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Bluejays roll into MCCC playoffs

Combining a big play offense with a reliable defense, the Minnesota West Bluejays football team defeated Fergus Falls, 35-7, Saturday in the Minnesota Community College Conference regular season finale for both teams.

The victory capped an undefeated regular season for the Bluejays (4-0 Southern Division, 9-0 overall), who host Mesabi Range in the MCCC semifinals Saturday at 1 p.m.

In defeating the Spartans (2-7), the Bluejays utilized an effective rushing attack -- which improved as the game progressed -- along with a pair of quick-strike touchdown passes by quarterback Jay Scheidt to open an early lead.

Four players -- Casley Green, Steve Wadlington, Elrazor Sharp and Arnold Timmons -- combined for 43 rushing attempts and 330 net yards.

"We started out slow offensively," said Minnesota West head coach Jeff Linder. "But we did pick it up as our offensive line improved in the second half, and we ran the ball much better."

While the running attack struggled early on, the Bluejays countered with two first quarter touchdown passes to open up a 13-0 lead.

Seven minutes into the game, Minnesota West's Walki Ambroise streaked behind the Spartan defenders and Scheidt laid the ball in, completing a 44-yard scoring play.

Four minutes later, the Bluejays scored through the air again as Scheidt tossed a 28-yard TD pass to tight end Chris Clay, who wrestled the ball away from a Fergus Falls defender in the end zone, giving Minnesota West a 13-0 lead with 3:25 left in the first quarter.

Meanwhile, the Bluejays' defense was consistently stopping Fergus Falls, especially the running game.

"Our defense did a super job all game long," said Linder. "Our guys really got after them and we tackled well."

The Minnesota West defense scored the game's next points as linebacker Tyler Skow sacked Will Thammavongsa for a safety after Michael Veskrna's 29-yard punt had pinned Fergus Falls on their own 1-yard line.

The Bluejay offense, however, failed to do much with its next possession, leaving Linder a bit upset at halftime.

"That was a good time for a nice drive, but we did not rush the ball like we are capable of," he said. "I was disappointed in our second-quarter offense."

But improved intensity and blocking by the Minnesota West interior linemen -- Vance Paulson, Paul Clausen, Louis Nazere, Keenan Kitchen and Aaron Timmons -- resulted in a strong second-half rushing performance.

A former offensive lineman himself, Linder knows well the importance of getting the job done up front.

"Those guys are the first guys blamed when it goes wrong and they seldom get credit when it's right," Linder said. "But they came out and got the done job after halftime."

That improvement was evidenced on West's second series of the third quarter.

After four consecutive carries by Wadlington (who netted 119 yards on 23 attempts) gained 21 yards, Sharp broke through a hole on the left side and raced 43 yards for a touchdown.

Leading 22-0, the Bluejays continued to move the ball on the ground. Green followed a 14-yard gain with a 57-yard burst to the Spartan three-yard line, utilizing an effective stiff-arm to spring himself after slipping through a hole on the left side.

On the next play -- the first of the fourth quarter -- Green carried three yards for the TD and a 29-0 West lead.

Sharp scored the final Bluejay TD with seven minutes to play, capping an eight-play, 77-yard drive with a one-yard surge -- his school record-breaking 16th TD of the season.

A 29-yard run by Green (who rushed nine times for 126 yards) and a 30-yard pass completion from Jesse Brown to Clay were the key plays of the drive.

The Spartans, who were held to just 62 yards rushing and were 17-of-37 passing for 160 yards, finally scored with 47 seconds remaining on a 14-yard pass play from Wes Stettner to Andrew Rousslange.

Clay had three catches for 64 yards, while Sharp carried seven times for 61 yards.

Justin Scales topped the Bluejay tackle chart with 13. Veskrna (11) Trey Diggs (seven) and Justin Olsen (six) were next, while Easton Laackman, Robert McKee and David Connors each charted five stops.

Fergus Falls 0 0 0 7 -- 7

MW 13 2 7 13 -- 35