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College football: Minnesota West runs into buzzsaw

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sports Worthington, 56187
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THIEF RIVER FALLS —On paper, it shouldn’t have happened like that.

But football players aren’t paper. No one knows that more than Minnesota West head football coach Jeff Linder.

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Linder said he knew that the Northland Lumberjacks were an outstanding football team. “I knew this would be a good, true test for us,” he said Sunday morning, looking back on what many Bluejays fans will consider a shocker.

The Bluejays headed into Thief River Falls on Saturday riding high. They were 3-0 and coming off a 38-6 victory against Mesabi Range. Sophomore running back Reuben Linton II was the toast of the nation, having been named the NJCAA Offensive Player of the Week.

And Northland? They had a 1-2 record. Yes, the Lumberjacks were No. 5 in the state rankings. But West was No. 4. A close game, yeah, that made sense. But not this.

Northland was a rude host, defeating Minnesota West 33-13 on Saturday. The Jacks outscored the Jays 20-0 in the second quarter en route to a 26-0 halftime lead. Linton II, who rushed for 246 yards and scored four touchdowns against Mesabi Range, was held to zero net yards on eight carries by the Lumberjacks. He caught one pass for seven yards, returned one punt for 19 yards and returned three kicks for a total of 45 yards.

Needless to say, he was controlled.

Linder said there were several factors that contributed to the end result.

“We just had too many miscues, missed assignments, turnovers. We just didn’t have a good day.”

The missed assignments occurred both offensively and defensively.

Offensively, Linder said, “they just did some things to us defensively that we were ready for and we didn’t adjust on the line.”

The Bluejays spent most of the game without their starting quarterback, Logan Massop, who left the game in the first quarter not to return. Massop was unable to complete any of his three passes before being hit on an elbow by a helmet. He suffered only a bruise, but the bruise tightened up, making it difficult to throw. Freshman Colin Brons finished up, completing 10 of 28 passes for 120 yards and a touchdown.

Brons had two of his passes intercepted. Massop also threw an interception. The Bluejays also lost two fumbles in the game.

Without a doubt, the Northland defenders were more ready than their counterparts were. The Jacks treated Linton like the game-changer he is, stacking the box with eight defenders and dropping a safety.

“They knew where Reuben was at all times. But again, we had some miscues on the offensive line,” said Linder.

Northland’s Justan Taliaferro, who hit on 14 of 25 passes for 133 yards with no interceptions, fired four touchdown passes to lead his team’s offensive effort. The first covered 27 yards to Kade Klasen, the second covered 13 yards to Klasen and the third covered three yards to Darian Nelson. The fourth — still before halftime — covered two yards to James Steffen.

The game’s only third quarter score was turned in by Northland’s reserve quarterback, Alex Johnson, on a 61-yard connection to Klasen.

Northland led 33-0 before Minnesota West got on the scoreboard.

Finally in the fourth stanza, the Bluejays erased their zero as freshman defensive back Braxton Moorer intercepted a pass from Johnson and returned it 38 yards to paydirt. Later, Brons hooked up with Zach Norman on a 20-yard TD pass.

Norman led the Bluejay rushing game with 50 yards on 12 carries, but as a team Minnesota West could muster only 21 net rushing yards on 33 attempts.

Northland rushed 43 times for 85 yards and completed 18 of 33 aerials for 252 yards. West’s 21 yards rushing and 120 yards passing accounted for just 141 yards overall. The Jays were also flagged for 12 penalties for 77 yards.

An uninformed spectator might have said the game revealed Minnesota West as an overrated team. On Sunday morning, Linder would have none of that, referring instead to a “wake-up call” he and his Jays received on Saturday.

“We didn’t mentally and physically get it done. We’ve gotta learn from that,” Linder said. “We’re a very good football team. But you still have to work hard, you still have to be disciplined. You still have to do all the things you need to do to win.”

Minnesota West’s next opponent is Ridgewater, at Worthington, on Saturday beginning at 1:30 p.m. The Warriors, who defeated Minnesota State-Fergus Falls 37-7 on Saturday, will provide the Bluejays with another stern test. They headed into the weekend ranked third in the state two-year school rankings.

In other games, Fond du Lac defeated Itasca 64-6, Rochester beat Central Lakes 48-21 and Vermilion beat Mesabi Range 17-14.

MWest 0 0 0 13 — 13

Northland 6 20 7 0 — 33

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Doug Wolter
Doug Wolter is the Daily Globe sports editor. He served as sports reporter, then sports editor, news editor and finally managing editor at the Daily Globe for 22 years before leaving for seven years to work as night news editor at the Mankato Free Press in Mankato. Doug now lives in Worthington with his wife, Sandy. They have three children and six grandchildren. Doug, retired after a lengthy career in fast-pitch softball, enjoys reading, strumming his acoustic guitar and hanging around his grandchildren. He self-publishes short stories in his spare time. Two of his stories, "The Genuine One" and "The Old Man in Section 129" are being distributed through a national publisher.
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