Like a lot of teams, Morgan Park will be moving into mostly uncharted territory when the IHSA playoffs start next week.
The cancellation of the playoffs during the abbreviated spring season means few players have any postseason experience. That list is especially short at Morgan Park, which has 13 freshmen and sophomores on a 40-man roster. Senior offensive lineman Devan King is the only player back from the Mustangs’ 2019 playoff qualifier.
But Morgan Park, which beat Amundsen 46-7 Saturday morning at Gately Stadium in a Public League playoff opener, does have some reasons to be upbeat ahead of the Class 5A state playoffs.
Start with the regular-season schedule, which featured five playoff qualifiers: Fenwick, Taft, Kenwood, Simeon and Amundsen.
“We’re battle-tested,” coach Chris James said. “We had tough games that we won, we had tough games that we lost. And we got better. We fought through some injuries. Now we’re in a good spot.”
Senior quarterback Aaron Warren agreed.
“We faced some adversity, we faced some hard times,” he said. “It’s about putting it all together.”
The X-factors for the Mustangs to get that done are Warren and multitalented sophomore Tysean Griffin, who already has five Power Fiver offers.
Griffin, a 5-11, 170-pound speedster, had 183 yards on nine touches Saturday, all in the first half. His day included two long touchdowns: a 67-yard punt return and a 48-yard run.
“It’s crazy [that] he’s only a sophomore,” Warren said. “If you give him a lane ... “
When Griffin is drawing so much attention from opposing defenses, it provides an opening for Warren to make plays with his quick feet and big arm.
On Saturday he ran nine times for 138 yards and was 7 of 11 passing for 122 yards and TDs to Shawn Harris (36 yards), Kendall Sprouts (30 yards) and Paul Branson (15 yards).
James agreed Warren is getting better at making the calls on run-pass options.
“He is,” James said. “We’ve still got some more work to do. The big thing we were trying to limit from him is the Superman play. ‘You don’t have to do that, you know? You can just play.’
“But he’ll have one or two of those a game and we’re hoping that they’re in our favor.”
Another goal for the Mustangs (6-3) will be to play a cleaner game after having eight penalties in the first quarter and 14 total Saturday for 155 yards.
“Too many flags this game for not being disciplined,” Griffin said. “We need to work more on that.”
Amundsen (8-1) also is headed to the playoffs, for the third straight season and third time in program history. The Vikings scored on the last play of the game on a 28-yard pass from Elijah Hernandez to Adam Muench.
That’s been a familiar sight: Hernandez is the first 1,000-yard passer in coach Nick Olson’s seven-year tenure and Muench has 21 touchdowns.
Olson appreciated the chance to be tested against an elite team heading into the IHSA playoffs.
“Sometimes you learn more from a loss than you do from a win,” he said. “When you’re 8-0, riding high on that momentum, sometimes you don’t work as hard, you’re not as hungry. So I’m really looking forward to getting into the film room and correcting these things and getting ready for state.”