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College football: Minnesota West dumps Ridgewater

DOUG WOLTER/DAILY GLOBE Minnesota West football defenders Matt Shively (40), Sharvarus Coleman (27) and Mike Cooper (7) converge on Ridgewater ball carrier Andrew Walstrom (18) in Saturday’s game at Trojan Field in Worthington.

WORTHINGTON —The offense needed a kick-start from the defense after a scoreless first half. So Cha’Ron Thompson stepped up.

Thompson, a 6-1 sophomore linebacker, cradled a fumble and returned it 24 yards to the Ridgewater 6-yard line to set up Minnesota West’s first touchdown early in the third quarter. Then late in the same quarter, he returned an interception 33 yards to the Ridgewater 24, setting up TD No. 2.

The Minnesota West football team, coming off a disappointing 33-13 setback on the road to Northland, returned home Saturday and patched up its problems, beating a previously unbeaten Ridgewater team 26-6 to improve to 4-1 on the season.

Ridgewater entered the game ranked No. 2 in the latest Minnesota College Athletic Conference poll. Minnesota West was No. 5.

Twice, Thompson was in the right place at the right time when the Bluejays needed a big play. His first defensive gem occurred at the Ridgewater 30-yard line when the Warriors sent a runner straight into West’s rigid defensive line. Thompson was in position to clean up on the play when the ball popped into the air. He grabbed it as if he was expecting it, then raced down the left sideline where his teammates were standing, cheering him on. A few plays later, aided by a Ridgewater penalty that moved the ball to the two, quarterback Logan Massop found Elliott Oldham on a TD pass —Massop slipping and falling to the turf while making the throw.

Tyler Smith kicked the extra point and West led 7-0 with 11:42 left to play in the quarter.

Ridgewater moved 75 yards for its first score on its next possession, using pass plays to cover most of the real estate. Warriors quarterback Wes Oswald scored the touchdown on a one-yard carry into the line with 7:38 showing on the third quarter clock, but the extra point was blocked.

It was Thompson, again, who put his offensive buddies into position for their next score. The Warriors had set up shop after stripping West running back Reuben Linton II of the football and recovering at their own 43-yard line. Moments later an Oswald pass bounced off the hands of a receiver and into the hands of Thompson, who returned it 39 yards to the Warriors’ 24.

Linton scored the ensuing touchdown on a third-and-three play, spinning to break two tackles upon receiving the handoff from Massop, then sprinting 17 yards through several Warriors grasping at air. It was 14-6 West, with 5:24 remaining in the third quarter, following Smith’s PAT.

“Usually, when I make plays like that, they (the defense) get right on me,” Thompson said of his fumble return moments after the game ended.

He recalled: “My speed got up and my energy got up, because I saw my teammates cheering me on from the sideline. That was big. That was very big.”

Thompson said West head coach Jeff Linder oversaw a week of practice that stressed the mental aspects of team play rather than physical drills.

“He gave us a lot of rest on our legs. It was a light practice. The intensity gets better,” Thompson explained. “When you have a light practice, alignments and assignments get done.

“Linder said he wanted to hear me today. So I let him hear me today,” said the normally quiet Thompson — meaning he spoke with his performance.

After assuming their 14-6 lead, the Jays were never in jeopardy again. They tacked on another three points with 39 seconds left in the third when Smith —with the wind at his back —booted a perfect 45-yard field goal that split the uprights with plenty of room to spare.

And, just for good measure, Linton — who was throttled by the Northland defense last week after being named the NJCAA Offensive Player of the Week following a 246-yard rushing performance against Mesabi Range —raced 55 yards for the game’s final touchdown with 6:35 left in the contest. The carry was classic Linton. Immediately upon taking the handoff from Massop, he saw room on his right corner. So he beat the defense to it. Once he did, he ran untouched to the end zone.

Less than a minute later, West added a safety when Oswald was unable to pick up a low snap while setting up in shotgun formation.

Linder was predictably encouraged after the victory, which put an exclamation point on Minnesota West’s homecoming week. But he warned that one game does not a season make. Just as the Bluejays weren’t as bad as their performance the previous week in Thief River Falls, they’ve got to work hard every week to stay on top.

“Thompson had a great game and put our offense in position,” Linder said, tacking on a plug for his entire defense.

“The defense. Wow! They kept us in this game. Coach Barber (Scott Barber, the defensive coordinator) and his staff did a great job getting them prepared. And I told them at half that the offense has your back in the second half.”

Minnesota West finished with 190 yards rushing on 42 attempts, with Linton accounting for 133 on 15 carries and Zach Norman carrying 21 times for 35. Ridgewater had 33 rushing attempts for zero net yards. Oswald was sacked five times for 37 yards of losses.

The Bluejays’ passing game continued to struggle as Massop completed just five of 19 passes for 50 net yards, with two interceptions. Ridgewater completed 15 of 32 passes for 228 yards and two interceptions.

Shively had three unassisted tackles and 12 assists on defense, and teammate Mickey McGuire made five unassisted tackles with eight assists.

In other weekend games, Vermilion beat Itasca 42-10, Central Lakes defeated Minnesota State-Fergus Falls 40-23, Rochester beat Mesabi Range 31-7 and Northland topped Fond du Lac 28-7.

Minnesota West travels to play Central Lakes Saturday at Brainerd in a 2:30 p.m. start.

Ridgewater 0 0 6 0 — 6

Minn. West 0 0 17 9 — 26

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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