Amateur football: Huskerz headed back to the 'ship
WORTHINGTON -- Ricky Gutierrez wasn't a member of the Southwest Huskerz last season when they won the Southern Plains Football League title. As a member of the Sioux City Bandits -- an arena team that claimed its league title in 2011, 2012 and 20...
WORTHINGTON - Ricky Gutierrez wasn’t a member of the Southwest Huskerz last season when they won the Southern Plains Football League title.
As a member of the Sioux City Bandits - an arena team that claimed its league title in 2011, 2012 and 2015 - the crown always eluded him as well. That makes the opportunity that lies ahead even more special for the 5-7 scatback/defensive back.
“Words can’t express it,” said Gutierrez, shortly after his Huskerz defeated The Panic 58-6 in the SPFL semifinals. “All year we’ve had one goal; we’ve gotta get that ring.”
The win gave Southwest a chance to defend its league title. It defeated the South Central Hawgs on its home field to cap a 10-1 inaugural campaign in 2014. Gutierrez had plenty to do with his team having a chance to keep the crown in Worthington.
He finished the game with three touchdowns -two rushing and one receiving - along with an interception.
“Ricky played a helluva game,” Huskerz head coach Ken McCuen said. “I saw him with the Bandits and I knew he would make an impact here.”
But the Lucerne Valley, Calif., native was far from being a one-man show. Darieon Smith scored twice and made an even stronger case to be the league’s most valuable player with a couple highlight-reel runs. Jordan Larson threw for two touchdown passes and ran for another with Demetrius Washington anchoring the ever-stout defense and scoring out of the jumbo package.
“It was a team effort,” Gutierrez said. “I give it all up to my team. We knew we had to take care of business, put in that work because when you’re undefeated everybody’s trying to knock you down.”
The game’s opening drive, however, was very un-Huskerz-like. Usually employing a quick-strike attack early, Southwest methodically used 9:37 to drive 52 yards and eventually score on a 3-yard run by Washington.
After the two squads traded interceptions, Phil Nystrom’s pick set the stage for Smith to re-ignite the offense.
On the first play of the second quarter, Smith took a handoff off-tackle right and, with two Panic defenders hanging off of him, seemed to be stopped about 10 yards down field. He was somehow able to spin away and had nothing but green in front of him. The 21-yard score put the Huskerz up 12-0.
“In the beginning, we didn’t have what I thought we should have,” McCuen said. “But we’re so used to scoring fast that you can’t really base it on that. But that’s why you have leaders that step up in those situations.”
That seemed to open the floodgates. A 4-yard run by Larson followed by a forced fumble Washington that was recovered by Trey Diggs had the Huskerz in a position to go up big before halftime. Gutierrez scored on a 23-yard run to make it 25-0. Troy Ektnitphong picked off a Panic pass early in the ensuing possession and Jay Miller took advantage with the extra possession on a 6-yard run. That put the home team up 31-0 at halftime.
Larson and Gutierrez teamed up for an incredible play to open the second half scoring. After a 26-yard pass to Alvin Gunter had the Huskerz in Panic territory at the 33, the next play appeared to be broken. Larson dropped back to pass and had a slough of Panic hot on his heels as he scrambled right. He eluded the sack, stopped and fired all the way back across to field to Gutierrez. He was all alone on the left side and could have walked in for six.
“Jordan loves to scramble so he can make those plays,” Gutierrez said. “Then me, you put me in open space like that, I had to give ‘em that 4.3 speed.”
A Gutierrez interception set up the next score. Smith danced away from the defense behind the line of scrimmage and broke free for a 16-yard score. Another pick - this one by Diggs - set up a 30-yard scoring strike from Larson to Gunter to put the Huskerz up 52-0.
The Panic finally reached the end zone on the final play of the third quarter. Under heavy pressure, quarterback Kolton Barker threw up a prayer in the direction of Wes Berninghaus. He went up between two defenders and raced 70 yards to pay dirt.
Gutierrez added his final touchdown, a 2-yarder, midway through the fourth.
The win set the Huskerz up with a rematch against South Central, which defeated the Midwest Rampage Saturday, at 7 p.m. Saturday in Worthington with the league title on the line.
“We’re here to protect our home field and this city,” McCuen said. “I’m so proud of our guys and my coaching staff. I’m proud of the city of Worthington. We had a good crowd here tonight. Hopefully we can pack the house again because the players feed off that.”
“It’s gonna be a battle,” Gutierrez said. “We know they’re gonna give us their best shot. I hope they’re prepared, cuz we’re on a roll right now.”
Panic 0 0 6 0 - 6
Huskerz 6 25 21 6 - 58