BEMIDJI – In a sense, the pressure is now off the Bemidji State football team.
The Beavers snapped a three-game losing streak last week with a 35-2 homecoming win over Minnesota Crookston.
That relief – finally getting the win they’d been needing – has lightened the mood in the locker room considerably. But the Beavers know there’s still more work to do, and it starts this weekend against the University of Mary.
The Beavers (2-3, 1-0 NSIC North) travels to Bismarck, N.D., today for a 2:30 p.m. showdown against a Marauders team that routed them 49-21 last year.
“The mood’s a little bit looser (after last week’s win),” senior wide receiver Justin Lee said. “Everyone’s kinda feeling really good and confident, so hopefully we bring that to Bismarck with us. It’s in the back of our heads that we need to finish the season on a good note, we’ll have to win every game, and that starts this Saturday. It’s a game-by-game approach.”
BSU won last week by doing something they haven’t done well most of the season – they held onto the ball. The Beavers only turned it over once to the Golden Eagles, enabling the offense to stay on the field longer and finish more drives.
“I know it’s been frustrating losing some games with the turnovers and such,” BSU head coach Jeff Tesch said. “If we hold on to the ball, when we block the right people and have the best guys out there, we can move the ball against anybody.
“That’s what we did last week. We didn’t have the turnovers or the mental mistakes. … It kind of reinforced that we are capable of putting up some points.”
The Beavers gained 409 yards as well as a season-high 241 on the ground. BSU quarterback Lance Rongstad was stellar in his return to the field after missing the Sept. 22 game against Sioux Falls, throwing for 159 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for 53 and another touchdown.
BSU tight end Troy Dale credited the offensive line – which has been down two starters for a few weeks – for helping the Beaver running game get going.
“That was a big thing last week,” he said. “The offensive line really improved. They started making some key blocks and it’s working out pretty good for them.”
Against U-Mary (2-3, 0-1 NSIC North) keeping the offense on the field will be paramount. The Marauders have a high-octane, pass-happy offense that relies on big plays from its top receivers. They’re the No. 1 passing attack in the NSIC, averaging 322.8 yards per game.
Tesch said the Marauders had a similar passing attack last year and the Beavers didn’t defend them very well. The result was a 49-21 U-Mary rout in Bismarck.
“There were times where we had guys covered like a blanket but they still made big plays,” Tesch said. “Then they go to the point where we couldn’t stop the run, which was tough, and offensively we had four or five turnovers too. So it was about as ugly a game as could possibly be.
“I guess I would be very sad if we play worse than we did last year. I think we can play a lot better. So our focus is, that was last year, let’s go play better this year.”
One plus for the Beavers is that the Marauders will be without stud quarterback Craig Bagnell.
The junior has already thrown for 1,286 yards and 14 touchdowns this year, but he’s not listed on the depth chart for this week. Taking his place will be freshman Zach Roberson.
BSU senior linebacker Cory Crosby said that won’t matter – Mary’s offense is dangerous whoever is under center.
“They do have an explosive offense,” Crosby said. “We need to contain the passing game and just force more turnovers like we did last week.
“Our secondary has been playing really good. We need to focus more on stopping their passing game since they are averaging so many and their offense is so good.”
The Marauders have seven different receivers with over 100 yards receiving, led by Elby Pope, who has caught 30 passes for 456 yards and three touchdowns.
Tesch said the key on defense will be not allowing Pope to burn them for big plays.
“We know it’s coming,” he said. “They’re going to pass the ball and chuck it up to their good receiver like they’ve done against everybody. We just have to be in position and try to break some of those up.
“And he’s going to get a few yards like every good player does. If they complete (a big play), we have to have a short memory and not let it get us down.”
The teams will be playing physically on both sides of the ball. And the Beavers agreed that there’s a measure of revenge on their sideline this year.
“That’s one of the things that kept us out of the national playoffs last year, and that’s what week keep telling the rest of the team,” Crosby said. “We need to go back there and show them who’s better. We played very poorly last year. We need to come back and redeem ourselves, show them when Beaver football is all about.”