MORRIS — After spotting Springfield Sacred-Heart Griffin a 36-7 lead in the third quarter, it would have been easy for the Morris football team to go through the motions the rest of the way Saturday afternoon in the first round of the Class 5A playoffs.
But, the Redskins had other ideas and began to fight back. They outscored the Cyclones 28-7 in the game's final 16:51, but it wasn't quite enough to overcome the hold they had dug themselves early and they dropped a 43-35 decision.
"Our first-half mistakes just killed us," Morris coach Alan Thorson said. "Give credit to Sacred Heart, because they executed well all day, but we made mistakes that put us in a huge hole."
Morris, which finishes with a 7-3 record, saw Sacred Heart control the ball for most of the first quarter, as the Cyclones ran 24 offensive plays in the first 12 minutes, while Morris ran just three. Sacred Heart scored on a 48-yard touchdown run by Alex Sweetland on its first possession, then after a Morris punt, embarked on an 18-play, 74-yard drive that ended on a 7-yard TD pass from Isaiah Thompson to Reese Edwards on the first play of the second quarter to give Sacred Heart a 12-0 lead.
The Redskins fumbled on their next possession and Sacred Heart's Jimmy Capecci recovered. Morris' defense stiffened and forced a punt, but the offense went three and out and gave the ball back. On 3rd and 11, Thompson hit Jack Thoma with a 56-yard touchdown pass to put the Cyclones up 19-0 with 5:06 left in the first half.
Morris answered with a 64-yard touchdown pass from Zach Reddinger to Cole Laurie, who got a great block from teammate Keegan Puckett, and pulled to within 19-7. Sacred Heart drove again, and had first-and-goal from the 9, but Morris held them to a 26-yard Mikey Loureiro field goal with 1:13 to play in the half.
Sacred Heart then forced Morris' offense into a punting situation, and the snap went over Reddinger's head and, after picking it up, he was finally tackled at the Morris 3. From there, Trace Jennings scored for a 29-7 Cyclones lead at halftime.
"Whatever could go wrong for us in the first half, did," Thorson said. "I give our kids a lot of credit, though. They never stopped battling."
Sacred Heat scored first in the second half, as Jennings took a shovel pass from Thompson and raced 25 yards for a score and the 36-7 lead.
Morris scored on its next drive on a 3-yard pass from Reddinger to Brandon Phelps to pull to within 36-14, but the Cyclones answered with a 52-yard TD pass from Thompson to Sam Faivre down the left sideline to take a 43-14 lead into the fourth quarter.
On the third play of the fourth, Reddinger scored from four yards out to pull Morris to within 43-21. Morris later took over at its own 6-yard line with 4:51 to play. They moved out to their own 34, where they faced 2nd and 20, but Reddinger (20 of 34, 348 yards, 4 TDs) hit Laurie for a 27-yard gain and, after an incompletion, connected with Nolan Swartz for a 39-yard touchdown with 1:06 to play, making the score 43-28. The Redskins then recovered an onside kick and Reddinger hit Phelps for a 22-yard gain to the Cyclones' 27. A pass interference penalty put the ball at the 14, but a false start moved it back to the 19. Reddinger then hit Swartz in the back left corner of the end zone for a TD, making it 43-35 with :25.1 to play.
Sacred Heart, though, fell on the next onside kick and took two knees to end the game.
"We might not have played the type of football we wanted in the first half, but no one can quesiton the heart of this team," Thorson said. "These kids truly believed they were going to win this game.
"After missing the playoffs last year, we put a lot on our seniors to bring the pride back, and they did that. I hate to see them lose in the first round, but to see how far they have come since they were freshmen, I am very proud of these guys."