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Bemidji HS football: Jacks-Spuds rivalry arrives early in first game of season

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Each fall fans from Bemidji and Moorhead eagerly anticipate the annual football game between the two rivals. No matter how either team is faring on the won-lost ledger, the Lumberjacks-Spuds contest always features spirited action in front of large crowds.

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Traditionally both teams have a few games under their belts before they lock horns. This year, however, the contest is the season-opener for both squads and that will create some interesting matchups and adjustments.

"I have no idea what to expect," said Bemidji coach Troy Hendricks about tonight's 7 p.m. game at Chet Anderson Stadium.

"Moorhead is always physical and athletic. And this year so are we. It should be a great game."

Hendricks is in the second year of his return as the Lumberjacks head coach and is gradually upgrading the system and the challenges he presents to the athletes.

The Spuds have a new coach this fall, Kevin Feeney, andHendricks isn't exactly sure what changes he will make.

"Coach Feeney and his staff will have different schemes and different personnel," Hendricks said. "So will we so both sides are going into this game blind."

Bemidji's lineup will feature eight returning starters from a year ago plus a handful of players who saw extended action.

Among the returners are Ryan Stevens, Grant Richardson, Christian Madson, Ernie Heifort, Zach Solheim, Will Bruestle, Carey Woods and Mitch Hendricks.

Another two starters from last year, both senior wide receivers, will miss at least the early portion of the season because of injuries.

Cole Bardwell broke his collarbone during last Saturday's scrimmage and will be sidelined for about six weeks. Ryan Rude has been experiencing back pain this summer and Thursday he received word that the pain is caused by a fractured fifth vertebra in his lower back.

Rude will wear a brace for two to three months but hopes to return by the end of the regular season.

"It's a bummer for Cole and Ryan," Hendricks said. "I hate to see them lose a season, especially their senior season."

Despite the loss of Bardwell and Rude Hendricks believes that the Lumberjacks possess the skill and talent to have a successful season.

"On defense we are as fast and physical as any group we've ever had," the coach said. "Overall, our team will rely on its speed and its athleticism. Hopefully we will take advantage of those strengths."

The majority of the team's experience is on the offensive side of the line. Among the players expected to see extensive duty there tonight are tackles Garret Lind and Richardson, guards Logan Knutson and Madson, center Pat Froehle, quarterback Mitch Hendricks, fullback Kevin Nelson, halfbacks Jesse Eck and Zach Declusin, split ends Mitch Brown and Cody Rutledge plus flankers Ben Hengel and Woods.

The defensive corps includes noseguards Solheim and Kyle Huewe, ends Chase Gruber and Kole Spencer, inside linebackers Brandon Larson and Heifort, outside linebackers James Bofferding and Harley Kroening, corners Dom Hayle, Thomas Runningen and Woods plus safeties Forrest Moe and Rutledge.

Jon Henry will do the placekicking and joins Brown and Richardson as potential punters.

"This is our first game of the year and the goal will be to take care of ourselves and not worry too much about what Moorhead is doing," Hendricks said. "If you don't beat yourself you have a chance to win.

"The kids are ready to start the season and get into game situations," the coach continued. "We are excited to see where we are at and what we need to work on. Our goal isn't to play our best football of the season tonight. Our goal is to play our best at the end of the regular season and in the playoffs.

"This game, however, will give us a good idea of what we need to do to work on," Hendricks added.

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Pat Miller is the sports editor at the Pioneer.

(218) 333-9200
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