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Bemidji State wide receiver Juwaan Richard, left, makes a one-handed grab during a game against St. Cloud State this season. Richard is one of many freshmen who saw a lot of playing time for the Beavers this year. BSU head coach Jeff Tesch thinks that experience will help the team improve in 2014. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

FOOTBALL: Adverse season should make young BSU squad better in 2014

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BEMIDJI — Bemidji State head football coach Jeff Tesch doesn’t want a break.

Despite BSU’s disappointing 3-8 finish that included losses at rivals Minnesota-Crookston and Minnesota State-Moorhead as well as some heartbreaking last-minute finished against top teams, Tesch would just as soon keep going.

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“I kinda wish we could start again right now,” the 18-year coach said last week. “Even though it was a 3-8 year the kids worked hard every day and were a joy to be around.

“Somebody the other day said, ‘You probably can’t wait for the season to be over.’ On the contrary, it was a fun year despite the finish. I actually can’t wait until spring ball and working with the guys again.”

The Beavers won just three times last season with a roster full of promising young talent but light on depth and experience — especially on the offensive side of the ball.

Aside from senior running back Avery Walker — who finished the season with 1,314 rushing yards (119.5 yards per game), third in the NSIC — and senior fullback Brent Kondziolka, BSU was using freshmen and sophomores at the skill positions. Many of them hadn’t played a collegiate down before this season.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the Beavers’ offense struggled, especially in the early goings. BSU’s scoring offense finished 14th out of 16 teams in the NSIC (18.1 ppg) and the team’s total offense gained just 292.2 yards per game, good enough for 13th out of 16 teams.

“It was a combination of inexperience and youth at some spots,” Tesch said. “We didn’t win close games early on. Then we had too many injuries for us to hang in there and not a lot of depth.

“All of that added up to a 3-8 year. I wish you could put a handle on it, but the kids battled all the way until the end. And we feel like we’re not that far away.”

Indeed, despite BSU’s offensive struggles, the Beavers were in nearly every single game. BSU lost four of those games by 10 points or less. In another — a 35-17 loss at MSU-Moorhead — they had a lead at halftime before MSU rattled off 28 fourth-quarter points for the victory.

“A few games we didn’t play well at all, but a lot of them were close,” Tesch said. “I mean, we were thinking 6-5 at the start of the year. We could have been 6-5 if a few plays could have gone our way, but they didn’t so we ended up 3-8.

“A lot of it was, we didn’t have enough depth in the fourth quarter. We did not play well in the fourth quarter, which led to some of those losses.”

Next year that problem should fix itself, as the Beavers return a starting quarterback in Ryan Shields who took his lumps this season as a redshirt freshman but got better as the season continued. Nearly the entire receiving corps — wide receivers Josh Malone, Juwaan Richard, Vince Dinkel and Matt Summers, as well as tight end Jordan Noskowiak — were freshmen or sophomores. Some, like Richard and Dinkel were true freshmen.

And although the Beavers will miss the senior leadership of Avery Walker and Kondziolka in the backfield they have capable replacements in freshmen Brady Schmidt and Derrick Dunn.

“We have a good nucleus back on offense,” Tesch said. “We’ll miss Avery and Brent but we have some nice depth.”

Defensively the Beavers will lose senior leadership — linebacker Buckley Wright, cornerback Larry Miller and defensive lineman Matt Shaver — but Tesch expects a strong unit returning.

“We have most of the D-Line back and the secondary will be much improved,” he said, noting that many of the players in the defensive backfield missed time with injuries and weren’t 100 percent this past season.

In short — things look more promising for 2014 than they did for 2013. Tesch and the rest of the coaching staff had figured it might be a struggle this season with the young offense, but he said he’s glad how they finished the year.

“We only won three games, but if you’re only going to win three games I guess you want to win the first one, homecoming and the last one,” he said noting that the Beavers beat a team in Southwest Minnesota State that is playing in the Mineral Water Bowl. The Beavers also won a thrilling season opener at Winona State and their finale at Minot State.

“We’re already excited to get back out there for the spring,” Tesch said. “We’re looking forward to working with the freshmen that got redshirted this year, we’re excited about this group. We have to get them bigger stronger, faster and give them some reps to give us some more depth. I think that’s going to be the biggest thing for the spring so far.”

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Jack Hittinger
Jack Hittinger is a sports reporter for the Bemidji Pioneer, focusing on Bemidji State but also covering area high schools. He hails from the Great State of Michigan. Read his Bemidji State blog at http://thebeaverblog.areavoices.com/ and follow him on Twitter at @Jackhitts.
(218) 333-9772
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