Morris began the 2012 football season with a familiar opponent (Minooka) and ended it in a familiar place, as it qualified for state for the 10th time.
Along the way, the Redskins piled up 12 wins, 475 points and 4,567 offensive yards. Their run, and their second-place finish in Class 5A, has been selected as the Morris Daily Herald's top local sports story for 2012.
Morris head coach Alan Thorson said this week that the run had not completely sunk in yet, more than a month after the Redskins' 19-6 loss to Montini in the state championship.
"When I look back at it now, I just think about what a great ride it was with these kids and how proud I am of them," Thorson said. At times, it doesn't even seem real, it was just such a fun season."
The Redskins began the season with close wins over Minooka (14-6) and Richards (15-13) before scoring at least 41 points in blowouts of Geneseo, Dixon and Yorkville. Sycamore held Morris to 13 points in Week 6, but the Redskin defense pitched a shutout, and the 'Skins went to 7-0 the following week with a 56-27 romp past DeKalb.
Morris was pushed the following week at Rochelle before escaping with a 28-21 win. In Week 9, the Redskins faced an also-unbeaten Kaneland team with the Northern Illinois Big 12 East title on the line and lost 33-30.
The Redskins bounced back in a big way in the first two rounds of the playoffs, winning 44-0 over Rich East and 65-20 over Urbana. A 28-27 overtime win at Washington and a 30-20 semifinal defeat of Sacred Heart Griffin earned the Redskins a trip to Champaign, where they were handed their second loss of the season by Montini.
Thorson says the playoff run stands out as the highlight of the season to him.
"We had a great regular season, but then we lost that close one to Kanlenad," Thorson said. "That kind of showed their character. When you have a tough loss, you find out a lot in how the team is going to respond. In that first game against Rich East, we played almost a perfect game, and that started us rolling. Against Urbana, we set a school record for playoff points with the 65. Washington was an awesome game, and the semifinal game at home was just amazing, with the game itself and the celebration on the field."
Co-captains Craig Claire, Nik Countryman, Danny Friend and Jeff Perry got to end their senior seasons by hoisting a trophy in Champaign, even if it was not the one they really wanted.
“It’s been awesome knowing that I got to be one of the ones holding the trophy and that I was one of the ones who gets to take the credit for leading these guys. It’s been one of the greatest honors of my life,” Claire said at the time.
For Thorson, the Redskins' former sophomore coach who succeeded George Dergo as head varsity coach in 2010, his third trip to Champaign with the Redskins was different from the previous two.
"I've thought a lot about that," Thorson said. "I've been at Morris eight years, and I've been to state three times. In '05 and '07 it was an an assistant. It was still special. The kids meant a lot to me with both of those groups, and it was fun. As a head coach, it's definitely a different perspective. There's more pressure, of course, but it also means a little more."