MORRIS — Before the season started, if someone had told Morris football coach Alan Thorson that his team would be 2-1 heading into Northern Illinois Big 12 East play, he would have taken it. That's understandable, considering the Redskins, currently ranked No. 4 in Class 4A, had to play No. 8 in 4A Coal City, No. 1 in 5A Washington and 6A Crete-Monee in the first three weeks.
"I am never happy with a loss," Thorson said. "But looking at that early schedule, I would have taken 2-1 going into the conference. Obviously Washington is very good and Coal City is very good as well. Crete-Monee might be 0-3 right now, but I won't be surprised if they are a playoff team, too.
"For us to come out of that stretch 2-1 heading into conference play, I feel pretty good about it."
After being stifled by the Washington defense in a 28-7 loss, the Morris offense was able to move the ball much better against Crete-Monee and looks to improve on that against Yorkville. The Redskins spread the wealth in the running game, as four different players carried the ball 11 or more times. Quarterback Mitchell Mayberry completed 5 of 6 passes for 64 yards and a touchdown as well.
"I was happy with the way we moved the ball," Thorson said. "Our offensive line did a real good job. They are going to have to do it again, because Yorkville's defense is very good, and they are big."
The Foxes will enter the game with a 3-0 record, with wins of 40-6 over Kankakee, 56-7 over Centralia and 24-7 over McHenry.
Thorson said that Yorkville will run out of the shotgun for the most part, with some one- and two-back sets. They are primarily a running team, with Jacob Brooks (34 carries, 382 yards, 3 touchdowns) getting most of the carries. Quarterback Josh Beetham, a 6-foot-3, 195-pound junior who is getting college looks from the likes of Cincinnati, Marshall, Rice and Western Michigan, is 21 of 44 for 300 yards and four touchdowns and three interceptions. His main receiver has been Nico Medrano, who has caught nine passes for 142 yards and a touchdown.
"Their offense will look pretty similar to ours," Thorson said. "Their quarterback has a good arm, but they will primarily look to run the ball. Again, they are a lot like us. They want to control the ball and play good defense.
"They are 3-0 and obviously have been playing well. The past five or six years, this game has been a rivalry type of game for us, taking the place of Minooka. It's a game where records don't matter and it doesn't matter who looks better on paper. These games have all been close lately."
Thorson hopes his team can build on the improvements it made last week against Crete-Monee.
"We made some good strides last week," he said. "It was definitely the way we wanted to see the kids respond to the loss to Washington. I still don't think we are close to what we are capable of, but it was nice to see the improvement from Week 2 to Week 3.
"After the first drive last week, I thought our defense played very well, and we are going to need that type of effort again. All five of our linebackers that rotate [Chatten Dryfhout, Devin Narwick, Logan Edwards, Kade Kjellesvik, and Brandon Phelps] did a great job, and it's nice to have that. That way, we can rotate them in and no one gets too worn out."
Now that the three-game opening stretch is over, though, Thorson knows that the challenges are only beginning. Morris is the only member of the five-team NIB 12 East with a loss in the first three games, as Yorkville, DeKalb, Sycamore and Kaneland are all unbeaten.
"This is just another portion of a very tough schedule," Thorson said. "We can't stop now. There are no down weeks in our conference, that's for sure. We have to come out ready to play every week."