The words to describe Rogersville senior rusher/linebacker Jay Gutierrez rolled off his coach’s tongue so smoothly. Said Doug Smith, “He’s a kid you can count on to find you that inch or foot, whatever you need.”
Add this among the whatevers: a tremendous stop on the goal line late in the fourth quarter.
Because that’s exactly what Gutierrez did to prevent the Marshfield Blue Jays from scoring the go-ahead touchdown Saturday, as he forced a fumble against a substitute bulldozer of a rusher and sent Rogersville to an 18-13 victory at R.A. Barr Stadium.
It was the second goal-line stop of the game for Rogersville – the other came on the final seconds of the first half – on a day when quarterback Bronson Tavenner threw for a go-ahead touchdown and ran for another, both in the second quarter. After Gutierrez’s stop with 5:11 left, the Wildcats never gave the ball back.
“I just got the read on him pretty quick. I knew he was coming,” Gutierrez said. “I got to make a play, got a hand on the ball and the guys yelled, ‘Ball,’ to get the fumble and got on it. It was downhill football, trying to keep him out of the end zone.”
Gutierrez and his opposite on the other side, Marshfield’s Jason Whittington, put on quite a show. Gutirerrez rushed for 142 yards on 24 carries, while Whittington went for a whopping 189 yards on 30 carries.
The game, a makeup of a homecoming Friday night rainout, actually had the makings of a potential springboard for Marshfield in this, the second season under coach Nate Thomas.
The Blue Jays, despite losing feature back Garrett Nunnally to an injury last week, showed encouraging signs throughout, particularly as the offensive line and Whittington found a rhythm late in the first half.
That’s what fed Marshfield’s 77-yard TD drive – it was mostly Whittington – that ended with Colin Hurley’s 2-yard scoring run in the fourth quarter.
On their next drive, the Blue Jays appeared to be en route to taking the lead. A series of penalties against Rogersville set up Marshfield well, and then Whittington broke free down the sideline for a 37-yard run.
But Whittington was tripped up just shy of the goal line on his breakaway run and suffered an apparent knee injury. That led led Thomas to install a different attack – what he called a hoss package – in hopes of plowing into the end zone for the go-ahead score.
But Gutierrez wouldn’t let it happen, as Marshfield lined up a big bruiser at running back while three other linemen began the snap lined up right behind the right guard, tackle and end. The run went the other way, creating a one-on-one that Gutierrez managed to win.
“I told (my team) I didn’t know what to tell them, other than this is going to hurt for 24 hours and we can pout about it until the end of Sunday,” Thomas said. “You can’t say much at the end of a game like that.”
At the end of the first half, Rogersville denied the same hoss package on third-and-goal at the 1 and fourth-and-goal at the 2 as time expired. A defensive end and linebacker made key stops. The fourth-quarter stop was even more magnified.
“It’s one of those things, me and my coaching staff, have to do a better job of reiterating how to win and protecting the football,” Thomas said. “In both those situations, the ball gets away from us and we have a turnover, the game completely flips around.”
In the opening half, Marshfield took a 7-6 lead on Whittington’s 17-yard touchdown run and Kaleb Kracman’s extra point kick. Those answered Gutierrez’s first-quarter, 4-yard TD run.
However, Rogersville rallied with two second-quarter scores. The first was a 33-yard pass and run – mostly run – as Tavenner connected with fullback Chesley McDonald, who broke two tackles along the sideline.
The next proved to be the game-winner, a Tavenner 37-yard touchdown run. It was 18-7 at that point.
“Defensively, we came up right before half and that stop was probably the difference in the ballgame,” Smith said. “I really felt offensively we started sputtering. But it was a big game for both teams.”
Rogersville improved to 3-2 overall, 2-1 in the Central Ozark Conference. Marshfield fell to 2-3 overall, 1-2 in the COC.
“This was huge,” Gutierrez said. “This should help us out a lot.”