WORTHINGTON -- The scene in Worthington with the Central Lakes College Raiders celebrating their first trip to the State Championship game in three years was surreal for players, coaches and fans in attendance Sunday, Nov. 3.
The Raiders, who just seven weeks ago were staring at an 0-5 record, completed a dominant two-game playoff stretch on the road and with a 35-6 win over Minnesota West, earned a spot in next Sunday’s MCAC State Championship game.
The Blue Jays won the time of possession by a margin of 38:35 to 31:05 minutes, but the Raiders dominated the stat sheet.
Jakeb Olson played an efficient game at quarterback in wet, rainy conditions going 7-15 for 164 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
The Raider ground game was good for 159 yards on 44 carries and three rushing touchdowns and no fumbles.
The CLC defense held Minnesota West to a negative 25 yards on the ground. Blue Jay quarterback Andrew Ortiz threw for 251 yards, but the Raider defense got to him for 10 sacks and three interceptions.
Ridge Reed, who converted from running back to running back to defensive end, accumulated 10 tackles and four and a half sacks. Collin Wilcox was next with nine tackles and two and a half sacks.
“We have worked so hard and through everything that has happened it is crazy,” defensive linemen Isaak Hines said. “We just worked our tails off and the coaches have put us in the right position every week with a great game plan. It all came down to the hard work.”
On Sept. 21, CLC traveled to Rochester and the Raiders were dominated by a score of 41-7 by the Yellowjackets. The team made adjustments and the result was just 44 points given up in the last five games and only eight points in the two playoff games.
“We were really upset after the Rochester game and knew that we were better than that,” Hines said. “We had to come in as a group and work harder in practice and keep getting better. And the team chemistry kept getting better and we play as a team we are successful.”
The rain on Saturday got heavier as the game went on and putting a score on the board early was key. The Raiders did that with a nine-play 74-yard drive, finished off by a four-yard burst from Jesse Sherwood to give CLC a 7-0 lead.
The Blue Jays responded with a 12-play drive drive but the Raiders were able to get a defensive stop and the ball back on their own 27 yard line.
After punting to Minnesota West and getting the ball back after another defensive stop, Olson connected with Jayou Mensah on a 26-yard scoring pass to give CLC a 14-0 lead at the end of the quarter.
Brady Anderson picked off a pass for the Raiders defense and Olson and the offense turned that into another score on a 47-yard pass from Olson to Alex Frederick to give CLC a 21-0 halftime lead.
Evan Johnson and Adam Davis also intercepted Ortiz to stop Blue Jay drives.
In the third quarter the Raiders put the game away with two long drives that were both capped off by rushing touchdowns by Olson -- one for three yards and the other for one yard.
Interim Raiders head coach Robb Kolodziej started to empty his bench with more players seeing time on both sides of the ball. With 3:41 remaining Ortiz ran for five yards into the end zone for the only Minnesota West score of the day.
“Much liked our volleyball team we go dealt a tough piece of information and had a couple of tough weeks after that,” Kolodziej said. “But the way they have responded to that and constantly performed is remarkable. Today I made mistakes in interpersonal and schematic things. And for them to realize that it is not about the mistakes you make but how your respond to it, they are getting it.
“I asked Greg today, how many times has a team with a losing record made it to the state championship game and he can only remember one time in the history of the league and that is pretty amazing for the kids.”