Three feet is the distance between the Central Lakes College Raiders and an undefeated 2012 campaign.
While the Raiders can’t get a do-over in their quest for a perfect season, they can gain revenge over the team that caused such a slim margin from perfection.
On Aug. 23, the Raiders traveled to Thief River Falls to open the season against Northland. Leading 28-27 late in the fourth quarter, CLC faced a 37-yard field goal attempt by the Pioneers’ Jerry Guerrero. The ball bounced off the upright and through as time expired and Northland escaped with a 30-28 win.
The teams will meet again at the Findorff Athletic Complex at 1 p.m. Saturday with a berth in the Minnesota College Athletic Conference state championship game on the line.
Last week, the Raiders pushed past Minnesota West 21-0 while the Pioneers defeated Itasca 22-7. The winner will face the Rochester/Fond Du Lac winner at St. Cloud State a week from Saturday.
The teams combined for 38 points in the fourth quarter in the first game. CLC gave up 200 yards passing to Northland while the Raiders threw for 154 yards and rushed for 89 against the Pioneers.
CLC head coach Greg Medeck said his team has come a long way since that first game.
“Teams evolve over the course of the season,” Medeck said. ”Players take on more defined roles and expectations change. While we have lost five starters since our first match-up with Northland, I am confident that we are a better team, playing better football, now than we were nine weeks ago.”
The Raiders closed out the last half of the regular season with a 4-0 record, and the Pioneers were just a step behind with a 3-1 record.
Medeck has his team preparing for a Northland squad that has a number of offensive weapons.
“Northland has the ability to score quickly and often,” he said. “For a successful outcome on Saturday, we will need to contain the explosive plays they have been able to produce. Their quarterback (Edin Kovak) is a very good passer that has shown the ability to make good decisions with the ball. We will need to pressure him and hopefully continue to force turnovers on defense.”
CLC was effective in causing turnovers in last week’s win against Minnesota West. Along with a defense that shut out the Blue Jays, the Raiders also had a number of explosive plays from their offense. Andrew Johnson and Anthony Shelman connected on two touchdown throws.
“Offensively, we will need to sustain drives and convert scoring opportunities,” Medeck said. “Our offense has done a tremendous job lately putting together drives. Last week we ran 20 more plays than the opponent, something that has helped keep our defense fresh and leads to scoring chances.
“We will need to continue to move the ball well on offense and convert those opportunities into points.”
CLC was also able to avoid any serious injuries in last week’s game.
Northland does have recent experience of performing well in the playoffs as they made it to the state championship game last year before losing to Rochester. CLC missed the playoffs in 2011.
“They have a few sophomores on their team, however, a majority of their impact players are in their first year,” Medeck said. “Nobody has the number of sophomores we have, something that has been a key component of our success this season.”
Game One came down the bounce of a football, maybe there is still a little bit of drama left for the rematch.