Riverside Brookfield High School head coach Sam Styler decided to take a shot on the Bulldogs first offensive play Friday night. He called for a long pass and senior quarterback Diego Gutierrez hit senior receiver Tohima Tucker on a deep post pattern for a 73-yard touchdown that was the start of a sizzling first half for Gutierrez and gave the host Bulldogs a lead they never relinquished on their way to a 35-27 non-conference win over Hinsdale South.
The big play was the result of film study, and confidence in his quarterback.
“It was something that we kind of knew, their safeties were going to be up a little bit, we knew that their corners probably weren’t going to be able to stay with our guys very much,” Styler said. “All week we were talking about having a big play to start off the jump and we were able to do just that. It was a great ball and Tohima had a great catch and it was perfectly executed.”
Gutierrez completed 20 of his 27 passes and threw for a career high four touchdowns and career high 335 yards. In the first half Gutierrez was on fire completing 11 of 13 passes for 272 yards and all four touchdowns as the Bulldogs (2-0) stormed to a 28-13 halftime lead.
“I was in rhythm,” Gutierrez said of his second quarter when he threw for three touchdowns. “I just kept going. I was taking what I got. They weren’t stopping me at all. It feels like my first read was always there and I was confident in what I was able to do so I was excited about that.”
In the second quarter Gutierrez hit Luke Kumskis (18 yards), Anthony Petrucci (7 yards) and James Espino (3 yards) for touchdowns. Gutierrez, a returning starter at quarterback, has taken his game to a whole new level this season. He has thrown seven touchdown passes in the first two games of the season.
“This year I feel way more confident,” Gutierrez said. “I’m confident in my skills and the skills around me. It’s going to be a great season.”
That confidence, and his production, is the product of a lot of hard work that the 6-foot, 182 pound Gutierrez put in during the offseason.
Five days a week, starting the Monday after the Bulldogs loss to Kaneland in the first round of the playoffs at the end of last season, Gutierrez drove all the way to Highland Park to train with former Notre Dame linebacker Kerry Neal, who played one season in the NFL, at Neal’s WIN Performance gym. He worked on strength and explosiveness.
“It’s a long way every day but my parents made the sacrifice, to pay for gas,” Gutierrez said.
Gutierrez also attended numerous camps. Always a dangerous runner, Gutierrez, a four-year varsity player saw significant playing time as a backup, and as a change of pace quarterback as sophomore, is now a more poised and accurate passer.
“I just feel like my eyes are more open and I feel like more confident with my arm,” Gutierrez said. “I feel like this is going to be a big year for me passing wise and running wise too.”
Styler has noticed the improvement.
“I don’t know anybody that works harder than that kid in the offseason, through all the coaches and camps and weightlifting and all that,” Styler said. “He’s just the ultimate competitor. Having a second year in the offensive scheme, obviously he’s much more comfortable with that. He’s a great leader to have; he’s a great quarterback to have.”
Gutierrez is a vocal team leader, calling plays and revving up the offense on the sideline. He was hoarse by the time Friday’s game ended.
“Me losing my voice is nothing new, this happens every year,” said a raspy voiced Gutierrez after the game.
As if he is not doing enough on the field with his passing and running, 10 carries for 23 yards including three kneel downs to end the game, Gutierrez also runs to retrieve the ball after every one of kicker Naimh Larson’s five extra points. It’s just a little superstition he has.
“I don’t trust anybody with my ball,” Gutierrez said. “It’s a thing. I feel like me and my ball are connected so I feel like any time it’s kicked I’ve got to go grab it.”
Larson, a senior, is a perfect 11 for 11 on extra points this season.
The only flaw in Gutierrez’s game was the two interceptions he threw.
“Those are just little mental mistakes,” Gutierrez said. “I thought I saw a guy open but they closed up on him pretty fast. I should have run the ball but the playmaker in me wants to make a play.”
The Bulldogs have scored 83 points in their first two games against West Suburban Conference Gold opponents Morton (0-2) and Hinsdale South (0-2). They almost had another touchdown Friday but Kumskis (six catches, 86 yards) fumbled just before he crossed the goal line on a one yard run in the first quarter.
“We’ve got a lot of weapons out there,” Styler said. “Our offensive line is really starting to come together and we have some mean dudes out there. The offense is moving it at a crazy clip right now.”
Junior running back Sean Rau scored what proved to be the decisive touchdown on a three-yard run with 8:56 left in the third quarter to give the Bulldogs a 35-13 lead.
But the Bulldogs didn’t score for the rest of the game and Hinsdale South scored the final two touchdowns of the game. The Hornets pulled to within one score when quarterback Langston Love hit Ayden Farrare on a 16-yard touchdown pass with 2:24 left in the game.
But a 10-yard run for a first down by Kumskis allowed the Bulldogs to run out the clock.
The Bulldogs defense, especially in the secondary, was shaky at times allowing Hinsdale South to roll up 544 yards on offense. But the defense came up with some key stops. Linebacker Armanzo Stegall recovered a fumble and junior defensive end Kaleb McCottry was a disruptive force.
The Bulldogs open their one and only game this season in the Southland Conference by hosting Bloom (1-1) Friday evening.