Another title run for Morgan?

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 24, 2004

Times-Journal Sports Writer

Losing the season’s first game can be a huge blow to a team hoping to win another state title.

Doubt tends to creep in about

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whether the team can perform up to the standards from the previous season. The pressure of living up to past successes can be phenomenal.

Just a few weeks ago, the Morgan Academy Senators were in that very position following a season-opening loss to Edgewood Academy.

“A lot of people considered that an upset,” Morgan coach Robert Gartman said. “It really wasn’t that big of an upset. Edgewood Academy just had a better team that night.”

The game not only left the Senators’ pride a bit bruised and battered, but the roster as well. Several key players were injured during the 22-13 loss, including quarterback Jeremy Smith, who sustained a twisted right ankle.

Such circumstances could threaten to put a damper on the entire season. The Senators, however, wouldn’t let that happen.

“We’ve got a nucleus of 16 kids,” Gartman said, “who have been put in impossible situations and they’ve responded every time.

“These kids will do whatever they have to do in order to win,” Gartman added. “They’re very resilient. No matter what happens, they’re going to bounce back.”

The Senators began their journey back one week later with a 31-6 demolishing of Lee-Scott. In that game, the Morgan defense came up with five interceptions, including three by cornerback Rhett Rhyne.

Junior halfback Josh McAteer took it from there, rushing 18 times for 201 yards, including a 63-yard touchdown romp.

One week later, the Senators overcame a sluggish effort to beat Glenwood, 7-6, with Smith going 50 yards for Morgan’s only score of the evening.

The Senators’ offense struggled most of the game, turning the ball over six times.

The victory was no aesthetic beauty. But Gartman called the game one that could help the Senators on another possible run for an AISA Class 3A state championship.

“Sometimes winning a game like that is better than winning 35-0,” Gartman said. “We beat a very good team in spite of turning the ball over six times.

“When you get into the playoffs, you can expect four very close games,” Gartman added. “When you’ve won close games in the past, you’ve got the advantage.”

The Senators are no strangers to coming back. Two years ago, they trailed in five games, yet rallied to win on the way to a seven-victory season.

Last year, Morgan won all four of its playoff games and claimed the state title despite scoring just three offensive touchdowns to its opponents’ four.

“We played keep-away football,” Gartman said. “We were used to playing in close games.”

Last week’s postponement of Morgan’s game at Faith Academy not only gave both teams a break, but also sets up a possible playoff preview on Nov. 5, when the two teams will finally meet.

Gartman said his team winning the rest of its games was “not a probability,” but something that would not surprise him.

The Senators will try to keep their hopes of running the table alive tonight when they entertain Cottage Hill.

Prior to this week, Morgan had not practiced since last Wednesday, the day prior to Hurricane Ivan’s arrival. That fact has Gartman worried about his team’s physical conditioning.

“We’ve had a good week of practice,” Gartman said. “The kids are well-rested because we had five days without a practice.

“We did a little more running than usual this week,” Gartman added. “We wanted to make sure they were in good shape. But there’s no replacement for playing in a game. We’ll wait and see how the kids respond when it’s time to play.”

If it’s anything like the past, the Senators should come out looking like champions.