2004 5A Finals Preview
Saturday Nov 27th
While the IHSA, the state athletic ruling body, may be looking at possibly making it harder for private schools to corner the market on a sport in the years to come. Right now though the Hilltoppers will be entering their 14th title game in 31 years and no matter who you talk to that's still one heck of an accomplishment.
Saturday the Hilltoppers will be going for their 12th state title & their 5th in the last 6 years.
Head coach Dan Sharp took over at his alma mater in 1997 after spending time at Minooka as the head coach 1993-1996, where he was in the same conference as Morris. Since then the Hillmen have been looking like the Pittsburgh Steelers of the 70's.
JC's talent laden squad this year is no different than those of the past. With everybody in the school wanting to don the brown & white jersey, this 5A school of 900 students manages to fill a roster with as many kids as some 8A schools. All in hopes of being the next in the family to carry on the tradition of older brothers & uncles.
Leading the way for the Hilltoppers is a core of seniors who played in last seasons championship team. QB John Kiernan along with HB Chris Clancy , both seniors are joined by junior & returning starter Bill McKeon (HB 5'10 190). Along with first year starter Joe Benson (FB 6'1 195 jr.).
Looking at the numbers for the Hilltoppers offense you almost have to scratch your head & wonder if there's a typo. All three of the backs have rushed for over 1000 yards & Kiernan has passed for another 1000.
Switch over to defense & you've got Chris Jeske ( LB 6'1 215 sr.) with 97 solo tackles & 46 assisted stops on top of 7 sacks. Jeske has made a number of nation wide top recruit lists and has been a starter for Joliet since his freshman year.
Joliet has faced off against Morris 4 times in recent history, coming away all 4 times with a victory & sending the Redskins home from the playoffs with an even nastier taste in their mouth. The games between these two are always close & have been often heated off and on the field. Look for a close game as these two neighboring towns collide in what will be the grudge match of the finals weekend.
I all the years of following high school football in Illinois, Morris is one of the few town to not only have season tickets, but assigned seating at their field. JV players wear their jersey & stay for the varsity games. Local grade school kids attend games in mass & R Place restaurant is filled up with students after each home victory.
These things ring true just 20 miles down the highway from Morris in Joliet. A passion for football passed from generation to generation. This will explain the tension that will fill the air around 1pm Saturday at Memorial Stadium as these two teams face off in what should be an epic battle for many people for different reason.
While head coach Dan Darlington will be leading his team back to the finals for the 7th time, he'll be looking for only his 3rd championships. Morris' last attempt was stopped just short as Joliet Catholic won an incredible finals game 27-20.
Morris has been winning riding on the shirt tails of junior John Dergo. Dergo who seen playing time as a sophomore has turned into a one man wrecking ball. Rushing for over 2000 yards & finding the endzone 41 different times. While most of Dergo's scores have come on the ground, don't be surprise to see him go for the trifecta, as he's a triple threat running, receiving & on returns. Not to mention he sees playing time on defense as well.
Speaking of Morris' defense, how's 4 points a game sound for dominant. The Redskins have shut out only three opponents but have yet to see any team score more than 7 points on them. Eric Lines, Chad McClintock & Brenton Valentine who have combined for the majority of the Redskins tackles have led the Skins to the title just as much as the offense has.
Regardless of the outcome, fans across the state will be looking forward to this match up of middle level schools as one of the best of the weekend.
by Vincent Johnson