FOOTBALL: Bemidji State comes from behind to win wild 41-40 game over SMSU (with video)
BEMIDJI — Down 11 points to start the fourth quarter, the Bemidji State football team needed the kind of clutch offensive performance that helped drive their season-opening victory at Winona State.
Avery Walker gave the Beavers exactly what they needed.
The senior running back from Milwaukee put on a show in the fourth quarter, scoring a touchdown and running for more than 100 yards to help BSU get back into the game against a high-powered Southwest Minnesota State offense.
But it was Zach Pulkinen’s 37-yard field goal with 48 seconds left that ultimately gave BSU the dramatic 41-40 homecoming victory over SMSU Saturday at Chet Anderson Stadium.
“Hats off to Southwest, they’re a great team,” Walker said. “They gave us a battle, and it really could have gone either way.
“After those two losses it was a reality check, a wake up call. We knew we had to work a lot harder and we did today.”
The Beavers (2-2) had struggled offensively in their past two games — losses to Concordia-St. Paul and Augustana — but came alive Saturday, gaining 384 yards and 18 first downs against SMSU. BSU had just 208 total yards last week against Augustana and 157 against Concordia.
Saturday’s win was BSU’s 13th straight against the Mustangs and fourth straight on homecoming.
Walker totaled 252 all-purpose yards — catching three passes for 73 yards and two touchdowns and running for another 179 and another touchdown.
“He’s been a guy that has big play capabilities,” BSU head coach Jeff Tesch said of Walker. “He has the speed, but we haven’t been able to get him to do that yet. And for him to finally break loose, I’m excited for him.”
The Mustangs (2-2) led 37-26 after three quarters but had no answer for Walker, who carried the ball nine times for 59 yards in BSU’s first possession in the fourth.
The Beavers capped the drive with a 15-yard pass from quarterback Ales Hass to fullback Brent Kondziolka. The two-point conversion failed but BSU was right back in the game, down just 37-32 with 8:29 to go.
After the BSU defense forced the Mustangs to punt on the next drive, Walker struck again.
Walker gained 10 yards on the first play from scrimmage before exploding for a 40-yard touchdown on the next play. The run gave BSU the lead but the conversion attempt failed once again and the Beavers led by the slimmest of margins, 38-37, with just 5:30 to go.
The Mustangs nearly ruined BSU’s party with a nice drive of their own. Quarterback Charlie Kern made two big passes — a 38-yarder to Will Kurka and a 23-yarder to Jordan Cross — to put SMSU in the red zone.
But the Beavers forced the Mustangs to settle for a field goal, going up 40-38 with 3:26 left.
Hass, a senior from Milaca, engineered the final drive starting from BSU’s own 25 to set up Pulkinen’s game-winning field goal.
The highlight was a long pass to receiver Matt Summers under pressure in a 3rd-and-long situation. Summers leaped to make the catch on the SMSU 28 yard line — easily in range for Pulkinen.
The Beavers ran off a few plays before Pulkinen nailed the game-winner with 48 seconds to go.
SMSU gained a first down with their last drive but ran out of time.
“It’s a tough one to swallow,” SMSU head coach Cory Sauter said. “But Bemidji’s a good program. They have a great tradition here and they found a way to overcome adversity in the fourth quarter and found a way to beat us.
“We were maybe one or two plays away in all three phases of the game.”
The Beavers jumped out to an early 20-7 lead in the first quarter with touchdowns from Hass and Walker and an interception return for a touchdown by Connor Quinn, but the Mustangs stormed back and went up 21-20 in the second quarter with two touchdown runs from NSIC rushing leader Tyler Tonderum — including one from 77 yards.
BSU took the lead going into halftime thanks to a 6-yard pass from Hass to Walker.
In the third quarter, BSU gifted the Mustangs their 11-point lead.
At one point, Hass threw an interception right into the hands of McKoy Rodning, who ran it 15 yards for a touchdown.
After the kickoff, the Beavers got the ball back at the 17 yard line, running two plays before Hass fumbled. Andrew McReynolds jumped on the ball before it went out of bounds and the Mustangs took advantage. On their first play from scrimmage Kern hit a wide-open Anthony Dean with a 26-yard touchdown pass to extend the lead to 37-26.
“Getting those two turnovers, but then regrouping and not folding up, to come back and win the game and make that last big drive, that part was the best,” Tesch said. “They hung in there. There were a few times where I was like, ‘What are they doing?’ It looked like the first few games. But they came back and got the job done. That’s pretty exciting.”
Hass finished the game 11-for-21 passing for 171 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. He also ran for 69 yards on 15 carries.
Southwest’s Kern threw for 241 yards and two touchdowns on 17-for-42 passing. Tonderum gained 226 yards on the ground on 34 carries.
The Beavers hope this kind of offensive performance can be a turning point for the whole season after a string of sub-par performances.
“I felt like today, if we could turn it around, that’s what we need to do to shape our season up,” Walker said. “I think we did that this week. It’s not over yet, we just need to keep playing like this.”
The Beavers travel to Minnesota Crookston next week.
NOTE: An apparent electrical problem rendered the clock at Chet Anderson Stadium inoperable for the game. It forced the referees to keep time with a stopwatch.
“It was a pain, to be honest,” Tesch said. “It affected a few points. You didn’t always know the score, or how much time is left. That shouldn’t happen. It was tougher than I thought it was going to be but both teams had to deal with it.
It certainly caused some confusion among both teams — including at the end of the game.
With seven seconds to play (according to the referee, who periodically announced the time to the crowd), the Mustangs converted a fourth-and-long pass, giving them one more chance at the end zone on their own 39 yard line.
Or so they thought. Sauter called a timeout, thinking he had a second left, but the referee told him the game was over.
“I didn’t think it took 7 seconds on that play,” he said. “Nobody was sure. But that’s how it goes. We still would have had to have a miracle to win, so that wasn’t the reason why we lost.
“But it’s the first time I’ve ever had it happen. It’s something you don’t prepare for really but it doesn’t affect a whole lot until the last few minutes of a half.”
BSU has two weeks to make sure the scoreboard works; their next home game isn’t until Oct. 12 against U-Mary.
Bemidji State 41, Southwest Minnesota State 40
SMSU 7 14 16 3 – 40
BSU 20 6 0 15 – 41
BSU - Hass 12 run (Pulkinen kick blocked), 13:37.
BSU - Walker 67 pass from Hass (Pulkinen kick), 9:05.
SMSU – Cross 8 pass from Kern (Schuveiller kick), 5:47.
BSU – Quinn 20 interception return (Pulkinen kick), 3:13.
SMSU – Tonderum 3 run (Schuveiller kick), 14:20.
SMSU – Tonderum 77 run (Schuveiller kick), 8:10.
BSU – Walker 6 pass from Hass (Kondziolka rush failed), 1:51.
SMSU – Schuveiller 31 field goal, 9:40.
SMSU – Rodning 15 interception return (Kern pass failed), 4:50.
SMSU – Dean 26 pass from Kern (Schuveiller kick), 3:49.
BSU – Kondziolka 15 pass from Hass (Hass pass failed), 8:29.
BSU – Walker 40 run (Hass pass failed), 5:37.
SMSU – Schuveiller 33 field goal, 3:26.
BSU – Pulkinen 37 field goal, 0:48.