BEMIDJI – The NSIC schedule-makers weren’t exactly kind to the Bemidji State football season. Trips to Mankato, Sioux Falls, Bismarck, Duluth and St. Cloud may be the equivalent of running the gauntlet.
This afternoon, Bemidji State makes the last stop on the rough road tour with a meeting against St. Cloud State. They’ll meet at 1 p.m. today at Husky Stadium.
The Beavers (4-4) and the Huskies (5-3) are both coming off rough road losses, but despite that, the NSIC North title is very much in play. BSU and SCSU are among four teams in the NSIC North sitting at 3-1 in divisional play.
“That’s the carrot,” BSU head coach Jeff Tesch said. “That’s what we have to play for this season. And it’s still obtainable, but we need a big road win. To have any kind of championship opportunity, you need a big road win. We’ve been telling the guys that all year, so that’s what we’ve got to do.”
Granted, Tesch knows no road trip is easy in the NSIC. The Huskies lost by one point to Northern State last week in Aberdeen, S.D.
“It’s tough to play on the road in this league,” Tesch said. “We didn’t play well on the road at Duluth and we haven’t at some of the other places.
“They lost at Aberdeen, at NSU, so it shows they’re human too. We’ve got to give ourselves an opportunity, stay in the game until the fourth quarter and give ourselves a chance. Maybe that means being a little more conservative, but we need to get a win.”
In last week’s loss to Minnesota-Duluth, turnovers once again took center stage. BSU turned it over four times, and, despite forcing turnovers of their own, never capitalized on them in a 30-0 loss.
“Again we seem to be kind of bit by inopportune turnovers and bad field position,” BSU defensive coordinator Rich Jahner said. “We kind of felt defensively that we could have held them to under 20 points. We did well defensively. But when we had opportunities a couple times we could have taken care of business and been in there.”
Against the Huskies, the Beavers will face a quarterback similar to Duluth’s Chase Vogler in Phillip Klaphake. Klaphake can run and throw – much like BSU quarterback Lance Rongstad.
“They’re very explosive,” Tesch said. “That quarterback is as good as there is in the league. He makes plays throwing and with his feet. They’ve had a few problems with protection, on the line, and some injuries there, but they’re still capable of putting up points.”
Klaphake has thrown for 2,038 yards and 20 touchdowns. Running back Mike Walker has rushed for 571 yards and a touchdown.
Jahner said the key to shutting the Huskies offense down this afternoon will be trying a repeat of last season – a 19-14 BSU win in Bemidji – will be taking them out of their comfort zone.
“That’s how we did it last year. Taking away what they wanted to do,” he said. “We got in their head a little bit, too. That’s our whole key. We’ve been doing that by playing physical and designing our scheme to stop what they like to do.”
“Last year we were able to stop the run and make them throw,” Tesch said. “We got ahead, took them out of the game plan a little bit. That would be wonderful to have happen again.
“Any time we can make an offense a little more one-dimensional, it’s hard on the other team. That’s what Northern was able to do (against St. Cloud last week). It sure would be nice if we could get off to a good start.”
NOTES: After suffering a knee injury in last weekend’s loss to Minnesota-Duluth, BSU running back Dustin Kroeplin won’t play this week and may be done for the year.
“He’ll meet with doctors to see if there’s a chance to play again this year,” Tesch said.
BSU had a few nagging injuries earlier this year but appeared to be mostly healed. That’s not the case this week.
“It isn’t any better,” Tesch said. “For a while there we were making some progress in the health department. Now it’s going the other way, unfortunately. It’s part of football, but we thought we were getting better and now we’re going the other way.”
Tight end Brian Leonhardt injured his toe after suffering a few other injuries earlier in the year and didn’t play the full game last weekend.
Center Brett DeLange, who missed three games earlier in the year, also missed a few series last week and may be a gametime decision this weekend.