West hosts No. 9 Central Lakes in national game of the week
WORTHINGTON -- So far this football season, the Minnesota West Bluejays have handled everything that has been thrown their way. In last week's 37-33 victory against Ridgewater, the Bluejay defense had to contend with the nation's leading rusher, ...
WORTHINGTON -- So far this football season, the Minnesota West Bluejays have handled everything that has been thrown their way.
In last week's 37-33 victory against Ridgewater, the Bluejay defense had to contend with the nation's leading rusher, Alex McLaughlin.
The sophomore ran for 352 yards, but MW quarterback Lon Garfield scrambled for a 19-yard touchdown run with less than 20 seconds remaining to give the Bluejays a victory.
In today's game against No. 9 Central Lakes, the MW defense will have to make a 180-degree turn as they face the fifth-rated passer in the nation, Mike Beehler.
"It's a big challenge for us because they are a very good team," MW head coach Jeff Linder said. "Their quarterback is outstanding and their defense has done extremely well, so we're going to have our hands full."
Beehler, who was an honorable mention All-American last season, has completed 60 percent of his passes for 1,234 yards and nine touchdowns this year.
"We know he's a good player," Linder said. "He's in control and he makes the right decisions. We're going to have our hands full defensively, there's no doubt about it. Hopefully, we can get him to make some poor choices by mixing up coverages."
Led by the conference defensive player of the week, Bill Blumberg, MW came up with key defensive stops when they were needed most. For the Bluejays to be successful today, they will have to once again come up with big plays.
"We're going to have to pressure (Beehler) in some way," Linder said. "We can't let him sit back because he makes too good of choices. We can't cover forever. They'll find soft spots in zones and he's going to find his receivers."
Justin Novak (29 receptions, 457 yards) leads the Raiders' receiving corps, while Tyler Kitzman averages 28 yards per reception (eight catches, 222 yards).
Central Lakes enters with a 6-0 record and a 2-0 Southern Division record. Minnesota West enters with a 5-1 record and a 1-0 division record.
While it's homecoming for MW today, the game was also tabbed as the national junior college game of the week.
"It gives recognition to the program and the college, which is always good," Linder said. "Homecoming is always nice because we always get quite a few players back, which is always good to see.
"We're doing well, and Central Lakes is doing well, so it's an important game for us in terms of standings."
Even though CL is undefeated and enters as No. 9 in the latest JUCO poll, that doesn't mean much for Linder.
"National rankings and stats, I could give a rip about," Linder said. "I don't even look at that stuff. The only thing that matters is our next opponent. Everything else takes care of itself. If you look at that stuff and stumble, then it really doesn't matter anymore.
"Hopefully we have that instilled in our players. The only thing we're concerned about is how we're going to defend Central Lakes and how we're going to score against Central Lakes."
While the defense will have to key on stopping Beehler, the offense can strike in multiple ways.
Last week, Garfield threw for 322 yards and a trio of touchdowns.
"Lon was sharp Saturday," Linder said. "He's been pretty good in practice, so hopefully he'll continue that way. One thing I don't want him to do is get over-pressured about this game.
"We can throw the ball, we know that. Lon had a great week last week, and the offensive line and the backs did a super job blocking. But we're still very capable of running the ball."
Travaris Pickens has rushed for 310 yards, while James Sebea has 275 yards rushing for a 1-2 punch in the backfield.
"That's what makes us very good; we're able to do multiple things," Linder said. "We're able to do what we have to do to win and to move the ball. If they are going to give us I-formation, double-tight, then we're going to take it. If they're going to give us the spread and we have options passing, we're going to take it."
But if the game comes down to the final plays of the game, it won't be anything new for the Bluejays.
"What we've gotten really good at is riding momentum swings," Linder said. "We should be good enough at that by now. With three close games where we've been down and we come back and score and win, we should be able to manage ourselves mentally by now."
Kickoff is slated for 2:30 p.m. at Trojan Field.