The Central Lake Raiders and Rochester Yellowjackets will not be tied for the state’s No. 1 ranking after Saturday.
The two Minnesota College Athletic Conference powerhouses square off Saturday in what has become a preview of the state championship game. In the last three years, CLC holds a 3-2 edge over the Yellowjackets, but it was Rochester that claimed the state title last year.
In fact, the team that has lost the regular-season matchup has gone on to claim the state title the last two seasons — CLC in 2009, Rochester in 2010.
Don’t expect the Raiders to take it easy against rival Rochester.
“We try not to make this game the end-all be all of our season,” said Raiders coach Greg Medeck. “It’s a strong contest for us against a winning football program. But we don’t want to diminish everything that we’ve accomplished this far into the season because of this one game.
“We want to be successful and come out with a win, but we also want to continue to build upon the success we’ve had this season.
“Our sophomores know how important this game is, though, and our freshmen are getting a crash course from the different tone and up-tempo nature of practice this week.”
Both teams are 4-0. Both are ranked No. 1 in the state. In the NJCAA national poll, CLC is ranked 19th while Rochester is receiving votes.
Rochester leads the MCAC’s Southern Division with 354.3 yards per game and has scored 148 points. Once again the Yellowjackets are using a balanced offensive attack as they’ve rushed for 742 yards and thrown for 675.
“They’re a balanced team and do a lot of things well,” said Medeck. “They have a strong offensive line and a number of running backs. Their quarterback is an experienced player who seems to make good decisions with the ball.
“They are kind of like us in that they don’t have one go-to player. They have a variety of guys they can rely on so we’ll have to cover everyone and do a good job of just playing fundamental defense.”
CLC’s defense is tops in the South. The Raiders are allowing just 177.8 yards a game and have given up just 51 points compared to the 122 their offense has scored.
“Our defense is coming along from the first week, where we gave up a bunch of yards, to last week when we limited Itasca to under 100,” Medeck said. “The defense is starting to click and they’re understanding what the end goal is here. They are understanding our concepts and schemes and playing as a group.
“It’s not one guy making plays. They are a unit and they play well together and feed off of each other.
Medeck raved about his offense, especially the depth of his skilled players. Quarterback Carson Wessinger has thrown for 629 yards and nine touchdowns with just two interceptions. He is second in the division with 46 completions. Ryan Tri leads the team with only nine receptions, confirming Medeck’s depth luxury.
“I came into the season with a bunch of workable, coachable guys and they’ve turned into a good group of football players,” said Medeck. “Our offense has so many dynamic play makers. We are five deep at running back and we have guys who don’t touch the ball that are very strong football players. Our receivers, hands down, are the best in the league, but they only catch one or two balls a game.
“We are spreading the ball around and we have a lot of unselfish players on this team. I’m really excited about that. It’s been a coaches dream so far.”
JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5856.