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Column: Bemidji State football opener was a night to remember

Bemidji State football players Nick Chiono, left, and Dylan Valentine, right, watch the fireworks display after Bemidji State's 27-0 victory over Minot State Thursday night at Chet Anderson Stadium. Pioneer?Photo/Eric Stromgren

Didn't make it to the Bemidji State football game Thursday night?

Chances are you heard about it or heard the fireworks after the game if you were not one of the record 4,711 fans in attendance at Chet Anderson Stadium to watch BSU defeat Minot State 27-0.

What you missed was a great gameday experience.

The game was part of BSU's Community Appreciation Day and it was not entirely unexpected to see a large crowd show up.

The BSU football game as part of the 2009 Community Appreciation Day drew 2,625 to watch the 47-20 win over Minot State and the fireworks show after the game.

This year's attendance was boosted by the growth of the Community Appreciation Day event (free food always draws a crowd), the $5 game tickets and the best weather Bemidji can have on a late summer night.

The old BSU football attendance record was 4,692 for a 1996 game against St. John's and the second largest crowd of 4,327 watched a 1995 game against North Dakota.

Thursday's game was just short of the believed all-time Chet Anderson Stadium record of 5,503 for a Minnesota Vikings-Dallas Cowboys scrimmage in 1962 during the Bemidji training camp era.

The young players of the Bemidji Youth Football program formed two lines for the Beavers to run between during introductions. The kids and BSU players exchanged high-fives then watched the game from a set of bleachers behind the west end zone.

"The kids thought it was unreal," Bemidji Youth Football President Wes Hegna said. "We think we're going to try and do this every game for both the college and the Bemidji High school games."

Bemidji Youth Football is in its first year of existence and will teach tackle football to third through fifth graders this fall. Hegna said the program has 225 registered players so far and registration is still open.

Bemidji Youth Football will hold its first practices Monday night with BHS and BSU players on hand.

NSIC commissioner Butch Raymond was in attendance Thursday night and spent the first half on the sidelines talking with BSU athletic director Rick Goeb.

There was a great gesture by BSU and fans to the people of Minot who are recovering from a devastating summer flood. Proceeds from Community Appreciation Day registration fees and donations from a bucket passed around at the game were gathered to benefit the flood relief effort.

At the end of the third quarter, BSU president Richard Hanson presented the check and a large group of Minot State fans who attended the game - and BSU fans - gave a standing ovation.

The fireworks show sponsored by Paul Bunyan Communications were a hit.

Football fans got a look of this year's Bemidji State football team. BSU is known for defense and it held true against Minot by forcing six turnovers. The BSU defense's strong start is a good sign as the first half will bring challenges, including against NSIC title contender Augustana in the conference opener Sept. 10 in Sioux Falls.

Zack Pulkinen - a Minot native - showed his long range as a kicker with 38 and 23-yard field goals. He missed two kicks wide including a 47-yarder by a few feet.

The offense was the only disappointment head coach Jeff Tesch talked about after the game. He was right, there were too many missed opportunities to score and the Beavers will need to find a way to finish drives if it wants to compete with the NSIC elite. The coaches and players understand that.

Mistakes can and do happen in the first week of the season.

The BSU football team showed its promise Thursday with a win in front of a strong turnout on a picture-perfect night next to Lake Bemidji.

The Beavers will play in two more night home games this year: Sept. 17 against Southwest Minnesota State and Sept. 24 against defending national champion Minnesota-Duluth. Both are 6 p.m. games.

Night games are a new twist on the schedule and are an experiment to boost attendance.

There's nothing wrong with Saturday afternoon football. But there's something special about the game under the lights next to the lake.