DEKALB — Throughout the season, the Morris football team has maintained a couple of slogans, one being "Small Town, Big Dream," and the other being "Rise as One."
The Redskins gave themselves a chance at fulfilling their biggest dream, that of a state championship, by reaching the Class 4A title game Friday against Rochester at Huskie Stadium on the campus of Northern Illinois University.
It was the third venue in which the Redskins have played for a state title, the others being Hancock Stadium on Illinois State University's campus and Memorial Stadium at the University of Illinois.
And, like in the other two facilities, a Morris team gave the crowd something to remember. The Redskins battled tooth and nail with the high-powered Rockets before losing a 24-21 decision on a field goal as time expired.
The task was momumental, as Rochester had won six of the previous seven Class 4A state championships, including last season. But, Morris had been a dynasty-buster in the past, taking down such schools as Geneseo, Metamora and Joliet Catholic in the midst of their glory. Those programs, though, were predominantly running teams, using what some now consider antiquated offenses. It was three-yards-in-a-cloud-of-dust, play good defense and see who comes out ahead.
Rochester, though, was the new breed. Spread it out, throw it all over the field, basketball on grass - or Field Turf - outscore the other guy. Morris came in with an old-school game plan of controlling the ball and the clock by keeping the ball on the ground behind its massive offensive line.
And, aside from the final score, Morris followed that script perfectly.
From the time last season ended wtih a 43-35 loss to eventual state champion Peoria in the Class 5A semifinals, the Morris players had a singular goal in mind. They wanted to go further, to play for the state championship. They got that chance by rolling through the Class 4A playoffs, outscoring their opponents 169-44 before Friday night.
After Rochester scored quickly after receiving the opening kickoff, Morris held the ball for 9:10 before Kameron Dransfeldt scored on a one-yard run after Tyler Spiezio made a 26-yard catch on 4th and 13.
Rochester took a 14-7 lead into halftime, and went ahead 21-7 midway through the third quarter after stopping the Redskins at the 7. Rochester even recovered an onside kick after taking the 14-point lead, but the Morris defense stiffened and got the ball back.
Morris stuck to the game plan and kept the ball on the ground, getting a three-yard TD run by Dransfeldt to pull to within a touchdown.
Another defensive stop gave Morris the ball at its own 30, and the Redskins proceeded to take nearly eight minutes off the clock before scoring on a 4th and 4 pass from Mayberry to Spiezio.
Unforunately, Rochester drove down to the Morris 6, converting a 4th and 1 at their own 39 along the way. Sophomore kicker Clay Alewelt kicked a 24-yard field goal to send Morris to its eighth runner-up trophy in 11 state appearances.
"I am so proud of all of these guys," Morris coach Alan Thorson said. "They left everything they had out on the field. This is a special group of kids."