WORTHINGTON -- The Minnesota West Bluejays football team clinched a playoff spot Saturday afternoon at Trojan Field with a workmanlike 25-3 victory over Dakota College. But more is desired -- a home game for the postseason.
On a muddy field, the Bluejays improved to 4-2 by winning their fourth game of the season at home. They wore their mud proudly.
“This is probably one of the first times this year that all three phases (offense, defense and special teams) did a good job all day long,” said veteran West head coach Jeff Linder. “The guys worked hard. They had a lot of energy. It was homecoming. I think a lot of it had to do that the players had family here, which they haven’t seen in a while.”
The Jays, who play their last two regular season games on the road at NDSCS Oct. 12 and Fond du Lac Oct. 19, have lost the only two road games they’ve played this season -- including a tight 27-26 game Sept. 28 to Northland -- but their emotions were sky-high moments after their win over the Lumberjacks.
The Jacks ran roughshod over the Bluejays on the first drive of the game, which resulted in a 24-yard field goal by Travis Hissom. After that, Linder and his assistants adjusted the defense to stop the run, and the visitors’ offense began to fizzle.
Meanwhile, Minnesota West quarterback Andrew Ortiz threw for three touchdowns Saturday -- the first to Gary Smith III, the second to Titonaro Bumpus and the third to Tyler Linder.
Ortiz also ran for a score in the fourth quarter, from six yards away on what appeared to be a busted play.
Smith, a 6-4, 180-pound sophomore from St. Paul who also plays on the Minnesota West men’s basketball team, caught his TD aerial from Ortiz with seven minutes remaining in the second quarter to put his team in the lead to stay. He caught the 7-yarder against single coverage.
“When we came into the line, Drew told me to do a fade. I did my little 1-2 move, Drew threw it up, caught it. Touchdown,” Smith said after the game.
It was Smith’s third touchdown this season.
“I like the experience,” he continued. “I’m happy that the coaches let me play two sports. I like this program a lot. We’re changing the culture a lot. You can see by the players they recruit. You can tell (the players) are hungry. They’re feisty.”
Ortiz’ second TD pass was to Bumpus on a fourth-and-10 play in the second quarter at the Dakota College 28-yard line. Ortiz slipped on a patch of mud after the snap, righted himself, then rolled right where he found Bumpus wide open about 17 yards away from paydirt. The 5-9 sophomore wide receiver raced to the goal line for the last 17 yards, barely reaching the end zone.
With 9:45 to go in the third quarter, Ortiz passed to the tight end Linder for a score. Linder, the head coach’s son, was covered, but not well.
For the third TD in a row, a two-point conversion failed. But West was in complete control with an 18-3 lead.
Once again, Minnesota West’s improving running game clicked. It was led by Jackson County Central grad Dalton Wagner, who finished with 73 yards on 10 carries. Wagner is fun to watch. He’s patient with his blockers, and he’s shifty and physically strong. He employs a stiff-arm effectively and doesn’t go down easily.
As a team, West finished with 32 rushes for 123 yards and 211 passing yards on a 15-for-21 effort from Ortiz, who threw no interceptions. Dakota College was held to 59 yards rushing on 34 carries, and 136 passing yards.
The Jacks’ Tex Thompson, a bruising 5-11, 220-pound freshman from Millville, N.J., ripped through the Bluejays’ defense repeatedly on the game’s opening drive. But at game’s end, all he had to show for it was 38 yards on 20 carries.