BEMIDJI – The Bemidji State football team got its first shot at redemption last week, avenging a 2011 loss to the University of Mary with a 29-21 win in Bismarck, N.D., last Saturday.
Now the Beavers (3-3, 2-0 NSIC North) want to do it again. They’ll host Northern State (3-3, 2-0) at 1 p.m. today at Chet Anderson Stadium – a Northern State team that defeated them 14-0 last season.
“Last year was just an awful game,” BSU quarterback Lance Rongstad said. “We’ve got that in our minds. A good driving force for us, and we definitely don’t want a repeat of last year. We went down there and felt embarrassed after the game, and that’s a feeling we want to get rid of.”
In last season’s game in Aberdeen, S.D., the Beaver offense sputtered and couldn’t put up any points against the Wolves despite a tremendous defensive performance.
“We played very well defensively last year,” BSU defensive coordinator Rich Jahner said. “We held them to two field goals, and then they scored on a flea flicker late in the game to put the game away. If we could duplicate that success defensively we did against them, I’d sign the papers right now, because we played very well against them.”
The problem last year was offense. The Beavers were held to 199 yards of total offense, and Northern State blocked two punts, forced two fumbles and intercepted Rongstad twice in the game.
“We went in there and tried to be completely smash mouth football,” BSU head coach Jeff Tesch said of last year’s loss. “They basically had nine guys in the box and dared us to throw. When we did we didn’t make a play, or missed a receiver, or had an interception.
“It sounds like clichés all the time, but we’ve got to hold on to the football. When we do that we can score on anybody. And that’ll be the key.”
The Beavers have had problems hanging on to the ball this year, too – BSU turned the ball over 14 times in their three losses this season.
But, as the last two weeks have proven, when the Bemidji State offense hangs on to the ball the Beavers are tough to beat. They only turned the ball over twice against Minnesota Crookston and twice against U-Mary.
Against Northern State, that will again be the focus.
“Defensively, we expect them blitzing a little more than Mary did,” said BSU running back Dustin Kroeplin, who had his first 100-yard rushing game of the season against Mary. “They like to bring a lot of guys. We’ll have to keep our head on a swivel to protect Lance at all costs.”
The Wolves are in a similar position as the Beavers. After losing their first three games of the season, they have won three straight, most recently a 31-17 win over Minot State.
And much like Mary, NSU has a potent passing offense. Jahner said there are a lot of similarities in how the teams run their offenses so he expects his defensive gameplan to be very similar.
“What we wanted to do going in was kind of unique,” he said. “It was the first time in all my years of coaching that we gameplanned to stop the pass and make them run the ball. We’ve never done that before, but the kids did a really nice job of executing the gameplan against a very good, high-powered offense.”
The Beavers intercepted the ball four times against the Marauders, and they’re hoping that trend can continue against Northern and their high-powered quarterback, Jared Jacobson. Jacobson has thrown for 1,186 yards and 12 touchdowns this season.
“Against Northern we’ll probably have to do the same thing (we did against Mary),” BSU cornerback Larry Miller said. Miller’s fourth-quarter interception against Mary helped the Beavers seal a victory. “We need to defend the pass. They run a lot of (the same) key plays that Mary ran, so we just have to pick out the different keys that they do when they’re in different formations.”
Tesch said the Beavers still have an outside shot at postseason play this year, and can still win their division, but they can’t be focused on that now. Every game becomes a must-win at this point, so thinking about today’s game is the only option.
“Mathematically we’re not out of anything,” he said. “Last year we were right on the edge of making the playoffs with three losses. Obviously we have to keep winning. But sometimes it seems like when we dangle those big picture things out in front of them they don’t respond well. That’s why we just need to focus on the next opponent.”