BEMIDJI – It wasn’t until the Bemidji State football team saw Upper Iowa botch the snap on a field goal with five seconds left that the Beavers could exhale.
After allowing the Peacocks to score 16 unanswered points in the fourth quarter, the Beavers (1-0) had just engineered a 13-play, 75-yard scoring drive to take the 25-23 lead with 40 seconds to go.
But the drama didn’t end there. Bemidji State missed the extra point, giving the Beavers the slimmest of margins at 25-23 and allowing the Peacocks (0-1) one last chance to win with a field goal.
Upper Iowa had its chance, gaining 35 yards in only 32 seconds to set up a thrilling finish.
Instead, Upper Iowa holder Derek Giesking bobbled the snap, forcing him to throw a prayer that ended up in the hands of BSU’s Dylan Valentine to end the game.
BSU head coach Jeff Tesch was glad his team got a little lucky there.
“Without a doubt,” he said. “That’s why you take the timeout and ice them. As we know, extra points and field goals aren’t automatic. And we missed two of ours. We put a lot of pressure on them there and they didn’t execute. We’re glad to get the win.”
That attempt wouldn’t have happened without the Beavers’ outstanding drive to take the lead.
Senior quarterback Lance Rongstad calmly completed 7-of-12 passes for all 75 of the yards, capped by the play-action fake to a wide-open Brent Kondziolka. Rongstad and Kondziolka had connected on the same play in the second quarter.
“At halftime we noticed both their outside guys were crashing pretty hard,” Kondziolka said of why that particular pattern worked so well against the Peacocks. “We noticed when we tried to run a run play and we got stuffed. So we ran the play fake and it led to a wide-open touchdown. It gives the coaches recognition, and gives Lance recognition for finding the open guy. He was great tonight.”
Rongstad finished the game with 228 passing yards, completing 24-of-28 passes for four touchdowns. He also scampered for 58 yards.
The senior said the key to that last drive was that nobody panicked.
“I just told them that it doesn’t matter what we’ve done, we’ve got one drive to do it to win the game,” he said. “And we didn’t have any missed assignments; the offensive line held their blocks and gave me time to find receivers. The o-line really did the job.”
The Beavers’ success at the two-minute drill earned them the win. They had a similar drive at the end of the second quarter that put them up 19-7 at halftime.
“Those two two-minute drills, the one right before half and the one at the end of the game, were the most impressive things,” Tesch said. “That’s not easy to do.”
The drive to end the second half was actually closer to a one-minute drill. The Beavers got the ball at their own 22 with 1:10 to go and it took them only eight plays to score. Rongstad capped the drive with a 25-yard lob to Jon Smith. The two-point conversion failed.
Tesch said Rongstad matured as a quarterback Friday night.
“Something he needed to do was take a step forward with throwing game, with his accuracy,” the head coach said.
“And he did. That drive before half, that one there was big time. That’s what a winning quarterback does.”
Bemidji State had taken control early in the game, and for a quarter it looked like it may not be a contest.
The Beavers outgained the Peacocks 110-25, converted seven first downs to Upper Iowa’s two and dominated time of possession.
They led only 7-0 after one quarter – thanks to a 12-yard-pass from Rongstad to Beau Wakefield – but scored only four plays into the second. That was the first Rongstad-to- Kondziolka combo – the exact same play that gave BSU the win. But the Beavers missed the extra point. That came back to haunt them later.
The Peacocks got out of their offensive funk immediately, kicked off their first possession of the second quarter with a 53-yard run by Ray Bradley.
A 6-yard pass from Upper Iowa quarterback Cole Jaeschke to Lucas Hefty cut BSU’s lead to 13-7.
Neither team managed to score in the third quarter, but the Peacocks came out firing in the fourth.
Jaeschke, a sophomore, went 8-for-9 for 91 yards and two touchdowns. He finished the game 18-for-22, gaining 179 yards.
The Peacocks were also without their top running back, Chris Smith. The sophomore was the NSIC’s Offensive Player and Newcomer of the Year last year, but the other Peacocks in the backfield stepped up.
Bradley ran for 128 yards on 17 attempts while Mike Moser gained 24.
BSU defensive coordinator Rich Jahner said the young-ish Beaver defense is still a work-in-progress.
“I said we were pushing the birds out of the nest and hoping they fluttered enough to stay off the ground,” he said. “Well, we just barely hovered over the ground enough to get it done tonight.”
The Beavers gave up 323 yards to the Peacocks, and the inexperienced secondary was torched for 179.
Still, Jahner is pleased with his team’s effort overall. A win is a win.
“What I liked about our team is that we didn’t panic,” he said. “We were able to hold them down at the end and we were able to score when it counted.”
“It wasn’t pretty,” he said. “It’s not the way we want to win, but we’ll take it.”
NOTES: BSU All-American tight end Brian Leonhardt exited the game late in the fourth quarter after coming down hard on his ankle near the sideline. He had just made a catch to give the Beavers a key first down. They scored two plays later.
Tesch was unsure at presstime what Leonhardt’s condition was, but hoped it would be minor.
Leonhardt caught four passes for 33 yards.
Bemidji State 25, Upper Iowa 23
UIU 0 7 0 16 – 23
BSU 7 12 0 6 – 25
BSU – B. Wakefield 12-pass from Rongstad (PAT Pulkinen kick), 6:57
BSU – Kondziolka 5-pass from Rongstad (Kick failed), 5:28
UIU – Hefty 6-pass from Jaeschke (PAT Sandoval kick), 3:25
BSU – Jon Smith 25-pass from Rongstad (Hemling run failed), 0:46
UIU – Hefty 13-pass from Jaeschke (PAT Sandoval kick), 4:40
UIU – Sandoval 35-field goal, 4:15
UIU – Gutman 19-pass from Jaeschke (Jaeschke pass failed), 2:44
BSU – Kondziolka 5-pass from Rongstad (kick failed), 0:44