Naperville Central delivered the opening haymaker. Morton absorbed the other blows and denied the knockout.
In a season-opening match of top-five programs, the host Redhawks led for nearly 70 minutes but watched as Mustangs junior midfielder Leo Delgado pulled out the equalizer in the 75th minute for a 1-1 draw Monday night in Naperville.
The teams' meetings have always been meaningful. Morton defeated the Redwings 1-0 in overtime to capture the 2011 Class 3A state title. Last year, Naperville Central avenged the win with a dominant 3-0 supersectional victory en route to a third-place finish.
The No. 4 Redhawks (0-0-1) have captured three consecutive state trophies with back-to-back state runnerup finishes in 2011 and 2012 and last year's third-place trophy. "We've never played a quality opponent like this the first game of the year," Naperville Central coach Troy Adams said.
Third-ranked Morton returns seven starters from last year's 25-3 team. Athletic 6-3 goalie Ian Chacon is a returning first-team All-Area player whose denial of several close-range Redhawks blasts prevented Naperville Central from pulling away.
The Redhawks jumped out early when forward Ethan Mohr drilled a ball in the opening 30 seconds that Chacon made a lunging snare of. Naperville Central maintained the pressure as three-year starting forward Jordi Heeneman caught a Noah Canlas through ball in perfect stride that he turned into a thrilling goal in the sixth minute.
"We've been talking about how we need to come out hard and get a score in the first 10 minutes," he said. Midfielder Jordi McCormack pulled a neat masquerade, freezing the Morton backline as Canlas smashed the through ball that Heeneman finished from about 12 yards into the near post.
"We had a great start, but unfortunately we missed some shots or could not put away that second one," Heeneman said.
Morton (0-0-1) found its groove midway through the first half, controlling possession and mounting several strong scoring chances. "We had the ball in the box, but we couldn't get out on the end of it," Morton coach Mike Caruso said.
"They are probably in a little better fitness than we are right now. They are really going to make you work and move well without the ball and get open in space there," he said.
Naperville Central regained the edge throughout the second half and mounted a series of solid scoring threats. Chacon made point-blank stops of Nick Coon and Heeneman that enabled Morton to hang around.
Delgado, the Mustangs' leading returning scorer, broke free with just over five minutes to play. "I normally play on the left side, but the coaches saw something and moved me over to the right edge," he said. "I was going to cross it at the final 18, but I had the shot and I took it into the near post and hit it."