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FOOTBALL: Bemidji State hosts Concordia in home opener

Bemidji State players surround Connor Quinn (46) after recovering a fumble for touchdown during a 34-27 overtime win over Winona State Thursday, Sept. 5 in Winona. The Beavers host Concordia-St. Paul tonight in their home opener. Andrew Link | Winona Daily News

BEMIDJI — The Bemidji State football team doesn’t want a repeat of last Thursday’s season opener against Winona State.

In that game the Beavers needed to score 31 unanswered points to knock off the Warriors 31-27 in overtime.

For tonight’s home opener against Concordia-St. Paul, Bemidji State head coach Jeff Tesch would prefer to play from ahead and not from behind.

“We’re going to have to play a lot better if we want to win more games,” Tesch said. “We can’t get that far behind and expect to win. But I liked how we got better as the game went on in Winona.”

The Beavers (1-0) take on the Golden Bears (1-0) in a Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference game at 6 p.m. at Chet Anderson Stadium. It’s the first home game for the Beavers this season and the first time they’ll be playing on the stadium’s new FieldTurf. It also happens to be the annual Shrine Game.

Getting their first crack at a game under the lights on a brand-new artificial surface is motivation enough for the Beavers. Considering how last week’s opener went, players agreed that the intensity level has been turned up a notch further.

“The Shrine Game is a big game for us, and obviously with the new turf that will be pretty cool,” BSU linebacker Connor Quinn said. “Everyone’s jacked up for it.”

Quinn, who recovered a fumble for a touchdown and had 10 tackles (9 solo) in last week’s game, was a big reason why the Beavers stayed in last week’s game at all. Winona State scored all 27 of its points in the first half but the BSU defense forced some turnovers and got some stops in the second half to give the Beavers a chance to win.

The BSU defense held the Warriors to just 100 yards of second half offense after they racked up 263 in the first half.

“They carried us through the game,” BSU quarterback Ryan Shields said of the Beaver defense. “We pretty much got on their backs and followed them all the way. We made it hard on them for sure early in the game, not doing much of anything early.”

Shields, a redshirt freshman, will start this week after coming in late in relief of senior Alex Hass. Shields was 11-for-22 passing for 116 yards — almost all in the second half — and two touchdowns, including the game-winner in overtime.

Tesch said this week against Concordia the BSU offense needs to do a better job controlling the pace of the game.

“We put the defense in some bad situations offensively,” he said. “We need them to hold us in there and we need to not have them be on the field so much.”

Shields and the rest of the Beaver offense will have to contend with All-American defensive end Zach Moore. The 6-foot-6, 285-pound junior from Chicago is an intimidating presence up front and has the stats to show for it — last season he had 14.0 sacks (fifth in the nation) and 21.0 tackles for a loss.

BSU running back Avery Walker, who played with Moore in high school, said the offense will have its work cut out for it.

“They’re a good team with a great defense,” he said. “We have to bring our A-game. We need to play a lot better than we did last week against Winona.

“You can hold on to faith so long but then you have to go out and execute. But I’m confident in the team, confident in the offense.”

BSU had 195 yards of total offense last week.

Defensively, the Beavers will have to worry about a first-year starting quarterback in Concordia’s Jared Russo.

Russo had an outstanding game in the Golden Bears’ 29-0 win over Minot State; completed 14 of 22 pass attempts for 223 yards and three touchdowns.

Russo, a junior from Milwaukee, lost nearly 50 pounds and beat out incumbent James Peterson for the starting role.

“They must feel he brought a lot to the table,” Tesch said of Russo. “He’s a great leader, great in the huddle and all those things. They must feel good about having him in there. He had a good game last week.”

The Golden Bears also have a pair of capable running backs in Tre Spears and Ronald Zollicoffer. Spears, who ran for 80 years a game last season, went for 123 against Minot with a touchdown.

“I think this week we’re stressing a solid complete game this week,” Quinn said. “Playing well from start to finish. This time we need to create turnovers like we did last week... Try and help the offense out with some good field position.”

“Our theme for the week is improve on things we can control,” Tesch added. “There will be some nerves, playing under the lights at home for the first time. But I think we should be better on offense with that one game under our belt.”

Jack Hittinger

Jack Hittinger is the sports editor of the Bemidji Pioneer. He is also the Bemidji State beat writer. He hails from the Great State of Michigan. Read his Bemidji State blog at and follow him on Twitter at @Jackhitts.

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