The Central Lakes College Raiders will spend 16 hours on the bus the next two Saturdays as they begin Southern Division play with games at Rochester and at Minnesota West in Worthington.
For fans of community college football, the three and a half hour drive to Rochester may well be worth it for the 1:30 p.m. game Saturday.
The Yellowjackets and Raiders have had some close, hard-fought games the last five years, including two last year.
CLC had the upper hand in 2012 as the Raiders defeated Rochester 31-23 in Brainerd last September. It was the only blemish on Rochester’s record. The Raiders then defeated the Yellowjackets 33-23 in the state championship game at St. Cloud State University last November.
Two themes were true in each game. Raiders quarterback Andrew Johnson lit up the scoreboard, and CLC won the turnover battle and created points from turnovers.
The teams will meet this Saturday at Rochester. Both teams are 3-0 in the Southern Division with all six of those wins coming against Northern Division teams.
It will be the first true test for the Raiders, who have outscored their opponents 102-13, while the Yellowjackets have built a margin of 119-41.
Johnson won the offensive player of the week award last week with a four-touchdown performance against Itasca. Yellowjackets sophomores will also remember that he threw for seven touchdowns against them in the two games last year.
In the game at CLC, Johnson connected with Anthony Shelman three times on his way to a four-touchdown game while accumulating 288 yards through the air. In the championship game, he utilized three different receivers for three scores and finished with 167 yards. Rochester was only able to intercept him twice in the two games.
On the other side of the ball, the Raiders dominated the turnover battle by a 14-5 margin. In the first game, CLC had an interception return for a touchdown, and six interceptions for a total of 94 yards in the second game.
This year, both teams have put up some impressive numbers against weaker competition in the Northern Division. The Southern Division has a 13-2 record against the Northern Division.
The Yellowjackets have outgained the Raiders in the running game while the passing numbers favor CLC. The teams are in the top two spots in the division for total yards with Rochester leading by less than 200 yards overall.
CLC has a significant edge on the defensive side of the ball, The Raiders rank second in the Southern Division with the Yellowjackets sitting fourth. CLC has given up an average of 181 yards a game while Rochester has given up 254.7.
The Raiders have also ranked in the top five in overall defense in the NJCAA for the last three seasons.
The next two games will likely determine whether CLC can repeat as division champion. In addition to Rochester, Minnesota West is undefeated entering this weekend.