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Bemidji St. football team takes running show out on the road

Running back Dustin Kroeplin and the Bemidji State football team travels to Northern State Saturday. Pioneer Photo/Eric Stromgren

After a successful two-game homestand, the Bemidji State football team goes back out on the road this week.

The Beavers travel to Aberdeen, S.D. Saturday to face Northern State 2:30 p.m.

Bemidji State enters the game with a 3-1 overall record (2-1 NSIC) and winners of two straight.

Northern State (0-4 overall, 0-3 NSIC) has struggled through the first month of the year due in large part to a porous defense.

"Our challenge is to realize that they are a better football team than their record shows and you see that when looking at the film," Bemidji State head coach Jeff Tesch said. "They're scoring a lot of points and they're giving up a lot, obviously, we've just got to get that mental block out of the way and they are better than their record."

Bemidji State has opened the first month of the year strong. The lone loss came on the road to currently No. 7 Minnesota State University, Mankato in overtime.

Last week, Bemidji State regained the Battle Axe trophy by crushing MSU, Moorhead 38-13 at Chet Anderson Stadium in a game the Beavers were expected to win.

The Beavers are favorites again this week, a position new after a 2008 season where nothing was taken for granted.

"This is not a game we can not afford to drop," Bemidji State quarterback Derek Edholm said. "This is a North Division game. With the goals we have this year, we can't afford to come out and lay an egg."

Bemidji State enters Saturday's game with a four-game winning streak over Northern State with the last two wins coming at Chet Anderson Stadium in homecoming games.

The Beavers will look to attack the Wolves with one of the best rushing attacks in the league.

Bemidji State ranks second in NSIC and 11th in NCAA football rushing with 915 total yards, an average of 228 per game.

It's a marked improvement over last year's numbers. Bemidji State rushed for 1,087 yards in the 11 games last season.

Tesch said the plan all along was for the 2009 Beavers to be a rushing-based offense.

"It's been good up to this point and we've got to keep it up," Tesch said.

Edholm, who has rushed for 217 yards and six touchdowns, credited the ground success to hard work put in during the offseason.

"(Nate) Solors did a good job last year playing a few games for (Jeremy) Gettel last year and we knew Brian (Leonhardt) was going to be a huge asset for our running game and we thought all five guys on the offensive line improved. So we knew it was going to be better," Edholm said. "I think (Dustin) Kroeplin was a very nice surprise as well ... plus Lance (Rongstad) and myself have wanted to work on our run game as well."

Kroeplin leads the team in rushing yardage with 328 and has four rushing touchdowns.

Rongstad has rushed 30 times for 231 yards and two touchdowns on an incredible 7.7 yards per carry.

As strong as the offense is in the running game, Bemidji State's defense is just as dominant through the first month this season.

Bemidji State ranks second in the NSIC and in NCAA football in rushing yards allowed per game (71.2).

BSU is also second in NSIC in red zone defense with an opponent success rate at 57 percent.

"It's been a suffocating defense is the work I like to use," safety Brody Scheff said. "We're just getting to the ball. It's one of those bend but don't break philosophies. It's frustrating when they get down there (inside the 20), but we just buck it up and keep them out. That's what wins games."

Northern State is scoring an average of two touchdowns per game, but put up 35 in an overtime loss to Upper Iowa two weeks ago.

Junior running back Montrel Richardson is the focal point of the Wolves' offense. He has rushed for 452 yards this season and leads the Wolves with three touchdowns.

Three weeks ago, Winona State traveled to Northern State and beat the Wolves 52-17.

A week later Winona State came to Bemidji State as a ranked team and lost to the Beavers 24-19.

On paper, this game should be a win for the Beavers. But road games are challenges for every team in the NSIC and Bemidji State is 0-6 in their last six road games.

"Northern's not a bad team," Scheff said. "Their skill positions are great and they've lost to a couple of ranked teams, lost in overtime and we're not taking them for granted. We're going to come out hard."

E Only four teams in Division II football have given up more average rushing yards per game (247) than Northern State.

- Bemidji State's rushing game has helped keep the defense fresh in games by controlling the clock. BSU averages almost 35 minutes per game in time of possession, ranking the Beavers second in the NSIC.

- Of Bemidji State's 17 touchdowns this season, 13 have come on the ground.