 in freshman ‘B’ game
Brad Coop rushed for 77 yards in the game’s only touchdown as the Morris Redskins blanked Seneca on Monday.
Coop scored a touchdown on a 4-yard run midway through the fourth quarter and Kevin Feeney, who rushed for 45 yards in seven carries, ran in the extra two points.
As a team, Morris rushed for 186 yards.
Doug Bennington, the Morris quarterback in the first half, completed 4-of-7 passes for 34 yards. Jim Washburn, the second half quarterback hit 2-of-3 passes for 12 yards.
Leading Morris in tackles were: Dan Chapman, Tim Clubb, Kevin Feeney and Jeff Reents. Each had three solo tackles and three assists.
“Our defense was great,” said Morris coach Gehrig Dergo. “We stopped them on the (Morris) 5, 6 and 8-yard lines.
Dergo said Seneca is a good team.