Moving on: Bluejays feel MState's power, get set to play Central Lakes in playoffs
The Minnesota West football team played the No. 1 team in the nation Saturday and couldn't keep up.
WORTHINGTON -- Football fans streaming into Trojan Field Saturday afternoon wanted to see for themselves whether the MState-Fergus Falls Spartans were deserving of their designation as the No. 1 community college Division III team in the nation.
Their answer came convincingly as the Spartans rolled up a 32-8 halftime lead en route to a 49-8 victory over host Minnesota West. A stifling defense, with pressure on the snap and tight, aggressive coverage in the secondary throttled the Minnesota West offense for the majority of the game. A balanced offense featuring 6-5, 235-pound freshman quarterback Kenneth Cooper Jr., who threw darts all over the field, gave the Bluejays fits.
West’s only touchdown happened due to a rare mistake by the Spartans. It came with only 37 seconds remaining until halftime, and it happened as Cooper was being tackled from behind as he scrambled to escape Jay pressure. As he went down, his arm awkwardly jerked forward and he lost his grasp on the football near the sideline. In came Minnesota West’s Jonathan Altidor to scoop up the ball and return it 21 yards into the end zone.
Thus, the Bluejays had their first -- and last -- highlight. A 2-point conversion was missed, but the Jays got another chance at it when the Spartans were flagged for a penalty. On the second try, West quarterback Brock Staley tossed a beauty of a pass to Ian Stamer near the back of the end zone for two more points.
Unfortunately for the Jays, however, their late first-half momentum did not carry over into the second half.
Saturday’s game was the final game of the regular season for Minnesota West. The Bluejays, 3-5, play their first postseason tournament game on Sunday at Central Lakes in Brainerd. Game time is 1:30 p.m.
West head coach Jeff Linder knew that to even have a chance Saturday against MState-Fergus Falls, his team had to play a near-perfect game. They did not do that.
“We did the exact opposite. I’m disappointed in our effort. We did not execute at all,” he said. “It was just too many mistakes. We put ourselves in absolutely horrible positions with the interceptions we had. Their defense scored the points against us.”
For most of the year Minnesota West’s best offensive weapon had been the passing game, but the Spartans intercepted three passes in the first half and one more in the second half.
Their first score came after the Bluejays went three-and-out on their first possession. After the ensuing punt, on a fourth-and-one play, Rondarius Gregory scooted 48 yards for a touchdown.
Following another Bluejay punt after another three-and-out, Cooper tossed a 36-yard pass to the Jays’ 7-yard line. Marquez Hurst caught a 7-yard Cooper aerial for the TD with 7:08 still to play in the first quarter.
Minnesota West picked up a first down on its next possession when sophomore running back Rashard Anderson rambled 20 yards to get near midfield. But three plays later Starley threw an interception and the Spartans had a short 31-yard field between them and the goal line.
After their momentum was stalled, the Spartans kicked a 36-yard field goal to take a 17-0 lead.
In the second quarter, a second Starley pass was intercepted by MState’s Jacob Drietz and returned to the Bluejays’ doorstep. It was Drietz who scored the ensuing TD on a 1-yard run with 12:10 remaining until intermission.
MState’s final first half score was set up by another Starley interception, on a pass that was tipped by a receiver into the hands of an MState player. A few plays later the Spartans’ Eustice McGowan got wide open behind the West secondary and Cooper found him for a 48-yard scoring strike.
West’s offense remained inconsistent in the second half while MState-Fergus Falls tacked on 17 more points -- on an 85-yard punt return by Denzel Miller, a 40-yard Cooper to McGowan pass, and a 26-yard field goal.
Final statistics showed MState with 17 first downs to West’s four. The Spartans rushed 37 times for 123 yards and the Bluejays rushed 28 times for a net of 73. Cooper completed 12 of 23 passes for 204 yards without an interception. Starley completed 13 of 30 for 68 yards net, with four interceptions.
Gregory rushed 12 times for 79 yards. Anderson rushed eight times for 31.
Linder said his Bluejays had a good week of practice leading to the game. Their work, however, didn’t pay off on the field.
He was asked if the Jays will be prepared for their Sunday playoff contest.
“I’m not sure,” he replied. “In practice we perform well. Our intentions and hard work are there. But we gotta perform when it’s time to perform. We gotta believe in each other.”
MState-Fergus Falls 17 15 14 3 -- 49
Minnesota West 0 8 0 0 -- 8