BEMIDJI – The Bemidji High School football team appeared to have all the momentum at the start of their game against Sartell-St. Stephen.
The Lumberjacks scored 17 straight points in the first quarter and a half of play Wednesday night at a chilly, rainy, Chet Anderson Stadium to take what appeared to be a commanding 17-0 lead.
But then, thanks in part to the running of Sabres tailback Erik McAfee, the momentum shifted and the Lumberjacks couldn’t stop it.
The Sabres turned the tables on the Lumberjacks in the final three quarters, scoring 35 unanswered points to win 35-24, spoiling Bemidji’s regular season finale.
“They played more physical than we did for three quarters,” BHS head coach Troy Hendricks said. “We came out fired up and played well, but then they started to gain momentum. You could sort of see it shifting. We just couldn’t get anything going once it did.”
The Lumberjacks (5-3) certainly looked like they were going to put the game away early.
James Hendricks put Bemidji on the board midway through the first quarter with an option keeper for four yards to make it 6-0.
Although kicker Connor McNallan slipped on the wet grass and missed the extra point, the Lumberjacks got that point back in the second quarter.
Just a minute into the second quarter, Sartell quarterback Parker Hagen threw the ball right at Bemidji’s Jeremiah Huseby. Huseby was all alone in the center of the field and ran the ball 40 yards for a touchdown. The Jacks converted the two-point conversion to go up 17-0.
After forcing the Sabres to a three-and-out on their next possession, McNallan added a 30-yard field goal with 5:38 left in the quarter to make it 17-0.
Although it appeared that the Lumberjacks had taken a stranglehold on the game, Sartell (6-2) found a way to answer.
The Sabres started their next possession after the kickoff at their own 20 and were able to drive the ball all the way to the Bemidji 34 in two minutes.
The Jacks got three stops, but on fourth-and-1, McAfee found a hole. The senior running back cut through the line then raced over to the sideline. From there he made it to the end zone unscathed, putting Sartell on the board for the first time.
McAfee only scored one touchdown for the Sabres, but ran for 194 yards on 24 carries. He had two more long runs – of 50 and 41 yards – that set up second-half touchdowns for Sartell.
“He’s the kind of kid that you need to keep bottled up at all times,” Hendricks said. “We didn’t do a good enough job of that tonight.”
A 28-yard touchdown pass from Hagen to Bemidji State basketball recruit Patrick Fischer with 36 seconds to go in the second quarter cut Bemidji’s lead to 17-14 at halftime.
And after the break, it was all Sabres.
The teams exchanged punts for the first eight minutes of the third quarter, but McAfee broke off his 50-yard run with 3:50 to go, giving the Sabres the ball on the 6-yard-line.
Hagen punched it in for a quarterback keeper to give Sartell their first lead at 21-17.
Hagen scored both of the other Sartell touchdowns in the game. Both came on short quarterback runs following long Sabres drives.
In all, Sartell outgained the Lumberjacks 390-282, including 309 yards on the ground to Bemidji’s 117.
Hagen only threw for 81 yards but was an efficient 8-for-16 with a touchdown.
Hendricks passed for 165 yards and a touchdown; he was intercepted twice.
Brady Schmidt led BHS on the ground with 58 yards while Tanner Boes also added 25 yards rushing.
The Lumberjacks would add another late touchdown by Alex Fenson, who scored on a 6-yard pass from Hendricks with 13 seconds to go to cut Sartell’s lead to 35-24.
At that point, though, it was too late: Despite recovering the onside kick, there wasn’t much the Jacks could do with 10 seconds left and down by two scores.
BHS will likely play Duluth Denfeld (0-8) in the first round of the Section 7-5A playoffs. The Hunters lost to Grand Rapids 32-6 Wednesday night. However, the official seedings will not be determined until today.
Sartell 35, Bemidji 24
Sartell 0 14 14 7 – 35
Bemidji 6 11 0 7 – 24
BHS – Hendricks 4-yard TD run (McNallan PAT no good), 5:40
BHS – Huseby 40-yard interception return for touchdown (Schmidt conversion run), 10:26
BHS – McNallan 30-yard FG, 5:35
SAR – McAfee 34-yard run (Hagen PAT), 3:37
SAR – Fischer 28-yard pass from Hagen (Hagen PAT), 0:36
SAR – Hagen 1-yard run (Hagen PAT), 2:27
SAR – Hagen 4-yard run (Hagen PAT), 10:33
SAR – Hagen 15-yard run (Hagen PAT), 1:16
BHS – Fenson 6-yard pass from Hendricks (McNallan PAT), 0:12