The Bemidji State football team holds a 5-1 record entering Saturday's rivalry game against Minnesota State University, Moorhead at Chet Anderson Stadium at 1 p.m.
The season has entered the second half, the Beavers are tied for second in Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference standings and the national tournament is a possibility if the No. 23-ranked Beavers can continue to win games.
"I don't want to jinx it by talking about it and I think it's still a little too early to talk about it," Bemidji State head coach Jeff Tesch said. "Right now we obviously have to win this game or it won't mean anything. The way this season is going, it looks like you can't have more than two losses and be able to make the playoffs. The league is so balanced this year."
The margin of error will be small if the Beavers (5-1, 4-1 NSIC) hope to contend for a national playoff sport. BSU plays Moorhead (2-4, 1-4 NSIC), U-Mary, Northern State, St. Cloud State and Minnesota-Crookston to close out the season.
Northern and Crookston are winless in the NSIC, U-Mary is 2-3 in conference play and the Huskies are currently ranked No. 16 in the country.
"It is a realistic opportunity for us to make playoffs if we play the way we should," BSU offensive lineman Jordan Anderson said. "We've got to take care of business. Last year and this year we thought playoffs were a possibility because of the talent we have. It's all about executing on the field and taking the game plan forward. It seems like things are going our way this year."
BSU defeated Concordia-St. Paul 20-7 in the homecoming game last week. BSU struggled at times on both sides of the ball, but were led by strong performances from seniors including Brody Scheff's three-interception game.
The Beavers have found success running the ball and defending against the run this season.
The BSU offense has the most rushing touchdowns in NSIC play (18) and ranks second in average rushing yards per game at 249.
The BSU has the top scoring defense in the league, averaging just over 15 points allowed per game and a league-low 86.4 rushing yards per game.
BSU will need to improve in other areas to stay in playoff consideration. Tesch expressed concern for the defense's ability to make stops on third down and the lack of a consistent pass rush. He also wants the offense to be more balanced with a better passing attack.
"There's going to be a time where we're going to have to let the ball go but right now the offense is designed to keep the defense off the field," Tesch said.
The series between the Beavers and the Dragons dates back to 1929 and the two teams have played for the Battle Axe trophy since 1948. It is the second oldest trophy in Division II football.
The Beavers have won 10 of the last 11 meetings and this year Moorhead comes to Bemidji with new coach Steve Laqua. Tesch said the BSU defense will be challenged by some new looks from the Dragon offense and Anderson is expecting a challenge.
"The Axe game is a big rivalry," he said. "It always brings out the best in Moorhead and it always seems like they play us well no matter what kind of team they have. We know it's going to be a tough game and competitive."