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Bemidji State football opens season at home against Minot State

Bemidji State head coach Jeff Tesch addresses the team after Tuesday's practice. Pioneer Photo/Eric Stromgren

The Bemidji State football team opens the 2011 season tonight with familiar foe and future conference opponent Minot State.

BSU hosts the 'Beaver Bash' at 7 p.m. at Chet Anderson Stadium as part of Community Appreciation Day and there will be a fireworks show following the game.

Bemidji State head coach Jeff Tesch likes the progress the Beavers have made during the first month of fall practices and is looking forward to the opener.

"It's the time where you're just sick of hitting each other and we're getting healthy - the sore legs are coming back," Tesch said. "It's going to be a beautiful night and we're going to be ready to roll."

The Beavers return an experienced group from last season's team that finished 7-4 overall and tied for fifth in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference with a 6-4 record.

"I can't remember a closer-knit group of guys," Tesch said. "They really enjoy being around each other in the locker room and it's fun. We haven't had any problems, there's good leadership and the captains are doing a great job."

BSU's veteran strengths heading into the season are the offensive line and defensive backfield. There are some unproven areas on both sides of the ball.

The Beavers lost the entire defensive line in all-conference players Jordan Lardinois, Rob Wills and Jake Zimmerman. On offense, junior Lance Rongstad becomes the starting quarterback for graduated three-year starter Derek Edholm.

"We've moved the ball around offensively but we still have our fits defensively and a lot of that has to do with health," Tesch said, noting minor preseason injuries like sprained ankles. "The defense is coming together right now. Another area we were concerned about was quarterback but Lance is coming along and he's making his reads. The D-Line was the other one (concern) and those young guys are hustling their tails off."

Rongstad, who has shown scrambling skills in his first two seasons, has two big targets to throw the ball to in junior tight end Brian Leonhardt and junior wide receiver Matt Grandrud. Questionable for tonight's game will be top running back Dustin Kroeplin, who is battling a leg injury. Brandon Miles will likely see the majority of carries tonight if Kroeplin is out.

"I think we're doing well and clicking," Rongstad said of the offense. "We haven't had a lot of mix ups over the last few weeks so I'm expecting a lot from us."

In Tuesday's practice Gandrud stretched out and pulled in a 30-yard pass with one hand for a touchdown. Gandrud, a native of Elk River, has spent his career so far behind graduated Andrew Schultz on the depth chart. He spent much of last season on special teams.

"He's catching the heck out of everything thrown his way," Tesch said of Gandrud's preseason. "He has got every bit the ability Schultz had. He's probably even faster and bigger."

Bemidji State's defensive focus against Minot State tonight will be on the ground game.

"We are going to bring a lot of intensity this year," senior safety Brody Scheff said. "We've always prided ourselves on stopping the run and that's going to be our priority. We're going to game plan around that."

Bemidji State won last year's Beaver Bash 24-7 in Minot and own the all-time series 11-1. BSU has won the last eight games in the series, which began in 1999. Minot State finished 6-4 overall in 2010 and is transitioning from NAIA to Division II this season. Minot State will join the NSIC next season with Sioux Falls and will play in the North Division for football.

The two teams have a familiar history, but Scheff says Minot seems to have a wrinkle in their playbook for the season opener.

"Minot always surprises us," Scheff said. "It's the first game of the year so there's always things to work on from our side. They always have a trick play up their sleeve so we've got to be ready... We've had all camp to be physical and it now comes down to being assignment sharp."