On Sept. 29, the Central Lakes College football team traveled to Worthington to play the Minnesota West Blue Jays.
Both teams were 4-1. The game came down to a missed extra point by the Blue Jays. Since that 21-20 victory, the Raiders have rolled to the No. 1 state ranking and No. 15 in the NJCAA Division III poll.
CLC will look to build on its seven-game win streak when it hosts the Blue Jays in the Minnesota College Athletic Conference quarterfinals 1 p.m. Saturday.
“We feel very thankful to be rewarded for the hard work that has earned us a home playoff game,” CLC head coach Greg Medeck said. “Our home environment is tremendous and we are hoping for a great game on Saturday.”
CLC ended the regular season with a 27-7 win over Ridgewater, while Minnesota West fell to Rochester 52-0.
According to Medeck, a new season starts Saturday.
“We have more than achieved goals this season,” he said. “We have overcome adversity, developed as a cohesive unit, won big games, won ugly games, won beautiful games, and set new goals.
“The playoffs are a whole new season, one that can end abruptly. Our message is to focus on the task at hand, execute and be passionate in our approach.”
The big story for the Blue Jays in that Sept. 29 meeting was Kevin Harris, who returned a kick 78 yards for a score. He then pulled Minnesota West within a point with a rushing touchdown late in the fourth quarter.
“The first contest was a very close game — a one-point win,” Medeck said. “They are a team with a lot of talent and presented some challenges for us the first time around. I imagine they have the same opinion about our guys.”
Minnesota West has to be concerned with stopping the Raiders’ offense. Andrew Johnson threw for 1,294 yards and 11 touchdowns to lead the Southern Division. Beau Bellmore gave CLC stability in its running game after losing its top two running backs in the season opener. Bellmore led the division with 755 rushing yards and eight touchdowns.
The Blue Jays finished fourth in total offense in the division and will face a Raiders defense that finished second in yards allowed. CLC also allowed the fewest total rushing yards (259) for the season.
The Raiders were also opportunistic against the pass. Marion Lambright and Jared Hoemberg each tallied five interceptions to lead the division.
An area of concern for CLC is special teams. The Raiders allowed a kickoff return for touchdown on the first play of their home opener and were exposed by Harris’ 78-yard TD return.
“Game-changing or defining plays are always something we focus on and address,” said Medeck. “Our guys certainly remember the impact that particular play had during the first matchup and will be prepared to execute properly in order to prevent points on the board and, more importantly, a large shift in momentum.”
CLC has depth in the play-making department. The Raiders had eight different Southern Division players of the week. Linebacker Jordan Bialke was a two-time winner.
“Recognition for individual player accomplishments is great,” Medeck said. “Our award winners deserve them and we make sure they are recognized as such.
“I think, to a man, our players will tell you the team accomplishments, including the division championship, No. 1 seed, seven straight team victories, and the possibilities the playoffs hold for our group definitely outweigh any individual achievements.”