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FOOTBALL: Alt-Beaulieu connection has been developing as long as they can remember

When Brendan Beaulieu lines up to run a route, he already knows where his quarterback Brandon Alt is going to throw the ball.

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Bemidji State quarterback Brandon Alt (10) passes the ball in the first half against Minot State on Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021, at Chet Anderson Stadium. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

BEMIDJI -- When Brendan Beaulieu lines up to run a route, he already knows where his quarterback Brandon Alt is going to throw the ball.

No, it’s not that Alt has become predictable or that Beaulieu knows exactly what the defense is doing against his Bemidji State football team. It’s because, for the better part of 15 years, Beaulieu has lined up, looked to his side and seen Alt under center ready to throw him the ball.

“We’ve just played so much ball together,” Beaulieu said. “I’ll come off the sideline and tell him ‘I knew you were going to do that.’”

The two have been playing football side-by-side for as long as they can remember, although they estimate it began when they were around 6 or 7 years old playing in-house football in Cottage Grove. It continued in 2014-17 at Park High School as the duo helped orchestrate several winning seasons, breaking school records in the process.

Fast forward to today, they are still together and breaking plenty of records, this time for BSU. And on Saturday, Beaulieu and Alt hope to lead the Beavers to their first-ever playoff win in their first playoff berth in the program’s 95-year history.

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Bemidji State junior Brendan Beaulieu (19) makes a catch and runs for a touchdown in the second half against U-Mary on Saturday, Nov. 13, 2021, at Chet Anderson Stadium. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

“There have been a lot of close teams that could’ve made it to the NCAA playoffs,” said Bemidji State head coach Brent Bolte. “We’ve been the bridesmaid, man, it’s been frustrating, so it meant a lot to Beaver Nation that we could get it done.”

And it’s come in no small part because of Alt and Beaulieu.

Alt, in his first healthy season since coming to Bemidji in 2017, has thrown for 3,656 yards, 249 completions and 43 touchdowns, all single-season school records. The touchdown mark is also a Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference record. Beaulieu is the team’s leading receiver, having hauled in 63 catches for a record 1,100 yards and 12 touchdowns.

The performances have helped propel Bemidji State into a top-five passing offense and a top-25 scoring offense in Division II this season. Their 9-2 record, including seven straight wins and a share of the conference championship, was good enough to earn them a spot in the NCAA Tournament and a trip to No. 4 Augustana on Saturday. A win would avenge a Sept. 25 loss that dropped them to 2-2 and sparked an impassioned end to the season.

“After that game, we talked as a team. If we lose again we are out of the playoffs and it was going to come down to the little things,” Alt said. “We’ve really stuck to it and we’re a completely different team than we were then.”

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Bemidji State quarterback Brandon Alt (10) and Dhel Duncan-Busby (14) celebrate after scoring a touchdown in the first half against Southwest Minnesota State on Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021, at Chet Anderson Stadium. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

At the center of that is Alt and Beaulieu, two Park High School grads.

While they were teammates growing up, they were by no means inseparable friends. Like their connection on the field, the relationship grew with time. Despite going on their college visits the very same day, neither of them knew the other was there until they arrived. Both made their college decision independent of each other, only to be welcomed by the pleasant surprise of the other's news. Four years later, they’re roommates.

But while they’ve been in lockstep for much of the past decade, their paths to success this season have taken two different roads. After both redshirted as freshmen season, Alt was tabbed the starter in 2018, with Beaulieu assuming a much smaller role. But two games into the year, Alt tore his ACL, ending his season.

In 2019, Alt was again named the starter but played just one game before tearing the same ACL again. Beaulieu, on the other hand, flourished, racking up a team-high 856 yards on 52 catches in his first extended playing time. Then COVID wiped out the 2020 season.

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Beaver fans cheer after a touchdown against Wayne State on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021, at Chet Anderson Stadium. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

“I could see the growth with him on and off the field. I couldn’t wait to get on the field and play with him again,” Alt said of Beaulieu, now a redshirt junior. “Now, it’s unreal. When in doubt I throw to Beaulieu. It’s kind of cool, and I know he’s going to make the play.”

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It took a little bit for Alt, still just a redshirt sophomore, to feel comfortable with his knee again. It’s something he still works on every day, making sure the flexibility and strength are there. Bolte said the coaching staff held its breath the first few times Alt got hit before finally taking a sigh of relief a few games into the season.

Beaulieu, though, never doubted Alt would come back.

“Even in high school he was putting up these crazy numbers, breaking Park records. It sounds weird but I kind of expected this,” Beaulieu said.

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The Beavers celebrate after defeating Minnesota State Moorhead 22-19 on Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, at Chet Anderson Stadium. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

Likely or not, Alt made it back to full health, and he and Beaulieu are now unquestioned leaders of the team, Bolte said. They do it in different ways, Beaulieu the quieter, lead-by-example type, with Alt the more boisterous, vocal leader. But Bolte sees it as the perfect balance. The pair was instrumental in helping spark the seven-game winning streak, Bolte added, and will play a large role in how much more history the Beavers can break this season.

For now, beating Augustana and keeping their season alive is all that Alt and Beaulieu are focused on. And with at least one more year of eligibility each, the duo’s story isn’t yet finished.

But for a moment earlier this week, Alt allowed himself to reflect on the journey two Cottage Park kids have already spent the last decade on together.

“It’s definitely going to be hard when it’s done and over with,” he said. “We’ve had a long journey together. It’s pretty awesome.”

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