By Tom Schultz
For the Herald
MORRISON, Ill. —
The latest edition of the Wooden Shoe game between the Morrison Mustangs and Fulton Steamers was a nail-biter.
Morrison literally won the game by the skin of their fingertips on a blocked field goal. The final score was 8-7 Morrison but could have easily ended 10-8 Fulton had it not been for Mason Sitzmore getting his fingertips on the kick and deflecting it to keep the Morrison lead intact.
"Get in there and block, that's all we've got to do," Sitzmore said when asked what was going through his mind on the play.
The win was Morrison's 10th straight in the rivalry.
"We've had some good ones," Morrison coach Cory Bielema said. "Last year's was a heck of a ballgame, too."
It nearly wasn’t meant to be for Morrison as Fulton turned it on during the final five minutes, starting on defense.
Morrison had pushed up to the Steamers' 4-yard line after a fumbled punt and first down. With first-and-goal, the Steamers defense bent but did not break with less than 6:00 left in the game and trailing by one. Morrison tried shoving the ball up the middle on two plays and found itself right back where it started. The Mustangs tried rolling to the left on fourth down, but the Steamers were there once again, forcing the turnover on downs.
"It was one of those moments on the goal-line plays where we'll talk about how to finish games properly," Bielema said. "If we put that in and maybe get a two-pointer, that's a two-possession game and I like our chances."
Fulton’s defense was pumped coming off the field, raising the energy of the entire team despite the Steamers having 3:30 left in the game to march 97 yards down the field for a touchdown.
With their backs against the end zone, the Steamers got out of immediate trouble on a 43-yard carry from Austin Regenwether. Up near midfield, Fulton pushed the ball up to the 15-yard line with another first down from Regenwether and one each from Devin Kuehl and Jack Lemke, who got the call to fill in for injured quarterback Ethan Jones.
With time ticking down, the Steamers were hurt by a dropped snap, forcing their field goal team out onto the field. But Fulton saw the right side of the line collapse on the field goal attempt, allowing Sitzmore to come in and get his fingertips on the ball for the block to preserve the win for Morrison.
"We really stuck together on this on," said Sitzmore, who also filled in for Joey Brackemyer at quarterback and threw a touchdown pass for Morrison's lone score.
Those final five minutes of play were preceded by 43 minutes of sloppy play and mistakes by both teams.
“I thought they played really hard all the way up to the end. We just did not make enough plays to win that ballgame,” Steamers coach Patrick Lower said. “It comes down to little things. We had some drops, we had some missed assignments, we had a penalty here and there. In crucial situations we just didn’t make the plays.”
Regenwether, who rushed for 171 yards, had his own thoughts on the night.
“We just missed our opportunities that we had," he said. "We missed plays that we should have capitalized on. We just made mistakes that we shouldn’t have.”
The exceptions to the mistake laden night were the scoring plays.
Fulton’s first possession was a well-balanced attack orchestrated by sophomore quarterback Lemke, who was playing because of last week’s ankle injury to Jones. He led the Steamers down the field with equal parts passing and running.
“I thought Jack did a really nice job; he did what he needed to do,” Lower said.
The Steamers put together three first downs on the drive before Regenwether pounded the ball into the end zone from the 5-yard line. An extra-point kick from Lemke made it 7-0 Fulton.
“Our first drive of the night was just a perfect drive — 13, 14 plays. We took a lot of time off the clock, marched right down and scored,” Lower said.
Morrison was held scoreless through the first quarter but put together a drive at the end of the quarter that spilled over into the second quarter and turned into a touchdown. On the second play of the quarter, Sitzmore connected with Ryan Mayberry in the left corner of the end zone to cap a seven-minute trek down the field for the Mustangs.
"It was just a fade to Ryan Mayberry and he made a nice ball on it.
The rest of the game was full of mistakes and missed opportunities by both teams. Morrison shot itself in the foot all night with penalties. At one point in the first half it got three in a row and needed 25 yards for a first down. Penalties pockmarked the victory, but for the Steamers, their issue was holding on to the ball.
Three times in a row the Steamers dropped punt returns. The first time they were able to recover the ball, but the other two times Morrison got control and great field position. A mix of their own mistakes, some Steamers luck and some solid defense kept the Mustangs out of the end zone.
Lemke also had a hard time holding onto the ball on the snaps from his center throughout the first half and one ill-timed missed snap coming on the last drive.
“I was feeling good, actually, and then missed snaps, fumbles that got me off and then come back second half worked out fine,” Lemke said.
But some coaching from Jones helped Lemke avoid any real damaging mistakes.
“Ethan’s a big help, really big help,” Lemke said, “(a) lot of help.”
Dejected as they walked off the field, the Steamers will play with a chip on their shoulder as they look to prove to themselves that they are better football players and a better football team than what they have shown in their two losses. Their next game comes on the road, against the Erie/Prophetstown Panthers next Friday night.
Bolstered by the win after a disastrous night last Friday in Orion, Morrison (2-1) goes back on the road next Friday to face another rival, Sterling Newman.
MORRISON 8, FULTON 6
Fulton 7 0 0 0 — 7
Morrison 0 8 0 0 — 8
F— Austin Regenwether 5 run (Jack Lemke kick), 5:51
M – Ryan Mayberry 17 pass from Mason Sitzmore (two-point conversion), 11:26
RUSHING — Morrison, Sitzmore 13-60, Blacklock 8-12, Shoup 12-34, Bird 8-28; Fulton, Regenwether 16-171, Kuehl 12-44, Lemke 4-13.
PASSING — Morrison, Sitzmore 2-5-1-37; Fulton, Lemke 5-13-1-31.
RECEIVING — Morrison, Mayberry 1-17, Keller 1-20; Fulton, Sanderson 2-7, North 1-15, 2-16.