OTTAWA – Homecomings can affect a football team in one of two ways, either as a distraction or a motivator. For the Marquette Crusaders, on Friday night it was definitely more the latter.
For the third straight week, Marquette jumped on its opponent right from the start, scoring 41 points on its first 10 plays from scrimmage in the opening half, then cruising to a 55-6 Chicagoland Prairie Conference victory over the young, undermanned Westmont club visiting Gould Stadium.
Payton Gutierrez registered three carries for 78 yards and two touchdowns rushing and added the Crusaders first kick return touchdown in recent memory by taking a reverse handoff from Jaxsen Higgins and returning a Sentinels punt 55 yards to paydirt.
Jacob Smith led the Cru with 82 yards and a score on just four carries, Grant Dose added 59 yards on seven and Pete McGrath 39 yards on two rushes, adding the only pass completion from quarterback Anthony Couch for a 43-yard TD.
On the flip side, Marquette (3-1) surrendered only 51 ground yards on 22 attempts, and that includes their only score on a 78-yard jaunt by quarterback Lucas Fears against Marquette’s second team in the second quarter. For the night, the Sentinels totaled just 72 yards of total offense.
“Payton’s got some jets, doesn’t he? He looked great when he got loose tonight,” Marquette coach Tom Jobst said. “The guys are executing very nicely … and everything’s working. The timing’s good, the running is good, the blocking is good, the subs came in in the second half and did a nice job, so we’re happy with all of it. I’m really happy with what the kids are doing and they’re very confident in what they’re doing.
“We know we have some good teams coming on the schedule, so for right now, we just want to keep getting better ... We don’t want to be just good. We want to be really good and that takes repetition.”
The Crusaders opened with a 17-yard scoring run by Smith on its third offensive play, then McGrath scampered 18 yards on the fourth to make it 13-0 in the game’s first four minutes.
It was then that Higgins and Gutierrez worked their punt-return magic, the latter taking the ball up the left sideline for the 55-yard score. The second of seven successful PATs kicks by junior Sam Mitre widened the gap to 20-0.
“The ball was coming toward me and we had planned to work that reverse, then I just started running,” Gutierrez said. “With the last three wins, we’re playing with confidence now. Since our first drive against Madison (in Week 2), we washed away the nervous mistakes of Week 1 (a 42-0 loss at Aurora Christian) and have been riding off that. We’re keeping a good attitude and have kept working hard.”
The Cru added two more quick scores on its next two possessions, the Couch to McGrath connection for a 43-yard TD making it 27-0 after one quarter and a 52-yard scoring run by Gutierrez widening it to 34-0.
To that point in the second period, Westmont has just 12 yards of offense before the 78-yard touchdown run by Fears, who ran only two more plays in the first half and didn’t play at all in the second due to an injury.
Even with that play, the Sentinels (1-3) finished the first two quarters with exactly 78 yards.
The four-yard burst by Gutierrez made it 41-6 with 5:02 left in the opening half, but by mutual agreement that score began the running clock.
A 15-yard touchdown by Rush Keefer and Higgins cashing in a Jimmy Lawsha interception with a 10-yard TD in the fourth set the final. There was still 2:51 showing on the game clock when the officials called the game.
“They were better than us,” Westmont coach Lee Maciejewski said. “Their program is further along than ours is. Hopefully, someday we’ll be able to compete with them.”
The Crusaders travel to Melrose Park next Saturday for a 1 p.m. contest against Walther Christian.