The Bemidji State football team lost the homecoming game to St. Cloud State 38-27 Saturday afternoon on a cold and wet day at Chet Anderson Stadium.
The Beavers were ultimately hurt by special teams miscues at critical moments in the game, including a dropped punt and a roughing the kicker penalty in the second half.
"We just didn't execute very well today," Bemidji State quarterback Lance Rongstad said. "We didn't use the chances we had to get back into the game. We screwed up and never took advantage of anything."
The BSU special teams unit also had a fumbled punt inside the 20-yard line, a blocked extra point, an illegal blocking penalty and an unsportsmalike conduct penalty.
"I've summarized this game up and told the guys two things: One, I'm proud that they came out and played hard. Two, we just did not play well enough to win," Bemidji State head coach Jeff Tesch said. "Every time we tried to crawl back into this game we made a mistake."
The loss ended a three-game winning streak for Bemidji State (4-2 overall, 3-2 NSIC) and gave St. Cloud State (3-3 overall, 3-2 NSIC) its third straight win after opening the season with three straight losses.
The Beavers will stay at home to host Wayne State next Saturday at Chet Anderson Stadium.
St. Cloud State leaned on quarterback Mitch Watkins, who shredded the Bemidji State defense early for three touchdowns in the first half and finished the game with 215 yards passing and four touchdowns.
"We wanted to come out early and get points up on these guys and smack them in the mouth on offense and defense; we wanted to be really aggressive," Watkins said. "Right now people look at our record and don't think that much of us, but we lost our first three games against good teams - Augustana, Maine and Wayne State - they all definitely deserved their wins against us. But we're a good team and we're improving each week."
Bemidji State's rushing offense, which entered the game averaging 237 yards per game average, was limited to just 120 yards against St. Cloud State.
Rongstad was Bemidji State's top rusher and gained 96 yards on 12 attempts. He also threw a touchdown pass.
BSU quarterback Derek Edholm spent most of the second half trying to rally the Beavers through the air and finished the game 17-for-31 passing for 200 yards and two touchdowns. He threw one interception and was sacked three times.
After St. Cloud State's early scoring burst, the Bemidji State defense settled in and only allowed a touchdown and a field goal in the second half.
The BSU defense entered the game allowing 71 rushing yards per game and limited St. Cloud State 49 yards. The defense sacked Watkins six times and Brody Scheff had an interception in the third quarter.
"Today it wasn't just special teams that lost the game," said Bemidji State linebacker Jake Anderson, who finished with a career high 16 tackles. "It was everything: it was offense, defense and special teams. We knew what was coming. We didn't execute today and it showed."
Bemidji State started with a bang when Rongstad sprinted up the sideline 47 yards for a touchdown run on the fourth play of the game to give BSU an early 7-0 lead.
St. Cloud State did not back down and responded with a five-play, 79-yard drive capped by Watkins' 13-yard touchdown throw to Tyler Allery.
The Huskies defense came back out on the field and forced the Beavers to punt, but the snap fluttered high through Jesse Sundby's hands and St. Cloud State took over at the BSU eight-yard line.
Watkins converted the turnover into a touchdown with a 10-yard pass to Fred Williams to give the Huskies a 14-7 lead at 6:17 of the first quarter.
Edholm would throw his only interception of the game on the next possession. Matt Hansmann returned it 50 yards to set up the Watkins-Williams connection on a six-yard touchdown pass at 14:12 of the second quarter.
It gave the Huskies a 21-7 lead.
"He's an amazing player and he is the type of guy you can depend on in third and long situations," Watkins said of Williams, who finished with a team-high eight receptions for 86 yards. "He's the guy we can lean on to carry our offense."
Bemidji State did not allow the game to spiral out of control and scored on the next possession. Rongstad ended an eight-play, 77-yard rive with a nine-yard touchdown pass to Jody Henningson in the middle of the end zone at 10:22 of the second quarter.
Sundby's extra point attempt was blocked by Paul Denne and the Beavers trailed 21-13.
St. Cloud State running back Brandon Geiss punched in a 4-yard touchdown run with 5:07 left in the second quarter to put the Huskies up 28-13.
The Beavers stayed within striking distance when Christian Metz had BSU's lone special teams highlight of the day, returning a punt 47 yards to give the Beavers field position at the St. Cloud State 37-yard line.
Edholm threw his first touchdown pass of the day seven plays later on a 3-yard swing pass to Brian Leonhardt with 1:34 left in second quarter.
Bemidji State went into the locker room at halftime trailing St. Cloud State 28-20.
Bemidji State was deflated again when St. Cloud State opened the third quarter with the ball and scored on the third play of half.
Watkins barely squeezed a throw through a pair of BSU defenders to Allery at the sideline and he turned the short route into a 43-yard touchdown to make it 35-20 Huskies.
"You go into halftime and give a rah-rah talk to the guys and then they came out and make a play like that," Tesch said. "You know then that it's not going to be your day."
Bemidji State again answered with a solid 10-play, 60-yard scoring drive. Dustin Kroeplin took a screen pass from Edholm and ran untouched down the sideline to cut St. Cloud State's lead to 35-28 with 9:18 left in the third quarter.
From then on out, it was a defensive battle as neither offense was able to muster a touchdown.
Late in the third quarter, return man Andrew Schultz called for a fair catch, dropped the ball and the Huskies recovered.
It was a mistake that kept the BSU offense off the field and forced the BSU defense back out after what looked like a three and out.
Another opportunity slipped away when Luke Knutson forced St. Cloud State return man Tony Kubes to fumble, only to have the ball bounce out to Joe Everson's feet and the Huskies retained possession.
St. Cloud State went on to eat up nearly eight minutes of clock on a drive that was extended by a roughing the kicker penalty early in the fourth quarter. On the same drive, another fumble fell in the Huskies' favor when Geiss recovered his own drop at the BSU 2-yard line.
It forced the Huskies to settle for a 22-yard field goal by Tyler Aldridge. It gave St. Cloud State a 38-27 lead with eight minutes remaining.
The Beavers would get the ball two more times before the game ended, but never threatened the St. Cloud State end zone.
"I don't think at any point in time did we ever think that we were out of the game until the final minute of the game," Rongstad said. "We've just got to man up, move on and come in and get prepared for Wayne State next week. There are way too many plays in a football game for you to worry about the what-ifs and things like that. If we focus on those things, we're never going to win a game the rest of the season."