FOOTBALL: Bemidji weathers Storm, set to host Section 8-5A championship

Bemidji upset Sauk Rapids-Rice 22-14 on Saturday night in Sauk Rapids, squeezing five takeaways out of its defense and scoring 15 unanswered points in the fourth quarter.

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Bemidji Lumberjacks

SAUK RAPIDS -- One year ago, the Bemidji High School football team won in the Section 8-5A semifinals but saw its season end regardless because of a COVID-19 shutdown.

Nothing’s slowing the train this year, though. The Lumberjacks are marching back into the championship game.

“To get to the section final is special,” BHS head coach Bryan Stoffel said. “It’s special to be on that stage in high school. I’m so happy that not only kids (across) the state of Minnesota get to experience that again, but that our kids get to, as well.”

Third-seeded Bemidji knocked off second-seeded Sauk Rapids-Rice 22-14 on Saturday night in Sauk Rapids, squeezing five takeaways out of its defense and scoring 15 unanswered points in the fourth quarter.

“Our kids showed a lot of grit, they showed a lot of pride in what we do,” Stoffel said. “That’s why I’m always so proud of the kids in Bemidji and being able to coach them.”


And as the icing on the cake in postgame, Lumberjack players and coaches huddled around broadcasts of the other semifinal to watch fourth-seeded Alexandria upset top-seeded Moorhead in a wild 42-39 final. That means BHS gets to host the championship as the high seed.

“It kind of sucked that we weren’t going to have many home games for this playoff run,” senior Caden Bolte said. “Alexandria just won, so we get a home game for our section championship game. … I think everyone’s excited to get another chance to play at the Chet.”

First, though, Bemidji had to take care of business on the road.

Gavin Luksik hauled in a 15-yard touchdown catch on the game’s opening drive, delivering the Jacks (6-3) a 7-0 lead. But the Storm (6-3) rallied with 14 points in the second quarter, good for a 14-7 edge that held firm following a scoreless third quarter.

Nevertheless, the fourth quarter belonged to BHS.

First, Bolte rushed in for a 3-yard touchdown that got Bemidji within 14-13. The Lumberjacks went for two, and Ethan Biehn carried an outside pitch past the goal line, largely thanks to a great block from Jacob Kelly.

The slim 15-14 margin proved to be plenty of wiggle room. The BHS defense pounced on a fumble in the backfield on the ensuing drive, and Logan Willard snagged an interception the next time out.

The Willard takeaway opened the door for Gemini Ellis to score on a 3-yard rush, putting Bemidji ahead 22-14. And, finally, Dakotah Canty batted a ball in the air for Bolte to swallow up -- Sauk Rapids-Rice’s third turnover in as many fourth-quarter drives.


“This was one of the bigger defensive games that I’ve witnessed in my time in Bemidji,” Stoffel said. “That second half, those kids rose up and put the team on their back. That pulled the team along, and before you know it, we’re coming out on top.”

A final turnover on downs for the Lumberjack defense allowed the offense to break the huddle in victory formation. And, with two semifinal upsets, the road to state now goes through Chet Anderson Stadium.

“(A section championship) would mean so much,” Bolte said. “My sophomore year, that was the year we lost to Moorhead in that really close game. That one really hurt. And then last year, we didn’t even get a chance to play in it. So this year would be super special, especially for the seniors.”

Alexandria defeated Bemidji 38-20 at home in Week 2 . The championship rematch is scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 5, at the Chet.

“Who would’ve thought that, after Week 2, this would have been the case,” Stoffel said. “(This run) is special because of the growth these kids made as the season went along. You can’t do that without sacrificing for others and putting the team first.”

No. 3 Bemidji 22, No. 2 Sauk Rapids-Rice 14

BHS 7 0 0 15 -- 22


SRR 0 14 0 0 -- 14

First quarter -- BHS TD, Luksik 15-yard catch from Larson (Peterson PAT), 7-0 BHS.

Second quarter -- SRR TD, Walrath 5-yard rush (2-pt. conversion good), 8-7 SRR; SRR TD, Harren 35-yard catch from Klein (PAT failed), 14-7 SRR.

Third quarter -- No scoring.

Fourth quarter -- BHS TD, Bolte 3-yard rush (2-pt. conversion good), 15-14 BHS; BHS TD, Ellis 3-yard rush (Peterson PAT), 22-14 BHS.

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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