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Indoor football: Axemen outlast Green Bay

Maurice Patterson made a nice diving catch for a touchdown against the Green Bay Blizzard on Friday night. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer1 / 4
DeMario Pippen eludes a pair of Blizzard tacklers in the first quarter of Friday's game. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer 2 / 4
Bemidji's Nick Truesdell made an exceptional touchdown catch in second quarter. Lending an inadvertent helping hand was fan Trey Bowman. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer 3 / 4
Cody Kirby made his Bemidji Axemen quarterback debut Friday against Green Bay. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer 4 / 4

BEMIDJI -- They needed a fourth-quarter drive and a late defensive stop, but the Bemidji Axemen made their first home game in more than a month worth the wait.

The Axemen toppled the Green Bay Blizzard 42-36 Friday night at the Sanford Center. The victory pushes the Axemen to the .500 mark once again after a last-second loss at Cedar Rapids last week.

Cody Kirby’s 16-yard pass to Nick Truesdell with 25.7 seconds to go gave Bemidji its lead, and the Axemen prevented Green Bay from scoring in the final 20 seconds to secure the victory.

"That was one of the wildest games I’ve been a part of," Axemen head coach Robert Fuller said. "We made it more interesting than it needed to be but we give a lot of credit to the Green Bay coaching staff, they kept it close.

"We didn't play our best football tonight but we got the win and in indoor football that’s what matters the most."

Kirby, playing in his first game in Bemidji since being signed by the Axemen April 11, threw for 194 yards and five touchdowns -- two to Truesdell, two to Ryan Balentine and another to Maurice Patterson.

"We showed a lot of character tonight," Kirby said. "We always talk about playing four quarters, playing a full game. The third quarter was rough for us. But we were resilient and showed character, especially there at the end. That's what big teams do. We want to get to that level, so it’s encouraging."

And although it was Kirby and Truesdell’s late game heroics that helped Bemidji seal the win, the game turned a few plays before the final score.

Up 36-34 with just over two minutes to go in the game, Green Bay was facing a fourth-and-five situation on its own 12-yard line.

The Bemidji defense didn’t get the stop it needed. Or so it seemed.

Although Green Bay quarterback Nathan Wara scrambled for 31 yards to the Bemidji 7, the Axemen’s fortunes would change on the next play.

Wara fumbled the ball near the goal-line and the Axemen recovered on the 2-yard line, giving them new life.

It took Bemidji five plays -- including some help from some Green Bay penalties -- to regain the lead for good.

The Axemen (4-4) sealed the deal with five straight defensive stops. DeQuan Starling -- who had an interception earlier in the game -- broke up the game’s final pass in the end zone as time expired.

"(Axemen defensive coordinator Dixie Wooten) and our defense deserve so much credit for not giving up and battling til the end," Fuller said. "That was the difference in the ballgame. We had a lot of plays we’d like to have back on both sides of the football but the guys made the big plays when they mattered most."

"That was huge. The defense was huge," Kirby added. "They came up big for us late in the game when we needed it."

In what was a back-and-forth game, the Axemen had a 27-20 lead after a low-scoring first half.

However, the Blizzard (0-8) scored nine unanswered points in the third and fourth quarters to necessitate Bemidji’s comeback.

Wara’s five-yard keeper with 7:10 to go in the third period cut Bemidji’s lead to 27-26 going into the fourth quarter.

The Axemen’s Zach Pulkinen then missed a 16-yard field goal late in the third quarter but his counterpart, Green Bay’s Matt Mahowald, was right on the money with a 19-yard field goal to start the fourth quarter.

That gave the Blizzard a 29-27 lead, but as was often the case in Friday’s back-and-forth game, they wouldn’t hold it for much longer.

DeMario Pippen ran for a 17-yard touchdown to give Bemidji a brief lead with 11:20 to go, but Wara connected with Deron Clark for 17 yards three minutes later to make it 36-24 with 8:06 left.

Wara threw for 107 yards on 16-for-32 passing and three touchdowns -- two to Clark. He also ran for 107 yards and scored a touchdown on the ground.

Lucien Walker scored Green Bay’s other touchdown in the first quarter. The Blizzard led 12-7 after one quarter thanks to touchdowns from Walker and Clark but the Axemen took the lead into halftime with two Ryan Balentine touchdowns and another by Truesdell.

Defensively, Starling was the star with his first-half interception and a team-high 9.5 tackles -- eight solo and three assisted.

The Axemen will travel to Green Bay next weekend to take on the Blizzard for the third time this season.

"We left as a lot of points off the board tonight," Fuller said. "That’s something we can’t do going to Green Bay next week."

Green Bay 12 8 6 10 -- 36

Bemidji 7 20 0 15 -- 42

First Quarter

GB-Walker 3-pass from Wara. PAT-Mahowald kick failed. 10:52.

B-Patterson 10-pass from Kirby. PAT-Pulkinen kick. 1:12.

GB-Clark 16-pass from Ware. PAT-Mahowald kick. 0:32.

Second Quarter

B-Balentine 45-pass from Kirby. PAT-Pulkinen kick. 14:51.

GB-Walker 1-run. 2-point conversion. 9:16.

B-Balentine 9-pass from Kirby. PAT-Pulkinen kick failed. 6:19.

B-Trusedell 18-pass from Kirby. PAT-Pulkinen kick. 0:39.

Third Quarter

GB-Wara 5-run. PAT-Mahowald kick failed. 7:10.

Fourth Quarter

GB-Mahowald 19 FG kick.14:36.

B-Pippen 17-run. PAT-Pulkinen kick. 11:20.

GB-Clark 17-pass from Wara. PAT-Mahowald kick. 8:06.

B-Truesdell 16-pass from Kirby. 2-point conversion. 0:26.