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Bemidji State football team ready for showdown against top-ranked Minnesota-Duluth

The Bemidji State football team showed it can compete with the best teams in the country last season.

That is one reason why Brody Sheff and the Beavers are shaking off the intimidation factor for Saturday's 6 p.m. game at top-ranked Minnesota-Duluth.

"This is a great opportunity," Scheff said after Thursday's practice. "BSU has never played a No. 1 team in the nation before so everyone's going to be fired up, no one is intimidated and everyone thinks we can play with these guys so we will."

There's no question the Beavers are the underdog against the Bulldogs, nationally ranked No. 1 in the poll and No. 2 in the American College Football Association poll. BSU enters the game 2-1 overall (1-1 NSIC); UMD is 3-0 overall (2-0 NSIC).

UMD, which has not lost an NSIC game since joining the league in its 2008 national championship year, is off to another strong start. Behind running back and Harlon Hill candidate Isaac Odim, the Bulldogs have outscored the competition 139-33 this season and are coming off a 42-10 win over previously ranked Wayne State.

Explosive offense and smothering defense is the formula the Bulldogs use to win games.

The only team to came close to matching that style last year during the regular season were the Beavers.

BSU trailed UMD 28-14 in the fourth quarter before rallying to tie the game behind touchdowns from Derek Edholm and Dustin Kroeplin. But UMD responded with a kick return touchdown from DJ Winfield and the Bulldogs went ahead 35-28 with 1:29 left in the game.

Edholm connected with Jody Henningson on a hail-mary touchdown pass as time expired, but the extra point that would have sent the game into overtime failed and UMD escaped with a 35-34 win.

"It was a tremendously exciting finish," UMD head coach Bob Nielson said. "It was a wild game, and I'm sure for them, one that was really tough to lose."

It was a dramatic scene after the game: stunned BSU fans with hands over their mouths and some BSU players with only enough energy left to take a knee. UMD's sideline was just as drained.

"Last year we had a heartbreaker against them," BSU offensive tackle Alonzo Melton said. "It came down to the very last play literally, so we're going to go out there (this week) and block as hard as we can to leave with a 'w.'"

Bemidji State head coach Jeff Tesch did not dwell on the past when asked about last year's game. He is more concerned with building off of last week's 30-14 road win over Southwest Minnesota State. While BSU's defense has continued its strong play from last year, the offense has been inconsistent at times.

"I don't know if we have to be perfect, but we're going to have to play pretty well (against UMD)," Tesch said. "Honestly, we haven't talked about last year's game once that I can remember ... Last year it was a deal where we were able to make big plays and we're going to have to do some of the same things."

Tesch hopes to establish the ground game to keep the ball out of the hands of the UMD offense. BSU rushed for 218 yards and three touchdowns last week.

Because BSU was one of the few teams over the last two seasons to be effective against the Bulldogs, Kroeplin said the players know what it takes to compete against a national championship caliber team in UMD.

"It takes honestly everything you've got," Kroeplin said. "It takes athleticism, teamwork, heart, pride. It's something we have here at Bemidji State. We have a group of individuals who love the game of football ... I believe when we go over there and execute like I know we can, we can come out with a 'w.'"