ALEXANDRIA – After an uncharacteristic slow start the Bemidji High School football team caught fire in the second half and that spurt provided a 38-23 victory over the Cardinals here Friday.
Mistakes limited the Lumberjacks’ production in the opening two periods and BHS trailed 16-7 at the break. But Bemidji (4-2) made the necessary adjustments during intermission and dominated play the rest of the way.
“The guys weren’t playing with emotion in the first half and we had a conversation about that at halftime,” said BHS coach Troy Hendricks. “We talked about how this is not the coaches’ team. This is the seniors’ team. They have to take ownership. They have to lead and the juniors have to follow.
“And in the second half the kids responded. We played with emotion and we played the best half of football I have seen these kids play.”
It didn’t take long for the seniors to accept the challenge and special teams sparked the second-half rally. The defense stopped Alexandria (1-5) on downs to open the third quarter and Richard Seado, a senior, returned the ensuing punt 55 yards for the score.
Connor McNallan’s conversion kick brought BHS within 16-14 and the Lumberjacks were on their way.
Bemidji’s defense forced a fumble by Jake Bear midway through the stanza and the Jacks recovered at the Cardinals 33. On the next play BHS quarterback James Hendricks connected with McNallan who was by himself in the end zone and the 33-yard TD gave Bemidji a lead it would never relinquish.
After another 3-and-out by the Cardinals offense the Lumberjacks upped their lead to 24-16 when McNallan nailed a 28-yard field goal.
A short time later the Jacks delivered the killing blow when Nick Gubbels intercepted a pass to give his offense possession at the Cardinals 32 and six plays later Schmidt took a pitch and scored from one yard out.
After Alexandria scored with three minutes to play Schmidt answered with his third TD of the night, this one from six yards.
“Brady’s a tough kid,” Hendricks said. “We know that Brady will play with intensity and with heart. He’s a great kid and is one of our senior leaders.”
The Lumberjacks have dominated first-half play in most of their games this season but, because of two lost fumbles and another that resulted in a safety, that was not the case Friday.
A promising opening drive was stopped when Tanner Boes fumbled in Alexandria territory. The Lumberjacks defense was able to recover from that miscue but Bemidji wasn’t as fortunate late in the opening stanza when Boes fumbled at the Cardinals 37 and Ted Deitz returned it to the BHS 9-yard line.
On the third play of the abbreviated drive Bear scored on a 2-yard run and the home team was ahead 7-0.
Bemidji answered with a six-play drive that covered 75 yards and climaxed with Schmidt’s 2-yard run.
McNallan booted the extra point to tie the game 7-7.
The scoring drive began with a 21-yard run by Jaylen Ingalls and included a 32-yard pass to Ryan Hirt and a 16-yard burst up the middle by Boes.
Alexandria’s game plan was to milk the clock by running the ball and the Cardinals worked that plan to perfection on their next drive.
The home team began the march at its 34-yard line 2:50 into the second period and 16 plays and seven minutes later Bear gave the Cardinals a 14-7 advantage with another short run.
Bemidji’s defense forced Alexandria into a pair of fourth-down situations during the march but on each occasion the Cardinals gained the first down.
A 13-yard pass from John Voegler to Aaron Steidl helped Alexandria escape the first fourth-down situation and Voegler gained just enough to give the Cardinals another set of downs on a fourth-and-3 from the 12.
The Lumberjacks shot themselves in the foot on the ensuing kickoff as Schmidt fumbled at his 5-yard line, recovered in the end zone but was stopped before he could cross the line for a safety.
“In the second quarter the defense did not play well,” Hendricks said. “It was one of those situations where the offense would make a mistake and the defense would crumble.”
The 16-7 deficit carried into the second half but was quickly erased by Bemidji’s attitude adjustment at intermission.
“In the second half we responded very well to the adversity we had created,” the coach said. “The second half was gut check time for us. And we responded. The kids played with emotion and they had fun.
“I think Friday’s second half could be a defining moment for the boys. And I hope it is.”
Bemidji 0 7 21 10 - 38
Alexandria 0 16 0 7 - 23
A-Bear, 2-run. PAT-Davis kick. 0:06
B-Schmidt, 2-run. PAT-McNallan kick. 2:45
A-Bear, 2-run. PAT-Davis kick. 9:34
A-Safety, tackle in end zone. 9:40
B-Seado, 55-punt return. PAT-McNallan kick. 2:30
B-McNallan, 33-pass from Hendricks. PAT-McNallan kick. 7:20
B-McNallan, 28-FG. 11:49
B-Schmidt, 1-run. PAT-McNallan kick. 2:45
A-Hvezda, 4-pass from Voegler. PAT-Davis kick. 8:55
B-Schmidt, 6-run. PAT-McNallan kick. 10:36