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FOOTBALL: Bemidji beats Brainerd to retain Babe’s Bell in season’s first win

The Bemidji High School football team had not yet played four quarters of complementary football this year.

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The Lumberjacks celebrate with Babe’s Bell after defeating Brainerd 19-6 on Friday, Sept. 14, 2021, at Chet Anderson Stadium. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

BEMIDJI -- The Bemidji High School football team had not yet played four quarters of complementary football this year. Whether it was the offense sputtering or the defense struggling to contain the other team, the recipe left a poor taste in the Lumberjacks’ mouth with two straight losses.

They added some new ingredients on Friday against Brainerd, however. Seniors on both sides of the ball contributed huge plays, including Caden Bolte’s two interceptions and Gemini Ellis’ 65-yard touchdown run. The result was a scintillating 19-6 win over their rivals at Chet Anderson Stadium to retain Babe’s Bell for the fourth straight year and earn their first win of the season.

“Just so proud of our kids and the way they battled for four quarters,” head coach Bryan Stoffel said. “And that’s what we told the boys all week long, that these games are going to be four-quarter battles, and then for us to come out and stand up to the adversity and not crack and actually stand strong together, that’s what I was so proud of, and it was a great team win tonight.”

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After a scoreless first quarter, Bemidji (1-2) commenced the scoring in the second when senior Tavin Peterson knocked a 25-yard field goal through the uprights to give the Lumberjacks a 3-0 lead. Later in the period, senior quarterback Jack Larson, who rotated with junior Hunter Brodina on alternate series, punched in a 5-yard touchdown run one play after Brainerd struggled with the snap on a punt and set the Jacks up in prime field position.

“(The seniors) were huge all night long,” Stoffel said. “And it seemed like when we needed a play, a senior made it. And that’s what I’m so proud of them for. I told them after the game, they left their legacy on that bell. And they deserve it by the way they played and the way they battled for each other tonight.”

Larson’s elation after the score caused him to spike the ball, which triggered a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. The infraction was understandable given Larson’s level of passion and the stage the rivalry game afforded, but it forced Bemidji to kick off from its own 25-yard line.

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Bemidji quarterback Jack Larson (10) scores a touchdown in the first half against Brainerd on Friday, Sept. 14, 2021, at Chet Anderson Stadium. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

That became problematic when Brainerd returned the ensuing kickoff to the Lumberjacks 47. With less than two minutes left before the half, the Warriors led a quick drive, with quarterback Marcello Getty finding Eli Hoelz over the middle for a 39-yard completion before running back Nathaniel Staehling punched in a 1-yard touchdown to cut the deficit to 10-6.

After the half, the Jacks struck back with the 65-yard run by Ellis in the third quarter, then tacked on another field goal from Peterson that doinked off the right upright and carried through to give Bemidji a 19-6 lead.

In the fourth quarter, it was back to Bolte. After snuffing out a promising Brainerd drive in the red zone with a pick in the third quarter, he jumped a slant route and did it again to solidify the Jacks’ grip on the game.

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The defense shut it down from there, preventing a late touchdown attempt by Brainerd to generate a turnover on downs and give Bemidji the ball with a few minutes remaining. And after the Warriors forced a stop and a punt, the Lumberjacks’ defense rose up once more, pouncing on a Brainerd fumble to retake possession and run out the clock on the contest.

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The Lumberjack student section cheers during the first half of the homecoming matchup against Brainerd on Friday, Sept. 14, 2021, at Chet Anderson Stadium. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

“This was the first night that, together, we played complementary football,” Stoffel said.
“Offensively, defensively, we found our roles. We were able to play off one another, and when the other side needed a break, we got one. And that’s what I was impressed by: the way we made plays tonight.”

Bemidji will attempt to make more key plays in its next game on the road against Sauk Rapids-Rice at 7 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 1.

Bemidji 19, Brainerd 6

BRD 0 6 0 0 -- 6

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BEM 0 10 9 0 -- 19

First quarter -- No scoring.

Second quarter -- BEM FG, Peterson 25-yard kick, 3-0 BEM; BEM TD, Larson 5-yard run (Peterson PAT), 10-0 BEM; BRD TD, Staehling 1-yard run (Westerberg PAT no good), 10-6 BEM.

Third quarter -- BEM TD, Ellis 65-yard run (Peterson PAT no good), 16-6 BEM; BEM FG, Peterson 23-yard kick, 19-6 BEM.

Fourth quarter -- No scoring.

Related Topics: FOOTBALL
Christian Babcock is a sports reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer. He trekked to Bemidji from his hometown of Campbell, Calif., after graduating from the Cronkite School at Arizona State University in 2021. Follow him on Twitter at @CB_Journalist for updates on the Lumberjacks and Beavers or to suggest your favorite local restaurant.
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