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Bemidji St. football raises expectations

Quarterback Derek Edholm and the Bemidji State football team hosts MSU, Moorhead at 1 p.m. today at Chet Anderson Stadium. Pioneer Photo/Eric Stromgren

The Bemidji State football team is raising expectations after last week's big victory over No. 20 Winona State.

"I know that in the locker room we want to be a 10-1 team and the only way we can do that is by one week at a time," BSU freshman quarterback Lance Rongstad said.

This week, the Beavers host Minnesota State, University Moorhead Saturday at 1 p.m. at Chet Anderson Stadium.

It will be the 61st meeting for the Battle Axe Trophy, one of the oldest traveling trophies in Division II sports.

Bemidji State enters the game with a 2-1 record (1-1 NSIC) and Moorhead is 1-2 (0-2 NSIC).

Given how Bemidji State has played the last two weeks against nationally ranked teams, the Beavers enter today's game as the favorite against the struggling Dragons.

But head coach Jeff Tesch does not take anything for granted in the NSIC.

"Obviously the challenge is when we lost to Mankato was to come back from a gut-wrenching loss and we did," Tesch said. "Now this week we won a big game and we have to see if we can not come out flat is the challenge. I don't assume anything about 19-year-old kids but they've had a good week."

Games against defending national champion Minnesota-Duluth and 2008 national playoff team Wayne State loom on the schedule later this season, so attaining 10 wins - and perhaps a shot at the Division II playoffs - will have its major challenges.

The Beavers know those upcoming games will mean nothing with a loss to Moorhead, which regained the Axe last season by defeating the Beavers 27-7 at Alex Nemzek Stadium. The Beavers lost the Axe for the first time since 1999 last year due to special teams errors and turnovers.

"That's definitely a big motivation right there is getting that Axe back," senior linebacker Jake Anderson said. "Last year was a huge letdown and probably one of the worst games we've ever had here. We definitely don't want that to happen again and we want to get that Axe back really bad."

It has been a tough year so far for Moorhead. The Dragons defeated NAIA school Valley City State 16-6 in the season opener, but have allowed a combined 86 points in the last two games.

In the last two weeks at Nemzek Field, the Dragons lost 41-0 to Wayne State and fell 45-35 to Concordia-St. Paul.

Saturday's game will be Moorhead's first road game of the season.

Tesch said the Moorhead offense has changed up its offensive approach this season. The Dragons are deviating more from a pass-first mentality to incorporating more of a rushing attack.

Bemidji State's defense has been exposed to the big passing plays early this year, so Moorhead should test the Beavers in that area.

"With the long passes it's just our own fault and not as much of what they're doing," Anderson said. "Sure, they might out-execute us every once and awhile but the majority of the problems are all on us. It's not being assignment sharp."

Some of the problems can be attributed to injury, with starting cornerbacks Tiger Ellison and Sid Johnson out since the second half in Mankato two weeks ago.

Ellison is out with a broken arm, but there is hope he will return next week. Johnson has been hobbled by an ankle injury and Tesch said he will see some playing time against the Dragons.

Bemidji State will look to expose Moorhead's rushing defense, which has given up 178 and 196 yards rushing the last two weeks.

Bemidji State ranks second in NSIC rushing with 665 total yards this season - an average of 222 per game.

The Beavers are keeping defenses guessing with the two-quarterback attack of Derek Edholm and Lance Rongstad with Dustin Kroeplin serving as the primary running back.

Kroeplin leads the team in rushing yards with 230 and has three touchdowns on the year.

Edholm has 203 yards rushing with a team-high six touchdowns and Rongstad has 148 yards rushing with one touchdown.

An interesting stat: The BSU quarterbacks have 75 rushing attempts this season and 56 passing attempts.

Bemidji State's rushing and ball-control offense is just one sign of improvement over last season.

Last year, Bemidji State ran for 1,101 yards over the 11-game season and just three weeks in, the Beavers are already over halfway to that mark.

"We showed huge improvements from last year to this year and weekly we see improvements on the offense, defense and special teams," Anderson said. "I have high expectations as well as everyone else does - the players and the coaches - the talk in the locker room is 10-1 and that's definitely what we want to stick to."

E Bemidji State and Moorhead have played 76 times since the first meeting in 1929. The Dragons lead the all-time series 43-30-3.

- Home cooking: Bemidji State has won the last six games played at Chet Anderson Stadium and 12 of the last 14.

- BSU's average of 1.3 takeaways per game ranks tied for 17th in Division II football.

- BSU's 222 yards average rushing per game ranks 19th in Division II football.

- Of BSU's 12 offensive touchdowns this year, 10 have come on the ground. The last time the BSU offense was this run heavy came in 1995 when the Beavers rushed for 13 touchdowns in 10 games.