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Unbeaten Lumberjacks earn trip to Metrodome with 24-6 win over Spring Lake Park; No. 1 Mankato West up next

Bemidji's Mitch Brown finds some running room Friday night in the state quarterfinals against Spring Lake Park. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

ST. CLOUD - The Bemidji High School football and its fans are headed for the Metrodome next Friday as the Lumberjacks defeated Spring Lake Park 24-6 Friday night at St. Cloud State in the quarterfinal round of the state Class 4A tournament.

Bemidji is now headed to the Metrodome and a 12:45 p.m. state semifinal game against top-ranked Mankato West, which defeated South St. Paul 35-14 Friday night.

"This is amazing," said Lumberjacks linebacker Brandon Larson among the joyful chaos that spilled onto the field after the final whistle. "I've been lying in bed and dreaming about this moment for 18 years and it is finally here. I'm numb right now."

Behind its customary stingy defense the Lumberjacks kept the Panthers on their end of the 50-yard line most of the game and limited Spring Lake Park's offensive opportunities. Bemidji, however, was able to move downfield on most of its drives in the first half and scored just enough points in the second half to preserve the win.

"We were tested tonight and we needed to be tested," said BHS coach Troy Hendricks. "And the kids responded. This is how you play four quarters of football."

The Lumberjacks held a wide territorial advantage in the opening half and owned a 10-0 advantage at intermission. Bemidji's initial drive ended with an interception at the goal line while its second was stopped on a three-and-out at the Jacks 33.

The BHS defense came to the rescue on both occasions and on their third offensive opportunity the Lumberjacks came to life.

Starting a drive at its 22 BHS went to work. The 17-play march consumed 7:20 and was capped with Kyle Fodness' 27-yard field goal. The drive was kept alive by a key 3-yard gain on a pitch and run by Brady Schmidt on a fourth-and-one situation at the Panther 36. A few plays later quarterback Mitchell Hendricks found Cody Rutledge on a 14-yard pass to the 2-yard line.

A pitch lost three yards and a penalty for illegal formation pushed Bemidji back to the 10.

Fodness came to the rescue, however, as he split the uprights with his 27-yard field goal.

Mitch Brown was the workhorse in the first quarter as he ran hard inside to gain valuable yardage andn set the table for the game's first points.

"Offensively we planned to dominate," Brown said. "And we did that with our amazing offensive line.

"This one one of the most fun games I've every played. Everybody came together like we knew they would."

With 1:19 remaining in the opening half the Jacks stuck Spring Lake Park with the dagger.

Starting a drive on their own 33 the Lumberjacks mounted an eight-play march that culminated with Mitchell Hendricks' 4-yard sprint around the right end. Fodness booted the extra point and Bemidji had its 10-0 halftime lead.

Spring Lake Park used a trick hook and ladder play to set up its only score to begin the third period. Justin Axelson capped the drive with a 39-yard catch of a Brandon Jones pass and the Panthers were within 10-6 after the failed extra point boot.

Bemidji's offense, however, came to the rescue of its defense as the Lumberjacks manufactured an eight-play drive which culminated with Brown's catch of a 5-yard screen pass.

When Fodness' PAT boot split the uprights the momentum was back on Bemidji's side.

"That was a key series," Coach Hendricks said. "After Spring Lake Park scored we responded right away.

And after that our outstanding defense did its job."

Bemidji put the finishing touch on its 11th victory of the fall with 3:35 remaining when Cody Rutledge successfully orchestrated one of his patented leaps above the defender and made an acrobatic touchdown catch of Hendricks' 28-yard pass in the back left corner of the end zone.

That play officially sealed Spring Lake Park's fate and punched Bemidji's ticket to the Metrodome.

"This is one of the most amazing feelings I've ever had," Brown said. "And everybody on this team feels the same way."

The Lumberjacks feel that they are a team of destiny and hope to continue this ride all the way to the state championship.

"This is the first time we have been challenged this year but we just told each other that we'd step up to the job and get it done," Larson said. "We came together as a family this year and we are playing for each other. And we are not done playing."

Spring Lake Park 0 0 6 0 - 6

Bemidji 0 10 7 7 - 24

First Quarter

No scoring

Second Quarter

B-Fodness, 27-FG. 8:20

B-Hendricks, 4-run. PAT-Fodness kick. 11:36

Third Quarter

SLP-Axelson, 39-pass from Jones. PAT-kick fail. 2:43

B-Brown, 5-pass from Hendricks. PAT-Fodness kick. 5:00

Fourth Quarter

B-Rutledge, 28-pass from Hendricks. PAT-Fodness kick. 8:25

Pat Miller

Pat Miller is the sports editor at the Pioneer.

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