College football: Bluejays hoping to bounce back Saturday
WORTHINGTON — The Minnesota West Bluejays hope to prove on Saturday that their debacle at Thief River Falls last week was an aberration, and not something that’s bound to be repeated.
The Bluejays football team was riding high at 3-0 last Saturday before being brought down to earth, 33-13, by Northland. This Saturday, the Jays are back on home turf and face another strong opponent in Southern Division rival Ridgewater. The Warriors, who beat Northland earlier this season, are 4-0 and ranked No. 2 in the state. West is 3-1 and ranked No. 5.
Game time is 1:30 p.m. at Trojan Field.
Minnesota West head coach Jeff Linder said his troops have gone through a good week of practice. But there are no guarantees until this weekend.
“It all comes down to showing up on Saturday, playing hard and minimizing mistakes,” Linder said Thursday.
Nothing seemed to go right for the Bluejays against Northland. The score was 26-0 at halftime and 33-0 heading into the fourth quarter, where the Jays scored all of their 13 points. Turnovers and penalties plagued the visitors almost from the start.
Ridgewater presents a package very familiar to the Jays. The Warriors prefer a physical brand of defense where blitzes are common in hopes of creating turnovers — which is what the Bluejays like to do, too.
Offensively, Ridgewater possesses a solid running game led by Martell Baker, this week’s Southern Division Offensive Player of the Week who ranks third in the division in rushing yardage (466; 6.4 yards per attempt). Quarterback Wes Oswald ranks third in the division in passing yardage.
Minnesota West has its share of offensive stars, too, led by sophomore running back Reuben Linton II, who was named the NJCAA Player of the Week last week after a game against Mesabi Range in which he rushed for 246 yards and four touchdowns.
But against Northland Linton was held to zero net yards on eight carries, with one pass reception for seven yards and three kick returns for 45.
For Jays fans, what happened to Linton last weekend was shocking. He had seemed unstoppable through the first three weeks of the season.
Fortunately, said Linder Thursday, Linton is the type of player who handles adversity well.
“He’s never been one to complain or point fingers, or anything of that nature. And that’s the sign of a very good young man who knows that some things don’t always go your way,” Linder said. “He’s encouraging (of his teammates), and that’s the sign of a good athlete.”
Linder fully understands that the speedy, shifty Linton is going to have to work for his yards from here on out.
“These teams are going to focus on Reuben. So we’re going to have to find ways to take the pressure off a bit,” Linder said.
One way to do that would be to become more consistent in the passing game. Linder’s offenses always strive for balance, but balance has been hard to come by this season —in part due to what has been, until the Northland game, a powerful West running game, and in part due to the fact that the aerial attack has struggled.
“We had to use it more last week, and you could see that we hadn’t used it so much in the previous contests — which can make you a little rusty,” Linder said.
Veteran West quarterback Logan Massop, who missed most of last week’s game due to injury, will be back under center Saturday.