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FOOTBALL: Jarrett Gronski overpowers hometown Bulldogs with career day

“This was my first collegiate start, and it was quite awesome,” Jarrett Gronski said. “It was awesome to get out here, especially on our field and beat the Bulldogs.”

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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
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BEMIDJI — Jarrett Gronski was tasked with setting the tone on Saturday.

The Superior, Wis., native — making his first collegiate start and against his hometown team, no less — rushed 11 times for a career-high 90 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Bemidji State football team to a 41-16 victory over injury-ravaged Minnesota Duluth.

“The coaches told me, with me being the bigger back in the room, take the ball right away and set the tone,” said the 6-foot-1, 215-pound Gronski. “We were preaching physicality all week, so just get me running downhill and show Duluth they’re in for a physical game.”

The Beavers (6-2), winners of six straight, are now in the driver’s seat for the NSIC North Division title and should have a strong case to make their second straight NCAA Tournament appearance should they win out.

“This was my first collegiate start, and it was quite awesome,” Gronski said. “It was awesome to get out here, especially on our field and beat the Bulldogs.”

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Bemidji State's Jarrett Gronski (25) and Will Lemire (68) celebrate after Gronski scored a touchdown during the fourth quarter against Minnesota Duluth on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2022, at Chet Anderson Stadium.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

And it was even better to do it in front of friends and family, including his father John, a BSU alum.

John Gronski congratulated his son postgame before adding some friendly ribbing, saying “Doggone it, how come you didn’t score earlier?”

Forgive the elder Gronski for having high standards. In 1987, he rushed for a Bemidji State-record 319 yards with four touchdowns on 30 carries in a win over Southwest Minnesota State at the very same location as Saturday.

Jarrett Gronski said the Bulldogs also showed interest in him coming out of high school.

“My dad was actually really good about my recruitment and told me to keep an open mind about wherever I went,” Gronski said. “It just so happened that I fell in love with Bemidji.”

And the Beavers will continue to love him if he keeps turning in performances like Saturday.

“I’m starting to find my role in this offense and I’m enjoying it,” said the do-it-all Gronski, who is listed as sophomore tight end/fullback.

After rallying to win in Duluth for the first time since World War II last fall, the Beavers have now won two straight over the Bulldogs in a series that is looking more and more like a real rivalry these days.

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“This was definitely a huge game,” Gronski said. “We knew we had to come out and make a statement, and I think we did that.”

Injury bug bites Minnesota Duluth

UMD backup quarterback Kyle Walljasper, making his first collegiate start in place of injured senior Garrett Olson, finished 12-for-21 passing for 106 yards and no touchdowns. He led the Bulldogs with 25 rushes for 95 yards and a touchdown.

“We needed to be better rushing the football,” Minnesota Duluth head coach Curt Wiese said. “Bemidji is the first team that held us on first down consistently, and that takes us out of our game plan really quick.”

Wiese said linebackers Brad Dati, Drew Hennessey, Cole Refsnider and Andrew Klopp didn’t play due to injury, and fellow linebacker Michael Empting had to leave the game.

“We don’t have an inside linebacker left on our roster,” Wiese said.

So who’s playing inside linebacker?

“Defensive ends and safeties,” Wiese said.

The Beavers’ game plan was to take it to the Bulldogs to the tune of 464 yards while topping 40 points for the fifth straight game. Bemidji State was 4-for-8 on third downs and 3-for-3 on fourth downs, often from healthy distances.

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“You don’t wish injuries on anybody,” BSU head coach Brent Bolte said. “That was a shell of the Duluth teams we’re used to seeing.”

Jon Nowacki joined the News Tribune in August 1998 as a sports reporter. He grew up in Stephen, Minnesota, in the northwest corner of the state, where he was actively involved in school and sports and was a proud member of the Tigers’ 1992 state championship nine-man football team.

After graduating in 1993, Nowacki majored in print journalism at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, serving as editor of the college paper, “The Aquin,” and graduating with honors in December 1997. He worked with the Associated Press during the “tobacco trial” of 1998, leading to the industry’s historic $206 billion settlement, before moving to Duluth.

Nowacki started as a prep reporter for the News Tribune before moving onto the college ranks, with an emphasis on Minnesota Duluth football, including coverage of the Bulldogs’ NCAA Division II championships in 2008 and 2010.

Nowacki continues to focus on college sports while filling in as a backup on preps, especially at tournament time. He covers the Duluth Huskies baseball team and auto racing in the summer. When time allows, he also writes an offbeat and lighthearted food column entitled “The Taco Stand,” a reference to the “Taco Jon” nickname given to him by his older brother when he was a teenager that stuck with him through college. He has a teenage daughter, Emma.

Nowacki can be reached at jnowacki@duluthnews.com or (218) 380-7027. Follow him on Twitter @TacoJon1.
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