Rocori edges Bemidji HS football team, denies home field for playoffs
The Cold Spring Rocori Spartans picked off a potential game-winning pass on the next to final play of the game Thursday night to hold off Bemidji 27-21 at Chet Anderson Stadium.
The decision denied Bemidji a home field to start next week's post season play. Instead, the Jacks will travel to Pubic Schools Stadium in Duluth to face the Duluth East Greyhounds. That winner will likely tackle top seeded Cloquet in the semifinals.
Bemidji closed its fourth straight regular season at 3-5. Rocori ended 5-3.
The game drew a disappointingly small crowd on a perfect fall evening to witness the two closely matched teams match skills from start to finish.It was a game of momentum with the Spartans vaulting to a 13-0 halftime lead.
But Bemidji surged back in the third period to score three times and move to a 21-13 advantage only to see it fade before two Spartan touchdowns in the final 12 minutes.
But Bemidji was at the doorstep as time ran down facing a first and goal at the 11.
One run gained three yards, A pass fell incomplete and another was picked off in the end zone and returned to the 40 by Spencer Shulte.
Rocori was penalized on the return and set back to the 11. But one knee ended play for the night.
It was a game that had a little of everything for the viewers especially long plays.
Bemidji scored on 35 and 70 yard aerials from Ryan Stevens to Ryan Rude.
Rocori set up its comeback tally on a 76 yard bomb early in the final period after scoring earlier on 21 and 15 yard receptions .
Bemidji threatened at the start as Czar Woods returned the opening kickoff 32 yards to near midfield and Stevens connected with Rude on a 29 yard pass to the 21.
But a penalty set them back and two passes fell incomplete as Rocori held.
Bemidji was back at the 27 moments later before being set back on another penalty and fumbling the ball away
The Spartans then launched their first drive that carried 63 yards in eight plays spanning the period.
Keys were three Derek Lieser completions to Eric Loxtercamp for 30 yards and Brett Eisenschenk for 12 and 11.
The last reached the three and two plays into the new period, Lieser went in from the one. Loxtercamp converted.
Bemidji answered with another field length drive aided by a 19 yard Stevens to Evan Olson aerial. That moved ended on a Loxtercamp pickoff in the end zone on a third down bomb.
Bemidji stopped the next move but gave up the ball with 90 seconds remaining. The Spartans used the time to go 83 yards for the second score.Most of the yardage came on completions of 12, 12, 11 23 and 21 yards, the last to Sam Moriarty for the score. Loxtercamp's kick was blocked.Different story
It was a different story in the third period.
Bemidji held Rocori to three and out three straight times.
After the first, it moved 64 yards on seven plays, the final 35 on a Stevens to Rude pass.
Jon Henry converted.
After the second stop, Bemidji took over at its 25 and needed three plays to go ahead.
The third was a 70 yard bomb to Rude behind the defense. Henry's kick gave Bemidji a 14-13 lead.
Rocori then gambled on a fourth and one near midfield only to be stopped cold. Bemidji said thank you and went 50 yards to score again with Stevens hitting Rude for 15 and Cole Bardwell for eight and Kevin Nelson bolting up the middle for the final ten to score. Henry's kick made it 21-13.
But just when Bemidji fans were envisioning a great comeback win, disaster struck.
Bemidji was in the process of holding the Spartans to a fourth straight three and out, bottling them up at their own 19.
But on third down, Lieser .launched a bomb to Eisenschenk behind the Jacks secondary which carried to the five before he was knocked out of bounds.
Shulte went in from there on one play. A two point conversion pass failed leaving Bemidji leading 21-19,
But Bemidji stalled immediately and Rocori took the punt to move 63 yards to win.
Lieser hit Ben Rausch for 30 and connected with Loxtercamp for the final 15. Loxtercamp added the final two points on a pass.
There was still hope even after the Jacks stalled short of midfield after the kickoff.
On their second try they marched from their 38 deep into Spartan territory with Woods bolting 18 around end and Rude hitting Ben Hengel with a flanker pass to the 11.
Woods went inside for three but two passes followed, the second picked off by Shulte just inside the end zone and returned near midfield..
The holding penalty set Rocori back to its 11 but time expired on the next play.
Rocori held a 303-266 edge in yardage in the wide open affair All but 26 of the Spartans total came through the air as Lieser hit 17-26 for 277 yards.
Bemidji's was more balanced with 162 on the ground and 204 though the air with Stevens connecting on 8-18 for 188. Rude caught five for 164 yards.
Nelson led the ground game with 62 and Evan Olson added 56 as the Rocori defense contained Woods all night. limiting him to19 yards ofn13 carries.
Bemidji and East will be meeting for the first time since 2001 when the Jacks beat the Greyhounds 37-12 in the opening playoff game.