Game of the Week: Leopards run past Cardinals
Published on -9/23/2012, 7:50 AM
By NICK McQUEEN
PLAINVILLE -- All week, Plainville High School football coach Joe Simon had trouble finding guys to simulate what the Cardinals would see out of La Crosse seniors Kip Keeley and Levi Morss, a duo he said were the best runners his Cardinals had faced so far.
That trouble became obvious on the Leopards' first two plays from scrimmage Friday night -- 121 rushing yards and a touchdown each for Keeley and Morss.
Despite La Crosse turning the ball over five times on fumbles, a 20-0 hole on the Cardinals' homecoming was too much to overcome as the Leopards, ranked No. 1 in the statewide media poll, picked up a 42-22 victory to move to 4-0.
"Any other night, we lose this game," Leopard coach Jon Webster said. "For some reason, the football gods were looking down on us tonight, and by all accounts, we should have lost this football game the way we turned the ball over."
Morss ran like a football giant himself, punishing the Cardinals with a career-high 355 yards on 22 carries, and four touchdowns. The senior made moves on the outside, ran through runners and slipped through tackle after tackle. He did, however have one of the Leopards' five lost fumbles.
"Some of those runs, I felt like I had to pay the team back, like for the fumble I made (backed up in La Crosse territory)," Morss said. "They scored a touchdown, so I felt like I had to pay them back for what I did wrong."
Keeley tacked on 135 yards on nine carries, along with four catches for 52 yards.
Morss scored on runs of 70, 80, 67 and 4 yards, and added runs of 15, 11, 14 and 53 yards for the night -- along with numerous other shorter gains.
"It's hard to simulate their speed in practice," Simon said. "We had some kids gone this week, and we had linemen running the ball against the first-team defense."
Keeley, La Crosse's fullback and leading receiver, took the Leopards' first play 51 yards to pay dirt after Plainville junior quarterback Hadley Gillum was picked off on third down.
"We were shell-shocked," Simon said. "Their first two carries were touchdowns, and those are the two fastest backs we've played, and we just couldn't tackle them all night long."
In a 20-0 hole though early in the second after Morss' shortest TD run, Plainville (2-2) found a little comfort in a drive that chewed up nine minutes. But, the Cardinals fell short on fourth-and-goal from the 4-yard line. The Leopards, though, fumbled on their first play, and Plainville was able to punch in a score, a 5-yard pass from Gillum to senior Connor Collins.
"We have to clean up all those fumbles," Webster said. "That's not Leopard football."
The score gave Plainville a little momentum at halftime, but after a penalty-ridden defensive struggle early in the third, Morss broke free again, this time for 80 yards on an outside toss.
"(The outside), tonight, it was working," Morss said. "... A lot of good blocks, just made some good cuts, and I was gone."
Morss' big play ability slightly overshadowed the solid play of La Crosse's front four on defense, especially that of sophomore Sheldon Schmidt on the end. Schmidt finished with 10 tackles and three sacks.
"Their D-line worked us over," Simon said. "Their offensive and defensive lines were just more physical than us tonight."
Schmidt, senior Nate Ruff, senior Matt Wagner, senior Trey Renz and junior Cody Lee were all key on the line. They combined for 26 tackles, keeping Plainville, a run-heavy team, to 136 yards the ground. The Cardinals had averaged 302.3 per game coming in.
"Our D-line fought, battled hard tonight," Morss said.
Cardinal senior Trevor Axelson posted 104 yards on 16 carries, and scored two of Plainville's touchdowns -- one from a yard out, the other a 58-yard run in the third quarter to make it 34-14. Axelson's second TD, after a La Crosse fumble in the fourth, helped pull the Cardinals to within 12, but Morss' final score, a 67-yard run, was the final blow.
"He got decent yardage from our offensive line and the other guys blocking, then he made a lot of great plays on his own, running up the sidelines, staying in bounds, getting over a tackler and then getting his feet back underneath him to finish a score," Webster said. "He's just a tough kid, with a lot of heart and a lot of effort."
La Crosse hosts TMP-Marian (1-3) on Friday, while Plainville begins Class 2-1A district play at Ell-Saline (3-1).