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Oesterle: Is this Morris' year? The numbers, history says so

I am going to step right out and admit it now. I am a numbers nerd. Some will argue that I am a nerd in general, and I won't argue that, but for sure with numbers. It started out when I was a kid, always looking at and studying the backs of baseball cards. For some reason, the numbers just seemed to stick in my head.

That has stayed with me my entire life, especially when it comes to sports and numbers. They are two of my biggest interests, so it seems natural that they would intertwine.

The numerical nerd in me has taken notice that this coming fall sports season, 2014, ends with the number 4. Historically, that has been a very good thing when it comes to Morris and its football program. Not only the number 4, but the number 9. What happens in those five-year spans in between hasn't been bad, either, but the numbers 4 and 9 almost always coincide with the Redskins playing on Thanksgiving weekend, since the inception of the IHSA playoffs in 1974.

In 1974, the first year of the playoffs, Morris did not make the field. Bear in mind that this was back when only conference champions made the field.

But, in 1979, the fun started. Morris rolled through the regular season undefeated and went 3-0 in the playoffs, beating Lisle, Benet Academy (in one of the coldest games I have ever sat through) and, in one of the program's defining moments, topped three-time defending state champion Geneseo on their home field. That put Morris in the state title game at Illinois State University's Hancockl Stadium, where they were beaten, 7-6 by Mascoutah in one of the best state championship games ever played. It also made the entire Morris community well aware that there is a penalty for assisting the runner, and some refs are not afraid to call it at a key moment of the game. But, that's another column in itself for another time.

Moving ahead to 1984. One of the most satisfying seasons in Morris history. The group of players that were seniors in 1984 were winless when they were freshmen. Think about that. Winless. In football. At Morris. That. Doesn't. Happen. Well, senior season rolled around and guess what? Winless was nothing but a distant memory. The Redskins cruised through the regular season and playoffs. In the postseason, they topped Metamora, 22-3 and Lincoln, 16-0 at home before going way down to Bethalto to beat Civic Memorial, 27-7. They completed their journey from winless to winning it all by beating Benet Academy, 31-14 in the state championship game. It was the second title in five years, as the 1980 team beat Harrisburg, 40-0 for the crown.

Next up, 1989. Another trip to Hancock Stadium. Oak Lawn Richards was supposed to be the team that couldn't be beat. Legendary coach Gary Korhonen had the Bulldogs on a roll. Morris didn't have a chance. Apparently, nobody told Morris this. The Redskins scrapped, clawed, fought and battled to a 6-6 tie at the end of regulation. Mike Wright made an interception – his school-record 15th of the season – on the final play of regulation and returned it 80-some yards before he flat out ran out of gas and was dragged down inside the 10 before Morris lost, 12-6 in overtime.

Guess what happened in 1994? Well, Quinn Schafer had never played a down a football before being installed as the Morris quarterback at the start of his senior year. Naturally, Morris went the to the state title game. This time, they ran into a buzzsaw from Belvidere that controlled the ball like a spoiled 4-year-old, seemingly never letting it go. The Bucs beat Morris, 35-0, but the 9 and 4 streak stayed alive.

The 9-4 magic ended in 1999, but not by much. The Redskins dropped a heart-breaker to Joliet Catholic Academy, 16-14, in the quarterfinals as a field goal in the final minute narrowly missed the mark. It was the first in a string of tight games between the two schools that reached its peak in the mid-2000s as one of the state's best rivalries. JCA rolled through the semis and title game, making Morris fans wonder, what if? Plus, the year ended in 9. It was supposed to belong to Morris.

Five years later, 2004, found the Redskins back where they belonged, in the state title game, this time in Champaign. Guess who was on the other sideline? Those behemoths in brown, that's who. Three years prior, Morris had reached Champaign to take on Joliet Catholic and one of the Hilltoppers' best teams ever. The Redskins fell behind early and had to pull out the old Lonesome Polecat formation, known in Morris as Hawaii, to close the gap by halftime. But JCA was able to make an adjustment at halftime and their size and strength won out in the end, 27-20. Anyway, in 2004, it was the JCA defense that was the star and the Hilltoppers won, 17-0. The next year, Morris finally got to play the Hilltoppers at home, also in the quarterfinals, and John Dergo delivered possibly the greatest single-game performance in Morris High School history, regardless of sport.

Morris did not reach the title game in 2009, but in the five years prior they won in 2005 and were second in 2007. They reached the title game in 2012, finishing second. But this coming year is 2014. The numbers say that there's a good chance they will be bringing some hardware to the school.

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