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Amateur football: Huskerz rally to win home opener

DOUG WOLTER/DAILY GLOBE Southwest Huskerz wide receiver Brett Doeden hauls in a touchdown pass against a beaten The Panic defender Saturday at Trojan Field in Worthington. The Huskerz overcame a 12-0 halftime deficit to win their home opener, 26-12.

WORTHINGTON — Jordan Larson is too young to have watched Hall of Fame Minnesota Vikings quarterback Fran Tarkenton scramble. But he remembers the name.

“He’s my dad’s favorite player,” Larson testified on Saturday.

That makes sense. Larson, a 2012 graduate of Hills-Beaver Creek High School, made old-timers remember the former NFL star when he did his own Tarkenton impression during the Southwest Huskerz’ come-from-behind 26-12 victory over The Panic at Trojan Field in Worthington.

Saturday’s game was an important one for the local amateur team. It was the 2014 season opener and the Huskerz, anxious to provide local fans with a good show, could ill afford a poor outing. Thanks to Larson’s active feet, defensive back Tyler Decker’s key interception in the fourth quarter, and a determined defense that shut out The Panic throughout the second half, local fans and players alike cheered and smiled as the fourth quarter ended.

The Huskerz, who were dominant prior to Saturday in a 40-2 preseason victory over Albert Lea and a 28-0 whitewashing of Tri-State, fumbled away the opening kickoff against The Panic, a team made up of players mostly from the Mankato area. Then, after getting the ball back, the Huskerz fumbled it away again on their very first play from scrimmage — a running play that went for big yardage before the ball was stripped. The Huzkerz’ biggest first half miscue, however, occurred with 8:08 remaining in the second quarter when kicker Javier Jimenez lined up for a 30-yard field goal attempt. It was blocked in a jailbreak of Panic defenders, scooped up and returned for a touchdown.

The Huskerz failed to muster a sustained offense throughout the first half and trailed 12-0 at halftime.

But the second half was a different story as the same Huskerz defense that accounted for an amazing 34 sacks in their first two games blanketed The Panic. Southwest finally scored with 9:31 remaining in the third quarter on a 10-yard Darieon Smith run. The Huskerz tied the score 12-12 with 7:53 left in the fourth frame, went ahead with 1:53 left in the fourth, then added a fumble recovery in the end zone less than a minute later.

Larson’s feet made the Huskerz go in the second half. The lanky 6-1, 175-pounder often saved drives with his feet. He’d start in a backpedal searching downfield, sense pressure, then scramble behind the line — first one way, then the other — faking as if to pass, then taking off down the right or left side. His quick feet and field awareness were, more often than not, too sophisticated for The Panic to defense and Larson, a la Tarkenton, danced and darted for yardage.

While still in his backfield, Larson did not listen to several of his teammates advising him to get rid of the ball. Instead, he held it like a loaf of bread — tenderly, always securely — until he either launched it or took off with it.

Larson is one of those nimble-footed quarterbacks who would just as soon run as pass.

“I played nine-man in high school. So I’m used to it,” he said after the game. “Kenny (McCuen, the head coach) always tries to get on me for trying to pass when I can run. … He likes it when I can run.

“My teammates were screaming to throw it, but in my head Ken was screaming, ‘run it.’”

The Huskerz still trailed in the game until Larson threw a 35-yard touchdown pass with 7:53 remaining into the left corner for Brett Doeden, who out-leaped a Panic defender for the ball and tiptoed across the goal line with it. It was on a fourth-and-12 play when the big connection was made. The ensuing two-point conversion try was no good, and the score remained 12-12.

But later in the fourth quarter Decker stepped in front of a pass for his second interception of the game (he would have finished with three, but had a first half interception erased due to an inadvertent whistle) which set the Huskerz up on The Panic’s 37-yard line.

“I read it,” Decker said. “He (the quarterback) was rolling out and the other guy was running with him.”

More Larson scrambling kept the short drive alive, and at 1:53 Khalid Waters scored on a nine-yard carry up the middle.

Leading 18-12, the Huskerz tacked on a final score when a desperate Panic team, backed up deep in its own territory, fumbled in the end zone on a sack by Mark Riley. The ball was recovered by Bryant Schroeder. Doeden caught the two-point conversion from Larson to make the final 26-12.

Decker said the Huskerz’ slow start happened not because they took The Panic too lightly due to their two easy victories, but because of nerves. “We knew they were going to be a good team. We had jitters. And we had four turnovers, which always kills a team. But we hung in there and in the second half we played some Huskerz football.”

Larson finished with 10 carries for 94 yards and he completed eight of 15 passes for 91 yards. Smith rushed nine times for 91 yards and Waters carried six times for 62. Defensively, the Huskerz had 13 sacks. Bryant Schroeder and Riley had four sacks apiece, Jordan Schroeder had three and Demetrius Washington had two.

As a team, Southwest rushed for 252 yards and passed for 91. The Panic rushed for seven and passed for 32.

“We were lucky our defense held the way it did because it could’ve been worse in the first half,” McCuen said while praising his team for the second-half comeback. “We’re becoming that family that you need to be to win.”

The Huskerz face a very big game Saturday in Truman beginning at 7 p.m. against the South Central Hawgs. Both teams have 2-0 records and the Hawgs have won the national championship for the last two seasons.

The Panic 0 12 0 0 12

Huskerz 0 0 6 20 26

Doug Wolter

Doug Wolter is the Daily Globe sports editor. He served as sports reporter, then sports editor, news editor and finally managing editor at the Daily Globe for 22 years before leaving for seven years to work as night news editor at the Mankato Free Press in Mankato. Doug now lives in Worthington with his wife, Sandy. They have three children and seven grandchildren. Doug, retired after a lengthy career in fast-pitch softball, enjoys reading, strumming his acoustic guitar and hanging around his grandchildren. He also writes books on fiction. Two of his stories, "The Genuine One" and "The Old Man in Section 129" have been distributed through a national publisher.

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