Indoor football: Nebraska rallies to stop Axemen
BEMIDJI — Leading by 10 points late in the third quarter, the Bemidji Axemen looked to be in perfect position to avenge an early season loss to the Nebraska Danger.
Nebraska, however, scored 20 unanswered points in the final 17 minutes to improve to 4-1 with a 48-38 win over Bemidji Friday at the Sanford Center.
After totalling 38 points and over 250 yards in the first 34 minutes, the Axemen were shut out and committed two turnovers during the rest of the second half.
“It is credit to them,” Bemidji head coach Robert Fuller said. “They made adjustments and we did not make the plays we had to down the stretch. It is early in the season, but I am proud of their fight and effort they played with.”
The 10-point loss was an improvement from the 43-19 loss the Axemen suffered just three weeks ago in Nebraska.
“It was not a good representation of who we are as a football team,” linebacker Jory Johnson said. “We wanted this one tonight, unfortunately, we just came up a little short.”
All week long, Fuller stressed to his team the importance of not falling behind early, to prevent becoming one dimensional.
Unfortunately for the Axemen, the Danger had other plans.
Two plays after Andre Piper-Jordan got inside the five yard-line with a big play through the air, Maurice Avery took a pitch and crossed the goal line from a yard out to grab a quick 7-0 lead.
A missed field goal from Josiah Powell gave Nebraska the ball back and, again, it scored very quickly. This time it was Avery getting his hands on a deflected pass 45 yards to the end zone.
Before the Axemen even know what hit them, it was 14-0.
“We felt like we made some bad mistakes, but we could turn it around with a few stops,” Johnson said. “We knew if we could play with better technique, we could stay in the game.”
Fuller was pleased with his team’s response to the early adversity, as quarterback Hunter Wanket connected with DeMario Pippen for an 11-yard score to cut the deficit in half, before the defense forced a three-and-out to set up a 45-yard score from Warren Matthews Jr.
“It shows the level our guys are capable of,” Fuller said of the quick comeback. “They are growing up in a hurry and they know the potential that we have.”
The touchdown came on a third and 10 play where Wanket got the ball to Matthews Jr. along the right sideline, and his receiver did the rest.
Nebraska quarterback Cody Kirby provided a 23-yard rushing touchdown to regain the lead at 21-14.
The score held throughout the final minutes of the opening quarter, but the Axemen scored early in the second quarter, again on a third-down conversion, when Wanket found Ryan Balentine in the front corner of the end zone to even the score at 21-21.
Bemidji’s defense continued the wave of momentum as Gary Wilburn intercepted Kirby’s pass near the goal line to regain possession and give the offense an opportunity to grab its first lead of the night.
Wanket wasted no time as he connected with 6-7 wide receiver Nick Truesdell for a 45-yard score to put the Axemen in front at 28-21.
Just three plays later, Kayne Farquharson hauled in a 31-yard pass from Kirby to even the score at 28-28.
With 12:12 remaining in the second quarter, it appeared that the two offenses that combined for 169 points last week may be heading for a similar output, but both defenses tightened for the remainder of the quarter.
“Coach (Dixie) Wooten does a great job with our defense,” Fuller said. “Our guys have put in a lot of work in learning the scheme and holding them to 48 points is something we can be proud of. If we hold an opposing team to under 50, we expect to win.”
A 20-yard field goal from Powell with less than five seconds in the half proved to be the difference in the first half as it sent Bemidji to the locker room with a 31-28 advantage.
Both teams tried three field goals in the first half, Powell’s third try was the only successful one.
The Axemen, who won the coin toss and chose to defer to the second half, capitalized on their first possession with a six-yard touchdown run from Matthews Jr. to push the lead to 38-28.
Johnson led an aggressive Axemen defense with six tackles and three sacks. He also batted down a pair of passes on third down in the third quarter.
“Last time we played them, they beat us pretty good,” Johnson said. “We wanted to beat them, and we know we could have, it just got away from us. I knew they were good, so I wanted to put my best foot forward.”
Bemidji’s defense remained flawless through most of the third quarter, until the 1:25 mark when Avery scored on a one-yard run on fourth down to trim the deficit to three points at 38-35.
The Danger capitalized on a rare mistake from Wanket as he was looking for a double-covered Truesdell in the back of the end zone by deflecting and eventually intercepting the pass.
Kirby found Ka Farquharson for a 23-yard score on the next play to quickly erase the Axemen lead and give the Danger a 42-38 cushion heading into the final quarter.
“That was big on their end, but our guys did not get down,” Fuller said. “It was disappointing that we were not able to put points up for such a long period of time in the second half.”
Joe Houston added a 38-yard field goal to make it a touchdown-lead with 7:19 left to play.
Powell missed a field goal in with 4:14 left to go in Bemidji’s only remaining possession.
He finished the game with with just one make in six attempts.
Nebraska held on to the ball until there was less than a minute remaining, thanks to a third down conversion and also to a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against the home crowd for throwing footballs on the field, before adding a 23-yard field goal to seal the win.
“It was a really bitter pill to swallow,” Fuller said of the unsportsmanlike penalty. “We were trying to get a stop and it took us out of position.”
The fans were penalized a second time during Bemidji’s last offensive possession.
“To have it happen twice was really disappointing,” Fuller added.
Wanket threw for 265 yards and four touchdowns and two interceptions for the Axemen. His favorite target was Truesdell, who hauled in six passes for 105 yards and a score.
Kirby threw for 239 yards and scored four total touchdowns.
Bemidji (2-2) will begin its three-game road trip next Saturday when it will travel to Cedar Rapids.
Nebraska 48, Bemidji Axemen 38
Nebraska 21 7 14 6 - 48
Bemidji 14 17 7 0 - 38
Neb - Avery, 1-run. PAT-Houston kick
Neb - Avery, 45-pass from Kirby. PAT-Houston kick
Bem - Pippen, 11-pass from Wanket. PAT-Powell kick
Bem - Matthews, 45-pass from Wanket. PAT-Powell kick
Neb - Kirby, 23-run. PAT-Houston kick
Bem - Balentine, 19-pass from Wanket. PAT-Powell kick
Bem - Truesdell, 45-pass from Wanket. PAT-Powell kick
Neb - Farquharson, 31-pass from Kirby. PAT-Houston kick
Bem - Powell, 20-FG
Bem - Matthews, 6-run. PAT-Powell kick
Neb - Avery, 1-run. PAT-Houston kick
Neb - Farquharson, 23-pass from Kirby. PAT - Houston kick
Neb - Houston, 38-FG
Neb - Houston, 23-FG