The Jacks are back!
The Bemidji High football team scored its biggest victory in the past decade Friday night, beating heavily favored Brainerd 15-13 before a good turnout at the Chet Anderson Stadium.
That crowd is likely to grow next Friday when Bemidji faces the second of the Central Lakes top two powers, St. Cloud Tech.
Brainerd edged Tech 10-9 in its opener last week.
Bemidji beat Brainerd at its own game Friday, controlling play throughout, playing staunch defense and making the most of its scoring chances.
Where it bad five costly turnovers in its opener at Willmar, it had only one Friday, as a stiff defensive effort prevented that mistake from being overly costly.
As it was, Brainerd turned the first Bemidji punt into a quick score for a 7-0 lead.
But Bemidji scored the next 15 points and controlled the clock beautifully, launching one long drive after another.
The Jacks used a mixture of stellar running with pin point Mitch Hendricks passing to keep the ball out of Brainerd's hands. They ran off 25 more plays from scrimmage than the losers.
At the outset, however, it looked like a replay of last week.
Bemidji returned the opening kickoff to the five. Three plays later it punted from the three.
Kyle Crocker caught the ball in full stride at the 30 and romped down the north sideline into the west end zone.
Zach Cadwell's placement was true
Bemidji returned the ensuing kickoff to the 10 and picked up one first down at the 22.
But a fumble at this point gave Brainerd back the ball at the 21 and a rout seemed in prospect.
But the defense held the day after Brainerd reached the nine, aided by a procedure call. Two short passes followed but two others fell incomplete an d Bemidji took over at the 11.
It then launched a 17 play, 76 yard drive that spanned the period aided by a 15 yard Hendricks to Will Bruestle pass and a 35 yarder to Carey Woods to the Brainerd 31.
The drive died at the 15 but Mike Rees came on to boot a 32 yard field goal.
Brainerd crossed midfield before being halted and punted Bemidji back to its six.
That set up a 22 play, 94 yard march, mostly on short gainers, that ended with Hendricks plunging the final yard for a score .
The try for a two point conversion failed. Bemidji led 9-7
At the break Bemidji had 187 yards from scrimmage to Brainerd's 20
Bemidji continued to control play in the third period, crossing midfield on its first possession before punting and getting the ball back at the Brainerd 25 when a bad snap negated a punt.
Two plays gained only six yard, On the third Hendricks found Ryan Rude from the 19 for a touchdown. A bad snap prevented Rees from kicking the conversion.
It was then time for the defense to take over.
For Brainerd marched to the Bemidji 27 before three passes fell incomplete. That gave Bemidji time for a time consuming 11 play drive to the Brainerd 20 before being halted.
The Warriors then completed a vital fourth down pass to the 36 and despite two penalties, Reid Mimmack launched a long pass to Crocker, who gathered the ball in at the 20 and outraced several defenders to the goal line.
But Mimmack was swamped at the goal line on his two point conversion try to preserve the two point lead.
There was 2:01 to play.
Bemidji stymied the onside kick with a recovery at the Brainerd 49 and ran off much oft the remaining time before Erik Jacobson punted to the 11.
Playing a 3-8 defense, the Jacks allowed several short completions but ended play with Brainerd still 30 yards away from the score.
Evan Olson led the ground game with 71 yards on 23 carries while Czar Woods added 57 and Kevin Nelson45. Hendricks hit 11-18 for 136 with Rude gabbing four for 59.
Linebacker Taylor Main went into the backfield to gain 30 yards in the fourth period to lead Brainerd. Mimmack added 25. He hit 11-21 passes for 141 yards. Crocker had four grabs for 104.
"We did it," screamed a delighted Coach Troy Hendricks. "That was our biggest win since we beat Brainerd 26-20 in the Section 8-5A final in 2000."
That was the year he guided Bemidji to its only state tournament appearance under the present format.