Zagreb knows Houtz
The CNC Gladiators won their fourth CEFL game in a row against Zagreb Thunder, but they did have some trouble with the Croats from the start.
Starting Quarterback Bernhard Kamber was missing; he is still with a shoulder injury, but also away on a trip to Istanbul. Some other regular players were missing too, including their Black Lions players, who played Saturday in the Austrian Football League.
That gave way for the juniors to have an opportunity to play more significant minutes. “We have a problem with our small roster”, said backup-quarterback Joe Widner. “We can lament, or try to solve it. One of our ideas was giving the juniors playing time in order to relieve other players. We will definitely seek for reinforcements in summer, because we want to compete with the Vukovi.”
The experiment briefly threatened to fail, as the guests from Croatia proved themselves as somewhat of a big play expert. Ivan Klarić caught a pass from Damir Župan at the Glads 8-yard line and ran shortly after for the 3-7 Thunder lead. Manuel Houtz scored a field goal prior to that.
The attempts by Joe Widner passing to one of his many receivers failed several times, sometimes miserably. “I do not see above the line and I cannot compensate this handicap with experience in that position. It worked in practice, but not in the game, so we abandoned it again”, Widner said about his „QB-skills“.
But it flopped maybe for the better. Running back Martin Bauer ran in the second quarter for the 10-7 Gladiators lead, immediately followed by the next big play of Zagreb. Marko Tošić caught a short pass and ran with the ball 70 yards into the Gladiators end zone. The play of the game belonged to Manuel Houtz and his one-handed catch, including a run in the end zone. The defense was again strength of the „Burgenlanders“, as they were stopping Zagreb except for the three long scores. Thus the first half ended with a safety for the Gladiators, after a bad snap led to a fumble in Zagreb’s end zone - 19:14.
After the restart, the Gladiators gave up on their passing attempts, rushing only; it immediately payed off when Martin Bauer, increasingly used as a running back, made it 26:14.
The third and final big play from the Croats again led to a touchdown. Marko Tosic caught the ball at the 7 yard line and rushed for 26:21. But neither before nor after that, the Croats would be able to mount a drive and the rest was done by the hosts. Josef Rosenecker and Martin Bauer scored their second touchdowns in the game to put the game out of hand for the visiting team.
Noteworthy performance by Manuel Houtz, who played a dominant role on offense, defense and special teams -- he defended the Thunder pass plays, he set the important tackles, he carried the kick returns deep into the field, scored a field goal and a touchdown -- so much so, that Zagreb players know the name Houtz better than any other Austrian name.
All the more tragic for the Gladiators that his career will be interrupted. After the two games in the Austrian league, Houtz will continue his training as an Army Sergeant and only very occasionally be available. “I should be ready again in March 2009, with all tests done. Then I'll play again”, says Houtz.
Who will replace him? A question to which Joe Widner says: “Who can ever replace him? For me, Manny is one of the most complete and best players in the country at all and therefore can not be replaced.”
“I saw the player today for the first time in action and I am thrilled. He is simply always there, just where the ball is. How does he do it?” asked Rudi Halbartschlager, the stadium announcer.
Houtz shrugs his shoulders. “I do not know exactly. Others like to read the papers; I love to read a game.”