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FOOTBALL: Battle Axe trophy game has even bigger meaning

BEMIDJI -- The annual Battle Axe trophy game takes on even great significance for the Bemidji State football team this season. The 83-year-old rivalry is always a big deal for both the Beavers and their opponents, Minnesota State Moorhead. But wi...

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Bemidji State’s Alex Burgess (59) tackles Minot State’s Isaiah Weed (12) during BSU’s homecoming football game held Oct. 15 at Chet Anderson Stadium in Bemidji. (Maggi Stivers / Bemidji Pioneer)

BEMIDJI -- The annual Battle Axe trophy game takes on even great significance for the Bemidji State football team this season.

The 83-year-old rivalry is always a big deal for both the Beavers and their opponents, Minnesota State Moorhead.

But with the Beavers at 7-2 overall and still in the hunt for their first-ever NCAA tournament appearance, today’s game -- set for 1 p.m. at Chet Anderson Stadium -- is even more of a must-win for BSU.

“If we win this week, we’re in the conversation again next week,” BSU interim head coach Brent Bolte said. “If you lose, you’re out and you’re sitting at home. We just have to try and take care of business here against a good team and hopefully be in that conversation the following week.”

The Beavers are currently No. 8 in the NCAA Super Region Three Rankings with two weeks to play. The top seven teams in the rankings make the playoffs.

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Last Saturday’s 48-7 rout of St. Cloud State helped BSU move up one rung in the rankings -- (BSU was No. 9 last week). Central Missouri is ahead of BSU at No. 7 while Southern Arkansas and Henderson State are Nos. 9 and 10, respectively. All four teams have identical 7-2 records.

BSU defensive lineman Jake Wirsching said the team tries not to do too much scoreboard watching, but the Beavers know what’s at stake.

“I don’t look into it that much, but since we have the chance to go it’s definitely on our minds and it’s something we’re working for,” he said. “We’ve never been able to go to the playoffs here as a team. Obviously having that chance to play with some of the better teams in the nation, we have to move up one more spot. We have to win these next two games and hopefully we’ll be playing in the postseason.”

First up for BSU is MSUM, currently 5-4 overall and 3-2 in the NSIC North. The Dragons have put up some solid offensive numbers behind quarterback Demetrius Carr. The junior is a dual-threat much like BSU junior quarterback Jordan Hein.

Carr has thrown for 1,837 yards and 22 touchdowns and ran for 288. He’s got a solid group of receivers, too, including Damon Gibson, who set MSUM’s single-season mark with 1,184 yards (currently second in the NCAA).

“We’re going to have to play fundamentally sound,” Bolte said. “They make you defend every inch of the field, from the A-gap to the sidelines. They’ll throw vertical a lot. We’ll have our hands full but hopefully we’ll be able to slow them down.”

“They have a good offense and they’re very dynamic,” Wirsching added. “They’ve been able to score a lot of points. I think our D-line really matches up well with their offensive line but their skill guys are also good. So we all have to be aware and ready to play a complete game.”

The Beavers, who have scored at least 31 points in every single game they’ve played this season, hope they can keep that up this weekend and retain the Axe for the second straight season.

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“We need to be able to keep the gas pedal down and continue to try and score points and be aggressive,” Bolte said. “I don't want to see it turn into a shootout, but at the end of the day as long as you have one more point on the scoreboard we’ll take it.”

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BSU senior Damon Benham (27) runs with the football during BSU’s homecoming football game against Minot State held Oct. 15 at Chet Anderson Stadium in Bemidji. (Maggi Stivers / Bemidji Pioneer)

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The following is a letter to the editor submitted by a reader and does not reflect the views of the Pioneer. Letters can be sent to letters@bemidjipioneer.com or P.O. Box 455, Bemidji, MN 56601.