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FOOTBALL: Bemidji State’s first home playoff game is ‘all about the guys who built this program’

A year after reaching the NCAA Tournament for the first time ever, the Beavers made more history last week by clinching their first-ever home playoff game. It will be cold. And it will be snowy. But it’s a momentous milestone -- for the players of today and the players of yesteryear -- 35,103 days in the making.

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Bemidji State junior Brady Bartz (30) gives a passionate pregame speech before a game against Concordia-St. Paul on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2022, at Chet Anderson Stadium.
Micah Friez / Bemidji Pioneer
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BEMIDJI -- The Bemidji State football team has played in 861 games all time. The Beavers have scored 16,930 points, and they’re nearing a century’s worth of traditions, legends and folklore.

Heck, they’re even older than sliced bread.

Yet despite 96 jam-packed seasons of BSU football, the number of home playoff games has always rested idly at zero.

That changes on Saturday.

“There are a lot of proud Beavers out there,” Bemidji State head coach Brent Bolte said. “… We maybe haven’t always had that much success, but the guys who didn’t have it are really enjoying it and kind of living vicariously through the kids who are doing it now.”

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Bemidji State running back Al Wolden (33) rushes for BSU during a game at Chet Anderson Stadium. Wolden played for the Beavers from 1983-86.
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Chet Anderson Stadium is prepared for BSU to make its inaugural postseason appearance on home turf this weekend. A year after reaching the NCAA Tournament for the first time ever, the Beavers made more history last week by clinching their first-ever home playoff game.

RELATED: 5 keys that carried Bemidji State football back to the NCAA Tournament

It will be cold. And it will be snowy. But it’s a momentous milestone -- for the players of today and the players of yesteryear -- 35,103 days in the making.

“My dad is extremely excited about the program and how it’s going. Honestly, probably more excited than myself,” said running back Jarrett Gronski, whose father, John, played at Bemidji State from 1986-89 and is still the program’s third-leading rusher. “That just shows the culture that we have here at Bemidji State and how exciting it is to be a former player or a player right now.”

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Bemidji State sophomore Jarrett Gronski (25) dives across the goal line for a touchdown against Minnesota Duluth during the second quarter on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2022, at Chet Anderson Stadium.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

Indeed, the town at large is caught up in Beaver Fever, which includes a parallel NCAA Tournament run at home by the BSU women’s soccer team. The football team can feel the buzz around campus, but the significance also supersedes whatever happens this weekend.

“It’s all about the guys who built this program,” defensive end Stephen Hoffman said. “It was super surprising to me that we’ve never had a home playoff game, knowing how dominant this group has been. Just crazy stuff, to be honest. But I’m really excited for the opportunity, and we’re ready for it.”

Bemidji State will face Winona State at 1 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 19, at the Chet -- the 862nd game in program history. Game No. 849 was the Beavers’ NCAA Tournament debut in 2021 (and a 28-24 win over Augustana), and that experience will be imperative to have in their back pocket this weekend.

“Last year we got in and didn’t really know what to expect,” Gronski said. “This year, we’re back. We know what we’ve got to do. We know we have the talent capable of making a run and producing some fun games in these playoffs. All of us are just hungry.”

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Bemidji State's Stephen Hoffman (94), Cade Barrett (97) and Marco Cavallaro (top right) combine for a tackle during the first half against Concordia-St. Paul on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2022, at Chet Anderson Stadium.
Micah Friez / Bemidji Pioneer

Earlier this season, BSU (9-2) defeated the Warriors (8-3) in a 34-24 homecoming win on Sept. 17. It marked the start of Bemidji State’s current nine-game winning streak.

No Beaver team has ever won 10 games in a row, but after coming this far, BSU will sure try to add another piece of history to what’s become a special two-year run for the program.

“Obviously we’ve had our ups and downs in terms of our history of BSU football,” Bolte said. “The last 20 years have been pretty good, and the last six or seven for me (as the head coach) have been special. … I think the kids understand what it means to do all that work to get this home-field advantage, as well.”

The Chet and its loyal fans are about to encounter something brand new. But who knows? Maybe it’ll be the greatest thing since sliced bread.

“It feels like unfinished business. We have a lot of stuff that we felt we left on the table last year,” Hoffman said. “I’m excited for what we’re going to do on this run. Saturday’s first, Winona’s first, but it should be a great run.”

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Bemidji State senior Dhel Duncan-Busby (14) tries to hurdle Winona State's Kyle Haas (8) during the third quarter on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022, at Chet Anderson Stadium.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

Micah Friez is the sports editor at the Bemidji Pioneer. A native of East Grand Forks, Minn., he joined the Pioneer in 2015 and is a 2018 graduate of Bemidji State University with a degree in Creative and Professional Writing. Follow him on Twitter at @micahfriez for Lumberjack and Beaver updates.
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