Game of the Week: La Crosse rolls by Ell-Saline
By CONOR NICHOLL
La CROSSE -- Two weeks ago, La Crosse High School senior running back Levi Morss recorded one carry for 21 yards before he went down with an ankle injury in a 48-point victory against Ellinwood. Morss didn't play in the regular season finale versus Medicine Lodge, a contest the Leopards also won by 48 points. La Crosse's offense still rushed for 312 and 253 yards in the two wins.
However, La Crosse's offense played at a higher level when Morss returned for the first round of the Class 2-1A playoffs in a 35-6 victory against Brookville/Ell-Saline on Friday night. Morss rushed 26 times for 154 yards and two scores as the Leopard offense collected 327 rushing yards and 493 total yards.
"I feel good," Morss said. "We established our run game pretty good I would say, and overall our passing was better than good. We did all right both sides of the ball, passing and running."
Senior Kip Keeley, the other half of the Leopards' starting duo, finished with another complete game. He rushed 16 times for 86 yards and a TD, caught four passes for 60 yards, had a sack and a batted a pass on defense and dropped a punt to the Ell-Saline 5-yard line. Plus, Keeley was recently named a Wendy's High School Heisman finalist, an award that combines athletic achievement, grades and community service.
"It feels a lot better having him behind me," Keeley said of Morss. "It's pretty cool. It's kind of something that right now that I take for granted, but I am sure 20 years from now, I will look back and realize the kind of duo that we have and how great it is."
La Crosse, ranked No. 1 in Class 2-1A in the statewide media poll, improved to 10-0 and collected double-digit victories for the third straight season and the sixth time in seven falls. Ell-Saline enjoyed a five-win improvement from last year and finished 7-3.
The Leopards will play host to Oakley (7-2) in the second round next Friday.
"It's a good combination to have, I will tell you that," Ell-Saline coach Terry King said of the backfield. "Their linemen did a good job pushing us off the ball. I would say they are as good a two-back combination as there is in 2A."
While Morss and senior lineman Matt Wagner (ankle) returned from injuries, the Leopards did have a scare when sophomore Sheldon Schmidt hobbled off the field with 56 seconds left in the third quarter. It's unknown whether Schmidt, the team's leader in sacks and also the kicker, will play this week.
In the last few weeks, La Crosse has started quickly. The same thing happened Friday. Fourth-year coach Jon Webster had to call his team back into the locker room twice before the start of the game. La Crosse led 21-0 early in the second quarter and went up 27-6 entering the half.
"They were trying to get on the field too early," Webster said. "They were focused and up for a challenge, and they came out with an attitude that they were going to be extremely physical and play fast and violent and do the little things."
After Ell-Saline went three-and-out on the game's first possession, La Crosse had a 12-play, 72-yard drive that finished on a 2-yard run from Morss. Morss carried the ball five times on the drive and finished with a career-high in carries.
"I wanted to have him touch the ball enough to where he was confident in what he was doing," Webster said. "I really wanted to build his confidence back up. He knew that ankle was going to be there and be sturdy and that he could play at a high level and I think early on, he wasn't 100 percent sure that that was the case.
"But he figured it out," Webster added. "I think looking at his teammates in the huddle, he looks around at all of those faces that were counting on him to make plays. Just like he is counting on guys to make plays. That pressure gets to you and it raises your intensity."
Ell-Saline drove down to the Leopard 12-yard line but turned the ball over on downs. Then, La Crosse went 88 yards in eight plays. On one carry, Morss hurdled a defensive player on the sideline and eventually ran into the Leopards' water jug -- one of several times when he hurdled in the game.
"I got some yardage after I jumped over some guys," he said. "That was pretty cool."
Keeley collected a 27-yard reception from sophomore Jack Garcia, who finished 10 of 14 for 166 yards with a passing and rushing TD. Keeley finished the drive with a 5-yard run and a 13-0 lead.
"They can turn the corner," King said. "They can run up the middle. I thought we might be able to be a little more physical in the middle. We spread our defense out quite a ways, because they throw the ball outside very well. ... Physically, we just weren't there in some positions. We have had trouble with that all year long. La Crosse is a very good football team. You've just got to have coverage everywhere."
The Leopards pushed the lead to 21-0 on a 5-yard run from Morss when he went to the left sideline and lept for the end zone.
He crashed into Cardinal senior Keegan Hays and fell into the end zone.
"I did go back to the huddle and say, 'Maybe that was a little dramatic,'" Morss said with a smile. "I was just focused on scoring,"
On the next play, Ell-Saline cut the lead to 21-6 on a 55-yard pass from senior Garrett Walker to senior Toby Omli. Walker completed 11 of 30 passes for 204 yards and three interceptions, but La Crosse ran multiple defensive coverages and kept the Cardinals out of the end zone the rest of the contest.