Bemidji HS football team faces Sartell in season finale
The Bemidji football team ends its regular season 7 p.m. today at Sartell but, unlike most years, the outcome won't have much bearing on the playoff picture or the team's confidence heading into the postseason.
BHS is 6-1 and already has secured the top seed in the Section 7-4A playoffs. The Lumberjacks will receive a bye in Tuesday's first round of play and will host either Duluth Central or Hermantown Oct. 30 in the section semifinals.
A victory in that game would be rewarded with another home appearance Nov. 5 in the 7-4A championship game.
Bemidji will be the section's No. 1 seed no matter what happens tonight. Grand Rapids has already earned the second seed and Duluth Central will be No. 3.
Hermantown seems destined for the fourth seed while Cloquet is the likely No. 5. Trailing the section pack is Hibbing which will be No. 6.
The Lumberjacks and Grand Rapids will have byes in the opening round while Duluth Central will entertain Hibbing and Cloquet will travel to Hermantown.
If the seedings hold true, Bemidji will open against the Hermantown-Cloquet winner on Oct. 30 and Grand Rapids will host either Duluth Central or Hibbing. Those winners will meet Nov. 5 and if Bemidji is still alive the game will be at Chet Anderson Stadium.
Sartell is in a similar position as the Sabers have already secured the top spot in Section 8-4A. Consequently, neither team has anything to gain or lose tonight.
"I've never been in this position before where neither team had anything to gain with a win," said BHS coach Troy Hendricks. "I'm not sure what we'll do in terms of the lineup. I could have our horses play all four quarters or I could take them out early.
"I do know that we are going to bring enough depth so if we want to get the starters out early we can," Hendricks added.
Tonight's game could be a classic that might not be decided until the final play. Bemidji was ranked 10th in the latest high school Class 4A poll while Sartell was rated seventh.
Each team is 6-1 with the loss coming at the hands of Brainerd. Bemidji fell to the Warriors 33-28 a month ago while Sartell was defeated 14-6 on Sept. 17.
The six wins have come against Tech (28-27 in two overtimes), Sauk Rapids (12-6 in three overtimes), Rocori (20-6), Little Falls (12-6), Willmar (39-37) and Fergus Falls (28-0).
"When we played Brainerd earlier this season I told the kids that the game would show where we were at as a football team," Hendricks said. "Wednesday we will have another measuring stick when we face Sartell.
"We're looking forward to the challenge," the coach continued. "It is a short week so we're not going to put in a new offense or defense. This is a game that will define our team pride and our school pride. We have two ranked teams and two of the better teams in north-central Minnesota. It's going to be a four-quarter battle and the team that makes the fewer mistakes will probably win."
While a win would be nice Hendricks' top priority is trying to keep everybody out of the trainer's room.
"Right now we're as healthy as we've been and we want to stay that way," the coach said. "But how do you prevent injuries in a game like this? Do you tell the kids to take it easy? Do you pull the starters right away? I don't think so.
"We will play the kids who are healthy and if somebody gets banged up during the game we're not going to force the issue. That player will sit," Hendricks said.
Regardless of what happens tonight the Lumberjacks have had a tremendous regular season.
"I thought we were capable of being 6-1 at this point but if you had told me we would have had all of these major injuries to our seniors, I would have said that 6-1 was a stretch," Hendricks said.
The list of walking wounded includes Ryan Rude (back), Zach Solheim (knee), Jessie Eck (knee) and Ryan Stevens (knee). It is hoped that Rude will be available for the playoffs but the other three seniors are out for the year.
"Having a senior get hurt and not finish his career is the hardest part of being a coach," Hendricks said. "You never want to see a senior go through this but there are lessons to be learned for the player and the team.
"On the plus side we have been forced to add depth because of the injuries and that has made us a stronger team. We had to put kids on the field who normally wouldn't have played as much and everybody who was put into a different role responded positively," Hendricks said.
"We are sitting better now as a team than we would be if we had just played 22 guys all year."
NOTE: The football program received a substantial financial boost earlier this month when the boosters raised $24,500 during the second annual Fall Football Extravaganza.
The boosters sold 350 tickets at $100 per ticket and the purchasers were eligible to win a variety of cash prizes and merchandise.
"We need a lot of money to fund the football program," Hendricks said. "The Extravaganza, the Lumberjack Scramble and the Lumberjack Bonspiel are instrumental in providing the funding that we need to survive."