MINOOKA – Well, I have to admit that my expectations were not that high for last Friday’s inaugural alumni football game between Morris and Minooka high schools. In its concept, the idea for such a game seems more befiting a stroll through memory lane in a museum, but man I have to stand corrected.
The final score was 8-8 in the first meeting ever between the two teams, post-high school, anyway. However, the final score was not the most important thing. Just ask Morris 1999 graduate Jason Spang.
“[The tie] doesn’t bother me at all because all of us have to go to work tomorrow,” Spang said. “It’s just fun to strap the pads up and come out and play.”
Spang was one of the 21 rostered members of the Redskins who played and held their own with a much larger Minooka team (41 rostered players).
“It was a heck of a game,” Morris organizer Jim Chronister said. “I thought we outplayed them. We had a few things not go our way. What I am really proud of is that we were playing with 18 guys against 30-some guys. We had guys going both ways. This is one of my proudest moments – playing in this football game.”
Minooka was led by quarterback Matt Wehrle (Class of 2002). The former All-State player and Quincy University player called many of the plays for the Indians while running the offense out of the pistol. Morris was quarterbacked by Ricky Snyder (Class of 2000) and the Redskins ran a combination of I-formation and pistol mostly.
“We have an offense with, I’d say a base of about 20 [plays], then we can do other things off of that,” Wehrle said.
For those who don’t know about the format that was used, let me briefly fill you in. The game was played with two 30-minute halves with a running clock except inside the last five minutes. Punts automatically were walked off 30 yards and the field was cut down to 80 yards between end zones. Other than that, it was mostly just straight up football.
Minooka scored in the first half on a 20-yard run by Wehrle and a two-point conversion by Wes O’Hagan (Class of 2002). Morris scored in the second half on a 16-yard touchdown pass from Snyder to Tyler Condon (Class of 2003) and Spang ran in the two-point conversion.
“It’s fun. I think we just have a good time,” Minooka player and coach Phil Hardling (Class of 1999) said. “As a coach here, I think the Morris, Minooka rivalry has died down, but it’s still Morris and Minooka.”
“I have a lot of respect for the guys from Morris. It’s fun,” Wehrle said. “It was a good group of guys when I played against Morris. It’s a good rivalry but one in which there is respect for each other.”
Minooka went all out with its production of the event by bringing in a squad of cheerleaders, poms, color guard and choir. The band was comprised of members of both Morris and Minooka alumni.
Chronister pointed out that the value of the game is not just in getting to play again.
“[Minooka alumni] made a lot of money for four different charities tonight and if Morris gets behind this, we can build our tradition to back to what it was and present something fun for the community,” he said. “This is great. I’m thrilled to be a part of it.”
Then again, maybe there is something to actually playing the game again with pads on – at least that was Chronister’s take on who should be willing to play the game if it happens again next year.
“They need to come out and play because this is freaking awesome,” he said. “You’re going to get hit and you are going to get some bumps and bruises, but you know what, how many times can you come out and play tackle football? It’s one of those sports where you can’t play it after high school unless you play it in college. After that, you’ll never play tackle football again. This is something that we love to do. It’s not something where you have to re-live. It’s something you can come out and do. That’s what we did – came out and played the game we love. I really, really hope the high school gets behind this and the boosters. This is something extremely special.”