WORTHINGTON -- A solid team effort on both sides of the football clinched Minnesota West’s first win of the football season Saturday afternoon at Trojan Field, 20-14, against Central Lakes. And although the Bluejays made things interesting at the end, with the Raiders knocking on the door late in the fourth quarter, the game pointed coach Jeff Linder’s team in the right direction.
The Jays improved in all phases from their season-opening 26-0 loss at Itasca two weeks ago, Linder said.
“The defense got tougher, the offense moved the ball, Andrew gained his confidence back, and the special teams were making plays,” he explained.
Team-wide, the confidence meter moved higher, in fact. Minnesota West’s defensive line put consistent pressure on Central Lakes quarterback Jakob Olson, who threw for 246 yards and five touchdowns last week in a 49-13 shellacking of Vermilion. After a first half where West had trouble protecting its own talented quarterback, Andrew Ortiz, the blocking improved and Ortiz exhibited better consistency. The second-year signal caller, who missed most of last season with a leg injury, completed 13 of 23 aerials for 200 yards and two touchdowns.
Ortiz, himself, said that he entered Saturday’s game still trying to find his rhythm after last year’s broken leg, but in the second half he was able to get rid of the football quicker. And his receivers did the rest.
West led by just one touchdown, 14-7, midway in the fourth quarter when Ortiz found a wide-open Montrez Hearon, uncovered, behind the Central Lakes secondary. He took advantage of the blown coverage by throwing a strike to the sophomore wide receiver, who raced for an easy 68-yard score with 7:36 remaining in the game.
The extra point was missed, but it still left West with what seemed to be a safe 20-7 lead.
“We had originally called a bubble route, and we noticed the safety was coming up. We pumped it, and he was just wide open,” Ortiz said. “Man, if I’d have missed that throw I would have been in the locker room getting beaten up.”
Stubbornly, however, the Raiders refused to give up. Moving quickly down the field after the ensuing Minnesota West kickoff, they scored with 1:35 remaining as running back Ridge Reed bowled over from two yards away. The extra point made it 20-14.
Then, the Raiders recovered the onsides kick. They converted a third-and-10 play and reached West’s 15-yard line before stalling on a fourth-and-20 play at the 16.
West, now 1-1 on the year, will be at home next Saturday against MState-Fergus Falls.
“This is a big win for us,” Linder said afterward. “Big win at home. We needed to start playing hard today, and I think we did.”
The Bluejays rolled 58 yards in eight plays for a score on the game’s opening drive despite shooting themselves in the foot several times with bad center snaps in the pistol formation. Passes covering 14 yards to Hearon and 13 yards to Terryon Bumpus got the Jays out of danger, and finally, Ortiz found Bumpus open down the right sideline for a 36-yard scoring strike.
West led 7-0 at halftime, but Lakes tied it 7-7 with 8:40 to go in the third quarter when Reed rambled through the middle of the line from five yards out.
Just 1:16 remained in the third when Minnesota West struck back on a 65-yard drive. Ortiz passed nine yards to Hearon for one first down, then scrambled 12 yards himself on a third-and-five play, then found Tyler Linder for 12 yards to keep the chains moving. Moments later, on third-and-seven, Ortiz ran through the middle of Central’s defense for 18 yards to the 2-yard line.
Dalton Wagner, a freshman running back from Jackson County Central, scored from three yards out to put West in the lead again.
Final totals showed the home team with 200 net yards passing and 75 yards rushing compared to the Raiders’ 175 yards passing and 93 rushing. Hearon caught five passes for 125 yards. Kwesi Hooks and Isaac Rue led West in tackles with eight apiece, and Brandon Wagner was credited with 1.5 sacks. Mylin Duffie recovered a fumble for the Jays with 6:03 to go in the fourth quarter.
“It’s over,” Ortiz said, looking ahead to the next game. “Next week we’ve got a division game, that’s what we’ve got to focus on now.”