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FOOTBALL: Bemidji State struggling coming into homecoming vs. SMSU

BEMIDJI — Lake Bemidji certainly isn’t Lake Minnetonka, but a potential dip in the lake this weekend is motivation enough for the Bemidji State football team to purify itself after a pair of tough losses.

“As far as I’ve been here we’ve gone in the lake every year,” BSU senior kicker Zach Pulkinen said, referring to the Beavers’ tradition of jumping in Lake Bemidji after a homecoming victory. “For that not to happen senior year would be just terrible. So hopefully we can get in there this year.”

The Beavers (1-2) take on Southwest Minnesota State (2-1) in today’s homecoming game. BSU is looking to snap two straight losses, including last week’s 24-0 shutout at Augustana.

“It’s is very important,” senior defensive back Larry Miller said. “All the veterans are back to see us perform. It’s very important for us, especially coming after a loss like that one last week. We want to get started on another winning streak.”

The Beavers would also like to extend another streak. BSU has won 12 straight games against SMSU, including a 41-10 drubbing two years ago in Bemidji.

But this SMSU team looks much different than the one that came to Bemidji in 2011. The up-tempo Mustangs lead the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference in total offense (500 yards/game) and rushing (288.7); they’re fourth in scoring offense (33 points per game).

BSU head coach Jeff Tesch said the Mustangs post a unique challenge because they run a fast-paced, Oregon-style offense that doesn’t give defenses a chance to rest.

“They’re wide-open,” Tesch said. “They’re going to try and get a play off every 11 seconds. And they’re even more wide open than they’ve been offensively in the past. There’s nobody as up-tempo in the league as they are right now.”

Junior running back Tyler Tonderum leads the NSIC in rushing (187 yards per game) and scoring and is second in all-purpose yards.

For BSU, the challenge will be keeping the Mustangs offense off the field. That means the BSU offense has to play much better than it did last week against Augustana. The Beavers managed just nine first downs against the Vikings and only gained 208 total yards.

“You can say it any way you want but our offense has to contribute more this weekend,” Tesch said. “We’ve gotta get some more possession of the game clock on our side. That’s one of the things we’ve done well against (SMSU) in the past years.

“It’d be wonderful if we could do that. We certainly haven’t showed that capability this year but that’s part of the plan. Three and outs will kill you against this kind of team.”

Tesch said he plans to start senior Alex Hass over redshirt freshman Ryan Shields. The two switched off at quarterback last week, which Tesch thinks was a mistake.

“We tried rotating the quarterbacks last week and honestly it wasn’t the best decision I’ve made,” he said. “They both did some decent things out there but never felt like we got a rhythm going. Some programs do that, but maybe since we haven’t done that in the past we didn’t know how to do it correctly. We just have to get Ryan throwing with a higher completion percentage right now.”

Shields completed just one pass for eight yards last week. Hass fared a little better, going 7-for-17 for 107 yards.

“We’d rather have one guy taking over,” Tesch said. “But we’re not at the point where one guy’s the clear-cut favorite. I think right now Alex gives us the best chance.”

Defensively the Beavers might once again be without defensive end Matt Shaver and linebacker Buckley Wright, both of whom missed last week with ankle injuries. Tesch said they would be game-time decisions but he doesn’t want to rush them — especially considering the SMSU offense. Conditioning will be important.

“That’s the main focus this week,” Miller said. “Being healthy and being able to go play for play. We may get one break every 10 minutes. We need a good rotation. The main focus is staying healthy and being in shape for the game.”

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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