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College football: Bluejays take on unbeaten Rochester Saturday

WORTHINGTON —As Minnesota West head football coach Jeff Linder surveyed his troops on a crisp, sunny Thursday morning, he noted to a bystander how loose and tranquil everyone seemed.

It was a good sign, he said. On Saturday, the Bluejays are set to host the undefeated Rochester Yellowjackets in what figures to be their biggest challenge of the 2013 season.

“They’re getting their assignments down and being relaxed. They’ve been really focused this week,” Linder said of his Jays.

The last time Minnesota West beat Rochester was in 2005 when the Bluejays went undefeated in the regular season. Today the Jays possess a 5-2 record (2-1 in the Southern Division) compared to the Yellowjackets’ 7-0 (3-0 in the division). Rochester is the top-ranked Minnesota College Athletic Conference (MCAC) team. Minnesota West is No. 5.

The Yellowjackets lead the Southern Division in team offense and in team defense. They have rushed for 2,163 yards in seven games — more than 700 more than second-best Minnesota West’s 1,405 — and their 1,193 yards passing also rates well ahead of West’s 569. They average 479.4 yards per game compared to the Bluejays’ 282.

Defensively, the Jackets have allowed an average of 188.9 total yards per game compared to West’s 232.9. Rochester has scored 315 total points and allowed 90. West has scored 207 and allowed 123.

Both teams are coming off solid victories. While Minnesota West eased past Minnesota State-Fergus Falls 27-7, Rochester defeated Ridgewater (the state’s fourth-ranked team this week) 26-14. Ironically, all of this week’s Southern Division Player of the Week honors are shared by Rochester and Minnesota West players.

The Bluejays’ Reuben Lindon II rushed 13 times for 138 yards and two touchdowns last weekend, and he shares Offensive Player of the Week honors with Rochester wide receiver Josh Zitzmann, who caught four passes for 115 yards and two TDs in the Ridgewater game. West’s Cha’ Ron Thompson is the Defensive Player of the Week after getting 10 tackles (five solo), 4.5 sacks and one forced fumble against Fergus Falls. Rochester punter Brandon Siverston is the Special Teams Player of the Week based on last weekend’s five punts for an average of 43.8 yards — with four of those pinning Ridgewater inside its own 20-yard line.

“You always want to play the best. And Rochester’s the best,” said Linder, who described the Yellowjackets as a disciplined outfit that will always make their opponents pay for their mistakes.

“They’re very well balanced,” he added. “They’ve got a lot of numbers and they’re pretty well equal run and pass.”

Linder is reminding his players that they control their own playoff destiny this week if they knock off the Yellowjackets, thus assuring themselves a first-round trip to Brainerd to play Central Lakes. Seeded No. 3 in the postseason playoff scheme (Rochester is No. 1 and Central Lakes is No. 2), the Bluejays would fall to No. 4 and go on the road to play Rochester if they lose and Ridgewater upsets Central Lakes on Saturday.

Regardless of postseason implications, Linder says his Bluejays relish the chance to test themselves against the Yellowjackets.

“There’s no doubt about it, the opportunity presents itself. We just gotta go out and play hard,” he said.

Game time is 1:30 p.m. at Trojan Field.

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 seven grandchildren. Doug, retired after a lengthy career in fast-pitch softball, enjoys reading, strumming his acoustic guitar and hanging around his grandchildren. He also writes books on fiction. Two of his stories, "The Genuine One" and "The Old Man in Section 129" have been distributed through a national publisher.

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