BEMIDJI – Two second-half fumbles and a late blocked punt sapped all the momentum from the Bemidji State football team Saturday afternoon.
Although the Beavers dominated Wayne State in nearly every statistical category, a series of strange plays and fundamental mistakes cost Bemidji State victory at the annual Shrine Game at Chet Anderson Stadium.
Wayne State’s Max Martin kicked a 42-yard field goal with 35 seconds left to take the three-point lead, then held on to win 20-17 when Bemidji State fumbled on its second play after the kickoff.
“Despite all the turnovers, we had our opportunities to win,” BSU head coach Jeff Tesch said. “Right at the end of the game we had the ball back in our hands; we wanted to kick a field goal to win the game. But it seems like whenever we make a stop defensively, or got some momentum offensively, there was another turnover.”
The Beavers (1-2) had tied the game with 3:15 to go following a 10-play, 75-yard drive, capped by a five-yard pass from quarterback Lance Rongstad to wideout Matt Gandrud.
But after scoring then forcing the Wildcats (3-0) to a three-and-out and punt, disaster struck. BSU fumbled the ball and the Wildcats got it back on the Bemidji State 26.
That led to Martin’s field goal and, eventually, BSU’s second-straight fumble.
“It hurts,” BSU linebacker Cory Crosby said. “We thought we had it there at the end. It’s a tough loss to take. But we’ve got to learn from it. Turnovers are killing us. We played a great game minus the turnovers.”
The Beavers outgained the Wildcats 465-254, had the edge on first downs (23-13), third-down conversions (5-3) and time of possession (just over 32 minutes).
But three of Wayne State’s four scoring drives were a direct result of Beaver turnovers.
“We played some good defense,” Wayne State head coach Dan McLaughlin said. “We had a million penalties, but we blocked a punt, got some fumbles, and intercepted a pass or two. So those turnovers were key for us.
“But I don’t know any game where you’re that close to a win after losing the turnover battle and having a punt blocked. So hats off to Bemidji State for keeping it close. They did a great job getting back into it.”
The Wildcats led 10-0 after a half. A 37-yard field goal from Martin put them up 3-0 in the first quarter. A 3-yard run by tailback Nick Pulscher with just seconds to go in the second quarter gave them their lead. WSC defensive end Richard Daniel forced a fumble to set up that drive.
The Beavers fought back.
Rongstad scored on a 3-yard quarterback keeper in the third quarter to cut the lead to 10-7 then Pulkinen tied it at 10-10 with a 39-yard field goal with 10:36 to go in the fourth.
Then things got a bit crazy.
The BSU defense got a stop but started the next drive at its own 15 following a booming punt from Wayne State’s Randy Weich.
The Wayne State defense held serve, forcing a three-and-out for the Beavers.
Pulkinen stepped back to punt, backed up against the end zone, but Wayne’s Richard Daniel flew in front of him, got a hand on the ball and fell on it at the BSU 11.
Charlie Davidson ran it in on the very next play to give the Wildcats the lead again.
Along with the punt, two of BSU’s fumbles were forced by Daniel.
Tesch was very admiring of the undersized (6-foot-3, 225 pound) defensive end.
“At times we did a real good job on him,” Tesch said. “But he’s just a great player. He blocked the punt, he recovered the fumble at the end of the game, he forced another fumble on Lance. “
BSU still had time to answer – something Rongstad has done already this season.
He engineered a 10-play, 75-yard drive, aided by two pass interference penalties and two outstanding catches from senior wideout Justin Lee.
The latter – a 26-yard bomb that Lee hauled in at the Wayne State 6-yard-line on third down – helped set up the touchdown from Rongstad to Gandrud.
Rongstad scrambled on the play then saw Gandrud wide open in the end zone.
“I didn’t like what I saw, so came back and saw an opening,” said Rongstad, who finished the game with 348 yards passing on 24-of-41.
“Then I went to run and everyone came flying at me. Gandrud was just standing there in the back of the end zone. It’s actually one of the easiest TD passes you can throw. Fortunately we got it there.”
Unfortunately for BSU, those turnovers did them in.
“You can’t make mistakes and expect to win,” said Lee, who caught a team-high eight passes for 122 yards. “You can’t put yourselves in those situations. We beat them in every aspect of the game almost, but one thing that was the determining factor in the end was turnovers.”
The Bemidji State defense was solid, holding Wayne State quarterback Nate Most to only 163 yards through the air. Crosby had 10 tackled – three unassisted – for the Beavers while Jason Bromm also had 10.
BSU returns to action next Saturday, when they’ll travel to Sioux Falls to take on NSIC newcomer Sioux Falls. The Cougars are 3-0 after beating Minot State.
Wayne State 20, Bemidji State 17
WSC 3 7 0 10 – 20
BSU 0 0 7 10 – 17
WSC – Martin 37-FG, 4:30.
WSC – Pulscher 3-run (Martin PAT kick), 0:16.
BSU – Rongstad 3-run (Pulkinen PAT kick), 7:53.
BSU – Pulkinen 39-FG, 10:36.
WSC – Davidson, 11-run (Martin PAT kick), 6:58.
BSU – Gandrud 5-pass from Rongstad (Pulkinen PAT kick), 3:15.
WSC – Martin 42-FG, 0:35.