In getting out to a 2-1 record, it’s been Morrison’s defense coming up big in those two wins.
When the Mustangs beat Kewanee 18-0 on Friday, they held the Boilers to 15 yards of total offense, and Kewanee’s 18 rushes ended up losing 18 yards.
Week 1 when Morrison beat Sherrard, the Mustangs defense held off one Sherrard drive after another to preserve a 14-6 win.
“Defensively I think we’re ahead of our offense,” Mustangs coach Ryan Oetting said. “I think we were more aggressive in Week 3 than we were even in Week 1. Our pass defense has been pretty good. … Week 3 we came out, we were more disciplined, we stayed in our gaps and stuck with our responsibilities.”
Stopping a team for negative rushing yards takes getting into the backfield, which Morrison’s defensive line is working to do.
“We breach in the backfield and are shutting stuff down,” junior lineman Riley Wilkens said.
Getting penetration disrupted Kewanee on Friday. Boilers quarterback Kavon Russell went from rushing for 135 yards and three touchdowns in a Week 2 win over Riverdale to completing two passes for 24 yards against Morrison.
“We take a lot of pride in our defense because we all work together as one,” junior lineman Chace Garland said. “Shutting down a quarterback like that takes a lot, and we came through.”
Even with the 41 points Hall scored against them Week 2, the Mustangs defense is still on pace to lower the all-important number of points on the scoreboard. Last year’s Mustangs allowed 29.3 points per game. Through three games this year, Morrison is allowing 15.6 points per game.
“The whole defense works together as a team,” junior lineman Collin Roberts said. “[It took] a lot of hard work at practice, bonding as a team and work in the offseason.”
The Morrison defense is using a slightly different system in Oetting’s first year at the helm, using more four-man fronts, but is also changing things up. That is keeping opponents guessing.
“We have no idea what they’re going to run,” Newman coach Mike Papoccia said. “They’ve run three different defenses that we’ve seen so far. Knowing Ryan, since he knows our offense so well, he can come up with something new. We’ve been working on a lot of different fronts and making sure our linemen know who to block, and go from there.”
If anything can test a defense, it’s the Newman offense, and that is who Morrison will face on Saturday at Roscoe Eades Stadium in an effort to snap a six-game losing skid against the Comets.
Newman put up 48 points Week 1 and 40 Week 2 in wins over Kewanee and Princeton. Even after being held to 17 points last week, the Comets still average 35 points per game.
That 17 points came in a loss to Orion on Saturday, Newman’s first regular-season loss since 2015. For the first time in 3 years, the Comets have to go into a week of practice and look for a way to bounce back from losing.
“It was an eye-opener,” Papoccia said. “Orion is a really great team. We had a chance, we just made some mistakes at the wrong time. We’re worried more about the mistakes that we made and getting the kids ready that way than anything else. The loss is not the end of the world.”
That loss may have been a learning experience for Newman, as Comets running back Luke Olson said he saw just how much his team needs to focus on the little things. It may have also provided Newman with some motivation.
“It put fuel behind us,” Olson said. “We’ve just got to come to practice every day and get better, since we don’t want to have that feeling again. We plan to see Orion again in the playoffs and get back after them.”
But first, Newman has to contend with Morrison, and that tough defense.
“We’re going to need to look out for the linebackers because they’ll rush hard at us,” Newman junior lineman Hunter Buser said. “We’re going to have to read our adjustments a lot better than last game, and just have a better week of practice.”
Morrison is going to be keeping an eye on Newman’s linebackers as well. Oetting describes the corps led by Olson, Chase Graham and Nick Clevenger as the strength of Newman’s team with their ability to move well laterally.
“We’ve got to make sure we get that first level blocked and scrape off of those linebackers to have some success,” he said. “Our kids need to realize that when there’s only 3 yards there, get 3 yards. We’re probably not going to be able to get to the edge as much as we’d like to, because they have some good team speed as well.”
Morrison’s offense so far has been led by Jake Schlegel, who has passed for 123 yards and rushed for 40. Wilkens has rushed for 115 yards, and Keegan Anderson has gained 72 yards and scored twice.
That offense now takes on a Newman defense with two shutouts on its record for the season already, as well as a Week 3 loss where Papoccia saw positives.
“It was a phenomenal defensive effort,” Papoccia said. “We had a couple goal-line stands and short stands that helped us out. We’re playing good defense, we’ve just always got to get better. … I was real happy with how we played defensively, but there’s always room to improve.”
For Oetting, the Newman game will be something of a homecoming. He was an assistant coach under Papoccia at Newman, and coached the girls basketball team.
“It’s nice to see the guys that you worked with, and I always wish them success every week; this week’s a little different,” Oetting said. “We stay in touch. I talk to them on a regular basis. We’re not giving away game secrets or anything, but you build bonds over the years. It’s special in that regard that you get to coach with people you respect.”
Morrison at Newman
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Where: Roscoe Eades Stadium
Radio: 102.7 FM