Bemidji HS football team hosts Grand Rapids in section title game with state on the line
The Bemidji football players have earned the home field for the Section 7-4A playoff championship game and hope to take full advantage of the rare opportunity when they host Grand Rapids at 7 p.m. today.
"I can't remember the last time Bemidji athletes played in a section final at home," said BHS coach Troy Hendricks. "This opportunity is a reward for the work the kids did during the regular season."
The Lumberjacks will take an 8-1 record into tonight's contest while the second-seeded Thunderhawks are 7-2. During the regular season Grand Rapids defeated Greenway-NK 50-0, Duluth East 42-0, Duluth Central 21-2, Ashland 42-21, Two Harbors 42-14 and Deer River 21-7.
The two losses were 27-7 to Detroit Lakes and 62-21 to DeLaSalle. Last week Grand Rapids edged Duluth Central 16-12 in the section semifinals.
"Grand Rapids plays very good football," Hendricks said. "I wouldn't think Grand Rapids is coming to Bemidji with the idea that it was nice to play in the section final. They have established a good football tradition and will come here with the idea of adding to that tradition."
Last week the Jacks blistered Hermantown 34-6 but Hendricks wasn't completely happy with the performance.
"We lacked an intensity that we had shown during the previous couple of weeks, especially defensively," the coach said. "We had been playing at a very high level of intensity but for some reason we didn't play as well as a unit. At the same time, however, we stopped Hermantown in the red zone when we needed to."
Most of the teams on Bemidji's schedule are run-oriented but Grand Rapids is not afraid to put the ball in the air.
"They like to throw the ball," Hendricks said, "and that is something we haven't faced too much this year. A throwing team presents different challenges and that type of offense can result in quick scores.
"Defensively Grand Rapids flies to the football and is very aggressive," Hendricks continued. "But I believe we have skill players who could shut down Grand Rapids' attack and, offensively, we have the ability to explode. It should be an entertaining game."
Hendricks is excited to have Bemidji host tonight's game and he believes his players are too.
"It's tough reading these kids but, obviously, they have to be excited," the coach said. "What an opportunity this is. To play in the section final for all the marbles, in front of the home fans, and to have the chance to be back-to-back section champions is something not many players experience.
"And if we can win the game it will be extra special."
The Lumberjacks will be at full strength and the roster has been buoyed by the return of wide receiver Ryan Rude. The senior has missed the entire season because of a back ailment but the injury has healed and this week he received clearance from the doctors to return to action.
Rude is expected see duty at wide receiver along with Ben Hengel, Cole Bardwell and Carey Woods. The offensive line will include Pat Froehle, Logan Knutson, Christian Madson, Ben Schram, Grant Richardson, Garret Lind and Will Bruestle. Among the players expected to see duty in the backfield are Kevin Nelson, Mitch Brown, Zach DeClusin, Brady Devescovi and Mitchell Hendricks.
Defensively the lineup will include Kyle Huewe, Keefer Bender, Kole Spencer, Ernie Heifort, Chase Gruber, Brady Schmidt, Harley Kroening, Brandon Larson, James Bofferding, Dominic Hayle, Woods, Thomas Runningen, Forrest Moe and Cody Rutledge.