BISMARCK, N.D. – After quarterback Lance Rongstad threw an interception on Bemidji State’s first drive against the University of Mary, it looked as though the Beavers were settling into a familiar pattern: Move the ball, get close to the end zone, then turn it over.
The Marauders capitalized on the interception, engineering a 10-play, 85-yard drive capped by a Zach Roberson pass to Elby Pope to take an early 7-0 lead.
In all three of Bemidji State’s losses this season, turnovers like that sunk the Beavers’ shot at victory.
This time, BSU didn’t fall into that same trap. The Beavers answered with a long touchdown drive on their next possession, then kept it up.
The Beavers totaled 405 yards of total offense, the BSU defense forced four turnovers and it was enough to defeat U-Mary 29-21 in Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference North Division action Saturday afternoon.
After the initial Mary touchdown, the Beavers started on their own 25 and used a steady rushing attack from Rongstad and running back Dustin Kroeplin to move methodically downfield.
Kroeplin capped the drive with a 2-yard blast through the line, and although the Marauders blocked Zach Pulkinen’s extra point, the statement was made. BSU wasn’t going to let turnovers derail this game.
The Beavers (now 3-3 overall, 2-0 NSIC North) went on to score 20 points in the second quarter to take a 26-3 lead into halftime, and the BSU defense held on for the rest.
BSU only scored once in the second half – a 32-yard field goal with 13:27 to go in the fourth quarter. And U-Mary (3-3, 0-2) made things interesting in the final frame.
Roberson’s 11-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Steffan with 8:27 to go cut into BSU’s lead and made it 29-13.
Later in the quarter, the Beavers had appeared to seal the victory with Larry Miller’s interception of Roberson with 4:30 remaining.
However, the Marauders forced the Beavers into a 3-and-out on their own 20, then blocked Pulkinen’s punt and took it in for a touchdown with just over two minutes left.
The 2-point conversion cut the score to 29-21, but U-Mary couldn’t convert the onside kick and BSU held on for the victory.
Rongstad was once again stellar in leading the Beaver offense. He went 16-for-24 passing for 261 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for 48 yards and a touchdown.
Kroeplin powered the BSU running game, gaining 113 yards on 27 carries and scoring once. It was the first time this season the senior went for over 100 yards rushing.
After the initial interception, the Beavers scored on the next four of their drives to give them their big halftime cushion.
Rongstad found a wide-open Justin Lee for a 45-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter to put BSU up 13-7.
Then Brent Kondzoilka added to the lead on the next drive. Rongstad threw him a 15-yard pass and Kondzoilka broke a few tackles to find the end zone for a 42-yard touchdown.
Rongstad capped BSU’s first-half scoring when he took an option keeper in for a 15-yard touchdown, putting them up 26-7.
The Beavers did turn it over late in the second quarter, when Rongstad fumbled it on the Bemidji State 28-yard line with 35 seconds to go in the half.
However, BSU’s Dylan Valentine erased that with an interception two plays later, effectively ending the half.
In the second half, the defense starred. BSU twice held U-Mary scoreless in the red zone, once in the third quarter and once in the fourth.
On the Marauders’ first possession of the second half, they went 88 yards in 17 plays but couldn’t score after getting a first-and-goal from the BSU 2.
Later, the Marauders had great field position midway through the fourth quarter but were stopped on their own 19 when Charlie Hrdlicka intercepted a pass on the U-Mary goal line.
In all, the BSU defense forced four turnovers – all interceptions. Miller, Valentine, Hrdlicka and Jason Bromm all got in on the act.
The Beaver defense did allow 340 yards of offense but held U-Mary to under 100 yards rushing.
Roberson was 25-for-40 passing for 268 yards and two touchdowns.
Bromm and Cory Crosby led the Beavers defensively with eight tackles apiece while J.J. Reinke had five tackles, a sack and 2.5 tackles for loss.
Bemidji State 29, University of Mary 21
BSU 6 20 0 3 – 29
U-Mary 7 0 0 14 – 21
U-Mary – Pope 9-pass from Roberson (Ryan kick), 7:02
BSU – Kroeplin 2-run (Pulkinen kick blocked), 1:30
BSU – Lee 45-pass from Rongstad (Pulkinen kick), 11:11
BSU – Kondzoilka 42-pass from Rongstad (Pulkinen kick), 7:45
BSU – Rongstad 15-run (Pulkinen kick failed), 3:21
BSU – Pulkinen 32- FG kick, 13:27
U-Mary – Staffan 11-pass from Roberson (Matthews rush failed), 8:27
U-Mary – Woroniecki 6-blocked punt return (Young pass), 2:13