Steinert’s Jordan Morrison slips a bunch of tackles for the winning touchdown against Hamilton West on the 59th Annual Thanksgiving Day Game. Photo by Michael A. Sabo
By Rich Fisher
Nov. 23: Jordan Morrison looked at the halftime stats, saw he had just four carries and one pass reception, and decided to speak up.
“I was saying at the half I’m not really involved in the first half,” Morrison said. “I was telling my coaches. They said, ‘In the second half once it gets going we’re gonna get you more involved,’ and that’s what happened. I just kept staying confident and kept reading everything and doing what I do.”
In the end, his actions spoke as loud as his words, as Morrison continued to be as big of a part of Thanksgiving Day as turkeys and pilgrims.
Playing his final high school game, the do-it-all guy rushed for 110 yards and two second-half touchdowns to lead Steinert over Hamilton, 20-19, in the 59th Annual Turkey Day Bowl.
Morrison gained 80 yards after intermission after picking up 30 on just four carries in the first half. He also completed two passes for 40 yards.
“He knew he was gonna get his share of the carries,” coach Dan Caruso said. “You go to your guy when times are tough. It was a tight game. Kudos to Hamilton West, they played a great game, and Jordan stepped up when he had to.”
The Hornets heartbreak has to be substantial. They have lost three straight to Steinert by a total of four points, having lost by one for the second straight year.
Hamilton (3-7) had a chance to tie when Barry Ndeh caught a 35-yard touchdown pass from Hezekiah Patterson with 6 minutes left, but the PAT kick went into the line to keep the Spartans up 20-19.
West got the ball back with 2:14 remaining and drove to its own 46 before Steinert (6-4) stopped Patterson on a keeper; and then ran out the final minute.
“There’s so many options they could have went to,” Caruso said. “The fact of the matter is, that quarterback is one of the best quarterbacks around. I knew he could throw the ball. I was scared of that, but they kept it inside and we were able to make the play.”
When it was over, Morrison received his second straight Rich Fornaro Award as Steinert’s Thanksgiving standout.
“I said this last year, but I think us Morrisons were built for Thanksgiving,” said Jordan, whose brother Mike was a Turkey Day hero in 2013. “This being my last high school game I couldn’t imagine it ending any better.”
The loss took some of the sparkle off one final outstanding high school performance by Chris Charles, who won the Bill McEvoy Trophy for Hamilton after making four catches for 30 yards and a touchdown and coming up with an interception. His stats allowed him to break Hamilton’s school record for career TD catches and career interceptions.
“It means a lot,” he said of his TD record. “There’s a lot of great receivers to come through Hamilton High West and I’m proud to be known as one who came through as well.”
Assistant coach Ken Nehila thinks Charles is a step above of the others.
“Best receiver to ever come through this school,” Nehila said. “Make sure you print that!”
It’s that kind of talk that Charles does not take for granted in looking back on his career.
“This was a great learning experience,” he said. “I want to thank all the coaches for having faith in me and believing I could come out and perform my best every play.”
But records and awards aside, Charles would have liked to have got at least on Thanksgiving game, as he was on JV when the Hornets last won in 2014.
“It was a dogfight,” Charles said. “Steinert came with a really good game plan, we came with a really good game plan too; but they came out on top, unfortunately.”
It was a defensive slugfest through a scoreless first quarter with Steinert’s penetration to the Hornet 30 either team’s best scoring chance. Early in the second, a sack by Angelo Falvo pushed Hamilton back to its 13 and a 13-yard punt gave the Spartans a short field.
They capitalized when Colin Smith found Brendan James with a 15-yard scoring pass, for James first career TD catch. Hamilton came right back behind a red-hot Patterson, who completed six straight passes for 74 yards, culminated by a 5-yard TD toss to Charles.
Early in the third quarter, Hamilton’s D came up big again, stopping Steinert on a fourth-and-1 at the Hornets 27. The offense wasted little time capitalizing as Cire Peterson scored on a 64-yard run. The kick failed but West led 13-6.
Late in the third Steinert embarked on a 9-play, 77-yard drive capped by Morrison’s 16-yard run. Falvo’s kick made it 14-13.
Hamilton stalled on its next possession and another poor punt gave the Spartans the ball at the Hamilton 30. Morrison scored on a 25-yard keeper from the wildcat; but the kick failed as Steinert led 20-13. Hamilton’s next series produced Ndeh’s TD catch but the missed PAT continued the Hornets Thanksgiving frustrations.
It was the first home game of the year for Hamilton as its new bleachers were finally ready, but they have now lost four straight to Steinert at home. The Spartans have won three straight for just the second time in the series, the first coming in 1984-87 when they won four in a row.
“It’s been a long time,” Caruso said. “That’s one of the goals coming into the year, you always want to win on Thanksgiving. It was one of the goals we’ve been able to achieve and we’re proud of three in a row.”
“We’ve been preaching that all week long to win three straight, and that’s what we did,” Morrison said.
They have done it thanks greatly to Morrison, who leaves a proud legacy at Steinert as he heads for the University of Connecticut.
“He’s such a versatile weapon we could have used him anywhere,” Caruso said. “I’m confident if I put him at defensive end he would have been rushing the passer all day. He’s just a special, special football player.
“You don’t replace a guy like that after he graduates. He’s been the guy that loves football, he’s a good character guy, he’s gonna be involved in our program even after he graduates. I’m looking to see what he does the next four or five years at UConn.”
For much of the game, Morrison and Charles were covering each other on pass routes. After it ended, Morrison ran over, put his arm around Charles and gave a quick talk. Two award winners exchanging holiday pleasantries.
“We’ve been playing since 6th grade,” Charles said. “He just said ‘Congrats bro, I love you and I’ll talk to you later.’”
“It’s always like a friendly battle,” Morrison said. “It was a hard battle, it’s just competition but it’s always love at the end of the day.”
EXTRA POINTS: Patterson was outstanding in going 16-for-24 for 183 yards and two touchdowns, while Ndeh caught five passes for 68 yards. . .Steinert’s defense held Hamilton to just 5 yards
rushing, with five sacks bringing that number down . . . The Spartans snapped a three-game losing streak, while the Hornets ended the year on a six-game slide. . . Hamilton has outscored Steinert, 82-63 in the last five meetings, but the Spartans have won four of them . . . After having just one game decided by one point in the series’ first 57 games, Steinert has won the last two by a single point . . . Hamilton leads the series, 34-24-1.