Bemidji football: Declusin leads potent offense in hopes of capturing first state title
The curtain will close on Minnesota's high school football season 3 p.m. Saturday, and sharing the spotlight in the year's final game are Bemidji and Rocori.
The Lumberjacks and Spartans will lock horns at the Metrodome and the winner will leave Minneapolis hoisting the Class 4A state championship trophy.
Saturday's contest features, according to the Metro-biased members of the media, two unlikely combatants. Bemidji is 12-0 and has dominated its opponents during the regular season, the two Section 7 games and the state quarterfinals and semifinals.
A member of the Central Lakes Conference, Rocori shares many common opponents with the Lumberjacks. The king of Section 8, its lone loss during an 11-1 campaign came in the season opener when it dropped a 28-20 decision to Brainerd. The Spartans responded from that setback to win 11 straight games. Among the victims are Moorhead (35-28), Sartell (28-14 and 37-13), Fergus Falls (34-7), Alexandria (21-12 and 25-20) and Sauk Rapids (31-0).
Bemidji is unbeaten against the mutual foes as the Jacks have disposed of Moorhead 40-13, Fergus Falls 42-13, Brainerd 21-7, Alexandria 35-6, Sauk Rapids 43-6 and Sartell 22-0.
"We have a number of common opponents and from the midpoint of the season Rocori has been playing as well as anybody in the state," said BHS coach Troy Hendricks. "Rocori definitely deserves to be in the state championship game."
But so do the Lumberjacks.
"We've all be dreaming of this game and winning the state championship since flag football," said Jacks running back Zach Declusin. "This is our opportunity and we need to take advantage of it."
Declusin missed the regular-season finale and the opening game of the Section 7 playoffs after dislocating his elbow during the first quarter of Bemidji's 35-6 victory over St. Cloud Tech. Each week since his return Declusin has extended his playing time and the senior says that he will be at full strength Saturday.
"In practice the elbow still bothers me a bit but during last week's win over Mankato West (45-26) in the state semifinals it wasn't a factor," Declusin said. "I had too much adrenalin flowing to even notice.
"I'm sure that this week I won't even think about the elbow."
Declusin is one of the weapons at the disposal of quarterback Mitchell Hendricks and he enjoys blasting through the line and fighting for every possible yard.
"My role is to get the tough yards and put our team in a better position to score by getting the key first down or by blocking," Declusin said. "As a senior I am expected to be a leader on and off the field. I am expected to give my full effort every day and do what the coaches ask me to do."
Declusin and his offensive teammates will need that full effort Saturday because Rocori possesses a stingy defense which has allowed only 13 points per game.
"Defensively Rocori flies to the football and it has a great defensive line," coach Hendricks said. "When you get to the state championship game you will play a team that doesn't have any holes. And Rocori doesn't."
No one has been able to stop Bemidji's offense this year as the Lumberjacks have averaged 36.7 points, a figure buoyed by last week's explosive win over Mankato West.
"We have so many weapons on offense but our success really starts with the offensive line," Declusin said. "The line has been dominating all year.
"Winning isn't a sometime thing - it is an all time thing," Declusin continued. "We want this championship and whatever it takes to get it we will do."
NOTE: A welcome home celebration for the Bemidji football team will be noon Sunday at the high school. All fans are welcome ... As of Wednesday afternoon school officials had to order 10 coach buses for the fans and two more for the prep band. Another bus or two was expected to be ordered on Friday following the deadline to reserve a spot on a fan bus.