FOOTBALL: Beavers finally beat No. 16 Minnesota Duluth in storybook fashion

Like all great sagas, Saturday’s tale is one of suspense, heroism and -- most importantly to Bemidji State -- a happy ending.

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Bemidji State senior Malik Williams celebrates after scoring a touchdown against Minnesota Duluth on Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021, in Duluth. (Clint Austin / Forum News Service)
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DULUTH -- Where to begin?

There’s the history to highlight. There’s the 21-0 fourth quarter. The game-winning plays. And even the big picture to consider.

But perhaps the story ought to start with the final score:

Bemidji State 42, Minnesota Duluth 35.

“My phone is blowing up with all the alumni and everybody else,” BSU football head coach Brent Bolte said. “It means a lot to Beaver Nation, that’s for goldarn sure.”


Like all great sagas, Saturday’s tale is one of suspense, heroism and -- most importantly to Bemidji State -- a happy ending.

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The Bemidji State defense stops Minnesota Duluth running back Cazz Martin (28) during a BSU win on Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021, in Duluth. (Clint Austin / Forum News Service)

BSU (6-2, 4-0 NSIC North) outgunned the No. 16 team in the country in a shootout for the ages. Not only did the Beavers win in Duluth for the first time since 1941, they also gave themselves the inside track to the NSIC North Division title. And Bemidji State snapped an 18-game losing streak against the program that always seemed to kill their NCAA Tournament aspirations.

“Even before the season started, we knew the possibilities of this team and how far we could take it,” junior captain Zollie Kaplan said. “Duluth was just the biggest roadblock in our way to get there. Now it’s out of our way.”

Kaplan came up with the game-winning fumble recovery around midfield with one minute remaining. The ball slipped out of UMD quarterback Logan Graetz’s hand as he cocked back to throw, and Kaplan was there to pounce on it.

“We had the blitz coming,” Kaplan said. “The QB saw Jaylen Jenkins coming, and he just let the ball loose. … I was ecstatic when I grabbed that ball. I was screaming at the bottom of the pile.”


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Bemidji State junior Dehl Duncan-Busby (14) catches a pass against Minnesota Duluth on Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021, in Duluth. (Clint Austin / Forum News Service)

The BSU offense came to play, too. Brandon Alt threw six touchdown passes -- tying the program’s single-game record -- and none were more important than his fourth-quarter tosses to Brendan Beaulieu, Dhel Duncan-Busby and Malik Williams.

“Dhel’s catch in the end zone was ridiculous -- one-handed over the top of the guy,” Bolte said. “And Malik, making everybody miss and away he went -- a roadrunner into the end zone.”

Duncan-Busby’s touchdown tied the game at 35-35 with 9:18 remaining. Soon after, Andrew Manuele blocked a punt to set up the offense in Bulldog territory. Then with 4:00 left, Williams made two jukes to send defenders flying before a 33-yard race into the end zone -- his third touchdown and ultimately the winning score.


“That blocked punt gave us all the momentum back,” Kaplan said. “That jumped everyone’s spirits. … We were able to stack a few three-and-outs, give the ball back to the O, and let Brandon Alt do what he does. Everything kind of fell into place in the fourth quarter.”

The game went back-and-forth early on, evidenced by a 7-7 tie, but Minnesota Duluth (6-2, 3-1 NSIC North) shot ahead 21-7 late in the first half. Beaulieu caught a touchdown pass before the break as the Beavers managed a 21-14 halftime deficit.

UMD charged ahead 35-21 by the end of the third quarter, which included a backbreaking touchdown after recovering a fumble that bounced off the Bemidji State punt coverage team.

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Bemidji State junior Willie Spears III (29) intercepts a pass intended for Minnesota Duluth's Atmani Carmickle on Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021, in Duluth. (Clint Austin / Forum News Service)

It looked over. Same old story: BSU put up a respectable fight, but the Beavs got overpowered by the Bulldogs again this year.

That’s not how this story finished, though.

Beaulieu, Duncan-Busby and Williams all snagged critical touchdown grabs, which complemented a defensive effort that forced two UMD turnovers and three three-and-outs in the fourth quarter. The Bulldogs had 14 yards of offense in the final frame.

“It felt so good to close out that game, and to have our defense go out there and close it out for us,” Kaplan said. “It was an all-around team win: offense, defense and special teams. The whole team got it done today.”

Bemidji State 42, No. 16 Minnesota Duluth 35

BSU 7 7 7 21 -- 42

UMD 7 14 14 0 -- 35

First quarter -- UMD TD, Carmickle 18-yard catch from Graetz (Cox PAT), 7-0 UMD; BSU TD, Williams 59-yard catch from Alt (Hoffer PAT), 7-7.

Second quarter -- UMD TD, Martin 27-yard rush (Cox PAT), 14-7 UMD; UMD TD, Martin 69-yard rush (Cox PAT), 21-7 UMD; BSU TD, Beaulieu 6-yard catch from Alt (Hoffer PAT), 21-14 UMD.

Third quarter -- UMD TD, Bynum 3-yard catch from Larson (Cox PAT), 28-14 UMD; BSU TD, Williams 29-yard catch from Alt (Hoffer PAT), 28-21 UMD; UMD TD, Carmickle 26-yard catch from Graetz (Cox PAT), 35-21 UMD.

Fourth quarter -- BSU TD, Beaulieu 23-yard catch from Alt (Hoffer PAT), 35-28 UMD; Duncan-Busby 16-yard catch from Alt (Hoffer PAT), 35-35; BSU TD, Williams 33-yard catch from Alt (Hoffer PAT), 42-35 BSU.

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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