By Brenden West
Assistant Sports Editor
FULTON, Ill. -- Amateur sports is rife with rivalry games, trophies and various traveling inanimate objects. Thus, the Wooden Shoe is up for grabs between Morrison and Fulton every fall.
Named for the region’s rich Dutch heritage, the annual Wooden Shoe Bowl was established by the 1977 Morrison High football program as a way of fueling the local rivalry. And it’s the Mustangs who have walked away with the sacred clog lately.
The last time the Steamers got the best of Morrison was in 2003 behind a 33-8 win, and overall, the Mustangs own the head-to-head advantage in the bowl at 26-10. A Fulton loss to them on Friday would mark 10 straight seasons without the shoe.
Steamers coach Patrick Lower acknowledged the rivalry, but said two weeks into the football season there’s an even bigger trophy on the line -- that of the Three Rivers Conference championship.
“We don’t like using the words ‘must win’ because each game is important in itself. Every week is important,” Lower, a seventh year head coach, said. “It would definitely be a big win. Not only is it against a big rival, but it gets us closer to that magic number we need to make it into the playoffs. Nobody has really jumped out of the pack in our conference, so we feel we’re in just as good a spot as anyone.
“I don’t feel like nine losses in a row has entered our minds,” he added. “Our focus is on winning our next game and it happens to be against Morrison.”
Morrison coach Cory Bielema also prefers to look at the bigger picture.
“As far as 10 wins in a row, I haven’t kept track of that,” he said. “That’d be one we’d look to downplay. We don’t get any bonus points for winning 10 in a row (against Fulton). We’ll approach it from that angle. We try to down play it a little bit to the degree that it doesn’t become a distraction.”
Both teams are 1-1 entering the matchup. Fulton took out Orion in Week 1, 42-20, before falling to Kewanee, 32-14. The Mustangs looked as impressive behind their 46-0 win over Princeton as they did dismal in a 50-0 shutout loss to Orion.
“We were just beat on every aspect -- under prepared, under motivated,” Bielema said. “Orion came out with a fire and a purpose that I’d translate to being similar to a playoff type atmosphere.”
He added the Mustangs were dealing with injuries to their starting center and running back, forcing them to play people out of position against the Chargers.
Meanwhile the Steamers faced a major setback during its Week 2 loss. Starting quarterback Ethan Jones went down in the first quarter with an ankle injury, forcing Lower to use untested backup David Kuehl. Fulton unraveled with five turnovers in the loss.
“David Kuehl didn’t have many reps,” Lower said. “It’s small school football and your backups don’t get many reps. He’s also in our backfield so he’s getting useful reps there.”
The status on Jones is uncertain. Lower said he suffered a sprained ankle and the staff is closely monitoring the injury. Meanwhile Kuehl is being prepped as a starter in case Jones is unavailable.
With Fulton’s win over Orion, the Steamers appear to have the slight edge rolling into Morrison. Then again, the TRC North Division is a tough read: five teams -- Morrison, Fulton, Sterling Newman, Erie-Prophetstown and Bureau Valley -- are tied for first in the conference at 1-1.
In other words, there’s a lot more riding on Friday night than the Wooden Shoe.
“It’s going to have to be a team effort,” Bielema said. “When we played well against Princeton, I’d have a hard time looking at the film and finding one player that stood out. ... In the loss to Orion, again, it was a team effort.”
For Lower: “You can say this about a lot of rivalry games: when you’ve got two teams that know each other this well you can throw the records out. It doesn’t matter who should be favored.”
Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m., Friday at Morrison.