WILLMAR -- Ridgewater College came back to the pack Saturday night.
Rochester and Central Lakes can thank Fond du Lac and Thunder running back James Griffin for that.
Dragging Warrior tacklers in his wake, the 195-pound freshman from the Deep South (McDonough, Georgia) plowed and cut his way to 165 yards in 46 carries and two short touchdown runs in the Thunder's 20-12 MCAC non-division win.
Not surprisingly, Griffin leads state juco in rushing.
Now Ridgewater, Rochester and Central Lakes are each 5-1 in the MCAC.
The Warriors are at Rochester on Saturday and back home to face Central Lakes on Oct. 13 leading to the first round of playoffs Oct. 20.
Ridgewater had a counterpart to Griffin in Martell Baker. The freshman from Indianapolis rushed for 126 yards in 18 carries with scoring bursts of 7 and 2 yards.
But the Thunder (4-2) matched the Warriors in size and certainly in speed. Their quarterback Cody Anderson completed only one pass but it went for a 21-yard score to open the scoring in the first quarter.
Ridgewater coach Rob Baumgarn complimented the team from Cloquet.
"They're very good and they took us out of our game. They controlled the clock with that physical running game and won the line of scrimmage, both ways."
The Warriors didn't wrap up on defense and the passing game was shaky. QB Cody Jaeger missed open receivers and when he was spot on the ball was dropped.
Down 7-0 at half, the Warriors drove 80 yards in 8 plays with Baker breaking loose for runs covering 20 and 25 yards in the third quarter.
The Thunder were up 13-6 at the end of three. Again, Ridge answered with another drive. Baker ran for 7 yards, fullback Nathanial Swoyer took a pass from Jaeger for 7 more yards and Baker added an 8-yard run before he plunged the last two yards to make it 13-12.
Griffin's battering-ram runs led to another Thunder touchdown and a 20-12 lead late in the fourth. The Warriors had two chances deep in their own territory in the last four minutes but couldn't dig out.
Freshman linebacker Jordan Meine had 10 stops as the Ridgewater defense only allowed 202 total yards in 57 Thunder plays.
In other MCAC games, Central Lakes nudged Minnesota West 21-20, Rochester frosted Fergus Falls 40-0, Northland vexed Vermilion 41-14 and Mesabi Range ripped Itasca 35-15.
Fond du Lac College 20, Ridgewater College 12
Fond du Lac (4-2) 0 7 6 7 -- 20
Ridgewater (5-1) 0 0 6 6 -- 12
F - Chaise Jokinen 21 pass from Cody Anderson (Tony Makela kick)
R - Martell Baker 7 run (kick blocked)
F - James Griffin 3 run (kick blocked)_
R - Baker 2 run (kick blocked)
F - Griffin 3 run (Makela kick)
Fond du Lac College
First downs: 11 ... Rushing: 52-181 ... Passing (com-att-yds-int.): 1-6-21-0 ... Fumbles lost: 1 ... Penalties: 8-65
Rushing: James Griffin 42-165, Antonio Marshall 6-26, Cody Anderson 2-(-17) ... Passing: Anderson 1-6-21-0 ... Receiving: Chaise Jokinen 1-21 ... Interceptions: Romont Thompson
First downs: 13 ... Rushing: 33-173 ... Passing (com-att-yds-int.): 95 yards, 2 int ... Fumbles lost: 1 ... Penalties: 7-65
Rushing: DeAndre Henry 1-8, Tyrell Martinn 5-11, Martell Baker 18-126, Cody Jaeger 6-24, Nathanial Swoyer 3-4 ... Passing: Jaeger 9 completions, 95 yards, 2 int.... Receiving: Henry 1-(-3), Swoyer 1-7, Kevin Parks 5-83, Termanie Scott 2-5 ... Punting: Swoyer 5-31.25 ... Interceptions: none ... Fumble recoveries: Mike Wilson, Shawn Paul ... Tackles (solo-assist): Corey Smith 5-0, Victor Rivera 2-1, Tarrell McDuffie 7-0, Justin Russ 1-2, Darius Campbell 2-1, Casey Style 3-1, Mickey McGuire 3-2, Jordan Meine 9-1, Glen Ingram 1-1, Michael Boleware 0-2, Shawn Paul 2-2, Dominique Mitchell 5-2, Chris Hanson 1-1 ... QB sacks: Justin Russ 1, Hanson 1 ... Tackles for loss: McDuffie 1, Campbell 1