BEMIDJI — After a thrilling come-from-behind homecoming victory last weekend against Southwest Minnesota State, the Bemidji State football team is well aware that today’s game against Minnesota Crookston isn’t to be overlooked.
“I never overlook any opponent no matter what their record is,” BSU running back Avery Walker said. “In this league, you see that anybody can come in and beat you. Just look at how we played at Winona. Anything can happen.”
The Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference has had its share of craziness this season, from BSU’s crazy 31-point comeback in the season opener against Winona State to Minot State and Augustana’s wild triple-overtime battle.
So, despite BSU’s history against Crookston (the Beavers are 19-1 all-time) and the Golden Eagles’ 0-4 record coming into today’s game, the Beavers won’t be taking their U.S. Highway 2 rivals lightly. It’s also the first Northern Division game for both teams and the Beavers (2-2) are focused on defending their division title.
“That’s one of our big goals, to defend the North,” linebacker Connor Quinn said. “So this game is the start of it. We can’t go in and overlook them. I think it will be a good game, they have some good skill players and good schemes.”
The Eagles made history last season when they won their first NSIC game in five years. This season’s edition has similar issues defensively but under new head coach Mike Fritze UMC is making strides — especially on offense.
“They’re scoring some points this year,” BSU head coach Jeff Tesch said. “They’re very diverse. They have some good skill kids on offense.”
Last week UMC scored just a touchdown in a 52-7 loss to Sioux Falls but scored 26 against Minnesota State Mankato and 25 against Wayne State. They’re near the bottom of the conference in nearly every offensive and defensive category but Quinn said the Beavers don’t look at those statistics when evaluating a team.
“I don’t think numbers and stuff like that jump out at us very much,” he said. “They have the potential to make big plays. They run a good scheme, a good inside zone. If we stop big plays and our offense did what it did last week, we’ll do pretty well.”
Offensively the Beavers played perhaps their best game of the season. Senior quarterback Alex Hass started and — for the first time this season — played the entire game. He acquitted himself well, throwing for 171 yards and three touchdowns on 11-for-17 passing and running for 57 more and another touchdown.
“We feel, mentally, Alex is a bit further along,” Tesch said. “Last week we practiced with him as No. 1 and did that this week.
“It gives us a little bit more continuity in practice and the games. He did a lot of nice things (against SMSU). There were a few things he could have done better but it helped saying he’s the guy for the game.”
Walker also had a monster game, running for 170 yards and a touchdown and catching two passes for 73 yards — both for touchdowns.
“I think the whole offense should feel more confident,” Hass said. “The run game opened like we knew it could and I was throwing the ball better. Everything was clicking a little more. We knew we could do it, it just hadn’t happened yet.”
In all BSU racked up 387 yards of offense. It’s not much, but it’s an improvement from the past two games where the Beavers struggled to reach 200 yards.
Against UMC’s defense, that shouldn’t be a problem. Over four games the Eagles have surrendered 52 points and 559 yards a game.
Still, the Beavers are wary of the Eagles coming into what should be a wet and muddy homecoming game in Crookston.
“I think we’re doing a good job of not overlooking them,” Walker said. “We’re looking at them like they’re anybody else in the conference. They’re the same, football is football, any moment of time someone can come out and beat you.”
“It’s the first North Division game,” Tesch added. “We don’t feel like we’ve played our best game yet. If we’re going to contend we have to win this game. It’s one where we have a chance to win on the road, which is always hard in this conference.”