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Bemidji HS football loses season opener at Willmar

Bemidji's Czar Woods runs for a six-yard gain in the second quarter against Willmar Friday night at Hodapp Field. Forum Communications Co. Photo/Rand Middleton

The Willmar Cardinals turned five Jacks turnovers into three scores Friday night to hand Bemidji a 26-19 setback at Willmar in the season opener for both teams.

Both were playing their first game under new coaches.

Bemidji out gained the home team but coughed up the ball four times on interceptions three of which turned into touchdowns.

And the Jacks failed to capitalize on several promising scoring chances that might have rescued the game

As it was, they fought back from a 19-0 deficit shortly before halftime to come within a single touchdown. But they came no closer.

Disaster struck Bemidji in the second period when Willmar scored three touchdowns, one after an 80-yard drive and the next two on interception returns.

But rather than fold, Bemidji surged back to score once before halftime.

Then, after a third pick was turned into a 57 yard touchdown drive, the Jacks battled back to score twice more.

Mitch Hendricks passed for 239 yards and Bemidji ran for 173 more, a 412 yard total that would have won most games.

The mistakes can be corrected and will need to be as Bemidji hosts CLC powers Brainerd and St. Cloud Tech in its next two starts, the teams expected to finish 1-2 in that league this year.

Bemidji seemed in control at the start, taking the opening kickoff to move to midfield before being forced to punt.

They held and took the return punt to reach the 35 before being stopped again. But Willmar launched an 80-yard march after this kick and despite two 10 yard holding calls, went in on the second play of the second period on Nate Swoyer's nine yard plunge.

Three plays after the kickoff, Adam Fagerstrom pilfered the first Hendricks pass to go 32 yards to pay dirt.

Mitch Fader's kick made it 13-0.

Bemidji then moved steadily down field on a drive that reached the 10 before being set back on a penalty and two incompletions.

But it held and got the ball back at the Willmar 47 in good position to score.

After picking up a first down, Taylor Filipek picked off a defleected pass and roared 68 yards to score. Fader's kick failed.

Undaunted, the Jacks had time to march 62 yards following the next kickoff to score on the final play of the half, Hendricks finding Ryan Rude for the final 20 after a 20 yard strike to Cole Bardwell. Soccer player Mike Rees converted to bring the Jacks back to within 12.

Bemidji out gained the Cardinals 186-103 in the half.

Chance missed

Bemidji had a golden chance to get closer early in the third period when Hendricks and Rude connected on a 73-yard pass to the Willmar 23

Two plays later Filipek came up with his second interception to end that threat and Willmar went the distance in 10 plays to score the deciding touchdown. All ten were short gains with Swoyer going in from the one and Fader kicking the point.

The Jack were on the move again early in the final quarter when Jeremy Schendel made the fourth pick off at the Willmar 40 starting a drive that got to the Bemidji 15 before sputtering.

It took Bemidji only three plays to eat up the 85 yards,

Hendricks hit Rude for 34 and Bardwell for the last 31 for the score. A bad snap prevented the conversion.

Bemidji was in good position on the next series when a bad punt snap gave the Jacks possession at the Willmar 15.

But a fourth down fumble at the six ended that hope.

But the Jacks went in from the 26 following a short punt with Czar Woods scoring from the three., Rees conversion kick was true.

The on side kickoff failed and Willmar ran out the clock, bottling Bemidji deep in its own territory on its final possession.

The Jacks were led on the ground by Evan Olson with 88 yards with Woods getting 49. Kevin Nelson had 42.

Hendricks was 12-26 for his 239 yards with Rude grabbing four for 132 and Bardwell two for 52.

Minus the turnovers, it was a promising start for the Jacks who hope to give arch rival Brainerd a battle next week in the home opener.