BEMIDJI – In recent years Bemidji has played teams geographically located in just about every area of Minnesota.
Ranging from Moorhead to Duluth to Mankato to Spring Lake Park, the Lumberjacks’ opponents have represented the four corners of the state and beyond.
At 7 p.m. today, however, the Jacks will face a new opponent when they make the four-hour road trip to Chisago Lakes for the Section 7-5A championship game.
The Wildcats earned the home field advantage by claiming the top seed in the section. Last week they stomped St. Francis 49-7 in the section semifinals.
BHS is ranked third in Section 7-5A and its playoff run has included a 41-20 win over Duluth Denfeld and last week’s 21-0 shutout at Cambridge.
For the second straight week Bemidji will be on the road and this time the trip will end about four hours later in Chisago Lakes.
“But we know how to travel. We do it all the time,” said Lumberjacks coach Troy Hendricks.
When the bus pulls into Chisago Lakes the Jacks will look at an opponent that they know very little about. The information the coaching staff has assembled on the Wildcats has come from a few game tapes.
“We’ve never met and we don’t have any common opponents,” Hendricks said. “What I do know is that this year Chisago Lakes has beaten Mahtomedi, a traditional power (29-22 in the season opener), and lost 20-13 to Spring Lake Park.”
Last year in the state tournament opener at St. Cloud State BHS thumped Spring Lake Park 24-6.
“But that was a different Spring Lake Park team and our personnel is much different this year,” Hendricks said.
“On the flip side, Chisago Lakes also doesn’t know anything about us.”
Game films of Chisago Lakes show a team that knows how to put points on the board with an option running game and defensively wants to take away the passing and running lanes.
“Those are things that we want to do as well,” Hendricks said. “Bemidji and Chisago Lakes (7-2) appear to be similar teams and, as it usually does at this level, the game will come down to penalties and turnovers.
“Every mistake is magnified (in a section championship game) and once you lose momentum it is hard to get it back.”
Bemidji is 7-3 and has won five of its past six games. In last week’s victory over Cambridge the players rose to the occasion and the coach believes the Lumberjacks are ready to repeat that performance.
“I think the boys are hungry,” Hendricks said.
“Their goal is to get to the Metrodome (for the state semifinals) and they have committed to playing better football in the second season.
“I have seen the difference. There is a little more purpose to our practices and to our mental approach.”
The commitment has helped fuel an offense that is averaging 261.5 yards on the ground and another 52 yards through the air during the two playoff games. Defensively the Jacks are allowing 67 passing yards and only 138 rushing yards in the two postseason contests.
Bemidji’s success on offense begins with the line and leading the charge is senior center Hunter Weidenborner. Today’s offensive guards are expected to be Pat Voss and Billy Deer while Carson Hogan and Al Johnson will be the tackles.
The wide receiving corps includes Jaylen Ingalls, Alex Fenson, Connor McNallan and Ryan Hirt while Anderson Carter is expected to see duty as a tight end.
The backfield will feature quarterback James Hendricks plus running backs Tanner Boes, Brady Schmidt and Tyler Kroening.
Noseguard Lucas Goins will anchor the defense and the group of defensive ends will include Josh Misco, Jeremiah Huseby and Johnson.
Dillon Dickinson and Schmidt will be the outside linebackers while Aaron Bofferding, Adam Steffes and Troy Sauceda will share the inside linebacker duties.
The secondary will include Nick Hovila, Richard Seado, Nick Gubbels and Sam Bruestle.
“Based on seedings Chisago Lakes is the favorite but there is something to say about tradition,” Hendricks said. “We are the returning champions and we have the tournament experience.
“Instead of hoping to win the kids expect to win,” the coach continued, “and if we play Lumberjacks football I have a good feeling about this game.”