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FOOTBALL: Bemidji State set to host historic NCAA Tournament opener at the Chet

Not only are the Beavers back in the bracket for the second consecutive year, they’re hosting Winona State at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 19, at Chet Anderson Stadium – the first-ever home playoff game for Bemidji State.

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The Beavers celebrate after hearing their name called during the NCAA Selection Show on Sunday, Nov. 13, 2022, at Bemidji State’s Hagg-Sauer Hall.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer
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BEMIDJI – The Bemidji State football team was elated in 2021 when the selection show revealed BSU had made the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history.

But there was a different energy in Hagg-Sauer Hall during Sunday’s announcement of the 2022 tournament field. Not only are the Beavers back in the bracket for the second consecutive year, they’re hosting Winona State at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 19, at Chet Anderson Stadium – the first-ever home playoff game for Bemidji State.

“It feels great,” BSU head coach Brent Bolte said. “It’s really special because we get to host this one. It does mean a lot to play here, so hopefully we can get the word out, hopefully alums can make it back. We had great support on the road last year (against Augustana).”

The Beavers journeyed to Sioux Falls, S.D., and beat the fourth-seeded Vikings 28-24 to open their 2021 tournament run. This year, Bemidji State is the No. 4 seed in Super Region Four, so the Warriors are forced to trek up to the Chet while BSU enjoys the comforts of home.

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The Beavers celebrate after hearing their name called in the NCAA Selection Show on Sunday, Nov. 13, 2022, in Bemidji State’s Hagg-Sauer Hall.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer

“It's pretty cool, because we're part of the history at BSU,” sophomore wide receiver Joey Baron said. “No other (football) team has gotten to the playoffs, especially twice in a row. … Everybody hopes to get a home playoff game, so hopefully we get the fans there and then we come out with the W.”

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The Beavers (9-2) are quite familiar with WSU (8-3), a near-annual foe ever since 1932. Earlier this season, Bemidji State defeated Winona State 34-24 during homecoming week at the Chet. That doesn’t mean BSU automatically anticipates the same result this time around, though.

“They play well on defense, they’re really good on special teams,” Bolte said. “... They're going to come in here and make you earn every inch. They'll have some gadget (plays on offense). Their (first-year) offensive coordinator’s a really good mind. He did a good job when he was at Northern State. So you know you're going to get a really well-coached, physical team, and you're going to have to earn it. That's why they're in the playoffs.”

Unlike in 2021, the Beavers won’t have to worry about establishing a travel schedule to go on the road, allowing them more time to prepare for their first-round opponent.

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Bemidji State head coach Brent Bolte addresses the Beavers after the NCAA Selection Show on Sunday, Nov. 13, 2022, at Bemidji State’s Hagg-Sauer Hall.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer

“You kind of get an extra day of prep,” Bolte said. “You're not leaving on Friday morning and doing a five- or six-hour bus ride. So for us, that's big getting the extra day of being with our trainers, getting rehab. Those are all important factors of why you get these home games. And obviously, we play well at the Chet. So that's exciting for us to have that be the first-ever home playoff game, which is awesome. It's crazy to think about. It’s been a long time coming.”

A mid-November chill should greet both teams on Saturday, with the forecast high and low temperatures currently 10 and zero degrees, respectively. As a fellow Minnesota team, Winona State should be somewhat familiar with the conditions – but Bolte’s not discounting the distinctions of playing in the northern part of the state.

“I'm pretty sure they're not going to be playing in the same elements that we have,” Bolte said. “The Chet’s unique. I'm sure people don't enjoy coming up here. We don't have the best accommodations. It's a little bit different. It's definitely a home-field advantage in that sense of where we're at and what we have facility-wise. So we're excited. It's going to be a fun game.”

The Division II field

The Bemidji State-Winona State winner will face Angelo State in the second round on Nov. 26. The Rams earned a first-round bye as the top seed in Super Region Four.

Elsewhere in the region, second-seeded Colorado School of Mines hosts CSU Pueblo, while third-seeded Minnesota State plays Wayne State.

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The 28-team national field also features No. 1 seeds in Indiana (Pa.), Grand Valley State and Benedict.

Teams who advance past the Dec. 3 quarterfinal rounds will be reseeded for the Dec. 10 national semifinals. The national championship game is then set for noon on Dec. 17 in McKinney, Texas.

Christian Babcock is a sports reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer. He trekked to Bemidji from his hometown of Campbell, Calif., after graduating from the Cronkite School at Arizona State University in 2021. Follow him on Twitter at @CB_Journalist for updates on the Lumberjacks and Beavers or to suggest your favorite local restaurant.
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