Nathan Mickley celebrates a play during Morrison’s big breakout win over Sterling Newman earlier this season. The Mustangs kick off the playoffs this Saturday.

The 2018 season and the 2019 season has been night and day for the Morrison football team.

The interesting part is not that much changed between the two seasons. The Mustangs just came back another year older, stronger and smarter.

“A lot of junior played last year, and that gave us a lot more experience,” senior Ryan Kennedy said. “We had a bunch of playing time from varsity coming into this year.”

The Mustangs went 9-0 in the regular season, throwing themselves to the No. 4 spot in Class 1A football bracket to kick off the Illinois High School playoffs.

Just one year before that, with much of the same roster, the Mustangs went 2-7.

“We’re kind of surprised,” Kennedy said. “But at the same time we knew if we could all come together as a team we’d be able to do this.”

It’s impressive, to say the least. Head coach Ryan Oetting is in just his second year at the helm of the program and has kept his program in check. The Mustangs don’t watch the state rankings and barely look at media coverage, focused instead on just coming out each Friday and playing their best.

“We don’t want to ever come out and not play our best,” team captain and senior Nick Allen said. “We want to come out and play every game like it’s the most important game. Come out and play to the best of our capabilities and have a good game.”

Their biggest key, besides their speedy offense, has been their lights out defense. Through nine regular season games, Morrison allowed just 41 points by all their opponents.

For comparison, the first team they in the first round – Cambridge – has allowed 154. Their likely opponent in the second round has allowed 182.

Even the No. 1 seed in their bracket has allowed 78 points this year.

It showed how powerful they were when they face Sterling Newman in Week 5. The then-No. 4 Comets were held to just two field goals in the win, which sent the Mustangs to the rankings for the first time.

“We put our hats up on our defense, but holding Newman to six points was something most teams can’t do,” Allen said. “They played an amazing game, it was a great football game, we just played from the first kickoff to the last buzzer.”

They say part of what it is sits in the bond they have. Whether the Mustangs are in the pool or on the track or on the court, they tout a close relationships with their teammates thanks to the small town, small school atmosphere. Football is no exception.

In addition to practice and film and regular team dinners, the Mustangs go out for breakfast every Saturday after their games to just hang out. They did service projects together around the school.

“We’re always together, we do everything together,” senior Cooper Darby said.

“We’ve always been super close,” Nick Allen said. “Since then, we keep building off each other and making that brotherhood stronger. It’s a great group to be a part of.”

Allen serves as one of the team captains and says that bond also leads into how they approach the game. While they have an incredible coaching staff to lean on, a lot of what the Mustangs do on the field is among themselves. The chemistry they have is apparent.

“We want to get that not where the coaches lead, we want to be a player-led team,” Allen said. “We’re trying to get that put in everyone’s brains and make it a part of the Morrison Football Program.”

They’re looking at Cambridge to kick everything off at home on Saturday, and they know what they have to do. To put it plainly, they just have to perform like they have been all season.

“As a team, we want to perform throughout the entire game,” Kennedy said. “We’ve had games when we do better in the first half and not in the second. If we can work the entire game we should be good.”

Either way, the Mustangs have had an exciting season on the football field. The Morrison faithful have been at road and home games, bringing an impressive crowd and an exciting atmosphere, and that’s sure to continue into the Class 1A bracket.

Meanwhile, the Mustangs are soaking it all in.

“They’re brothers to me,” Allen said. “Playing with them, getting better, it’s just a fun brotherhood to be a part of.”

“I’m proud of how much we came together as a team,” Kennedy said. “We’re always going to have memories out here and it’s going to be so much fun to look back on.”