FOOTBALL: Shields to start home opener for Bemidji State
BEMIDJI -- The Bemidji State football team was down by three touchdowns with under a quarter -- 11 minutes, exactly -- left to play.
Game over, right?
Not so fast.
The Beavers forced two turnovers for touchdowns -- an interception and a fumble recovery -- then scored with 31 seconds left in regulation to tie the game before eventually winning in overtime, 34-27.
The quarterback for that fateful fourth quarter was redshirt freshman Ryan Shields, who had come in as a backup to senior Alex Hass.
In his first collegiate action, Shields went for 116 yards on 11-for-22 passing, throwing the game-tying and the game-winning touchdowns.
"I prepared all week like I was the starter... obviously I wasn't the starter, but I was ready," Shields said. "It just felt nice to get thrown in and be comfortable with those guys."
That performance helped earned Shields his first-ever collegiate start this Saturday against Concordia-St. Paul.
"He was a great spark last weekend and earned the opportunity to start the game this week, so we're excited about that," BSU head coach Jeff Tesch said. "He was close last week, too. We wanted to start Alex just because he was the one guy that had some game experience.
"We thought Ryan might be the kind of kid who could come in (later) and sort of give us a spark. That worked out well and now we'll see how he can do coming out of the gate with them."
Shields, a redshirt freshman from Roseville, Calif., looked as poised as a veteran in a high-pressure situation against Winona State.
On the final scoring drive, the Beavers started from their own 11-yard-line and had 2 minutes, 24 seconds to score. Shields completed seven of 13 passes in those final two minutes, including the game-tying touchdown -- a toss to Josh Malone.
On the game-winning touchdown -- a pass to Jordan Noskowiak -- Shields fought off some heavy pressure from the Warriors defense to complete the pass.
Shields' elder teammates saw him mature quickly on the field.
"Given the situation he got thrown into, being a redshirt freshman, with the starting quarterback going down with a leg injury, you would almost think that it might be too much for him," BSU senior running back Avery Walker said. "I saw a lot of poise and a lot of confidence out of him.... something you might not expect, him being so young. But he made some big plays."
Shields has a big challenge this week -- namely, getting the offense firing early so the Beavers don't need to make another incredible comeback.
Last week's shaky start may be attributable to first-game jitters -- against Winona, the Beavers were using six first-time starters and a pair of quarterbacks with a combined one collegiate start between them.
Now, with a clear No. 1 starter in Shields and a full game played against a top team, the Beavers think they should be ready for Concordia in the first home game of the season.
"I think we're pretty confident," Noskowiak said. "Obviously we have room to improve, but I think the offense is very confident going into this next game, especially now that we've played together once. I think we can pull out the win if we play well."
"I think we improved every day this week," Shields added. "That was our goal this week in practice, just improve. And we did a lot of things wrong last week, a lot of preventable things, so that's what we focused on this week. We should be ready."