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FOOTBALL: Concordia comes back to top Bemidji State in home opener (with video)

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BEMIDJI — The Bemidji State defense had come up many times to get big stops in BSU’s home opener against Concordia-St. Paul.

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But it was two key drives that the Beaver defense couldn’t stop — and a couple failed offensive drives — that turned out to be the difference.

Down 14-7 going into the fourth quarter, the Golden Bears hit a field goal with just over 9 minutes to go before scoring the game-winning touchdown with under a minute to play to defeat Bemidji State 17-14 Saturday night at Chet Anderson Stadium.

“Our defense did a good job for us,” BSU head coach Jeff Tesch said. “But the offense left them on the field for way too long. It’s not often that you see our D-line getting pushed around by their O-line and running back.”

Concordia head coach Ryan Williams said the CU defense got more physical in the second half.

“We just weren’t as physical as we needed to be in the first half,” he said. “But the offense found a way to do what we needed to do at halftime and we were able to overpower their defense a little bit.”

The Golden Bears (2-0) outgained the Beavers (1-1) 322-157 and dominated time of possession, holding the ball for more than 36 minutes using the stout running game of Trew Spears and Roland Zollicoffer. Spears ran for 172 yards on 34 carries and Zollicoffer 44 yards on nine carries.

That took its toll on the BSU defense by the fourth quarter — especially without defensive veterans Buckley Wright and Matt Shaver, who had gone down with injuries earlier in the half.

Although BSU had a 14-7 lead at the end of three quarters, things took a turn early in the fourth after a fumble by BSU senior running back Avery Walker. The normally sure-handed Walker had lost the ball with just over 10 minutes left in the quarter when he tried to run to his left. He stopped, changed directions and lost the ball. Concordia’s Zach Moore fell on the fumble and gave the Bears primo field position at the BSU 21 yard line.

Although the BSU defense held the Bears to a field goal, it was a pivotal moment in a game the Beavers had a chance to win.

“Offensively we’ve got to step it up,” said Walker, who finished the game with 99 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries. “Like coach said, we left the defense on the field too much.

“We all made too many mistakes — I made a mistake, a few other guys did too. We had a chance to win the game but we just couldn’t get it done.”

After Concordia’s field goal the Beavers got the ball back and put together a nice drive. The combination of Walker finding holes and redshirt freshman quarterback Ryan Shields getting some completions carried BSU all the way down to the Concordia 30. But the drive stalled there.

The Beavers called upon kicker Zach Pulkinen to attempt a 48-yarder but his kick sailed wide left.

Concordia got the ball back at the 31 with 5:24 to go and methodically carved up the tired BSU defense with its one-two tandem of Spears and Zollicoffer.

The two backs seemingly parted the BSU defensive line at will and — most importantly — ate four and a half minutes off the clock.

Then, with 46 seconds remaining Concordia quarterback Jared Russo stunned the BSU defense with a pass, finding Gabe Boyce up the middle for 19 yards and stunning the large BSU home crowd.

The Beavers got the ball back after the kickoff but Shields threw the ball into the hands of Mike Willett, effectively ending the game.

“It was unfortunate not to get that field goal and to commit that turnover, but we still have to execute,” Tesch said. “We didn’t do that in the second half.”

Shields finished the game 11-for-21 passing for 75 yards and a touchdown, but Tesch said he and the rest of the offense looked much better in the first half. BSU gained 104 yards of offense in the first half but just 53 in the second.

“The offense played well in the first half,” Tesch said. “But the second half I thought we kind of regressed.”

BSU took the first lead of the game with a 10-play, 60-yard drive near the end of the first quarter capped by a 2-yard Walker touchdown.

Concordia answered to tie with another impressive drive, going 66 yards in 14 plays. Russo found Cordell Smith in the end zone early in the second quarter.

It looked like the teams would go into halftime tied but Buckley Wright helped make sure that didn’t happen.

With 40 seconds left in the half and the ball on the BSU 41 yard line, Concordia elected to throw the ball on third down rather than run the clock down and wait for halftime.

Russo threw at Wright, who caught the ball and ran it virtually untouched down the sideline before being pushed out of bounds at the 10 yard line.

On third down from the 8, Shields found tight end Jordan Noskowisk in the corner of the end zone. Noskowisk caught the ball in stride, arms straight out, before falling to the ground inbounds — with a touchdown.

Pulkinen nailed the extra point and the Beavers took a 14-7 lead into halftime.

The Beavers hit the road next week for a game at Augustana. Walker said he expects the offense to be better.

“I’m confident in our coaching staff,” he said. “They’re going to help us correct what’s wrong. We need to fix things. We showed we have the ability to win games, we just need to be more consistent.”

Concordia 17, Bemidji State 14

C-SP 0 7 0 10 — 17

BSU 7 7 0 0 — 14

First Quarter

BSU-Walker, 2-run. PAT-Pulkinen kick. 2:15.

Second Quarter

C-SP-Smith, 5-pass from Russo. PAT-Obarski kick. 4:26.

BSU-Noskowiak, 8-pass from Shields. PAT-Pulkinen kick. 0:16.

Third Quarter

No scoring

Fourth Quarter

C-SP-Obarski, 38-FG. 9:18.

C-SP-Boyce, 19-pass from Russo. PAT-Obarski kick. 0:46.

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Jack Hittinger
Jack Hittinger is a sports reporter for the Bemidji Pioneer, focusing on Bemidji State but also covering area high schools. He hails from the Great State of Michigan. Read his Bemidji State blog at http://thebeaverblog.areavoices.com/ and follow him on Twitter at @Jackhitts.
(218) 333-9772
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