BEMIDJI – It’s November, and the Bemidji State football team is still playing for something. That’s not something that seemed likely after the Beavers started 1-3.
Heck, it may have even seemed unlikely just two weeks ago, when BSU travelled to Duluth and lost 30-0 to Minnesota-Duluth – a game multiple coaches and players called “embarrassing.”
But after a huge 37-20 win on the road at St. Cloud State, the Beavers (5-4, 4-1 NSIC North) can clinch at least a share of the Northern Division title with just two more wins.
“It’s just a huge testament to how hard we’ve worked the rest of the year,” Bemidji State linebacker Cory Crosby said. “We started off rough, but we definitely turned it around and come back. It’s nice to have something to play for at the end, something to look forward to.”
Senior quarterback Lance Rongstad agreed.
“I think if you watch a game now compared to the beginning of the year it’s almost like two different teams,” he said. “Our offense has been able to move the ball real well lately, and our defense has played pretty consistent all year.”
BSU’s division title hopes begin this afternoon at Chet Anderson Stadium, where the Beavers will prepare to defend the Battle Axe at 1 p.m. in their annual rivalry game against Minnesota State-Moorhead.
Moorhead is just 1-8 overall and 1-4 in the North; their lone win was a 35-13 win over Minnesota-Crookston (also 1-8).
“I know it’s a pretty long rivalry, one of the longest ones in the country, so it’s pretty fun to play for,” senior center Brett DeLange said. “We don’t have many travelling trophies and this is one of the big ones. We’ve got to make sure we keep it.”
The two teams have played nearly every year since 1929, and the winner has received the Battle Axe since 1948.
Although the Dragons lead the overall series 43-33-3, the Beavers have dominated of late, winning the last 11 of 12 contests including the last three. The Beavers beat the Dragons 35-10 last season in Bemidji.
“You don’t want to be the class that loses it, so it will be a big part of this week, no doubt,” Crosby said of the rivalry’s significance to this year’s crop of seniors.
The last time Moorhead beat Bemidji was Sept. 20, 2008, in Moorhead. Any remaining members of the team that year would have been redshirt freshmen. It was tough to lose to Moorhead on the sidelines, but it would be even tougher to fall to them as seniors.
“You don’t want to leave anything on the table,” senior quarterback Lance Rongstad said. “We’re definitely going to want to take the trophy this year and have that forever. We’ve had every year that we’ve played here. It’s driving the seniors, so hopefully we can keep it going.”
Moorhead has struggled offensively mightily this season but its defense has hovered near the middle of the pack in the conference, giving up 427 yards per game.
“They’ve played pretty good defense all year,” BSU head coach Jeff Tesch said. “They’re just extremely young on the offense. Lots of turnovers, so they’ve had a hard time scoring. But they have a nice secondary, and a nice defensive line. They’ll come up here ready to go.”
With a pair of rivalry games at home for the last two weekends of the year – the Beavers host Minot State next week in the annual Beaver Bash – winning out and closing the season on a positive note is all that matters.
“We’re playing for something,” DeLange said. “Our mindset is, we’ve got to win. That’s it. Especially as a senior, this being my last two games, I want to win. It’s a big thing to me, for all of us.”