The Bemidji State football team dismantled Minnesota State University, Moorhead and regained the Battle Axe traveling trophy with a 38-13 victory Saturday afternoon at Chet Anderson Stadium.
Bemidji State defensive end Kyle McMartin said the win was important in two ways for the Beavers.
"I think winning the axe back was a great for the seniors and great for the team," McMartin said. "And the other thing is this win established is that we are a team to contend with in the NSIC. We had to show that the last two weeks were not a fluke."
Bemidji State improved to 3-1 (2-1 NSIC) and never trailed against Moorhead (1-3 overall, 0-3 NSIC).
The Beavers travel to Northern State next Saturday and return home Oct. 3 to face St. Cloud State in the homecoming game.
Against Moorhead, the Beavers overcame a sluggish start and pulled away from an early 3-3 lead to a 17-6 lead at halftime.
Bemidji State's offense showed creativity and power as five different players scored touchdowns.
Bemidji State's defense did not allow a Moorhead touchdown until the final minutes of the fourth quarter and sacked Moorhead quarterback Zach Fry six times. The Beavers held the Dragons to minus-11 yards rushing.
Bemidji State's rushing offense, which averaged 222 yards per game entering Saturday, racked up 250 yards rushing and three long touchdown runs against the Dragons.
Running back Dustin Kroeplin rushed for a team-high 98 yards and broke four tackles on a 27-yard run in the second quarter to give Bemidji State a 10-3 lead it never gave back.
In the third quarter, speedy wide receiver Justin Lee scored on a 27-yard reverse and quarterback Lance Rongstad hurdled a defender on a 52-yard touchdown run to put Bemidji State up 31-6.
"I think we were methodical in this game and business-like is the way I'd describe this win," Bemidji State head coach Jeff Tesch said. "We were probably not as efficient as we were on offense the last few games, but we had the big plays and the defense was able to shut their running game down. We were able to make their offense one-dimensional. This was a pretty solid all-around day for us."
Bemidji State took back the Battle Axe trophy after losing at Moorhead 27-7 last year in a game filled with turnovers and special teams miscues.
After losing a close game to No. 10 MSU, Mankato two weeks ago and defeating No. 20 Winona State last week, Bemidji State did not want to have a letdown against Moorhead.
"I wouldn't say it was easy," Lee said. "We needed to come out and execute better in the second half and we did that much better than we did in the first half. We want to build on every week to show we can hang with the big boys in the conference and we can't have a letdown in the games we are supposed to win. We're going to work hard every week and come ready to play."
Like the last two weeks, Bemidji State started with the ball, marched down the field and was stopped short.
The Beavers took an early 3-0 lead on Jesse Sundby's 34-yard field goal.
Moorhead's Jimmie Mattson hit a 28-yard field goal with 18 seconds left in first quarter and the teams went into the second quarter tied at 3-3.
BSU took over in the second quarter, starting with Kroeplin's 27-yard touchdown run through the middle of the field. He broke a handful of tackles and escaped the grasp of Andrew Joyce to break free for the score.
Moorhead turned the ball over two plays into the following possession when Fry fumbled the ball and Bemidji State defensive end Jordan Lardinois smothered the ball on the frantic play at the Dragon 9-yard line.
"I didn't score on that play because I thought there was someone right on my heels," Lardinois said. "I didn't see that it was one of our guys behind me otherwise I would have kept running. The coaches teach us to scoop and score and I was just tripped up a bit."
Bemidji State linebacker Jake Anderson called it one of the key plays of the game.
"One of the big things today is that we were able to get pressure on the quarterback and we were able to get them into predictable distances," Anderson said.
The Beavers converted that turnover into a touchdown when Bemidji State quarterback Derek Edholm connected with Andrew Schultz on a five-yard touchdown pass to make it 17-3 with 10:52 left in the quarter.
Moorhead had chances to keep the game close, but walked away disappointed after two long drives produced three points.
On the possession after Schultz's touchdown, Moorhead pushed down to Bemidji State's 9-yard line. The Beavers defense held and Brian Leonhardt blocked Mattson's 16-yard field goal attempt on fourth down.
At the end of the quarter, Moorhead pushed down to the BSU 9-yard line again, but settled for a 47-yard field goal as time expired.
It cut Bemidji State's lead to 17-6 at half.
Bemidji State made it 24-6 with 2:24 left in the third quarter on Lee's touchdown run.
It was a play that almost did not happen. The Dragons defense broke through the line and nearly sacked Edholm before he was able to flip the pitch to Lee.
"It was a big play and we didn't think they were honoring the option," Lee said. "I think we caught them a little off guard there and it felt good to get my first college touchdown."
Lee, a slot receiver, was expected to be a big part of the offense last season before he was lost for the year to an anterior cruciate ligament injury.
"To be honest, I'm just really happy and grateful to be out there playing right now," Lee said.
The BSU defense forced Moorhead off the field in four plays on the next drive and Bemidji State struck fast when Rongstad broke loose on his 52-yard touchdown run with 1:38 to go in the third quarter to make it 31-6.
That touchdown put a dagger in the Dragons and Edholm sealed the game with a 13-yard touchdown pass to Nate Solors with 4:23 left in the fourth quarter.
Edholm finished 8-of-11 passing for 78 yards.
Cameron Abram led Bemidji State's receivers with three receptions for 51 yards.
"I am still a little concerned about our passing game being a tick or two off, but it was nice to see Cameron catch the deep ball today," Tesch said.
Edholm and Rongstad combined to attempt 13 passes and 16 rushes in the game - it marked the third straight game where the quarterbacks have rushed more times than passed.
Moorhead scored its only touchdown of the game in garbage time when Matt Taffe rushed for a 2-yard score with 1:16 remaining.
For the first time since the season-opening win over Minot State, the Beavers were able to breathe freely with the game in hand during the final minutes.
"What summed it up was Edholm came to me and shook my hand as we were walking back to the locker room and said, 'that was a lot less pressure this time,'" McMartin said. "It was a good feeling to sit back and enjoy the game."