When practices begin in August, football teams sometimes find themselves having to take extra precautions to handle temperatures soaring close to triple digits, factoring in more water breaks.
For the teams still standing in the IHSA postseason, it was single digits that coaches had to work around earlier this week.
That bitter cold drove Morrison indoors to the junior high gym for a couple of days, but the Mustangs were back outside working on a snow-covered practice field Wednesday.
“We went inside [Monday and Tuesday] to do some learning. We installed a few plays, a few concepts,” Morrison coach Ryan Oetting said.
“[Wednesday] we figured we better get outside,” Oetting added. “The weather man could be wrong. I know it’s supposed to be warmer, but you never know.”
The temperature should be back above the freezing mark by the time the Mustangs’ quarterfinal game against Annawan-Wethersfield kicks off at 1 p.m. Saturday in Kewanee.
In recent years, Morrison hasn’t had to deal with much more than cool fall weather. That’s because since 2012, the Mustangs’ season has been over before the calendar turned over to November.
“It’s cold, but you have to bear with it,” Morrison defensive lineman Riley Wilkens said. “You’ve got to put in the time and be ready for cold temperatures on Saturday.”
The last time a Morrison football team was this deep in the playoffs was 2011, when the Mustangs won a state title. The current Morrison seniors were in fourth grade then. Current sophomores like Hunter Newman were in the second grade.
“We’re excited, but at the same time we’re focused and ready to practice and ready to go into the games,” Newman said. “We get ready and locked in, and we know what we need to do.”
In making their first deep playoff run in 8 years, there are things the Mustangs have found to clean up. In the 44-12 win over Hiawatha on Saturday, Morrison fumbled twice – losing the ball once – and lost 85 yards due to nine penalties.
“We’ve made some mistakes; we have to cut down on our penalties from the last game – we were pretty penalty-ridden – had a couple turnovers that didn’t cost us, but in a different situation, they might have,” Oetting said. “But I’m pleased with the kids. They’ve worked hard all year. They worked hard throughout the summer to get to this point.”
The Titans’ defense comes in having shut out five teams this year in wins over Mercer County, Cambridge-Ridgewood, ROWVA, Stark County and Lewistown.
Forreston scored 26 points in its second-round loss to the Titans, the Cardinals’ second-lowest offensive point total of the season behind their 46-14 loss to Lena-Winslow.
“The did a pretty good job against Forreston just stopping their run,” Newman said.
Leading the way for the Titans’ defense has been Drake Van Hyfte who had 10 solo tackles in Annawan-Wethersfield’s second-round win over Forreston.
“[Van Hyfte] is a linebacker, and their defensive line is physical and strong,” Oetting said. “I think they’re just physical and they get after you. They’re not afraid to hit you. We’ve got to be ready for that.”
That Annawan-Wethersfield defense will be tested by a Mustangs offense that has gotten 833 rushing yards from Newman, 659 from Keegan Anderson and 703 (along with 16 touchdowns) from Wilkens.
“We’ve been able to hit both the outside and the inside,” Newman said. “We’d run it up the inside, and it opens up the outside. We haven’t passed a lot, but we’re sure we can do that if we need to.”
The Titans offense has been pretty strong itself, averaging 40 points per game, including hitting 52 points in wins over Illini West and Lewistown.
Leading the charge is Coltin Quagliano, who had 408 passing yards and four touchdowns in the win over Forreston.
“Their quarterback’s pretty darn good,” Oetting said. “Looking at him, he’s got over 2,500 yards passing, he’s run for over 600 yards. So he’s a pretty complete package back there, and I think we’re going to have to try to keep him in the pocket the best we can and limit his scramble.”
Quagliano is able to do a lot of damage by moving around in the pocket. Against Forreston, he escaped a sack on a key fourth-quarter drive, scrambling out of the pocket before completing a 26-yard pass. The Titans scored moments later to take the lead in the wild back-and-forth game.
“If he does break contain, he can throw off his back foot and do some things other kids maybe can’t in high school,” Oetting said. “I think there is some planned runs for him, but other times he just makes plays because he’s such a good athlete.”
The Mustangs have also been impressed by how physical the Titans are.
“They’ve got some nice-sized linemen,” Oetting said. “I think [Van Hyfte] looks like he plays pretty hard, pretty well. It’s going to be a challenge.”