MAIZE – Gary Guzman is a stoic man, wildly different from most football coaches, from whom emotion drips from every pore.
Friday night provided Guzman, Maize’s coach, with a moment where he set aside his usual stoicism. With red-rimmed eyes, he admitted how much it meant to open the season with a 20-13 win over defending Class 6A champion Derby.
“It’s been a tough game against Derby every year,” said Guzman, whose team is ranked second in Class 5A. “It hasn’t been close. .… After last year’s loss to them, coming in here, defending state champions, we knew we had to play our butts off. We had a lot of adversity we had to overcome in the game. I’m just very proud of them. That’s a very good ballclub.”
Guzman’s emotion, still tempered compared to virtually everyone else on the planet, stems from Maize’s struggles to beat Derby. It stems from the 62-13 walloping at Derby in 2013.
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“Last year we had a very good ballclub, I can’t explain why that happened,” Guzman said.
There were shades of 2013 in the first quarter, as Derby, ranked fourth in 6A, once again capitalized on Maize mistakes.
Maize opened by allowing a 67-yard kickoff return by Derby senior Curtis Whitten, a senior transfer from Heights, to the Maize 26. The Panthers scored five plays later on a 4-yard run by Garrett Xanders for a 6-0 lead.
Whitten, who showcased his speed and ability to stop and change direction, finished with one touchdown and 123 rushing yards on 18 carries, although he lost two fumbles in the final two minutes.
On Maize’s first series, Derby linebacker Nate Crossman intercepted Connor Lungwitz.
Three minutes into the game and Derby was threatening to score its second touchdown, starting on the Maize 30. If there wasn’t a collective clenching of stomaches on the Maize sideline, it would be a surprise.
“Started having flashbacks,” Guzman said.
So did Lungwitz.
“When they came out and scored and I get a pick,” Lungwitz said. “… Last year we all dropped our heads. I knew it wasn’t going to be a blowout. It was going to be a dogfight.”
Maize’s defense held firm, just enough, to force Derby to turn it over on downs at the Eagles’ 11.
So maybe this wasn’t going to be a repeat of last season.
Maybe Maize’s defense could hange with the speed of Whitten, Xanders and quarterback Brady Rust.
“I don’t care what anyone says about our defense,” Lungwitz said. “We held Derby to 13 points.”
“We used more defensive backs, skill position (players),” Maize senior Elijah West said. “We had more athletes.”
Still, Maize needed its high-powered, experienced offense to make an appearance, which wasn’t easy against a Derby defense that held the Eagles to 86 first-half yards. Featured back Jordan Guerrero had minus-2 yards on five carries.
But Maize took advantage of Derby mistakes at key times.
Maize’s first scoring drive was extended when, on third-and-7 at its 26, Derby was called for pass interference. Then, when Lungwitz bulled his way to a 10-yard gain on fourth-and-1, chaos ensued.
Flags flew and a referee had to hold back a Derby player. Derby received a personal foul penalty, while Maize got an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty of its own for a player coming onto the field from the sideline.
Five plays later, Lungwitz hit Guerrero for an 8-yard touchdown to tie the score with 4:57 remaining in the first half.
Penalties plagued Derby all game. Twice in the first half, Derby was called for holding back to the Maize 38 and subsequently turned it over on downs.
Derby coach Brandon Clark had his own halftime conversation with his team that turned out to be prophetic. “We’re going to beat ourselves if we’re going to get beat,” he said he told his team. “It was big penalties that set us back or we put the ball on the ground.”
Maize’s game-winning drive was extended by a pass-interference penalty, and six plays later, Gabe Chavez put the Eagles up 20-13 on a 5-yard reception from Lungwitz.
Lungwitz finished 20 of 30 passing for 140 yards and three touchdowns, including a 17-yard pass to Dylan Jones early in the fourth to go up 13-6.
But in the first half, Lungwitz led Maize with 14 rushing yards.
Guerrero was a key second-half difference, when he ran for 82 yards.
At the half, “I told him he had to run harder, and he responded,” Guzman said. “He hit the hole and hit it hard. You gotta run hard. You can’t tiptoe.”
Guzman stayed on the field longer than most, soaking in the win. He listened to one Maize player after another ringing the huge bell in the south end zone.
“I might not leave the field tonight,” Guzman said with a laugh.
D — Xanders 4 run (missed kick)
M — Guerrero 8 pass from Lungwitz (blocked kick)
M — Jones 17 pass from Lungwitz (Sanchez kick)
D — Whitten 1 run (Moeder kick)
M — Chavez 5 pass from Lungwitz (Sanchez kick)
Rushing — Derby, Whitten 18-123, Rust 16-48, Xanders 8-66, Lemons 1-11. Maize, Guerrero 23-84, Lungwitz 4-14, Chavez 4-13, Karst 2-20.
Passing — Derby, Rust 6-11-54-0, Dawdy 0-1-0-0. Maize, Lungwitz 20-30-140-1.
Receiving — Derby, Xanders 1-11, Whitten 5-43. Maize, Chavez 10-77, Lee 3-21, Jones 2-18, Stewart 3-14, Guerrero 2-10.