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College football: Minnesota West shocks Rochester

BRIAN KORTHALS/DAILY GLOBE Sophomore Bluejay wideout Neil Ross (4) staves off a defender for a reception during Minnesota West’s 32-24 win over Rochester Saturday at Trojan Field.

WORTHINGTON — A season’s worth of passing inconsistency seemed to have settled upon the Minnesota West football team in 2013.

But the Bluejays came out firing against the undefeated, top-ranked Rochester Yellowjackets Saturday afternoon.

“We haven’t been able to do that all year,” testified the Jays’ sophomore quarterback, Logan Massop after he and his buddies upset the Jackets 32-24 on a cool, windy Trojan Field. “It was just time to take it out of our arsenal. We knew that they’d be determined to stop our run game. So we decided to take it out right away and hit ‘em where it hurts.”

A hopeful crowd of well-wishers who had bundled up in cold-weather togs — some of them wrapped in blankets —had hardly settled in on their hard bleacher seats when the Bluejays collected their first touchdown. As if as an omen of good luck, the home team was able to set up shop at midfield after fumbling, and then recovering, the football after receiving the opening kick. Massop went immediately to the air, completing a pass that took his team to the Jackets’ 12-yard line. There, he completed a touchdown toss to freshman wide receiver Taeron George.

The two-play 50-yard drive, followed by a Tyler Smith extra point, gave the Bluejays a quick 7-0 lead and served notice that they had the desire and the wherewithal to attack the state’s top-ranked defense through the air.

Heading into the contest, Minnesota West was ranked at the very bottom of the Southern Division in passing yardage. Despite the fact that the Jays had in Massop an All-Division honorable mention quarterback heading into his sophomore year, his team’s aerial game had produced just 569 yards in seven games. Until Saturday, it was West’s running attack — led by the one-two punch of sophomores Zach Norman and Reuben Linton II — which had fueled the team’s offense. That, coupled with an aggressive defense, had helped West to a 5-2 record.

But on Saturday, the Bluejays dusted off their passing game and used it repeatedly through four quarters. Massop finished with 22 completions in 45 attempts for 198 yards and three touchdowns. He was intercepted three times, but one was on a tipped ball.

Trailing 21-20 at halftime, the Bluejays outscored powerful Rochester 12-3 in the second half to improve to 6-2. In the fourth quarter when West’s offense had run out of answers, West’s vaunted defense came up with the timely hits that kept Rochester from getting any closer than eight points.

The Jays’ outstanding sophomore linebacker, Matt Shively, was wheeled off on a stretcher in the second half following an apparent arm injury. But the Bluejays bravely held the line in his absence.

The Jays will play their first playoff game next Saturday on the road in Brainerd against Central Lakes — a team that owns one of the two victories put up this year against West.

Rochester, Minnesota’s top-ranked two-year school heading into Saturday’s contest in Worthington, is 7-1.

Howard, Massey, Shively

make big plays

After the game, Massop said the Bluejays regarded Rochester as an opportunity to make a statement.

“It was huge,” he said. “We lost to Central Lakes once and we thought we were the best team in the division. And Rochester was number one, and we wanted to prove we could play at a higher level.”

Minnesota West head coach Jeff Linder was beaming after the game.

“You wanna play the best. And it we can continue that kind of play down the road here, we’ll be tough,” he said, adding, “We had a little bit of extra motivation. On their (the Yellowjackets) TV show before the game, they were saying that this was a tune-up for the playoffs. I saw it and my players saw it.

“But we had more motivation than that. I think what mattered was, who we were playing, where we were playing, and where they were ranked.”

Saturday’s first half gave the fans on both sides of Trojan Field all the excitement they could handle. After Massop’s first TD pass, Rochester answered on the ensuing drive when quarterback Tanner Menke led them on a seven-play 61-yard march.

The Yellowjackets evened the score on a five-yard Menke pass to Evan Bungum and the extra point kick that followed.

Still in the first quarter, a Menke pass was intercepted by Minnesota West linebacker Gary Howard and returned 27 yards into the end zone. The pass was a screen left and Menke read it all the way. He crept up near the line between quarterback and receiver and snatched the ball out of mid-air before the Yellowjackets knew what had hit them. He had a clear path to the goal line.

A second Smith PAT made the score 14-7.

Another outstanding individual effort accounted for the next score. It occurred as Menke completed a pass over the middle to 6-1, 215-pound Jalen Esters who shook off two tacklers as he wrapped his arms around the ball and outran the defense down the left side of the field. With the PAT, the score was all even at 14-14.

Minnesota West went 72 yards in eight plays for its next score following a roughing the kicker penalty on a punt. After the mark-off, Massop completed a pass to Elliott Oldham that resulted in a facemask penalty that pushed the ball to the Jackets’ 20-yard line. Linton busted off a 12-yard run on the next play to the eight. On a third-down play still at the eight, Massop delivered a strike to sophomore wide receiver Neil Ross for six.

Just 1:50 remained until halftime. Smith’s extra point missed.

Only 14 more seconds had elapsed from the second quarter clock when the state’s top-ranked offense answered. It came on the kickoff as Bungum returned it 75 yards. Rochester’s PAT split the uprights and the Yellowjackets had their only lead of the game at 21-20.

In the second half, Minnesota West regained the lead for good after Cordaryl Massey blocked a Brandon Sivertson punt that was recovered by Shively, who returned it 33 yards for a score. West’s point-after was blocked but the Jays led 26-21.

Still in the third quarter, West’s Abdullah Myles recovered a mis-timed Rochester pitchout on the Yellowjackets’ 35, which led to another score. It came on a pass-and-run from Massop to Linton amounting to 19 yards. The point-after failed.

Fifty-six seconds remained in the third stanza when Rochester’s Fafa Asante booted a 32-yard field goal to cut West’s margin to 32-24. It was the third field goal attempt by Rochester in the game — early tries from 45 and 48 yards had missed.

Throughout the fourth quarter both teams started and stalled. Rochester’s final possession reached Minnesota West territory inside the final minute, but it was finally thwarted as the Bluejays’ Greg Gainey intercepted a long pass from Menke with 17 seconds showing on the clock.

Afterward, Linder reiterated that the West game plan —aggressiveness on offense and tight coverage on defense —put points on the board while making the Yellowjackets’ excellent passing attack work for everything it could get.

“They’ve got really good receivers. We just manned up and bracketed them over the top,” Linder said.

Final totals showed West accumulating 97 yards rushing (on 25 carries) along with its 198 passing yards compared to Rochester’s 80 yards rushing and 219 through the air.

Linton rushed 11 times for 79 yards and Norman added 16 net yards on 12 carries. Oldham caught five passes for 78 yards and George five for 47.

Menke hit 18 of 39 aerials for the 219 yards, with two interceptions.

Cha’Ron Thompson had four unassisted tackles and eight assisted tackles for West. Dylan Hart had two unassisted tackles and eight assisted.

In other weeend games, Minnesota State-Fergus Falls beat Itasca 35-8, Fond du Lac bested Vermilion 34-18, Northland topped Mesabi Range 34-6 and Central Lakes beat Ridgewater 28-21.

Rochester 14 7 3 0 — 24

MWest 14 6 12 0 — 32

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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