BEMIDJI –Look out for Minnesota Crookston.\
In years past, this sentence might have been met with a few snickers or eye rolls. And with good reason – the Golden Eagles hadn’t won a Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference game since 2008.
That is, until last weekend. The Golden Eagles snapped their 39-game NSIC losing streak last Saturday with a 33-28 win over Southwest Minnesota State.
Now, the Eagles come into today’s Bemidji State homecoming game with the same 1-3 record as the Beavers.
Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m. at Chet Anderson Stadium.
Both teams have something to prove.
“It’s easily the best Crookston team I’ve seen since I’ve been here,” Bemidji State head coach Jeff Tesch said. “They should have beaten Concordia-St. Paul in week one, and they really played a good game last weekend.”
Like their coach, Bemidji State players are well aware that Crookston is no joke this year.
“Everybody in the conference seems to say, ‘Oh, Crookston’s going to be a cakewalk,’” senior running back Dustin Kroeplin said. “But this year, looking at film, looking at numbers they’re putting up, you can’t just say, ‘Oh, it’s Crookston.’ You don’t come ready to play, they’re going to knock you in the mouth and take a W away from you.”
The Beavers, though, desperately need the win. They’ve now lost three straight after winning their season opener against Upper Iowa. Homecoming could be just what the doctor ordered for a team that’s taken its lumps.
“We have the same record, and I’m sure they want to knock us off,” Beaver wideout Beau Wakefield said. “They want to be better in the conference than they’ve been in the past. So our mindset is, it’s homecoming. We want to get in that lake.”
Wakefield was referring to the BSU homecoming tradition in jumping in Lake Bemidji following a win. The Beavers have won their last two homecoming games and hope to make it three straight today.
First, they’ll need to try and stop the Eagles’ powerful ground game, led by Running back Richard Haley.
The Eagles’ offense has racked up 292 yards on the ground this year and Haley has torched opposing defenses for 563 yards, leading the NSIC. He led the conference with 1,556 yards last year.
Bemidji State defensive coordinator Rich Jahner said Haley is likely the best tailback the Beavers will see all year.
“He tore us up last year,” Jahner said of Haley, who broke Crookston’s single-season rushing record in last year’s game against BSU, a 31-12 Beavers victory. “We won’t see a better one this year.”
The Eagles like to line Haley up in tons of different formations, including in the Wildcat and at wide receiver.
It all stems from their offensive philosophy of using totally different formations from week to week.
“We’ve gotta focus on the run game,” BSU safety Scott Christiansen said. “They have a great running back so we’ve got to handle him.
“But you don’t know what they’re going to come out and do. It’s really tough since we kind of have to adjust on the go.”
Offense trying to regroup
BSU’s offense, meanwhile, will attempt for the fourth straight week to cut back on the turnovers. The Beavers have turned the ball over 15 times in the last three games. And last week, without starting quarterback Lance Rongstad, backup quarterbacks Alex Hass and Sam King threw a combined three interceptions.
Rongstad will be back this week, Tesch said, which should help the Beavers curb the turnovers.
“It’s all about fundamentals,” he said. “Nothing that we haven’t tried to do in the other games. We’ve just got to hold the ball and make some big plays. We have a few guys back which should help.”
Rongstad will return and Wakefield, who missed last week, and offensive lineman Jordan Oein will be gametime decisions. Center Brett DeLange, however, will miss another 4-6 weeks.
The Beavers will be glad to get some of their more experienced players back on the field. It could be the difference between contending for a division title. The game against UMC will be their first against an NSIC North foe this year.
“If you look last year, we didn’t have three losses in a row, but we had three losses on the year and we were still fighting for playoff consideration, possibly a bowl game berth,” Kroeplin said. “And now we’re just starting the northern division. We still have a chance to win that.
“I’d like to think that our offense could outscore any team. I have faith in our guys. It just comes down to who’s ready to play. Crookston is coming off a high, and it’s nice to see the turnaround in their program. But if we come ready to play I have confidence in us.”