MANKATO – Three first-quarter fumbles – all in the first 12 minutes – proved to be too much for the Bemidji State football team to overcome Saturday at Minnesota State Mankato.
The Beavers lost the ball only four plays into their very first drive. The Mavericks scored three minutes later.
That would turn out to be a running theme. Bemidji State fumbled on three of its first four possessions and MSU turned all of those into points.
The Mavericks scored the first 17 points of the game before the Beavers had even run 15 plays. BSU never recovered and the Mavericks beat the Beavers 38-10.
“The whole game it was we’re not lined up right, we’re in the wrong spot, or we’re committing bad penalties,” BSU head coach Jeff Tesch said. “I never thought I’d see us perform that way but it happened, so I don’t know how to explain it.”
The Beavers (1-1) fumbled six times Saturday night, but it turns out those first three were the most costly.
After the first BSU fumble by quarterback Lance Rongstad – he was sacked – MSU quarterback Jon Wolf took it in himself for the Mavs’ first score with 10:35 to go to make it 7-0.
Wolf finished with a huge day for MSU (2-0), running the ball for 149 yards and three touchdowns. He also threw for 84 yards and a touchdown.
Rongstad’s day on the ground was not as good, as he was sacked twice and gained negative-13 net yards with his feet. He did, however, complete 10-of-24 passes for 131 yards.
In all, the Mavs didn’t dominate the stat sheet but did outgain the Beavers 323-276, including a 239-145 ground game advantage.
MSU ended up with far more penalties (14 for 124 yards) than BSU (only 4 for 26), and actually had fewer first downs than BSU (12-17).
On the second BSU drive, Rongstad hit Troy Dale with a five-yard pass that would have been good enough for a first down. Instead, Dale couldn’t hang on and the Mavs recovered the fumble.
They would settle for a field goal to make it 10-0, but the Beavers fumbled the ball again later in the quarter when Rongstad lost it on BSU’s own 6-yard-line.
MSU didn’t waste that opportunity. Wolf once again took it in himself from four yards on the second play of the drive to make it 17-0. It was 24-3 at halftime.
BSU didn’t find the red zone until the second half. After the teams punted back and forth on the first three possessions, a terrible 7-yard kick by MSU punter Darin Howell gave the Beavers excellent field position at the Maverick 25.
The Beavers didn’t waste it. It took them three plays to score on Jody Henningson’s 10-yard reverse, cutting MSU’s lead to 24-10.
Any momentum that gave the Beavers lasted about a minute.
Wolf burned the BSU defense again, this time rattling off a 47-yard touchdown with 7:37 to go in the third quarter to put the game basically out of reach.
MSU scored once more, on a 12-yard pass from Wolf to Adam Thielen, to pad its lead even further. But by then, it was all but over.
Bemidji State actually had two chances to cut into the lead before halftime and maybe generate some momentum before the break but had to settle for three points following two lengthy drives.
The first time, BSU engineered a 12-play, 71-yard drive and made it all the way to the Maverick 10-yard line. But the Mavs stopped the Beavers and forced them to kick a field goal, making it 17-3.
The Mavericks scored on their next drive, too, with Wolf once again taking it in for six.
He actually fumbled in the end zone but it was recovered by Thomas Connor to give MSU a 24-3 lead.
The Beavers sniffed the end zone again at the end of the half but were denied when they fumbled it again late.
With 27 seconds left in the half, the Beavers decided to go for it on fourth-and-goal from the four.
Instead, Rongstad fumbled to give MSU the ball back and the Mavericks went into the half with their 24-3 lead intact.
Rongstad completed 10 passes in the game to seven different receivers, and only Dale caught more than one. All-America tight end Brian Leonhardt didn’t play after injuring his foot in BSU’s opener against Upper Iowa.
Senior running back Dustin Kroeplin did play after sitting out the opener, gaining 25 yards on eight attempts. Junior tailback Avery Walker led the team on the ground with 44 yards on seven carries, while wideout Justin Lee gained 33 yards on five carries.
The Beavers return to Bemidji next Saturday, when they’ll host Wayne State at 1 p.m. Wayne is 2-0 after topping Minot State 20-7 Saturday.
MSU Mankato 38, Bemidji State 10
BSU 0 3 7 0 – 10
MSU 17 7 7 7 – 38
MSU – Wolf 4-run (PAT Brockshus kick), 10:25
MSU – Brockshus 42 FG, 6:36
MSU – Wolf 1-run (PAT Brockshus kick), 2:47
BSU – Pulkinen 27 FG, 9:55
MSU – Thomas 1-run (PAT Brockshus kick), 5:10
BSU – Henningson 10-run (PAT Pilkinen), 8:52
MSU – Wolf 47-run (PAT Brockshus kick),7:37
MSU – Thielen 16-pass from Wolf (PAT Brockshus kick), 8:15