FOOTBALL: Beavers stage epic comeback, retain Battle Axe trophy with late win over MSUM
Akin to the greatest kind of comebacks, this two-minute thrill came out of nowhere for Bemidji State.
BEMIDJI -- With the fancy footwork of a double-cleated toe-tap, Malik Williams touched down in the back of the end zone in miraculous fashion.
“I knew that if Coach called (my number), I had to make the play,” Williams said. “After the game, I told him, ‘Thank you for believing in me.’”
Their faith moved mountains -- or, rather, slayed a Dragon -- at Chet Anderson Stadium.
Williams snagged the game-winning 7-yard touchdown for the Bemidji State football team on Saturday, hauling in a fourth-down pass from Brandon Alt with 39 seconds remaining. With the ensuing 2-point conversion, the Beavers erased a 19-0 halftime deficit and came all the way back to defeat Minnesota State Moorhead 22-19.
“It’s just believing in each other. Believing in each other. Believing in each other,” Williams said. “At halftime, coaches told us to be ourselves, be the Beavers. And that’s what we did in the second half.”
BSU retained the Battle Axe trophy with the late-game heroics, flipping the narrative from a sluggish letdown to a cardiac thriller.
“With that kind of play call, and those kind players out there, you’re kind of expecting that,” Alt said of the winning score. “I know with my squad out there, they’re going to go make plays. … With that kind of an athlete, you can just put the ball up and Malik will go get it.”
Alt dropped back to pass with a clean pocket and waited for Williams to cut inside from the slot. Williams burned his defender, but the ball was behind him, so Williams adjusted and made an athletic catch while keeping both feet in bounds by inches.
“He made a great play, and those officials didn’t really put their arms up very fast,” Bemidji State head coach Brent Bolte said. “I thought I was going to have to run down there, but my 40 time isn’t as fast as it used to be.”
Akin to the greatest kind of comebacks, this one came out of nowhere.
In the first half, the Beavers (5-2) were losing 19-0 behind four turnovers, a blocked punt for a TD and an offense that couldn’t move the chains.
“Interceptions, dropped passes, fumbles, penalties,” Williams said. “All that stuff we were doing to ourselves. And that’s what got us behind.”
But it could have been much worse if not for a defense that gave BSU a shot.
“Our defense played pretty well overall,” Bolte said. “We limited them to opportunities in the second half. … (MSUM is) potent on offense. They have a hard scheme to defend, and they have some good players.”
The Dragons (3-4) never scored in the second half. Bemidji State came out of the locker room with a much-needed touchdown on its first drive, a 2-yard reception for Brendan Beaulieu to cap a 74-yard drive.
The next time on the field, Williams caught a short, fourth-down pass over the middle that was good enough for the first down. But Williams was thinking six, and he raced to the sideline, got to the edge and dove into the end zone for a spectacular 30-yard TD.
The score got the Beavers within 19-14 midway through the third, but they needed until the final minute before taking their first lead of the game.
BSU took over at its own 33 with 5:41 to go. After crossing midfield, Makaio Harn rushed the ball on seven straight plays and got Bemidji State to the 7, where the final Williams touchdown won the game.
“We ran the ball. That’s really what allowed us to grind them down,” Bolte said. “I think we got them tired and second-guessing a little bit. … (Williams) is a dynamic kid, and we were able to find him at the right time.”
A last-second Hail Mary by the Dragons fell incomplete, and the Beavers held on to the Axe with a heart-stopper.
“For the past four years, nobody could keep it at their home,” Williams said of the traveling trophy. “It was great to know that we can keep it here.”
Bemidji State has perhaps its most important game of the season up next, traveling to No. 18 Minnesota Duluth to battle for the lead in the NSIC North standings at 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 23.
Bemidji State 22, Minnesota State Moorhead 19
MSUM 9 10 0 0 -- 19
BSU 0 0 14 8 -- 22
First quarter -- MSUM FG, Meehl 30-yard kick, 3-0 MSUM; MSUM TD, Marquart 20-yard catch from Falk (Meehl PAT missed), 9-0 MSUM.
Second quarter -- MSUM FG, Meehl 26-yard kick, 12-0 MSUM; MSUM TD, Myers 16-yard punt return (Meehl PAT), 19-0 MSUM.
Third quarter -- BSU TD, Beaulieu 2-yard catch from Alt (Hoffer PAT), 19-7 MSUM; BSU TD, Williams 30-yard catch from Alt (Hoffer PAT), 19-14 MSUM.
Fourth quarter -- BSU TD, Williams 7-yard catch from Alt (Beaulieu 2-pt. conversion catch), 22-19 BSU.