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College football: Bluejays' first playoff game is a rematch up north

WORTHINGTON — One statement made. Another one to make.

The Minnesota West Bluejays upset an unbeaten juggernaut last weekend in Worthington. The next item on the agenda is to go back to Brainerd, the site of one of their two regular season losses.

This time, the implications are larger. It’s the start of the playoff season.

The Bluejays played aggressive and inspired football in beating Minnesota’s top-ranked two-year college, Rochester, 32-24 last weekend. On Saturday in Brainerd, at 1 p.m., they go against the Central Lakes Raiders —a team they lost to 50-39 on Oct. 5. The Jays led the Raiders in that one, 27-14, at halftime, only to be outscored 36-12 in the second half.

Central Lakes is 7-1 overall and finished 3-1 in the Southern Division. Minnesota West is 6-2 and 3-1.

Minnesota West head coach Jeff Linder said the Rochester victory came at an opportune time.

“The team really came together for that game,” he said. “Leading into the playoffs it’s always good to have a big win. Now we just have to carry that momentum over to Central Lakes.”

The Jays may have something else working in their favor in the Central Lakes rematch: a psychological edge. But Linder cautions against relying on the revenge as a hook to hang their helmets on.

“There’s always that motivating factor, because we were leading that game and ended up losing that game. But it’s always tough to win up there, regardless,” he said.

Linder’s belief that the Raiders are a team particularly stubborn in giving up losses on their home turf is coupled with the first-hand knowledge that their quarterback, Andrew Johnson, is in Linder’s words, a “playmaker.” In the first meeting, Johnson completed 19 of 35 passes for five touchdowns.

“We found out in that first game that he doesn’t buckle under pressure,” Linder said Thursday.

Johnson heads into Saturday’s showdown as the top-ranked signal caller in the Southern Division with a 54.3 percent completion ratio, 2,040 yards and 19 touchdowns. Teammate Sam Moriarty is the top receiver in the division with 34 catches for 464 yards and seven TDs. Central Lakes has the No. 2-ranked offense in the division (Minnesota West ranks fourth) and the No. 4-ranked defense (West is No. 3).

For most of the 2013 season, the Bluejays have won with a sure-tackling, aggressive defense and with a running game spearheaded by sophomores Reuben Linton II and Zach Norman. But against Rochester, second-year quarterback Logan Massop enjoyed his best passing output of the season. The Bluejays appear to be hitting on all cylinders now.

But a coach’s job is to avoid overconfidence at all cost. Linder remembers that in the first game with Central Lakes his Bluejays neglected to keep up the pressure after getting their lead. They played not to lose instead of to win, and they lost their advantage.

On Saturday, he said, “We’ve got to stay composed like we did against Rochester.”

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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