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Jacks looking to challenge for section's top seed

Tonight's game against Sauk Rapids-Rice marks the end of the home regular season schedule for the Bemidji football team but the Lumberjacks believe that fans will have at least one more opportunity to watch a game at Chet Anderson Stadium.

"The top seed of 7-4A is ours for the taking and if we can win that we would have a bye in the first round and two playoff home games," said BHS coach Troy Hendricks. "If we play during the final three games like we have in our first five games we should challenge for the top seed."

Currently Bemidji and Grand Rapids share 4-1 records and the Jacks have one more section point. BHS and the Thunderhawks are the top two teams in 7-4A and it is likely that they will maintain that status at the end of the season.

Trailing them are Duluth Central, Cloquet, Hermantown and Hibbing.

Should Bemidji hold its top ranking it would receive a first-round bye and own the home field advantage the rest of the section tournament.

Hoping to derail those plans, however, are Sauk Rapids and the final two road opponents, St. Cloud Tech (Oct. 15) and Sartell (Oct. 20).

Sauk Rapids will bring a 3-2 record into today's 7 p.m. game. The Storm owns victories over Little Falls (33-17), St. Cloud Tech (20-17) and Apollo (38-17) but has lost to Sartell (12-6 in three overtimes) and to Willmar (21-0).

BHS is 4-1 and is coming off last Saturday's 14-7 win at Alexandria.

"I had never won at Alexandria as a coach," Hendricks said. "Last week was a great atmosphere for football. There was a packed crowd and the enthusiasm of the Alexandria crowd was very high. It was a tough place for us to win a football game.

"Before the game we talked about taking the wind out of Alexandria's sails early and that's exactly what we did," the coach said.

The Lumberjacks drove 67 yards on their opening drive to score a touchdown and take a 6-0 lead. Alexandria eventually overtook BHS with an 80-yard run on the second play of the second half and converted the PAT kick for a 7-6 lead.

Bemidji, however, regained control when Jon Henry's punt was downed inside the Alexandria 5-yard-line and, after a poor Cardinals punt, the Jacks offense had the ball at the Alex 21.

On the next play quarterback Mitchell Hendricks connected with Mitch Brown for the winning touchdown.

"Before the season I felt we could be 4-1 at this point but I also thought we could be 5-0, 3-2 or 2-3," Hendricks said. "I wasn't sure what to expect but I'm happy with our 4-1 record.

"I like our character," Hendricks continued. "The kids have done a nice job adjusting to everything, including our injuries. I just hope we maintain our focus on and off the field."

Bemidji's injury list featured two additions and a subtraction this week. The subtraction is wide receiver Cole Bardwell who broke his collarbone during a preseason scrirmmage. The injury finally is fully healed and he will be in the lineup tonight.

Countering Bardwell's return are new injuries to Ernie Heifort and Zach Declusin. Heifort broke two bones in his hand during the second series of the Alexandria game and will not be available today. The senior will have a cast placed on the injury as soon as the swelling decreases and he hopes to return to duty next week at Tech.

Declusin sprained his ankle in the third quarter of last week's contest and missed the first three days of this week's practice. The junior runningback is listed as day-to-day.

Fellow runningback Kevin Nelson has been bothered by a thigh bruise the past few weeks but he is fully recovered and his 58 yards on the ground against Alexandria, many of them coming after Declusin was hurt, helped preserve Bemidji's victory.

"Kevin is 100 percent and he took over the show during our fourth-quarter drive last week," Hendricks said.

That drive consumed the final 5:13 and denied the Cardinals any chance of tying the game in the waning seconds.

"I was proud of the offensive line and the way it enabled us to run the clock out," Hendricks said. "Tonight we'll have to continue to use our entire offensive package and mix things up like we have all year. Defensively we will have to stop Sauk Rapids' running game, force them to go the length of the field and try to get them into third-and-long situations.

"The weather will be fantastic and there should be a great crowd," Hendricks continued. "It looks like it's going to be a great night for football."

Pat Miller

Pat Miller is the sports editor at the Pioneer.

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