MORRISON – The Morrison Mustangs’ game plan Friday night against Erie-Prophetstown was simple: Stop the area’s leading rusher, Panther fullback Nick Williams, from running roughshod at Bud Cole Field.
That was just fine with Chris Bauer and the rest of the Panthers.
Bauer scored five touchdowns – three on the ground, two through the air – to lead EP to a 47-6 victory, securing a playoff berth with its sixth win.
“We figured their defense was going to key on Nick, really try to stop him, and that opened things up for the rest of us,” said Bauer, who had 69 yards rushing and 80 yards receiving. “We took advantage of the opportunity tonight, and we have so much confidence now that we know we’re finally officially in the playoffs.”
For the record, Morrison (2-6, 1-4 Three Rivers North) held Williams to 155 yards – 62 fewer than his per-game average – and a single touchdown. Quarterback Ethan Howard helped Bauer pick up the slack, though, running for 82 yards and a score and connecting with Bauer for 80 yards on a pair of scoring plays.
“It’s unbelievable to talk about a guy having 155 yards and saying it’s a below-average game,” EP coach Chuck Milem said, “because most backs would be jumping for joy. I thought Morrison had a very good game plan on defense, and they executed it pretty well ... but Chris, who’s kind of the overlooked, underestimated guy in the backfield, really stepped up for us today.”
Morrison had two possessions before the Panthers (6-2, 5-1) mounted their first drive, but one was a three-and-out and the other resulted in a turnover on downs. EP then set the tone with a methodical, physical eight-play drive covering 80 yards – 68 from Williams – who capped it with a 25-yard scoring run.
The Panthers overcame two penalties on the drive, in a glimpse of things to come; the teams combined for 14 penalties covering 137 yards.
After a Mustang fumble, Howard hooked up with Bauer on a 24-yard scoring strike on third-and-5. The teams traded punts, then the Panther defense forced another Morrison punt to set up a short field. Howard ran in from 3 yards out for an 18-0 lead, then Bauer sprinted for 14 yards for a score after a Mustang three-and-out.
Howard’s 56-yard TD pass to Bauer capped the first half, giving the Panthers an insurmountable 32-0 lead at the break.
“If you don’t stop the fullback in their option offense, you’re going to have a long night,” Morrison coach Cory Bielema said. “We showed glimpses of executing our game plan, but it wasn’t consistent, and it showed, and EP did a great job of exploiting the other areas.”
After a first half that saw Morrison pass for 16 yards and rush for minus-13, the second half was much better. The Mustangs scored on their opening possession after forcing an EP three-and-out. Austin Shoup went in from 14 yards untouched right up the middle, and the Mustangs finished with 104 of their 107 total yards after the break.
“It feels a lot better that we got something going in the second half,” said Shoup, who led Morrison with 41 rushing yards. “We felt that a 1- or 2-yard gain by Williams was almost like a tackle for loss most weeks, and I’m proud of the way we played defensively against a great runner.”
Bauer answered with a pair of TD runs, one from 9 yards out late in the third quarter, and the other from 5 yards out midway through the fourth to kick-start the continuous clock for the final 6:39.
The Panthers had 20 first downs to the Mustangs’ eight, while outrushing them 302-56 and outpassing them 80-51. EP lost two of its four fumbles and threw an interception, while Morrison lost all three of its fumbles.
Erie-Prophestown 47, Morrison 6
Star of the game: Chris Bauer, EP, 69 rushing yards, 3 TDs; 80 receiving yards, 2 TDs
Key performers: Nick Williams, EP, 155 rushing yards, TD; Ethan Howard, EP, 82 rushing yards, TD, 80 passing yards, 2 TDs; Austin Shoup, Morrison, 41 rushing yards, TD
Up next: Morrison at Riverdale & Orion at Erie-Prophetstown, both 7:30 p.m Friday