Friend's helping hand
To get to the long and short of it, Morris' Danny Friend has made two, one-handed plays on the defensive side of the ball in the first two games of the postseason for the Redskins.
In the 44-0 playoff opener for Morris, he palmed a fumble at the Rich East 32-yard line and returned it 23 yards to set up a score and last week against Urbana, he tipped a pass at the line of scrimmage, batted it to himself and then returned it 37 yards — this time for the score.
Morris coach Alan Thorson said that both plays were real eye-poppers, starting first with the fumble recovery.
"That was a great play. In stride with one hand he just palms the ball. We teach the guys to either dive on the ball or scoop it with two hands," Thorson said. "But he's such a good athlete and a big kid that he can just reach down and palm it with one hand. That was a heck of a play."
Thorson said that to really appreciate the mono-paw interception, you have to see it more than once.
"The more you break the interception down on film, the more you see what a heads-up play it is," he said. "Reading the quarterback's eyes and jumping into the passing lane and he made a great one-handed catch. Then he returned it 40 yards or whatever it was. Then juked one kid and ran another one over. It was a very athletic play."
In the game against Rich East, Morris kicker Fernando Del Toro had just had a kick blocked in the second quarter and the Rockets had just taken possession on their own 27. Runs of 5 and 0 yards ensued when Friend made the pickup of a fumble by the East quarterback.
"Coach (Keith) Anderson always has us practice fumble drills on the line — the scoop and score. To get two hands on it. On that play, the ball took a weird bounce and I was lucky to get my whole hand on it," Friend said. "Then I brought it up. I was stopped inside the 10. I was pretty upset. Coach Anderson gave me a pretty hard time and so did the rest of the guys. But it was all right because we scored anyway."
Friend took it down to the 9-yard line and three plays later, Collin Grogan hit paydirt for the Redskins to give Morris a 38-0 lead at the time.
On Saturday against the Tigers, the setup was similar when Friend made the play. It took place on the almost exact same place on the field as the fumble recovery — hash-right toward the Morris sideline.
"They tried to run a side screen and he just tipped it up. Deflected it with the same hand. Bobbled it around a bit," Morris defensive coordinator John Courter said. "Again, he had a couple of kids trying to tackle him. He got past the first one, he hit him pretty hard and he just kept going."
Morris had just scored against Urbana on a 19-yard TD run by Reese Sobol and the Tigers had the ball on their own 36-yard line. Quarterback Cameron Mammen had just run for 5 yards setting up Friend's interception.
"They were set up about the 40-yard line. They had trips set out to my side to the right and they motioned a guy out. I was lucky enough to get my hand on the ball and took off running. I was able to grab it and bring it in," the Indiana-bound Friend said. "I kind of brought it forward to myself with my hand then took it down the sideline. It was about the timing of it. I saw them run it a couple of times on film. I guessed right and was pretty lucky. I was a little ahead of the ball and I was trying to get it to come with me. I wasn't going to be denied (the end zone) this time."
Courter said that it's good to see his defense forcing turnovers. It was one of four last Saturday for Morris.
"Not only creating turnovers, but creating turnovers in which we are scoring," Courter said. "That's been a goal all year, to advance the ball on defense."
Friend said that he gets as excited as anyone when a big play gets made.
"It's a big momentum changer," he said. "It gets the crowd going a bit and gets the sideline jumping. It's another possession for our offense. It's more chances to put the ball into the offense's hands."
Not just any momentum changer, either.
"We were all talking about his playoff games. I remember him picking the ball off at Bishop Mac when he was a sophomore, then he did the same thing at Minooka in the first game," Thorson said. "The Minooka game, he had an almost exact same play against the Indians. He's always making big plays."
Which is a reflection of both style and substance according to Thorson.
"For as smart a player as he is, he is also disciplined. He stays home when he's supposed to," he said. "He does what he's taught. On top of that, he has a great work ethic. I was telling some of the juniors in the weight room, with the way he was working out I said that's the reason he's a Division I player."