BEMIDJI – After 13 years, the Beaver Bash finally means something more than just bragging rights.
When Bemidji State and Minot State meet at 1 p.m. today at Chet Anderson Stadium, it will be the first time the Beavers will meet as conference foes. The North Dakota Beavers joined the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference this season after years as members of the NAIA.
Now Minot State (3-7, 3-3 NSIC North) is the only team standing between Bemidji State (6-4, 5-1 North) and an NSIC Northern Division title.
“It’s a conference game now, and you treat conference games differently,” BSU senior wide receiver Beau Wakefield said. “They’re standing in the way of our conference championship now. But they have a lot of good athletes and they’re trying to win for their seniors, too, so it’s going to be a battle.”
Bemidji State is coming of a 35-25 win against another rival, Minnesota State-Moorhead. After struggling to a 1-3 record early in the season, the Beavers are glad to still be playing for something.
“Nobody guarantees anything, but we’re playing the way we thought we were capable of at the beginning of the year,” BSU head coach Jeff Tesch said. “We lost to some pretty darn good teams, too. Mankato hasn’t lost, Sioux Falls is ranked and Duluth is up there, too.
“So we didn’t lost to anybody bad, but we do wish we could have played a little bit better, had a little bit more of a handle on some of those games. Now it’s exciting to be playing at the end of the year.”
Minot State also had its early struggles. The Beavers lost their first four games this season before nothing their first ever Division-II win Sept. 29 against instate rivals Mary. They also beat Minnesota Crookston and MSU Moorhead – all North division foes – and are a respectable .500 in the division.
“They can’t be underestimated,” BSU junior linebacker Buckley Wright said.
“They’re definitely a lot better than their record shows, definitely. They have some good players, and it’s going to be a tough game.”
Minot State has a nice core of young skill players, including freshman running back Randel Barber and a triple threat of wide receivers all with over 500 yards – freshman Porter Strum and junior college transfers Glyn Borel and Wayne Peters. Their quarterback, Zac Cunha, is also a freshman and has racked up 1,954 yards passing and 14 touchdowns.
“They have real good skill players offensively,” Tesch said. “They have that again; maybe as good as they have in the league. So we’ll contend with that.”
BSU’s offense has also picked up as of late. After struggling with turnovers in most of their losses, the Beavers have put up more than 450 yards of total offense in the past two games (against St. Cloud State and MSU-Moorhead).
BSU junior running back Avery Walker, who has spelled the injured Dustin Kroeplin in the backfield in the past two games, said he likes where the offense is going now.
“As you’ve seen, we’ve put up some numbers the past few games, so we have some guys that can do some damage,” he said. “We also have some young guys in there that have been playing well. We all show some flashes of what we can do, but I think we have a good looking team from next year.”
Today, though, the focus won’t be on next year. It will be winning the final game in the careers of a very successful senior class.
“They’ve had a very good winning percentage, about 75 percent,” Tesch said. “They’re a pretty successful group of guys.”
Wright said the large number of graduating seniors says a lot about the program.
“You can tell by how many of them are still here,” he said. “There are 17 or 20 that are still here. That’s a huge class, and a lot of them have been here for five years. It means a lot, and says a lot about our program. So we want to send them out the way they deserve, with a win.”