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On to State! Bemidji High School football team claims section title with 33-18 win over Grand Rapids

While the Bemidji football players celebrated Friday's Section 7-4A championship victory over Grand Rapids Lumberjacks head coach Troy Hendricks stood in the background soaking in the view.

"I feel like a proud parent," Hendricks said following the 33-18 victory."We are a family and this family has been through quite a bit this year. We have seniors on the team who never had a chance to play. We always had players missing because of injury. It has been a difficult year in many ways.

"But throughout everything this team has pulled together. And all of that hard work and teamwork culminated with tonight's victory," the coach added.

Friday's triumph vaults the Lumberjacks into the state tournament quarterfinals and a 7 p.m. game next Friday at Public School Stadium in Duluth.

BHS will tangle with the winner of Section 5 and that team will be determined today when Rogers and Becker collide. Rogers ended the regular season ranked third in the state football poll while Becker finished sixth. Bemidji was ranked eighth.

The majority of Bemidji's opponents this year keyed their offense on the running game but the Thunderhawks brought a pass-first approach to Chet Anderson Stadium.

That strategy paid immediate dividends when the visitors scored five plays into the game's first drive and took a 6-0 lead.

The Lumberjacks dominated the field position and time of possession the rest of the half but every time they threatened a fumble, turnover or penalty would prove fatal.

In the opening 24 minutes BHS lost two fumbles, was intercepted in the end zone and squandered a fumble recovery deep in the Thunderhawks zone because of a holding call.

Bemidji's offense was able to find the end zone early in the second quarter when Kevin Nelson burst through the line and outraced the defense for a 22-yard touchdown.

Jon Henry booted the conversion and the Jacks had a 7-6 lead which carried into the intermission.

"In the first half our offense sputtered," Hendricks said. "But while the offense struggled the defense rose to the occasion. It takes a team to be successful and the defense picked us up in that first half."

"We earned the right to play in the section championship game by being a team and in this game it was the defense that needed to get it done in that first half," said safety Forrest Moe. "Everybody played their rear off. Defensively we weren't worried because we have the confidence that the team was not going to lose this game."

That confidence was rewarded with an offense explosion in the second half and Nelson provided the early excitement when he scored on a 14-yard run on the opening drive.

After the defense forced a 3-and-out and handed the offense the ball at the Grand Rapids 37, Bemidji's attack went to work again. This time quarterback Mitchell Hendricks capped the march with an 18-yard run along the left sideline.

By the end of the third quarter Bemidji's defense had worn down Grand Rapids' line and more often than not quarterback Austin Pohlen was running for his life. For the most part his scrambles were unsuccessful and the Thunderhawks kept going backwards.

A sack on fourth-and-19 from the Grand Rapids 31 set the table for Nelson's third TD of the evening, a 64-yard sprint 1:16 into the final stanza. Four minutes later Zach DeClusin upped the lead to 33-6 with a 2-yard run and the rout was officially on.

"This was a fun game to play," Moe said. "The emotion of the game and having the section championship on the line were what made it fun."

"It was a great victory," Hendricks added. "This is something we as a family can celebrate for a few days and next week we will work toward winning the state championship."

Pat Miller

Pat Miller is the sports editor at the Pioneer.

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