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Big defensive stand helps Bluejays capture first victory

The Minnesota West football team held firm on four plays near the goal line in the fourth quarter Saturday against Central Lakes, finally winning 21-8

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WORTHINGTON -- There are few things in a football game that can fire up a team like a rock-ribbed defensive stand, and on Saturday afternoon at Trojan Field in Worthington, the Minnesota West Bluejays put up a brick wall that was about as sturdy as they come.

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“It was huge,” said sophomore Bluejay defensive back Tate Gaul. “It sealed the game for us. And I think it really encapsulated our whole day -- how we came together as a team.”

With the Jays leading visiting Central Lakes 21-8 with about 12 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, the Raiders -- who had just moments earlier gained the momentum with a safety -- moved the football steadily toward the West goal line until setting up with a first-and-goal situation on the 4. After running three times into a Minnesota West brick wall, they called another run on fourth down at the 2, and the Jays once more held firm.

“Our defense, they’ve been put in a pretty poor position. They stood up and did their job,” said head coach Jeff Linder.

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Minnesota West, after losing three straight games on the road to start the 2022 season, hardly knew what a home game was like. Linder actually admitted that while setting out the Jays’ jerseys before Saturday’s game, he brought half of the whites before realizing his team was actually supposed to put on the blues.

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The game didn’t begin well for blue-clad West as Central Lakes opened up big holes in the Bluejays’ defensive line and scored the game’s first touchdown on a 15-yard Matt Torres pass to Ethan Guerra.

But West took a 13-6 lead into halftime. In the second quarter quarterback Brock Starley scored on an 8-yard TD run into the left corner of Central’s end zone to tie the game. And then with 8:56 to go before the half, Starley found star receiver Ian Stamer on a perfectly thrown 6-yard aerial in the left corner. The extra point was good.

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After a bad third quarter punt by the Raiders late in the third quarter, the Bluejays set up on the Central 15-yard line and scored again. On first down, Starley faked left and passed right to Stamer in the endzone. It was another picture-perfect pitch and catch. A conversion pass was caught by Stephen Lewis and the score was 21-6.

Central Lakes’ safety occurred with 14:49 remaining in the fourth quarter as a punt snap sailed over the head of the punter, Stamer, and into the end zone.

As it turned out, those two points proved hardly significant because of the magnificent Minnesota West goal line stand.

Starley finished the game completing 18 of 33 passes for 173 yards and one interception. Stamer, a Adrian High School graduate with soft hands and mercury-fluid moves, caught nine passes for 123 yards.

Stamer began the season as one of three star sophomore receivers who played for the Bluejays last year. The other two, Bailey Cowell of Luverne and Tommy Lais of Worthington, have succumbed to injury. But the key to Saturday’s win, Stamer agreed, was the fourth quarter defensive stand.

“It meant everything. They knew they had it in ‘em,” Stamer said. “We started out slow this year, but we’ve got so many athletes on that side of the ball. I truly feel that this win is the start of something great. We started out slow last year, too, but we came back and had a great year. And it’s starting off to be the same thing.”

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The Bluejays amassed 285 total yards to the Raiders’ 321 Saturday. Central Lakes (1-2) edged the home team in rushing 118 yards to 112.

Defensively for West, linebacker JayVarion Peters-Johnson was in on 12 tackles, linebacker Ke’untay Felton was in on 11 and defensive back Darrick Baartman was in on 10.

Minnesota West travels to play Rochester next weekend.

Central Lakes 6 0 0 2 -- 8

Minnesota West 0 13 8 0 -- 21

Doug Wolter joined the Worthington Globe in December of 1983 as a sports reporter. He later became sports editor, and then news editor and managing editor. In 2006 he moved to Mankato with his wife, Sandy, and served as an editor at the Mankato Free Press. In 2013 he and Sandy returned to Worthington to take up the job of sports editor at The Globe, and they have been in Worthington since.

Doug can be reached at dwolter@dglobe.com.
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