College football: Bluejays move to 3-0
WORTHINGTON — Three games into the 2013 football season, the Minnesota West Bluejays have yet to be seriously challenged. Maybe that was why head coach Jeff Linder had that wide grin on his face after handshakes were exchanged Saturday afternoon on Trojan Field.
Moments earlier, the Jays capped off a 38-6 victory over winless Mesabi Range. Linder stated the obvious.
“We played well. We ran the ball well. We didn’t have to throw the ball much,” said the coach.
The Bluejays are not perfect, but a few things are quite obvious. The Jays have a solid stable of running backs led by sophomores Reuben Linton II and Zach Norman. The offensive line opens holes and protects the quarterback. The defense stops the run, harries opposing quarterbacks and covers receivers well.
The team began the season with confidence, and its confidence is growing.
West has yet to hit on all cylinders with the passing game, and on Saturday a rash of foolish penalties marred the second half of the Mesabi Range contest. Those things can be corrected. For now, the Bluejays sit at a comfortable 3-0 heading into their next weekend game on the road against the 1-2 Northland Pioneers.
The biggest West star on Saturday, by far, was Linton II, who —after wowing Jays fans with at least a couple of highlight-reel touchdowns in the season opener —seems to be getting even better each week. Against the Norsemen, he found the end zone four times. He erased a 0-0 tie with 9:29 remaining in the first quarter with a 66-yard run where he slipped a tackle inside, broke to one sideline, deftly sidestepped the lone tackler in position to stop him short of the goal line, and sprinted untouched for the score.
After a three-yard TD run by quarterback Logan Massop, Linton II got his next touchdown in the second stanza on a 32-yard romp. Again, he started inside, found little room, and bounced to the edge, putting on the jets through the Mesabi secondary.
Leading 21-7 at halftime, West scored again in the third quarter on a 27-yard field goal by its accurate sophomore kicker, Tyler Smith, who was 5-of-5 with extra points. Then came more Linton II, who scored his third touchdown of the day with 3:30 remaining in the third quarter by slicing through the middle of the beleaguered Norseman defense on a nine-yard carry. On the very first play of the fourth quarter, on a fourth-and-inches play, Linton TD No. 4 was notched on a 47-yard run.
Down 38-0, Mesabi Range got its only score with 12:42 left in the game as quarterback Trevonite Brock connected on a six-yard pass to Derrick Reynolds in the far back side of the end zone. Reynolds made a remarkable leaping catch and barely managed to touch ground in bounds.
Linton II had half a season’s worth of statistics in one afternoon, rushing 23 times for 246 yards. The 5-10, 190-pound back from San Antonio, Texas, is an undeniable fan favorite — a smooth, graceful runner with outstanding field vision who hits gaps in the defense quickly and decisively.
Linder saved his biggest post-game smile when Linton II’s heroics were recalled.
“His offensive line has helped him a lot. And he’s the first to let them know that,” he said.
Norman was solid throughout, carrying 20 times for 107 yards. Overall, the Jays rushed 51 times for 383 yards.
The Minnesota West defense held Mesabi to 61 yards rushing on 26 attempts. The Norsemen attempted 28 passes, completing just 12 for 78 yards. They surrendered three sacks and one interception — by linebacker Matt Shively.
West’s passing game was not expected to be inconsistent this year, but it continues to struggle. The decorated Massop completed a freshman season in which he earned All-Division honorable mention, and he returns this year with a solid stable of receivers. But on Saturday, he could complete just one of nine passes for 21 yards, with a pair of interceptions.
Linder sat Massop down in the second half to give freshman signal caller Colin Brons a few snaps. Brons, a 6-4, 200-pounder from Harris-Lake Park, Iowa, was 1-for-1 for eight yards.
After the game, Linder stressed that his benching of Massop was only meant to give him a rest and to let Brons — “a very good quarterback” —get some work in.
“That’s going to take some confidence-building, with both the receivers and the quarterbacks. We’ve had time to throw the ball,” Linder said of the passing attack.
The only other negative in an otherwise happy Saturday was the penalty situation. West was hit with 22 penalties for a grand total of 183 yards, many of them coming in the fourth quarter and several due to a chippiness that had set in on both sides. Linder chastised his Bluejays for the flags they encouraged … but also made it a point to praise them for an otherwise strong team performance.
In other games Saturday, Central Lakes beat Itasca 49-7, Rochester beat Fond du Lac 26-0, Ridgewater edged Northland 19-4 and Vermilion topped Fergus Falls 22-7. Central Lakes, Ridgewater, Rochester and West all sport 3-0 records in the MCAC Southern Division.
Mesabi 0 0 0 6 — 6
MWest 14 7 10 7 — 38