MORRISON — The Morrison football team set the tone early and often in a 44-12 home win over Hiawatha to reach the Elite Eight of the Class 1A football playoffs.
Mustangs junior quarterback Nathan Helms converted a nifty play-action pass downfield to senior tailback Keegan Anderson for 65 yards and a touchdown on the very first play from scrimmage.
Hiawatha answered with a touchdown on its opening drive to cut the game to 7-6, but from that point the Mustangs (11-0) controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball en route to extending their best season since winning the Class 2A state title in 2011.
Anderson led the Mustangs with 154 yards rushing. His long touchdown catch came on the first of only four passes and three completions for Morrison Saturday afternoon.
“The line was blocking for Helms and he got that play off,” said Anderson, who also rushed for 38 yards on his first carry the following drive. “So I think everyone just worked together perfectly and got a touchdown right off the bat, and that helped the momentum.”
The Northeastern Athletic Conference champion Hawks (9-2), who played with just 19 players, were only the second team to score in double digits against Morrison all season. A quick-strike passing game was effective early on until Morrison adjusted.
Morrison coach Ryan Oetting said he and his staff talked about that play-action pass all week during practice. The ball was under-thrown, but Anderson made his defender miss to finish the score.
“It really came to fruition,” said Oetting, noting the challenge of hitting the speedy Anderson on a long pass. “He made a good adjustment to the ball and a good run there at the end. It really set the tone. That was very settling for our sideline, even though we didn’t play great today.”
The Mustangs’ deep stable of tailbacks rushed for 352 yards on Saturday afternoon. Hunter Newman (one touchdown) ran for 116 yards, including a 50-yarder. Morrison’s 6-foot-2 bruising back Riley Wilkens had three rushing scores and 56 yards.
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Oetting estimated he has almost six or seven backs with at least 200 yards rushing.
“It’s nice to have that depth,” Oetting said.
A productive run game and stout Morrison defense helped overcome a shaky kickoff game and 10 penalties for 90 yards.
“Despite all the ups and downs and the penalties, we came out there and played as a team,” Anderson said, “and I’m proud of everyone.”
Oetting said his team must cut down on the penalties, and while the defense played well, it has played better. Hiawatha’s previous scoring low this season had been 35 points in its only loss. Morrison held the Hawks to just 73 yards rushing and 108 passing.
“We just get to the ball and have 11 young men that believe in each other and they trust the guy next to them,” Oetting said. “We’re really pretty simple on defense. … When you have athletes, sometimes that’s the easiest thing to do, just let them go find the ball.”
Morrison led 30-12 at halftime and methodically drained the clock and shut the Hawks out in the second half. Nick Allen, who also intercepted a pass, capped Morrison’s win with a 5-yard rushing score on fourth down with under 30 seconds left in the game.
The Mustangs will enjoy this win, but Anderson said the approach will remain business-like in reaching the quarterfinals.
“It feels really good, but at the same time, it’s nothing special,” he said. “It’s just another football game. We get to practice on Monday through Friday and get ready to play on Saturdays.”