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Unbeatens battle in Jacks-Brainerd

A Bemidji-Brainerd football match-up is always spirited but when the two teams meet at Chet Anderson Stadium 7 p.m. today the Lumberjacks and their fans will have another reason to become involved.

It's Homecoming week!

Homecoming represents one of the school year's highlights, especially for the seniors. The week-long celebration includes pep fests, fun activities, the crowning of the royalty and a dance but the centerpiece is Friday's football game.

And this week coach Troy Hendricks has steered his players toward tonight's game against Brainerd.

"Homecoming can be a tough time for a football team because of the distractions but Homecoming also is a great tradition and the kids need to take part in the festivities," Hendricks said.

"Our focus this week as a football team is to enjoy Homecoming, enjoy playing in the game and give ourselves a chance to win the game. We've gotten through the week and now time has come to play football."

Bemidji could have picked an easier team for a Homecoming opponent. Like the Lumberjacks the Warriors are 3-0. They also are ranked ninth in the state Class 5A poll and are the highest-rated outstate team in the poll.

Bemidji enters the contest rated 12th in the Class 4A poll.

"There is no such thing as a poor Brainerd team," Hendricks said. "And this year Brainerd probably is the best team we will face all year.

"This game will provide a great measuring stick for our program," the coach continued. "We're at the halfway point of the season and playing against Brainerd will tell us how we are doing and what areas we need to improve.

"It also should be a great game for our fans to watch," Hendricks added.

Tonight's outcome will be decided along the line of scrimmage and with the plus-minus ratio, according to Hendricks.

"Offensively we have to make sure we control the line and we control the clock," Hendricks said. "We also must play mistake-free football.

"That won't be easy but if we don't turn the football over and if we force Brainerd to move the length of the field instead of just short distances, it will be difficult for them because our defense has proven itself to be tough."

The Lumberjacks have yielded only one score in each of the past two games. Both touchdowns followed Bemidji turnovers late in the first half that handed Fergus Falls and St. Cloud Apollo field position deep in the BHS zone.

Those types of mistakes must be avoided, according to Hendricks.

"If our defense continues to play like it has and if we can make one or two plays on offense and with special teams, we have a good chance to win," the coach said.

Bemidji lost another player to injury this week as running back Jesse Eck was diagnosed with a bone chip in his knee. The chip has moved and has damaged some cartilage. Eck will have arthroscopic surgery soon and will miss at least two weeks. It is hoped that he can return by the end of the season.

Another runningback, Kevin Nelson, has a bruised thigh and is listed as probable.

Today's projected offensive alignment sees Mitchell Hendricks at quarterback, Zach Declusin, Brady Devescovi or Nelson in the back field, Pat Froehle at center, Christian Madson, Logan Knutson and Ben Schram as the guards, Grant Richardson and Garret Lind as the tackles, Will Bruestle as the tight end and Ben Hengel, Carey Woods and Mitch Brown as the wide receivers.

Defensively Keefer Bender and Kyle Huewe are expected to see duty as noseguards, Kole Spencer and Chase Gruber will be the ends, James Bofferding and Harley Kroening will be on the outside, Ernie Heifort and Brandon Larson on the inside, Woods, Dominic Hale and Thomas Runningen will see duty at the corners and Cody Rutlege and Forrest Moe will be the safeties.

"We want to play well and we want to win but this is by no means a make-or-break game," Hendricks said. "We want to play our best and if we do that we'll see what happens.

"Our overall goal this week is to identify the things we are doing right and the things we are doing wrong so we will learn what we need to work on to improve as a team."

Pat Miller

Pat Miller is the sports editor at the Pioneer.

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