Fulton and Morrison face each other Friday night to open a new season, renew an old rivalry and battle for the Wooden Shoe.
Morrison, ranked No. 1 in Class 2A in the preseason AP poll, has held the trophy awarded to winner of the annual game between the Steamers and Mustangs since 2004. Before that stretch, Fulton kept control of the Wooden Shoe from 2000 to 2003.
“It’s a neat battle, but the trophy is more for the community,” Fulton coach Patrick Lower said. “The players are just focused on the game, but 10-15 years down the road, to say they won it, then it’s pretty special. Plus when we have it, it looks good in our trophy case.”
Lower is entering his 13th year with the Steamers, so he has been there through a run by each school. His coaching counterpart, Cory Bielema, is entering his fourth season at the helm of the Mustangs and has never lost to Fulton.
“In my first year, I hadn’t grasped the Wooden Shoe, Morrison-Fulton rivalry,” Bielema said. “As I started to talk to members of the community, I learned it's a very rich tradition. The communities enjoy bragging rights on both sides. ... I’m sure Fulton is itching to get that thing back.”
Morrison leads Fulton 24-10 in the Wooden Shoe Bowl and holds a 53-24-5 edge in the rivalry overall.
While the Wooden Shoe is significant, this game also has important ramifications for this season for both teams. Morrison has designs on its second state championship in three years, and Fulton wants to make a playoff run this season..
For now, the two teams are focused on the game rather than the trophy and community bragging rights.
Lower said it was a big positive for the Steamers to open the season against one of their main rivals, and one of the best teams in the state.
“They’re going to be pretty darn good,” he said of the Mustangs. “We’ll be able to measure ourselves. Both schools know each other. I like having them right off the bat, so we can see what we’ve got.”
Morrison knows its recent success and top-ranking has made it likely to get its opponent’s best shot every game. The Steamers — probably more than anyone — would like to top Morrison.
Bielema said one of the focuses for his team this offseason was starting the season strong, and he said he thinks opening against Fulton is good motivation for that.
“I think it is a great way to get going,” he said. “I think it helps us with the offseason.”
Morrison returns a lot of talent from last season, including senior quarterback Danny Dennehey, named to the Herald’s All-Area second team. The Steamers counter with sophomore quarterback Ethan Jones, who will make his first varsity start. Fulton’s Matt Hartman and Morrison’s Andy Schaver are each expected to get a lot of carries, and both were named to the Herald’s All-Area team last year as juniors.
Lower said Morrison was a physical team, and he wanted to see the Steamers match that.
“This game sets the tone (for the whole season),” he said.