FOOTBALL: Showdown looms as Lumberjacks face Brainerd on Saturday (UPDATED: with story AND video)
BEMIDJI — Something is going to give Saturday.
Rivals Bemidji and Brainerd, both undefeated, are set to square off at 2 p.m. Saturday in Brainerd.
The Lumberjacks will head south with an unstoppable offense that is averaging 41.4 points per game. The Warriors will counter with a defense that allows only nine points per contest and is among the best in the state.
Both teams are 5-0 and share the top spot in the Central Lakes Conference North Division standings with 2-0 records.
The Warriors are ranked No. 3 in the Minnesota Associated Press Class 5A poll while the Lumberjacks are rated No. 4.
Every sign points to a game that will be exciting, hard fought and one that should not be decided until the final minutes.
“This is a game that will tell us where we stand as a program. I think we’re in a good place but we’ll find out how good a place that is on Saturday,” BHS head coach Troy Hendricks said.
Because of strength of schedule and success against that schedule, Brainerd enters Saturday’s contest ranked No. 2 in the Class 5A QRF ratings and Bemidji is No. 11.
It is likely that Bemidji and Brainerd will meet again in the Section 7-5A playoffs and the result of that battle will have greater consequences than Saturday’s regular season game.
Saturday’s winner, however, will gain the upper hand if a rematch should occur because it will own the home-field advantage for the section playoff game.
“We’re hoping to have the section games at home and we’ll be ready to fight for that (on Saturday),” Bemidji linebacker Andrew Steffes said.
A year ago BHS forged a 14-6 halftime lead at Brainerd but when the weather turned miserable in the second half Bemidji fell apart.
The Warriors fared much better in the final two quarters and eventually coasted to a 40-23 victory.
“We crumbled in the second half,” Hendricks said of last year’s contest. “I would think that the lessons from that experience have been learned.
“But this year we have a different team. We have different kids and a different chemistry. This year’s game will be a great benchmark to see where we are at in the sixth week of the season.”
Anderson Carter is one of the reasons why the Jacks have dominated on the offensive side of ball.
The senior lineman is responsible for protecting quarterback James Hendricks and opening the holes for Bemidji’s complicated attack.
“I’ve been looking forward to this game the entire year,” Carter said. “This is going to be our big dogfight of the year and we’re focused. We’re ready to go.”
Hendricks doesn’t know if either team can claim an advantage. He does know that Bemidji’s offense is more complicated than Brainerd’s but any advantage in that area could be offset by Brainerd’s stellar defense.
“Brainerd is extremely physical,” the coach said. “They block extremely well and their backs run extremely hard and are very good at reading the holes.
“But we’re not intimidated by Brainerd,” Hendricks continued, “and, as our coaching staff preaches, we should look forward to playing Brainerd every year. It is always fun to play a team that is this talented.”
The Lumberjacks are averaging 263 yards on the ground and 155 yards through the air. The passing game could be hampered Saturday because leading receiver Jaylen Ingalls probably will miss the game due to a sprained ankle sustained during last week’s victory over Rocori.
“Jaylen had an MRI and it was negative,” Hendricks said. “He’s walking fine but we’ll probably hold him out.”
Ready for duty, however, are running back Tanner Boes and quarterback James Hendricks. Boes has 548 rushing yards in five games while Hendricks has completed 33 of his 66 passes for 776 yards and 10 touchdowns.
The weather could also impact Saturday’s game as there is a 70 percent chance of rain with a high of 48 degrees.
“I think that ball control will be key,” Hendricks said. “Our goal is to take advantage of our opportunities to score and force Brainerd to go the length of the field.
“I’m just thrilled to death that we are 5-0,” the coach continued. “I like the chemistry of our team and I like the way we continue to grow. This team has great opportunities down the road and Saturday’s game will be a benchmark to see where we are at and how far we can go.”