Morris nabs first conference title outright since 1989
MORRIS -- In precision predictions, it seems the safe bet each fall is penciling in either Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City and/or BOLD as contenders for the West Central South Conference football title. And when one wins, the other is usually close behind.
But those two teams were looking up this fall as Morris Area earned its first West Central South title outright since 1989 (the Tigers have shared the title five times since then), getting some help from Benson on Wednesday night when the Braves upset Lac qui Parle Valley 7-6. LQPV was tied with Morris prior to Wednesday's outcome and the Eagles were looking for their first title since 1991.
Morris clinched the title outright with a convincing 62-14 triumph over Long Prairie-Grey Eagle Wed-nesday night in Long Prairie.
BOLD won the title last year and ACGC the two years before that (sharing with Montevideo in 2007).
Morris played consistent all season, losing its season opener to defending Class AAA champion New London-Spicer 20-14 in ew London and being edged by Lac qui Parle Valley 9-7 on Sept. 24.
The Tigers have run the ball as well or better than any area team, averaging 7.7 yards per carry as a team en route to amassing 2,342 yards on the ground.
"With regards to our chances at the beginning of the year, I thought they were really good," said Morris coach Jerry Witt. "After we loss to New London-Spicer and then I saw we had BOLD in the second week, there was a chance we could start out 0-2. But we came out and found ourselves (beating BOLD 28-0) and that was a big boost from a con-fidence standpoint."
But even the Tigers' running success surprised Witt.
"I knew Tyler Hansen (a 1,000-yard runner last season) would be a good runner for us," he said. "But we've had a lot of other guys show us that they are fast and hungry and have done really well."
Eric Riley, a 6-foot, 180-pound senior running back, is averaging 10.5 yard per carry (70 carries for 737 yards) and has scored eight touchdowns. Hansen, a 5-9, 185-pound senior running back back, has a team-high 863 yards in 109 carries (7.9 average). Senior quarter-back Ryan Beyer has contributed 334 yards (5.1 average) and six touch-downs. Even Tim Ostby, a 5-5, 145-pound senior backup tailback, has gain-ed 255 yards (8.0 average) and has scored four touch-downs.
"I think this is the best running team we've had as a whole in the last 15 years," said Witt. "Our blockers deserve a lot of credit, too. They are all senior and have done a tremendous job up front. You can't run this well without someone opening up some holes."
The Tigers can throw the ball when needed, too. Beyer is among the top 10 quarterbacks in the area in terms of passing-efficiency rating. He has thrown for 540 yards and seven touchdowns. Ethan Bruer leads the team with 16 receptions.
The Morris defense has also done its share to help the team garner the conference crown, posting a pair of shutouts and not allowed a team to reach the end zone more than three times in a game.
One game short
Lac qui Parle Valley was one game from ending a 19-year title drought when the Eagles lost to Benson 7-6 on Wednesday night. That loss allowed Morris to win the title outright (see above). Still, this Eagles team won more conference games (five) than any LQPV team since the 1991 squad went 6-0.
"I felt we could be contenders this year from the beginning, based on the number of returning starters," said LQPV coach Mark Bjornjeld. "And (based on) the com-mitment the players put into the offseason workout program and summer camps."
LQPV's other loss this season was to ACGC, 20-12, but the Eagles beat BOLD 14-10. Morris didn't face ACGC this season because there are 10 teams in the confer-ence and each team doesn't face all of the other nine. When facing each other, LQPV edged Morris 9-7 on Sept. 24 in Madison.
LQPV doesn't score a ton of points each week as most conference champ-ions do. But the Eagles don't give up many points either.
"We have been playing great defense," said Bjornjeld. "And we have good ball-control offense."
Only one team, ACGC, has reached the end zone more than twice in a game against the Eagles.
Sam Haas has impress-ed many opposing coaches with his relentless run-ning style and ability to move the chains and help the Eagles control the clock. He has rushed for 928 yards (5.9 average per carry) and scored six touchdowns. But he was limited to 50 yards in 12 carries against Benson. Haas did return a kickoff 82 yards inside the Benson five. But the Eagles were stopped on downs.
LQPV has rushed the ball 279 times this fall, while throwing only 57 times.
"Sam has been having a great season," said Bjorn-jeld. "What makes him a good player is his field vision and he reads his blocks well. He is a pat-ient runner and has great balance. His offensive line has done a great job all season creating good run-ning lanes."
The Eagles started the season with Blake Hoium at quarterback and have since moved sophomore Dylan Erickson behind center.
"This gave Dylan an opportunity to adapt to the speed of the varsity game and having a good running game helps keep the pressure off having to throw," Bjornjeld said. "But we are starting to open up the passing game and will be incorporating it more into games."
To put into perspective this season's accomplish-ments, consider that the Eagles had never won more than four games in the conference following the 1991 title team. And the Eagles posted a winning record only seven times in the other 18 sea-sons, finishing 41-69 dur-ing that span.