SPFL playoffs: Huskerz right on schedule with trip to title game
WORTHINGTON — Long before they played their first game; long before their blotchy red jerseys became a summer fixture on the local high school football field, head coach Ken McCuen and the Southwest Huskerz talked about winning this year’s Southern Plains Football League championship.
If the talk seemed premature then, it surely doesn’t now. Southwest — in its inaugural season — won its second playoff game Saturday night, beating the Albert Lea Grizzlies at Trojan Field, 39-6, and setting up a showdown with the four-time defending SPFL champion and two-time defending national champion South Central Hawgs for the 2014 league crown.
Southwest will play South Central, a 21-14 winner over the Midwest Rampage in the other playoff semifinal Saturday, this coming Saturday at Worthington’s Trojan Field for the right to continue on.
“They said we had to have a big game. It was a big statement,” said the Huskerz’ Khalid Waters moments after Saturday’s victory. “We’re a new team in the league. Everyone wanted a shot at us.”
Waters caught 10 passes for 227 yards in the semifinal win over Albert Lea, and three of those receptions went for touchdowns. The Huskerz led 20-0 at halftime and were never really challenged in the second half.
“We worked hard, even before the season. Team chemistry. It was a big thing for us,” Waters said.
Another star in Saturday’s game, linebacker Jordan Bouw, looked ahead with pride toward the game with South Central.
“It’s something we worked very hard for. We knew we belonged there. We just had to show up and get it done,” he said.
Bouw, who recorded six tackles including three for losses against the Grizzlies, also turned in what was arguably the most exciting play. It occurred with 7:38 remaining in the third quarter with the Huskerz clinging to their 20-0 lead. The Grizzlies appeared ready to score their first touchdown of the game, but their quarterback was pressured when he stepped back to pass near the Huskerz’ goal line. Bouw stepped in front of a receiver around the line of scrimmage and intercepted a flip pass, returning 92 yards down the left sideline.
Bouw’s run was twice as long as his longest this season (he returned a fumble 45 yards for a score earlier this year) but he said he wasn’t winded during the 92-yard ramble.
“I was winded after,” he said. He described how the play happened. “I just kind of opened up. The tight end went on a route and I chipped him, undercut the ball. Took it to the house.”
The 2014 Huskerz pride themselves on a stifling defense and an offense that can move the football via run or pass. On Saturday, due to an Albert Lea defense that stacked the box, they took to the airways early and often. Throughout the game, the Grizzlies had no answer for Huskerz quarterback Jordan Larson and his steady stable of receivers that ran short, ran long, and ran well after the catch.
The first of the three Larson-to-Waters TDs came with 2:32 remaining in the first quarter on a pass-and-catch that covered 30 yards. The second covered about the same distance and occurred with 9:19 left in the second quarter. On that one, Larson found Waters open on a quick screen, and the 5-7, 175-pound dynamo made a couple of nifty moves to avoid tackles as he glided into the open field. The third came just before the end of the third quarter as Larson found Waters deep behind the secondary for a 40-yard score.
Southwest also got a touchdown from running back Darieon Smith with 2:59 remaining until halftime. On a fourth-and-goal play at the Albert Lea seven, Smith eluded tacklers through the right side of the line to put his team up 20-0.
Bouw’s long interception return demoralized the Grizzlies and their many vocal fans. Albert Lea finally scored with 5:54 remaining in the third stanza on a 13-yard pass, but Waters’ third touchdown more than five minutes later kick-started the celebrations on the Huskerz’ sideline.
With 2:07 left in the game, Southwest’s Rob Smith returned a punt 35 yards for the final score.
Larson completed 18 of 33 passes for 345 yards altogether. Smith rushed seven times for 38 yards. Defensively, Demetrius Washington had eight tackles including four for a loss. Bryant Schroeder had five tackles including two sacks. Kicker-punter Javier Jimenez had a good day, amassing 151 yards on four punts.
As a team, the Huzkerz passed for 345 yards and rushed for 56. On defense, they had a total of 12 sacks.
“I think we played four quarters of ball tonight,” said McCuen, who thanked his players, his coaches, and especially the team’s growing fan base.
The Huskerz lost their final game of the regular season but have now rolled to victory twice in the playoffs (they beat Buffalo Ridge 49-6 the previous weekend). During the regular season they defeated South Central 21-9 on the road for the Hawgs’ only setback this season.
Saturday’s championship game is set for 7 p.m. at Trojan Field.
“We set our goals to win the championship this year. I’m just so proud of my football team and my coaching staff. The whole thing. You dream about getting to a championship game, and now we’re going to taste it,” McCuen added.
Albert Lea 0 0 6 0 — 6
Southwest 6 14 13 6 — 39