Amateur football: Huskerz ready for The Panic

WORTHINGTON -- Southwest Huskerz head coach Ken McCuen said Thursday night that his team has a lot of respect for its opponent in the Southern Plains Football League playoff semifinals.

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ZACH HACKER/DAILY GLOBE Huskerz quarterback Jordan Larson (11) gets away from Anthony Ingram (34) of Albert Lea during the first quarter of Southwest’s home win over the Grizzlies.

WORTHINGTON - Southwest Huskerz head coach Ken McCuen said Thursday night that his team has a lot of respect for its opponent in the Southern Plains Football League playoff semifinals.
Just don’t expect the Huskerz to change anything on their accord.
“We’re gonna do what we’re gonna do,” McCuen said. “We try to make people adjust to us. We don’t adjust to other people.”
What the Huskerz have been doing thus far has worked. Entering tonight’s 7 p.m. contest against The Panic - a team that hails from Cleveland - they are 8-0 on the season. During those eight wins, they have averaged 49 points per game while giving up only nine. They’ve racked up 2,507 yards on the ground - an average of 313.3 per game - to give them 453.2 total yards per game.
But with only four teams remaining in the tournament, McCuen knows his team can’t take The Panic lightly. Even though Southwest won their first matchup this season 40-0 on May 16.
“I also heard a lot of their team was not healthy when we played them,” he said. “We expect the best and we’re gonna have to bring our ‘A’ game. They’re a well-run organization.”

That is evident in the way they’ve been playing lately. After starting the season 1-3, The Panic have won four straight. During those four games they’ve out-scored opponents 151-25, including a 35-25 win over Tri-State in the first round of the playoffs.
McCuen expects tonight’s opponent to come out and try to establish the pass right away. Their throwing game is led by quarterback Kolton Barker, who has thrown for 873 yards and 10 touchdowns this season. Wes Berninghaus and Gabe Gimenez have been his top targets thus far. Berninghaus has caught 21 passes for 329 yards and six touchdowns with Gimenez tallying 19 grabs and 242 yards. Garrett Mensing adds to the attack out of the backfield with 15 receptions for 176 yards.
Barker is a dual-threat quarterback who likes to tuck it down and run. That is evidenced by the fact he leads the team with 464 yards and six TDs on 53 carries. Mario Arroyo has taken the ball 66 times for 284 yards with Mensing scoring four times and racking up 268 yards on 36 totes.
Trying to stop that attack will be a defense that has been stout to say the least.
Huskerz linebacker Demetrius Washington leads the team with 63 tackles, an astonishing 32 of which have been behind the line of scrimmage. Mark Riley and Jordan Bouw have been the sack-masters with 18 and 14, respectively. Another linebacker, Cole Reed, has picked off a team-best eight passes this season and has returned each of them for six. Trey Diggs and Phil Nystrom add four interceptions each to a defense with virtually no holes.
Offensively, Southwest is led by running back Darieon Smith. He has an incredible 1,491 yards and 22 touchdowns on only 103 carries in eight games this season. Quarterback Jordan Larson has thrown for 928 yards with Alvin Gunter and Jarred Kinley leading the way in the receiving department.
Both teams come into tonight’s game fresh off of a bye for the Independence Day holiday. McCuen doesn’t expect the off-week to have any negative impact on his team’s momentum.
“We’re looking at this game to punch our ticket to the SPFL championship game and after that a national championship,” he said. “I believe we can do that.”
The Huskerz showed why they are the favorites to repeat as league champions last time out. In the first round of the postseason, they dismanted the North Iowa Bucks 90-0.
That game was the most lopsided in the two-year history of the team. McCuen said his players have remained level-headed despite the overwhelming blowout.
“Somtimes people will say that’s not good for a team, to win 90-0,” he said. “I question those skeptics. We could have gone out there and scored six points and won 6-0, but then people would be asking why we didn’t dominate more. We don’t care what the score is. We’re going to keep playing our game. What I worry about is the ‘W.’ If my team scores 90 points, that means we’re confident. I’d be worried if we played down to their level and only scored six points, but I love scoring 90 points.”
No matter the final score tonight, the goal is the same. The Huskerz are looking to bring the SPFL championship game to Worthington for the second straight year.
“We believe Worthington has treated us unbelievably,” McCuen said. “We wanna bring that championship back to Worthington and help put Worthington on the map. I believe we already have in terms of amateur football. Our goal last year when we started all of this was to bring a great program and a winning organization on and off the field. Hopefully we’ve pleased a lot of people, because our fans deserve that. They deserve a champion. We’re nothing without the community, nothing without our sponsors. Absolutely nothing.”
So what can fans do to help ensure the title comes back to Worthington?
“We wanna pack the stands,” McCuen said. “We need that energy from our fans. When you’re down to the final four it’s always tough. We need that energy.”

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ZACH HACKER/DAILY GLOBE Southwest receiver Jarred Kinley (17) leaps for a touchdown reception. The Huskerz host The Panic tonight.

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