BEMIDJI—After three consecutive losses, the Bemidji State football team fell to 1-3, but the team knew its season was far from over.
On Saturday, the Beavers showed why. BSU turned the ball over only once, played a complete game on both sides of the ball and defeated Northern State 23-6 at Chet Anderson Stadium.
BSU improves to 4-3 with the win and 3-0 in the NSIC North. It’s BSU’s third consecutive victory.
“It’s what we thought,” Bemidji State head coach Jeff Tesch said. “We thought we were a better team than what our record showed. Now we are getting some players back and getting that confidence back.”
The Beavers wasted no time building up their confidence, driving 84 yards on 16 plays in an opening drive that lasted nearly nine minutes and was capped off by a one-yard touchdown run by senior running back Dustin Kroeplin.
Kroeplin ran for 112 yards on 26 carries, his second consecutive 100-yard game and the 11th of his career. The 112 yards moved him into fourth place all-time for BSU rushers.
The Wolves wasted no time in scoring a touchdown of their own. The ensuing drive lasted just 1 minute, 52 seconds, but ended with a three-yard touchdown run from quarterback Jared Jacobson.
Jacobson attempted a pass on a fake extra point attempt, but it was intercepted in the end zone, so BSU led 7-6 with 4:14 remaining in the opening quarter.
“The first drive really set us back,” linebacker Cory Crosby said. “It made us really want to step it up for the rest of the game.”
The Beavers answered by marching right back down the field to score on a four-yard touchdown pass from Lance Rongstad to Brian Leonhardt on their next drive to increase the lead to 14-6 after one quarter.
Rongstad finished the game with 182 passing yards while completing 17 of his 27 attempts. He also added 65 yards rushing.
After driving down the field, Northern State’s drive stalled at BSU’s 10-yard line, setting up a 27 yard field goal attempt for kicker Filepe Alfaia.
Receiver Matt Gandrud rose above the Wolves’ offensive line to block Alfaia’s kick and the Beavers took over at the 33-yard line.
“The guys up front got a good push for us,” Gandrud said. “We got a good jump on it, and fortunately, the kick was right in my area so I just put my hands up.”
After blocking the kick, Gandrud delivered on the offensive side of the ball with a 16-yard touchdown reception from Rongstad to give BSU a two-score lead at 21-6.
“Lance put a good ball on me,” Gandrud said. “The offensive line gave him a lot of time and I got a good block from one of the receivers to get me in the end zone.”
Gandrud caught four passes for 41 yards in the game.
Bemidji State led 21-6 at halftime.
After going three-and-out in its second drive of the second half, Northern State was forced to punt inside its own ten yard line. The snap was too far right out of the reach of Alfaia and it rolled out of the end zone for a safety to give BSU a 23-6 lead.
Beau Wakefield took the safety punt across midfield to set up great field position for the Beaver offense.
But after running for a first down, Kroeplin fumbled the football and it was recovered by the Wolves.
The turnover was the only one for the Beavers, who have been haunted by turnovers in their losses this season.
“That is big,” Tesch said of just having one turnover. “Unfortunately, the one that we did have ended a drive on their side of the field. It was not quite a perfect game, but we played really well.”
In the fourth quarter, receiver Justin Lee joined the career 1000-yard receiving club at BSU. Lee led all receivers with 88 yards on six catches.
The Beavers turned the ball over on downs twice in Wolves’ territory in the fourth quarter, but the defense was able to hold on for the 23-6 win.
“A little bend, but no break,” Tesch said, describing the defensive performance. “We wanted to make them earn it. They made plays to get yards, but we were able to keep them out of the end zone.”
Jacobson threw for 296 yards while completing 24 of his 40 passes. Mark Hanley, Chrish Nguyen, and Jordan Piatz all had five catches for the Wolves.
Crosby led the BSU defense with 14 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and a forced fumble.
“I did not have the greatest first drive,” Crosby said. “I screwed up a few times and I just really wanted to make up for that.”
Bemidji State will now face a crucial pair of road games at Minnesota Duluth and St. Cloud State.
“We always talk about if you are going to be a post-season type of team, you have got to go beat somebody good on the road,” Tesch said. “So let’s go do it.”
BSU will face nationally ranked Minnesota Duluth (6-1) at 1 p.m. Saturday in Duluth.
“The North is still up for grabs and I want to play in the post-season, being my senior year,” Crosby said. “If we can win the North, then we have got a shot.”
Bemidji State 23, Northern State 6
NSU 6 0 0 0 – 6
BSU 14 7 2 0 – 23
BSU – Kroeplin 2-run (Pulkinen kick), 6:10
NSU – Jacobson 3-run (Jacobson pass intcpt), 4:14
BSU – Leonhardt 4-pass from Rongstad (Pulkinen kick), :18
BSU- Gandrud 16-pass from Rongstad (Pulkinen kick), 5:40
BSU- Team Safety, 9:42