Morgan Park High School’s hopes of changing its recent woeful IHSA football playoff history went unrealized, as the top ranked and undefeated Kankakee High School feasted off turnovers, penalties, miscues and missed opportunities en route to a blowout 49-12 victory in an IHSA Class 5A clash at Gately Stadium on Nov. 6.

Morgan Park senior star quarterback Aaron Warren faced a relentless Kankakee pass rush all afternoon. On just the second offensive play of the game, the Kankakee Kays sacked Warren, causing a fumble that was recovered deep in Morgan Park Mustang territory.

Two plays later, Kankakee senior quarterback Tomele Staples threw a 10-yard touchdown to junior wide receiver Karson King to establish a 7-0 lead. The Kays would not trail for the rest of the game. 

What could have been chalked up to playoff jitters on behalf of the Mustangs was, in actuality, only the beginning of what the Kays’ defense had in store. Morgan Park’s typical explosive offense, which averaged 29.7 points per game along with 318.5 all purpose yards per game this season, was held to only six points and 278 all purpose yards, according to stats compiled by MaxPreps

By game’s end, the Kankakee defense registered four sacks on Warren, 10 tackles for a loss and three forced fumbles on Mustang ball carriers, plus multiple false starts penalties for the offensive line. Warren, who was sensational the week prior against Peoria High School — with 279 yards passing and rushing and six rushing touchdowns with one interception en route to a 50-42 victory — was limited to a mere129 passing and rushing yards and a single touchdown.

Morgan Park staged a comeback attempt late in the second quarter. Down 21-0, Warren connected with sophomore wide receiver Chris Durr, Jr. for a 52-yard catch and run. The reception set up a 16-yard touchdown run by sophomore running back Tysean Griffin to make the score 21-6 after a failed point conversion attempt. The Mustangs closed the half with a blocked Kankakee field goal attempt to preserve a 21-6 score. Griffin finished the game with 95 yards on 21 carries.

Fans cheering on the Morgan Park Mustangs. Photo by Lee Edwards // The TRiiBE

Ultimately, Morgan Park’s own miscues sank any attempts to climb back into the first half. 

* The Mustangs suffered a turnover on downs when Warren failed to convert a first down on fourth-and-five at the Kankakee 45-yard line with 4:59 left in the first quarter.

* Warren overthrew a probable touchdown pass to a Mustang receiver with 11:04 left in the second quarter when Morgan Park was down 14-0.

* Kankakee senior quarterback Staples threw an errant pass that hit a Mustang defensive back in the hands but eventually bounced into the hands of Kankakee junior receiver Jyaire Hill for what became a 19-yard reception to set up an eventual touchdown, extending the Kankakee lead to 21-0.  

Kankakee left no doubt of the game’s outcome in the second half. The Kays scored 28 unanswered points in the second half before Warren scored a touchdown toward the end of the game. 

Third-year Morgan Park head coach Chris James applauded his team’s effort. Although the loss kicked them out of the IHSA playoffs, James said the Mustangs’ season would continue in a Chicago prep football tournament. 

“With us being a Chicago Public School, if you lose in the first two rounds in the playoffs, you come back and play in the Chicago Public Schools playoffs, which works the same for the Catholic League,” James said. “The Chicago Public School champion plays the Catholic League champion. Once you advance to the third round [of the IHSA playoffs] you’re not eligible to come back and play in that.”

James also the loss is a learning experience for his team, which features several underclassmen contributors. 

“I wish it could’ve happened a little bit different, but it’s a learning experience,” James said in an interview with The Triibe as the Mustangs left the field. He’s a former Morgan Park football star who played wide receiver at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. 

“As a competitor, you don’t take away any moral victories. You want to win your last game. We are getting better, but this is part of the process,” he added.

Despite the loss, the Mustangs appear to be heading in the right direction. Under James’ stewardship, the Mustangs entered the game ranked second in MaxPreps’ Chicago Public School rankings, with a 7-3 record. 

Morgan Park qualified for the IHSA Class 6A playoffs by winning the Chicago Public Red Bird conference with conference victories over Perspectives Leadership/IIT/Joslin/Tech High School, Curie Metro High School, Simeon Career Academy High School, and Hubbard High School. Their only conference loss was to Kenwood High School (8-1) on the road on Oct. 2. 

Morgan Park faced tough opponents all season as their opponents’ overall win/loss record was 49-40. The Mustangs had victories over Amundsen High School (8-2) and Simeon Career Academy High School (5-6), both of which were IHSA playoff qualifiers and ranked in MaxPreps’ Chicago Public School rankings’ top 10 at the end of the season. 

All three of the teams to defeat Morgan Park in the regular season made the playoffs. Fenwick High School (Oak Park) (9-2) will play Nazareth Academy (7-4) in the IHSA Class 5A quarterfinals on Nov. 13

Madeja Beasley, a Morgan Park alumna and mother to senior wide receiver Kendall Sprouts. Photo by Lee Edwards // The TRiiBE
Chris Durr, Sr., a former high school football player at Harper High School, and father of Mustangs sophomore wide receiver Chris Durr, Jr. Photo by Lee Edwards // The TRiiBE

Several parents of current Morgan Park football players expressed their confidence in the direction of the football trior to the game. 

Chris Durr, Sr., a former high school football player at Harper High School, said his team was defeated by Morgan Park during his sophomore season in the city championship game back in the day. He joked about initially being unsure if his son, Chris Jr., should play for the Mustangs due to the rivalry, but quickly noted he has “full trust” in coach James. 

“[James] let the players play, and trusting in them and believing in them,” Durr, Sr. told The Triibe before the game began. “He’s not one of them old school coaches that are real strict. He lets them play. He talks to them. He mentors them. And I think they love playing for him.”  

Madeja Beasley, a Morgan Park alumna and mother to senior wide receiver Kendall Sprouts, said watching the players grow as individuals has been one of her joys this season. She credited James for the team’s success and said it was “fantastic” watching Morgan Park represent Chicago in the IHSA playoffs prior to the start of the game. 

“I love football itself and to see these young boys out here they are very eager and determined to win. They have my support,” Beasley said. “I wasn’t really into football [when I was attending Morgan Park]. But for my son, when he got into football, I’ve seen the different levels he’s changed to work out and the things he did to make himself better, you know? And to see him where he is now, his whole focus is football. If I can’t get him to do nothing else, if I say football, he’s doing it.”

Although Morgan Park is no longer in the IHSA playoffs, they will face Simeon Career Academy High School in the first round of the Chicago Public Schools football tournament at 11:00 a.m. on Saturday, Nov. 13 at Gately Stadium.

“We got a chance to come back and win a city championship and have an opportunity for the kids to play games,” James said.

is a freelance contributor for The Triibe.