MW FOOTBALL: Bluejays knock off Thunder 33-28 in home openerWORTHINGTON — Minnesota West won a shootout versus Fond du Lac Saturday in the team’s home opener 33-28. The game was not for the weak at heart, as the matchup featured five lead changes with scoring from all facets of the game.
WORTHINGTON — Minnesota West won a shootout versus Fond du Lac Saturday in the team’s home opener 33-28. The game was not for the weak at heart, as the matchup featured five lead changes with scoring from all facets of the game.
With just under 13 minutes remaining in the contest and MW trailing 28-27, MW (2-0) punt returner Calvin Davidson seemingly was going to let a punt stay put 63 yards away from the end zone. If a person watching had blinked, they would have missed Davidson jumping in the air to grab the punt and streaking down the field to put the Bluejays up 33-28, which would ultimately hold up as the final score.
“It was just instincts,” Davidson said. “It was a good ball, so I just picked it up and ran with it.
“It feels good to help the team win. It wasn’t just the punt that won it. Everybody worked hard. We just believed in each other and we came out with the victory.”
The game could not have started worse for the MW offense. The first quarter featured five offensive plays for the Bluejays, two of which resulted in fumbles right back to the Thunder.
The first fumble gave the Thunder the ball on their own 37-yard line. Fond du Lac marched down the field and capped a nearly seven-minute drive with an 18-yard touchdown pass from Cody Anderson to Chaise Jokinen to make it 7-0.
“Our offense had a couple of quick turnovers that took the gas out of us right away and put the defense in a tough position,” MW coach Jeff Linder said. “They did a good job and held them. You can’t say enough about our defense. Our guys kept playing hard and working hard.”
The MW defense did more than hold the Thunder; the defense provided the offense.
With 6:35 remaining in the second quarter, MW linebacker DeAndre Ulmer (11 tackles, two interceptions) intercepted a pass and took it 41 yards to the end zone to put the Bluejays on the board. A blocked extra point kept the score at 7-6.
“I read my keys and I kind of knew he was going to throw it there, so I jumped the route,” Ulmer said. “It was like magic right there in my hands and I just saw things open up and took off.
“We are a team together. If the offense is struggling, we just go out and execute. It doesn’t matter if we are out there the whole time or not, we just stay together as a team and we knew we could pick each other up as a team. Offense made some mistakes and defense picked them up. That’s all.”
MW made it 13-6 right before halftime when running back Zach Norman punched it in from two yards out on third down to take the momentum into halftime.
That momentum did not last long, as Fond du Lac put up 14 points in the first four minutes of the second half.
After a three-and-out on MW’s opening drive of the half, Fond du Lac running back James Griffin broke two tackles and ran 80 yards to the end zone on the Thunder’s first play from scrimmage to take a 14-13 lead.
On MW’s next drive, quarterback Logan Massop (7-of-14, 62 yards, TD, INT) was picked off by Rial Wells, who ran it 63 yards back for a touchdown. In less than two minutes, MW had gone from leading 13-7 to trailing 21-13.
“The difference between last year’s team and this year’s team is that these guys care about what’s happening with the team, rather than their individual selves,” Linder said. “When we had two tough plays where they had touchdowns, we started reeling a little bit on the sideline, but they stayed the course, they stayed together, they regrouped and they kept playing and that’s all you can ask.”
MW’s offense woke up on the ensuing drive, capping a 70-yard drive, which took a little under five minutes, with a 14-yard touchdown pass from Massop to Rex Johnson (two catches, 32 yards, TD) on a fade route in the corner of the end zone on 3rd and 7 to cut the lead to 21-20.
“We had to stay positive,” Massop said. “The defense was playing great, so we had to go out there with the mindset that we were going to make plays. We have a lot of good playmakers, so, with any given play, we can score a touchdown.
“I got great protection from my line. We worked on that a lot in practice. I trust my boy, threw it up and he got it. I believe in all my teammates. We just all have a great belief in the team right now.”
On the second play of the ensuing drive, Fond du Lac quarterback coughed up the ball on the Thunder 14-yard line, which MW’s Shaquille Lucas (10 tackles) pounced on. Two plays later, DeShawn Gohl (19 carries, 81 yards, TD) rumbled into the end zone from seven yards out to tie things up and MW kicker Tyler Smith made it 27-21 with an extra point.
“We have a lot of character,” Ulmer said. “We are one. It doesn’t matter if we win by a lot or win or by a little or how we score, we are going to stay as a team.”
Fond du Lac answered with 21 seconds remaining in the third quarter, when running back Antonio Marshall capped an 83-yard drive with a seven-yard touchdown run to give the Thunder a 28-27 lead.
Davidson’s punt return early in the fourth quarter proved to be the difference and the MW defense never allowed the Thunder to get within striking distance in the final 12 minutes.
There were a few moments after the game where Linder had his hands on his knees and needed to catch his breath. It was as if MW and Fond du Lac were competing with the sun to see which could make the fans and coaches sweat more.
“We’re just taking this one step at a time,” Linder said. “I told them that we’re just one more rung on the ladder.
“We have to forget about this game and make sure we’re focused on Mesabi.”
Minnesota West heads to Virginia Saturday to take on Mesabi with kickoff scheduled for 11 a.m.
FDL 7 0 21 0 — 28
MW 0 13 14 6 — 33
Daily Globe Sports Editor Chris Murphy may be reached at 376-7328.