Morris tried to wake up the echoes before its Northern Illinois Big 12 East showdown with Kaneland Friday night, introducing its 1980 state championship team prior to the kickoff.
Morris did finally wake up but not before Kaneland blitzed them with 24 unanswered first-half points. The Knights needed every single one of them plus Jacob Razo's second interception of the game with 3.7 seconds remaining to hold on for a wild 31-28 victory in front of an overflow crowd on both sides.
Morris certainly has a rich tradition that 1980 team one of three state champs. Kaneland has its own tradition to be proud of, and the Knights also are the program of the present, the class of the two-year old conference for the second straight year.
"We knew it was going to be a tough environment," Razo said. "Morris, a lot of teams don't win down here. We played a tough first half and kind of let it slip but they are a good team and we knew they were going to respond back. We did a good job with our backs up against the wall."
The atmosphere certainly lived up to the hype with fans lined several deep around the field, with a big "Redskin Country" sign welcoming visitors.
The game lived up to the hype as well.
Kaneland (9-0, 5-0), No. 7 in the Class 6A state rankings, dominated Morris (8-1, 4-1) early, holding them to 26 yards of offense and 1 first down in the first half. It was almost the exact opposite in the second half with Morris producing 18 first downs and ditching its traditional ground game to rally.
Kaneland sophomore quarterback Drew David threw three second-quarter touchdowns and the Knights' defense suffocated everything Morris tried to do to grab that 24-0 halftime lead.
But Morris quarterback Austin Feeney spearheaded a furious 21-point fourth quarter, creating several anxious moments in the frantic final minutes for the Knights faithful.
•Feeney's 7-yard run with 9:51 remaining brought Morris within 24-14 only to see David connect on third down with Sean Carter for a 63-yard touchdown and restore a seemingly safe 31-14 lead.
It was anything but.
•Just 1 minute, 2 seconds later Feeney had Morris back in the end zone on a 33-yard touchdown toss, making it a 31-21 game. The Redskins recovered an onside kick, but again the Knights appeared to seal the game on Blake Bradford's interception.
Not so fast.
• Morris forced a quick 3-and-out and after a 19-yard punt and Morris pulling every trick out of its playbook including the "polecat" formation that produced a first down Feeney's 20-yard touchdown pass with 2:18 left brought Morris within 31-28.
The most anxious moment was yet to come. After Razo once again was in the right spot to recover the onside kick, on the next play on a quarterback keeper David appeared to fumble as he was going down.
The officials quickly ruled David was already down and Kaneland kept the ball.
"I had every coach on the staff tell me it was a fumble," said Morris coach Alan Thorson, whose team entered ranked No. 2 in the state in Class 5A. "I was staring right at it and thought it was a quick whistle. That doesn't help a fumble I really believe we have but you also can't give a team like Kaneland 24 points and try to fight back like that."
The Knights were able to run the clock all the way down to 9.8 seconds before turning the ball over on downs. Feeney had 66 yards to go with no timeouts, and Razo intercepted his long bomb to finally end the comeback.
It was Razo's eighth interception this year and fourth in the game for the Knights, who didn't turn the ball over once.
"That was a tremendous first half for us and the second half was a tremendous half for them," Kaneland coach Tom Fedderly said. "We did enough to hold them off."
"It stings for the kids," Thorson said. "It was a great game. I wish we would have won but you look back and what a great game."
Kaneland came out throwing, with David attempting 16 passes in the first quarter and 26 in the first half. He finished 17 of 33 for 239 yards and 4 touchdowns.
After a 3-and-out on its opening drive, the Knights put points on the board on their next four possessions.
A 22-yard field goal from Matt Rodriguez started the scoring with 5:25 left in the first quarter. The key play on the drive came when David connected with Carter on 28-yard crossing pattern for 1st-and-goal at the 8.
While David overthrew a potential touchdown on that drive, he didn't miss many others. He completed 7 straight passes at one point in the second quarter, including back-to-back touchdown strikes of 13 yards to Zack Martinelli and 53 yards on a deep ball down the right sideline to Carter to make it 17-0.
Razo's interception gave the Knights the ball back on Morris' 28-yard line, and David capped the short touchdown drive with a 3-yard fade pass to Carter in the back corner of the end zone for a 24-0 lead with 4:07 left in the half.
That big lead was quite a contrast to early conference wins at DeKalb and Sycamore when it was the Knights who had to rally. This time they held on for dear life and for a very sweet victory and conference championship.
"First two years in this conference, conference champs," said Carter, who caught 5 passes for 161 yards and 3 touchdowns. "Back-to-back undefeated seasons, some people didn't think we'd do what we did this year. I'm amazed. I'm happy for my team and excited about where this program is going. I don't even know the words to say it right now."