BEMIDJI – When a team is heavily favored the secret to eliminating the possibility of an upset is to get off to a fast start.
Tuesday night at Chet Anderson Stadium Bemidji followed that formula to perfection and the result was a 40-14 victory over Duluth Denfeld in the quarterfinals of the Section 7-5A playoffs.
The Lumberjacks (6-3) wasted no time establishing dominance as Brady Schmidt received the opening kickoff at the BHS 18, found a seam up the middle, cut to the left, broke a tackle at the 30 and outraced the Denfeld (0-9) chasers for an 82-yard touchdown.
That kickoff return ignited a dominant quarter which saw the Jacks score three more times. After 12 minutes Bemidji was on top 27-0 and the outcome had been decided.
“The kickoff sparked us,” Schmidt said. “It got the game going in the right direction for us.”
The 82-yard return was the perfect tonic for the Lumberjacks and their fans and productive kickoff returns have been a major weapon in Bemidji’s arsenal this fall.
“When we’ve had a change of momentum this year many times it has been because of special teams,” said BHS coach Troy Hendricks. “They got us jump started (Tuesday) with the kickoff return. You could see the lane open and Brady took advantage of it.”
Bemidji’s defense also played a major role in Tuesday’s victory. The defense forced punts on Denfeld’s first two possessions and after the latter kick the Lumberjacks took over at their own 42.
Tanner Boes took it from there as the junior ran four times in the five-play drive and capped the march with a 4-yard run.
Boes also raced around the right side for the 2-point conversion and with 4:20 to play in the quarter Bemidji was on top 14-0.
Nick Gubbels intercepted Hunters quarterback Greg Gustafson on Denfeld’s next drive and returned to pick to the Denfeld 10 yard line. On the next play BHS quarterback James Hendricks found Ryan Hirt open in the back right corner of the end zone and the Lumberjacks extended their cushion to 20-0.
With 34 seconds to play in the period Bemidji struck again when Boes found the end zone with a 37-yard run.
Boes finished with 138 yards on 11 carries to lead Bemidji’s 285-yard ground attack.
“We don’t look past anybody,” Schmidt said. “We knew that if we let Denfeld have a little confidence we could be in a dogfight. Our goal was to get on them early and deflate their spirit by playing Lumberjack football.”
Schmidt helped deflate Denfeld’s spirit with a 2-yard TD run midway through the second quarter. That TD gave Bemidji a 33-0 lead which carried into halftime.
“The kids did a nice job of attacking and playing solid football in that first half,” Hendricks said. “We did what we were supposed to do. Denfeld is not a good come-from-behind team and we wanted to get ahead early.”
The second half was anticlimactic and the Bemidji coaching staff employed the reserves for much of the 24 minutes.
“We were able to see and evaluate the kids for the future,” the coach said. “It was nice to give the kids the chance to compete in a Friday night, under the lights situation.”
Tuesday’s victory advances the Lumberjacks to Saturday’s 2 p.m. section semifinal game at Cambridge. Bemidji is the third seed in the field while Cambridge (6-2), which had a bye Tuesday, is ranked No. 2.
“I told the boys after Tuesday’s game to enjoy the win but be ready to get back to work on Wednesday,” Hendricks said. “Cambridge will be a tough challenge but it’s going to be a fun game.”
NOTES … The Bemidji Football Booster Club is sponsoring a fan bus to Cambridge for Saturday’s Section 7-5A semifinal.
The boosters are providing transportation to the game for $25. The bus will leave from the BHS parking lot at 9:30 a.m. Saturday.
To reserve a seat or for more information contact the BHS activities office at 444-1600 (ext. 3316) or Joe Bofferding at 556-0651.
Denfeld 0 0 6 8 - 14
Bemidji 27 6 6 0 - 40
B-Schmidt, 82-kickoff return. PAT-kick fail. 0:12
B-Boes, 4-run. PAT-Schmidt run. 7:40
B-Hirt, 10-pass from Hendricks. PAT-kick fail. 9:20
B-Boes, 37-run. PAT-McNallan kick. 11:26
B-Schmidt, 2-run. PAT-kick failed. 6:07
B-Hines, 32-run. PAT-Laitala kick. 6:08
DD-Halverson, 10-run. Pat-pass fail. 9:45
DD-Klan, 2-run. PAT-Melgerajo run. 9:06