Morton gains first Tier 1 final
By Paul LaTour
It took artist Gutzon Borglum 14 years to carve his masterpiece into the granite of Mount Rushmore.
It only seemed to take that long for Morton to chip away at Naperville for a 31-14 victory in the final iYRA Tier 1 semifinal Monday at Morton West in Berwyn. The Mustangs face Brother Rice for the championship at 4 p.m. Monday at the Chicago Blaze facility in Lemont.
Morton used a steady, relentless approach to offset the Warriors and their rock-like style.
“True to form Naperville ran hard, they rucked hard and they tackled hard,” Morton coach Aaron Sweeney said. “It’s like you’re slamming away at a chunk of granite with a sledgehammer. You just have to keep hitting, keep hitting, keep hitting, and eventually you can make some cracks.”
Before those “cracks” started to appear, Naperville grabbed a 7-0 lead in the 19th minute when Pat Caulfield broke free from midfield and ran untouched up the middle. Bryan Kanzler kicked the conversion.
The Mustangs answered four minutes later with a Manny Aranda penalty kick. The game began swinging in Morton's favor at that point. Just before the half ended the Mustangs took a 10-7 lead on a try from Eric Aranda, whose brother Manny added the conversion.
Tries from Mike Waszkowski and Ismael Ledesma midway through the second half gave the Mustangs breathing room with a 24-7 lead. Naperville inched closer with a Ryan Ferm try late in the half, but it wasn’t enough. The host's Kato Gutierrez ended the scoring as time expired.
“We talked at halftime about what we needed to do and how to execute better,” said Gutierrez, a senior forward. “We came out in the second half and did what we had done all season. They’re a tough team. To be honest, I was kind of worn out, but I had to give it my all. This was my last game on this field with these guys, so I had to push it.”
The victory avenged a loss to the Warriors in last year’s semifinal round, and puts the Mustangs in their first Tier 1 final. They won the Tier 2 state title in 2007.
“It feels great – especially after last year,” senior center Chris Buttacavoli said. “All year long we’ve been wearing teams down in the second half, so we all knew what was coming already. We felt they were tired and we took it to them.”
The same observation was made on the Warriors’ sideline following the game.
“Morton was more fit and their forwards definitely played better than ours. Those were the two keys,” said Warriors coach Elliot Hershik, adding he thought it was the best match his team played all season. “We never seemed to get the ball wide enough to break loose with our backs, which was our strategy for this game. And eventually our fitness failed us.”
The Warriors began the game with several surges deep into Morton territory, including one where they turned the ball over on their scrum near the try line. Caulfield scored a few minutes later, but the lost opportunity hurt Naperville.
“It was a dogfight the entire time,” Naperville senior Jon Brusha said. “They caught fire in the second half. It’s hard to defend against that.”
Despite the game’s physical nature, the players kept focus on the game rather than taking unnecessary roughing penalties. In fact the teams were almost cordial to each other.
At one point in the second half Naperville’s Jim O’Connor leaned across several players in a ruck and had his head near Morton’s Waszkowski. The two teammates from the Tornadoes shared a laugh after Waszkowski gave O’Connor a noogie.
“I play with most of them on the all-state team, so there’s a companionship there,” O’Connor said, laughing. “It was a really physical game. It was fun, though. It was good, clean rugby. There were no fights or anything, which is always good.”
The Warriors meet St. Charles in the Tier 1 runners-up final at noon Monday at the Blaze facility in Lemont.
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