Bounceback Beavers: Quite the comeback season for BSU football after 0-3 start
BEMIDJI -- The Bemidji State football team was tired of losing seasons. Following two consecutive 3-8 records in 2013 and 2014, it looked as though the Beavers were in for another rough year when they started 0-3 this year. Instead, BSU pulled it...
BEMIDJI - The Bemidji State football team was tired of losing seasons.
Following two consecutive 3-8 records in 2013 and 2014, it looked as though the Beavers were in for another rough year when they started 0-3 this year.
Instead, BSU pulled its season out from the brink. The Beavers reeled off six consecutive wins en route to a 7-4 finish and a share of the NSIC North Division title.
“I’m really proud of the kids for that,” BSU head coach Jeff Tesch said last week, reflecting on a season in which his team overcame expectations to earn back some respect following the losing seasons.
“They could have folded up the tent and gone home. But we thought we were better than 0-3, and we knew we lost a couple of close games. It’s just exciting that they hung in there to finish as well as they did.”
BSU lost its season-opener, 35-14, to eventual NCAA playoff team Augustana.
The Beavers then dropped their next two games, against Southwest Minnesota State and Winona State, by a combined seven points.
Both games involved the Beavers having a chance to win in the final minutes.
But after those three openers, the Beavers started to click, offensively, defensively, and on special teams, as they won six games in a row for the first time since World War II.
BSU head coach Jeff Tesch credited the Beavers’ resurgence to two things: Improved play from quarterback Jordan Hein and a strong defensive presence which was dominant despite losing six starters from a year ago and was relying on first-year players.
Hein, a sophomore from Perham who struggled last season after transferring from Division I Northern Iowa, was a revelation this year after Ryan Shields went down with an injury on the first drive of the season.
With 2,407 total yards and 22 touchdowns on 202-for-356 passing, he set BSU records for most passes attempted and completed, as well as ranking in the top 10 in passing touchdowns, passing yardage and completion percentage. He also ran for eight more touchdowns and 570 yards on 128 attempts. Additionally, he led the conference in fewest interceptions thrown (four), was fifth in touchdown passes and sixth in passing yards per game.
“We had times in past years where he would have one good game, but we were just so hot and cold,” Tesch said. “But we knew he was an athlete and could run around, but his progression with the throwing was such a big difference for us this season.”
Hein also had plenty of options when he wanted to throw the ball. Fourteen different Beavers caught a pass this year, and seven (Juwaan Richard, Jordan Noskowiak, Vince Dinkel, Christian Lunde, Brady Schmidt, Blake Holder and Dexter Taylor Jr.) had at least 100 yards receiving.
And the Beavers, who had one of the worst turnover margins in the NSIC last season, had a complete turnaround in that respect. BSU turned it over just 14 times compared to 30 in 2015.
“Last year we were last in the league in turnovers,” Tesch said. “To make that big jump that we did, it was outstanding. Holding on to the ball, we give ourselves a chance to win. And after those first couple games where we struggled and couldn’t finish things off, (for the rest of the season) we held onto the ball, and that is huge.”
The Beavers also forced 27 turnovers, thanks in part to a defensive unit that was third in the NSIC in total defense.
“You almost forget how many guys we graduated there,” Tesch said. “They played really well right from the beginning and they were the heart and soul all year long.”
The Beavers held their opponents to just 19.1 points per game while also holding them to 348.6 average yards-per-game. Both numbers were third best in the NSIC.
And BSU’s secondary stepped up the most. The Beavers secondary, led by true freshman (and NSIC Defensive Newcomer of the Year of the year) cornerback Gunner Olszewski, was basically all-new and stepped up to force 15 interceptions.
Olszewski led BSU with 85 tackles, 12 pass defenses and seven interceptions.
“Probably where we really needed it was the cornerback play and the d-line,” Tesch said. “For Gunner to come in and play as big as he did, that was huge. And then the d-line, we graduated (JJ Reinke and Dan Keibler), they had been there for three straight years. Jake Wirshing got better and better all year long, some of the other guys too. Mario Stephens got his chance. It was good to see.”
The best thing about the Beavers this season? Most everybody returns.
Hein will be a junior next year, and Shields took a medical redshirt and both will be back next season. Noskowiak is the lone senior receiver, but the rest of that core returns, as will almost all of the entire offensive line. On the defensive side of the ball, Stephens, defensive lineman Chris Otsby and linebackers Colton Blascyk and Greg Button are graduating seniors but the Beavers return most everybody there too.
“The offensive line is going to be a strength next year but they’re also getting older, so recruiting-wise that will be a big priority. But we he have a lot of receivers and skill guys back,” he said. “Defensively, we graduate some good backers, and you can never have enough d lineman. We have to kick extra points a lot more consistently than we did.”
The Beavers certainly believe they can achieve more.
“As excited as we are, we still lost four games. So there’s certainly work to do,” he said.
BSU’s All NSIC selections
First Team All-NSIC
Second Team All-NSIC
All-NSIC Honorable Mention