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FOOTBALL: Sam McGath up for anything as Bemidji State’s wildcat wild card

The Beavers utilize their QBs in a unique way. Although starter Brandon Alt is one of the best in the nation at throwing the ball, McGath isn’t relegated to the bench all day. He’s a routine part of the offense, entering in for wildcat formations and misdirection runs multiple times a game.

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Bemidji State sophomore Sam McGath (17) scores a touchdown in the third quarter against Minnesota Duluth on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2022, at Chet Anderson Stadium.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer
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BEMIDJI -- For most teams, disaster has struck if the backup quarterback is coming into the game.

But when defenses can’t contain Sam McGath, it’s the Bemidji State football team that’s going to strike.

“I do a little bit of everything,” said McGath, a sophomore signal caller from Brookfield, Wis. “Either it’s offense, coming in to run the ball or special teams holding. It’s a lot of different things I do to help the team, but everyone trusts me and what I do.”

The Beavers utilize their QBs in a unique way. Although starter Brandon Alt is one of the best in the nation at throwing the ball, McGath isn’t relegated to the bench all day. He’s a routine part of the offense, entering in for wildcat formations and misdirection runs multiple times a game.

“He’s certainly been a running back in our system. Let’s call it what it is,” BSU head coach Brent Bolte said. “We use him in some of the ground-and-pound situations and fourth-and-shorts to utilize his strength, which is running. But he’s a good quarterback, too. We’ve created some packages and one-offs. We hit one in the playoff game last year.”

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A season ago, McGath had a 22-yard pass and then the game-winning 2-yard touchdown run on back-to-back plays in the fourth quarter, helping Bemidji State beat Augustana in the program’s NCAA Tournament debut.

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Bemidji State's Sam McGath (17) powers into the end zone for the game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter of an NCAA Tournament game against Augustana on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021, in Sioux Falls, S.D.
BSU photo

McGath has assumed his rushing role again this fall, scoring three touchdowns on 12 attempts. But he’s also gotten to throw the ball more, relieving Alt under center late in recent blowout wins. McGath has another three TDs through the air so far this season.

“A lot of times when you think about going wildcat, you don’t have a quarterback back there who can still throw. He’s a fun weapon,” Bolte said. “He’s biding his time obviously with Alt in front of him (on the depth chart). He’s accepted that, which is not easy. He’s a competitive kid. He’s got some moxie to him, and he’s going to be a great leader of the team here when he gets the reins.”

The Beavers have been able to weaponize McGath, using him for read-option plays that create openings for him or running backs Jalen Frye, Sage Booker and Jarrett Gronski.

BSU converts third downs at a 54.5% rate, which is second-best in all of Division II. (The Bemidji State defense, meanwhile, only allows third-down conversions 27.6% of the time, which ranks 12th in the country.)

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Bemidji State quarterback Sam McGath (61) scrambles with the football during BSU's Green and White Spring Game on Saturday, April 16, 2022, at Chet Anderson Stadium.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

Alt may firmly be the starting quarterback, but there’s no drop-off when McGath makes some magic happen.

“It gives opposing teams another thing they have to prepare for,” McGath said of his role. “The offense is very different when Brandon’s in versus when I go in. It’s a heavy package, so they’ve got to bring in extra defensive linemen, extra linebackers. It’s very different when I’m in the game.”

When the Beavers (6-2) take on Southwest Minnesota State (4-4) at 1 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 29, in Marshall, Alt will trot out there to facilitate the offense for most of the afternoon. But probably sooner than later, McGath will enter and add a new wrinkle to an already dynamic attack.

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“Our whole QB room, we probably have one of the tightest rooms that I’ve been around. We’re all good buddies and do what’s best for the team,” McGath said. “If it’s me going in or Brandon playing the whole game, it’s whatever. We’re good with each other and know it’s best for the team.”

Briefly

  • Bemidji State senior tight end/fullback Bryce Duffy, who suffered a spinal contusion on Oct. 15, will soon be returning to Bemidji. His mother, Cathy, tweeted an update on Thursday, Oct. 28, saying: "Update on Bryce Duffy. He's being released from Sanford So. Medical Center today - walking on his own - and heading back to Bemidji. The medical staff are amazed at how far he's come. His determination and hard work is inspiring. Feeling blessed and soo thankful."

Micah Friez is the former sports editor at the Bemidji Pioneer. A native of East Grand Forks, Minn., he worked at the Pioneer from 2015-23 and is a 2018 graduate of Bemidji State University with a degree in Creative and Professional Writing.
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