The 2019 season in the Three Rivers Conference saw one team run unbeaten through the regular season in the Rock Division and another Rock team go unbeaten in the postseason.
Those two teams, Morrison and Newman, will face off Sept. 25 in Morrison, but both have plenty of tests before then.
Morrison went from 2-7 in 2018 to 11-1 last year, the one loss coming in the state quarterfinal against Annawan-Wethersfield.
But while the Mustangs made a huge leap forward last year, now comes the tough task of keeping that going.
“We’re just going to take it one game at a time, that was our approach last year,” Morrison coach Ryan Oetting said. “Week 1 is Week 1 and Week 2 is Week 2, so on and so forth. We don’t want to look by anyone in our conference. If you do that, you’re going to get tripped up.”
Week 1 for the Mustangs this year means hosting St. Bede, before a Week 2 trip to Sherrard.
In Week 3, the Mustangs face Riverdale, a team that narrowly missed a playoff spot in 2019 with a 4-5 record, with a six-point loss to Kewanee, a seven-point loss to Newman that came down to a late Nate Ahlers interception to secure a Comets’ win, and a 13-point loss to Morrison.
“Guy [Dierikx] has done a great job of coaching them up at Riverdale,” Oetting said. “We really had our hands full last year. I believe we were down 3-0 at halftime and we had a defensive stop at the end of the half or it could have been 10-0. They’re a really good team, and I think that’s a team that’s on the rise.”
The Comets’ title defense opens with home games three of the first four weeks of the season, hosting Hall, Kewanee and Bureau Valley.
“Playing at home, there’s always that advantage,” Newman coach Brandon Kreczmer said. “You get just used to the surroundings, especially with fresh/soph playing there. It’s an added bonus to the young guys who haven’t really played varsity at all.”
The one road trip during that stretch is a tough one, though, as the Comets travel to Princeton to face Ronde Worrels and the Tigers. Princeton went 11-2 last year, reaching the state semifinal as its star junior running back recorded 1,654 rushing yards and 34 rushing touchdowns.
“They’re loaded,” Kreczmer said. “They’ve got a lot of talent, they’ve got a lot of guys coming back. I know they’re going to be hungry, especially after our game last year when they were up 21-10 at halftime and we came back to pull out the win.”
For Princeton, the home game against Newman comes on the heels of a Week 1 meeting with another perennial playoff team in Fulton.
After road trips to St. Bede and Bureau Valley the following two weeks, the Steamers then host Morrison Week 4 in the Wooden Shoe Game.
Fulton gets to stay close to home to close the season, with home games against Orion Week 6, Hall Week 8 and Newman Week 9 around a Week 7 trip to Riverdale.
Meanwhile, Bureau Valley will host Erie-Prophetstown Week 1 before a trip to Hall. The Storm host Fulton, visit Newman, and host Monmouth-Roseville and Morrison to open the season.
The Panthers’ season-opening trip to Manlius is followed by home games against Riverdale and Sherrard before a Week 4 trip to Hall. After hosting Kewanee, the Panthers hit the road again to visit Monmouth-Roseville and Morrison, then host St. Bede Week 8 before closing the regular season at Princeton.