FOOTBALL: Bemidji embracing special finale despite early shutdown

The Lumberjacks applaud their seniors prior to the season's opening kickoff on Oct. 9 against Andover at Chet Anderson Stadium. (Micah Friez / Bemidji Pioneer)

BEMIDJI -- Friday Night Lights will mean a little more to the Bemidji High School football team this week.

“I think the kids are ready for it, especially the seniors,” BHS head coach Bryan Stoffel said. “They’re going to be able to enjoy one more home game, and a great opportunity to go out as a winner, which not a lot of teams get to do in typical years.”

Starting on Saturday, high school sports will shut down for four weeks due to an executive order from Gov. Tim Walz to slow the spread of COVID-19. So the Lumberjacks expedited their kickoff against Sartell-St. Stephen by a day to squeeze it in before the pause hits.

“I’m ecstatic for the kids to have one more opportunity,” Stoffel said. “Earlier in the week, it was looking like that may not be the case. To have an opportunity to play one more game and have some finality to the season and these seniors’ careers is important.”

Bemidji will conclude the year with a 7 p.m. kickoff on Friday, Nov. 20, at Chet Anderson Stadium. Technically, it’s still the Section 8-5A semifinals, but win or lose, it will be the final game of the season.


“It’s unique,” Stoffel said. “Outside of playing in a state championship game, this is the only time you go into a game knowing it’s going to be your last. So it’s a different mindset that’ll be on the field this Friday night.”

Stoffel is expecting a stronger fight out of a Sabres team that lost 48-6 at the Chet in Week 2. In that game, six different players scored for BHS and four more forced a turnover in a seven-touchdown, four-takeaway showcase.

“When we started the season, we knew they would improve because they’re so young,” Stoffel said. “A lot of their skill guys are juniors and sophomores, so as the season goes on, they’re going to get better and gain more confidence. Their coaching staff has done a really nice job of building that with them. This is going to be a different team than the team you saw here in Week 2.”

To even make this game possible, though, Stoffel reached deep to thank those who have had a hand in the program this year.

“(This game) is an opportunity for our entire program to go out on a positive note. And that includes a number of people,” he said. “There’s just a lot of people who have sacrificed quite a bit to create a positive experience for these kids this fall. From the coaches, the boosters, the parents. And to be able to wrap that up with a W would be pretty special.

“I’m thankful for the Bemidji community allowing these kids to have a fantastic fall football experience when we thought we wouldn’t be able to have one.”

Bemidji (4-2) brings in the No. 2 seed, while Sartell-St. Stephen (3-2) has the No. 3 seed. With high seeds hosting, a strong regular season has afforded the Lumberjack seniors one more chance to play on their home turf.

“They’re competitors,” Stoffel said. “They battle, they play the game with passion. And I’m expecting to see that on Friday night. I’m also expecting to see our underclassmen do whatever they can to get these seniors a W in their last game.”

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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