BEMIDJI – The Bemidji State football team couldn’t have scripted a better outcome for the final game of the season.
The offense hummed, the defense didn’t budge an inch and the Beavers didn’t let turnovers come back to haunt them. All of that resulted in a 49-0 shellacking of Minot State Saturday afternoon in NSIC action at Chet Anderson Stadium.
That’s pretty much what BSU coaches had been preaching all season. Only today, however, did all three of those things happen at the same time.
“The way they played, they played the way I wish we would have at the beginning of the year,” BSU head coach Jeff Tesch said. “We were a little banged-up then, lost to some good teams early, but the way we played today was the way I thought we could play all season.”
BSU quarterback Lance Rongstad threw for 255 yards and three touchdowns and the Beavers racked up 426 yards of total offense while at the same time holding their North Dakota counterparts to 57 yards.
It added up to a 7-4 finish for the Beavers and a share of the NSIC North title with a 5-1 division record. That’s not something that the Beavers necessarily thought could happen after starting the season 1-3.
“It definitely tested out guts, when we started off so slow,” said BSU senior running back Brad Hemling, who ran for 65 yards and two touchdowns in the rout. “It just showed our spirit that we came back and won. It was definitely a perfect way to cap off our career here. It’s a tribute to all the hard work we put in. I couldn’t be happier.”
Things looked shaky at the start for BSU. After forcing Minot (3-8, 3-4 NSIC North) into a three-and-out on their first possession, the home Beavers turned it over on the first play. BSU quarterback Lance Rongstad overthrew his receiver and Minot’s Cooper Helm intercepted the pass.
That was just about the only bright spot for Minot.
BSU once again forced a three-and-out, then drove the ball 81 yards on 16 plays to score the game’s first touchdown. Brad Hemling capped the drive with the first of his two touchdowns on the afternoon.
The Beavers only led 7-0 after one quarter but with the way the defense played, the offense didn’t need a lot of points. Minot State’s first four possessions of the game went like this: Punt, punt, interception, interception.
Bemidji State safety Charlie Hrdlicka, who had one of those two interceptions and ended up with two on the day, said the BSU defense was even more fired up than normal this week.
“It was fun,” he said of holding Minot to under 60 yards. “It was great that the D-Line could get pressure like that all day. Their quarterback was flustered all day and threw some picks. We’ve played like that a bit this year but it was really fun to actually capitalize this week.”
Hrdlicka and Larry Miller each intercepted Minot quarterback Zac Cunha two times; Miller had one in the first quarter and one in the second quarter while Hrdlicka’s came in the first and third quarters.
Cunha finished the game going 9-for-20 passing and just 28 yards.
Minot struggled so much offensively that they didn’t convert a first down until the 10:55 mark of the second quarter; they only converted four total to BSU’s 25.
BSU built up a 28-0 lead at the halftime, scoring three times in the second quarter. Brent Kondziolka ran in a two-yard touchdown, while Rongstad threw touchdown passes of 26 yards (to Beau Wakefield) and 7 yards (to Matt Gandrud).
In the second half, it was more of the same: BSU wore out the Minot defense with a methodical run game peppered with some big passes from Rongstad.
Hemling found the end zone for his second touchdown of the game in the third quarter, while junior Avery Walker ran one in from nine yards out to start the fourth quarter.
Hemling, Walker and Rongstad all ran for 60 yards or more; Hemling led the team with 65 while Walker had 61 and Rongstad 60.
“The guys up front just did a whale of a job,” Tesch said. “(Minot) never really got on track. Rongstad was running around, just having a blast out there… I don’t know who wasn’t contributing. I think our guys were just motivated.”
The game’s final touchdown featured a 63-yard drive capped by a 10-yard pass from Rongstad to tight end Brian Leonhardt with 8:25 to go.
From there, all it took was a couple of kneels to run out the clock on the season.
For Hrdlicka, winning a share of the North Division title – Minnesota-Duluth also finished 5-1 in the division – is a huge accomplishment, especially after the team started the season 1-3.
“It means a lot that we could actually do something with this season,” the senior from Wolf Lake said. “One-and-3 is not the start that we wanted, and we wanted to make the playoffs. But the north title is awesome too.
“It’s a great feeling. We’ve never won a title here before in my career, so it was special.”
Bemidji State 49, Minot State 0
Minot State 0 0 0 0 – 0
Bemidji State 7 21 7 14 – 49
BSU – Hemling 2-run (Pulkinen kick), 3:36
BSU – Kondziolka 2-run (Pulkinen kick), 12:15
BSU – Wakefield 26-pass from Rongstad (Pulkinen kick), 5:52
BSU – Gandrud 7-pass from Rongstad (Pulkinen kick), 0:45
BSU – Hemling 1-run (Pulkinen kick), 3:25
BSU – Walker 9-run (Pulkinen kick), 14:50
BSU – Leonhardt 10-pass from Rongstad, 8:25