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Bemidj-Rogers state football game should be physical battle

The 2010 Bemidji High School football captains Mitchell Hendricks, left Ryan Rude, Ernie Heifort Jr. and Forrest Moe prepare to face Rogers in the state quarterfinal playoff game on Friday evening in Duluth. ­ Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

Rogers was ranked third in the final Associated Press prep football Class 4A poll and is accustomed to beating teams on the field as well as on the scoreboard.

Bemidji, which was seventh in the final poll, also enjoys physical football and Friday the Lumberjacks will have the opportunity to match blows with the Royals in the quarterfinals of the state Class 4A tournament.

The game is set for 7 p.m. at Public School Field in Duluth.

"Rogers has horses in the skill positions and in the trenches," said BHS coach Troy Hendricks whose team is making its second consecutive trip to the state playdowns. "They would prefer to run the ball down your throat with their Wing-T attack but they can also pass.

"At this stage of the season you will only see teams that are experts at every phase. If they weren't they wouldn't be in the state tournament."

Rogers is one of three teams in the 4A field that sport 10-0 records and two of them are in Bemidji's bracket.

Besides the Royals, Mankato West is unbeaten and Mankato West will put that status on the line Friday when it tangles with Mahtomedi (9-2) at Chanhassen High School.

In the tournament's upper bracket, 10-0 St Thomas Academy will battle 8-2 Northfield at Lakeville North while Sauk Rapids (7-4) will tackle defending state champion Totino-Grace (9-1) at St. Cloud State.

Friday's winners move on to the state semifinals which will be played at the Metrodome. If Bemidji prevails Friday it will invade the Dome against either Mahtomedi or Mankato West on Nov. 20 at 12:45 p.m.

The 4A championship game will be 3 p.m. Nov. 27.

Judging by this year's results, Rogers can light up the scoreboard but its defense can be very stingy. The Royals began the fall with four blowout victories and its defense tossed a shutout in each. The victims included Zimmerman (50-0), Elk River (55-0), Cambridge (42-0) and St. Michael (32-0).

Finally, in Week 5, Princeton found the end zone but Rogers still went on to an easy 56-7 victory.

Rogers' regular season ended with three more wins, 53-26 over Becker, 33-13 over Monticello and 40-6 over Buffalo.

In the 5-4A playoffs Rogers blasted St. Michael 41-0 and stopped Becker 21-12.

Bemidji's victories have been more dramatic and five of them have been decided by seven points or less.

"Rogers plays a physical brand of football but defensively we like to do that as well," Hendricks said. "Even though we're not the biggest team in the state we like to mix it up. What opponents see when they look at us are our speed and our physical brand of defense.

"Speed is something you can't coach but when you have speed you must find ways to utilize it," Hendricks said.

Offensively that speed has translated into 181 yards per game on the ground and 112.5 yards through the air, not including the 22-7 victory at St. Cloud Tech (statistics for that game are not available).

Quarterback Mitchell Hendricks has completed 74 of his 139 passes and his favorite receiver has been Ben Hengel with 28 catches and 582 yards.

The ground game is led by Kevin Nelson who has 730 yards on 131 runs. Zach DeClusin has 343 yards on 67 rushes while Mitch Brown has gained 237 yards on 42 runs.

Nelson has 66 points, Hengel 38 points and Hendricks, Jesse Eck and DeClusin each have 24 points.

Defensively linebacker Brandon Larson is the leading tackler with 51 solo stops, 82 assists and 133 total tackles. Also in on more than 100 stops are James Bofferding (56-65-121), Ernie Heifort (47-70-117) and Harley Kroening (37-76-113.

Kroening and Bofferding also have four sacks while Larson also has five interceptions and Cody Rutledge four.

Forrest Moe and Kroening each have two fumble recoveries.

"At this stage of the season you will have two very good teams on the field and the outcome will come down to which team utilizes its scheme the best and which team can limit the mistakes," Hendricks said.

"We can't have five turnovers like we had against Grand Rapids. If we do, the game will be over in a hurry."

NOTES: Tickets for Friday's game are available at the high school activities office at a cost of $8 for adults and $5 for students (kindergarten through 12th grade). The school also is sponsoring a fan bus and anyone wishing to ride may register by noon Thursday at the activities office. The cost to ride the bus is $20 plus your ticket.

For more information contact the activities office at 444-1600 (ext. 3316).

Pat Miller

Pat Miller is the sports editor at the Pioneer.

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