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Winter wonder: Bemidji State football team shocks No. 14 Wayne State in the snow

George Percak-Dennett celebrates with Brad Albano on the sidelines after Bemidji State's victory over Wayne State.1 / 2
Jody Henningson pulls down a 23-yard touchdown in the end zone in the final minutes of the fourth quarter Saturday. Pioneer Photo/Eric Stromgren2 / 2

The Bemidji State football team was disappointed after missing the chance to jump in Lake Bemidji last week.

On Saturday, the Beavers celebrated in the snow instead.

Bemidji State defeated No. 14 Wayne State 21-10 at Chet Anderson Stadium in snowy slop and near freezing temperatures to keep playoff hopes alive.

The Bemidji State defense shut down the NSIC's top passing offense and Bemidji State's methodical offense controlled the pace of play throughout the afternoon.

The game remained close until Derek Edholm's 23-yard touchdown strike to Jody Henningson on fourth down with 2:15 to play sealed the victory for the Beavers.

"This is definitely the biggest win of the year so far, especially after we lost the homecoming game last week to St. Cloud State," Henningson said. "To come back out and win a game like this is huge. Wayne State is a very good team."

Bemidji State improved to 5-2 overall and 4-2 in the NSIC with the win. It was Bemidji State's third game against a ranked opponent this season, the last a 24-19 victory over then No. 20 Winona State on Sept. 12.

The Beavers are on the road next Saturday against Minnesota-Crookston, a team yet to win a NSIC game.

Should the Beavers win, it would set up a critical game against defending national champion Minnesota-Duluth in two weeks at Chet Anderson Stadium. UMD is currently tied for the lead in the overall NSIC standings and the NSIC North Division Standings.

Bemidji State is tied for third in the overall NSIC standings with five teams.

"This win certainly keeps things close for us and keeps us going," Bemidji State head coach Jeff Tesch said. "You just wish this could have been a North Division win, but we'll take this. It was a good win against a good opponent and we did what we set out to do today."

Wayne State (5-2 overall, 4-2 NSIC) have perhaps the top quarterback in the conference in Silas Fluellen and wide receiver Logan Masters. The duo powers an offense that entered the game averaging over 300 yards per game through the air.

The icy conditions and Bemidji State's defense slowed down that attack. Fluellen finished 12-for-26 for 150 yards.

"You never see Logan Masters drop two or three passes in a game and that just shows what both teams were playing against with the conditions out here today," Tesch said.

Time of possession was also a key part in Bemidji State's win.

Bemidji State owned the clock and held the ball for over 44 minutes in the game - the equivalent of nearly three quarters.

Third down conversions were also big as Bemidji State was 13-for-21 and Wayne State was 1-for-9.

Bemidji State racked up 324 total yards of offense with 181 yards rushing. Freshman Dustin Kroeplin had 100 yards and a touchdown to lead the way.

Junior quarterback Derek Edholm was 8-for-15 passing for 116 yards and two touchdowns.

Bemidji State gambled right from the opening coin toss, electing to defend the east end zone on the edge of Lake Bemdji.

With winds gusting out of the west near of 30 miles per hour, it was a gamble that paid off throughout the game.

"We figured that there were not going to be a lot of touchdowns scored in this game," Tesch said. "If it came down to where they were going to need a touchdown in the fourth quarter, we wanted to make them have to do it into the wind."

After a scoreless first quarter, the Wildcats struck first on Nick Hope's 34-yard field goal with 14:46 left in the half to take a 3-0 lead.

Bemidji State answered with a 14-play drive ended by Edholm's 22-yard touchdown pass to tight end Brian Leonhardt.

"We tried to trick them there with a wedge to think we were running," Leonhardt said. "And I slipped out behind everyone and I was wide open, all I had to do was catch the ball."

The score with 6:21 remaining in the second quarter put Bemidji State up 7-3, a lead it took into the locker room at halftime.

Wayne State regained the lead when Fluellen scrambled for a 7-yard touchdown run at 6:44 of the third quarter to put the Wildcats ahead 10-7.

After that touchdown the Bemidji State offense put together its best drive of the day and went on a 17 play, 79-yard scoring drive that chewed just over seven minutes off the clock.

Troy Dale, Lance Rongstad, Andrew Schultz, Edholm and Kroeplin all made key plays on the drive. Kroeplin finished it with a 3-yard touchdown run through the middle of the line to put Bemidji State up 17-14 with 13:59 left in the game.

The two biggest plays in the game came in the fourth quarter for Bemidji State.

Halfway through the quarter with Wayne State driving, Bemidji State's defense put up a stand at midfield.

Needing inches for a first down, Bemidji State stopped Fluellen on back-to-back sneak plays and Wayne State turned the ball over on downs.

The Beavers were given favorable field position for an attempt to lock up the game, but the drive appeared to stall on the Wayne State 24-yard line.

With the wind still whipping around the shore of Lake Bemidji and snow falling, Tesch took a timeout to weigh his options: send Jesse Sundby to try the field goal or try to convert a difficult 4th and 12.

"We sat back there and though about the field goal and what could happen," Tesch said. "Then we thought about throwing it. We just didn't want to have the field goal blocked and risk them running it back. And our defense was playing so well, we thought we should go after it. If we didn't make it, the field position would have been good and they would have still had to go 80 yards into the wind to score."

So the Beavers gambled.

Edholm dropped back, lobbed a pass over the linebackers and Henningson leaped for the catch. He maintained control as he was smacked by a pair of defenders at the goal line.

It was Henningson's second touchdown of the season.

"The safety just jumped on the play and I was wide open," Henningson said. "Derek made a great read on that play and when he threw it up, I knew I had to come down with the ball."

The gamble paid off, Bemidji State went up 21-10 with 2:15 left and put the game away when the defense pushed the Wildcats off the field after five plays.

"That was such an amazing grab by Jody Henningson," Bemidji State linebacker George Percak-Dennett said. "This feels way bigger than the Winona State win. This feels great."

After the game the players jumped around and screamed with excitement under the falling snow as the season was saved for another week.

"We've always believed we are a playoff team," Bemidji State safety Brody Scheff said. "There's a lot left to prove and there's still four games left in the playoff race. But we're still in it."