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FOOTBALL: Jacks looking to clinch first section crown since 2018

Championship at the Chet -- This year’s crew has a chance to win a section title at home.

103021.S.BP.BHSFOOT Ethan Biehn.jpg
Bemidji junior Ethan Biehn (2) runs the football in the first half against St. Cloud Tech in the Section 8-5A quarterfinals on Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2021, at Chet Anderson Stadium. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

BEMIDJI -- It’s been a few years since the Bemidji High School football team proceeded to the state tournament after winning a section championship -- three, to be exact.

But after a serendipitous turn of events, this year’s crew has a chance to win a section title at home -- something they couldn’t have foreseen heading into the Section 8-5A playoffs as the No. 3 seed.

“The atmosphere and the environment obviously plays a big role,” head coach Bryan Stoffel said. “And then when we have a packed house (at home), and they're loud and excited for us and with us through the journey of the game, it makes a ton of difference.

“We play well at home. We've had a lot of playoff success at home, and so it does give you an advantage. We're excited to play another game at the Chet.”

That playoff success includes a 48-14 win over sixth-seeded St. Cloud Tech in the section quarterfinals last Tuesday. Bemidji (6-3) gave itself the opportunity to host another home playoff game after beating second-seeded Sauk Rapids-Rice 22-14 in Sauk Rapids on Saturday behind 15 unanswered fourth-quarter points.

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BHS also got some help from fourth-seeded Alexandria, which upset top seed Moorhead on the road in a 42-39 triumph.

With that, the Lumberjacks became the high seed in the section final and were bequeathed one more home game at Chet Anderson Stadium.

“Any time you can get yourself into a section final, it's exciting times for not only the kids, but the community and the high school,” Stoffel said.

Exciting times, maybe, but an excellent opponent -- and one the Jacks struggled with mightily in their regular season matchup, to the tune of a scoreless first half and a 38-20 road loss.

Alexandria (5-5) presents a balanced attack, but their best plays flow through their best player -- wide receiver Kristen Hoskins, a dynamic athlete committed to play football at the University of Minnesota.

“You got to tweak your base scheme a little bit to make sure that you're sound with what he's doing, and try to find a way to defend the entire field as well as keep an eye on him,” Stoffel said. “But it comes down to a group effort.

“It's going to take all 11 guys swarming him any time he has the football and making sure that the first guy is not the one that has to make the tackle, and we have multiple guys rallying to the football to help tackle him and bring him down.”

The Cardinals create problems with other players, too, including quarterback Carter Steffensmeier and running back Will Heydt, who tallied four total touchdowns against Moorhead.

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Earning Stoffel his first section championship as Bemidji’s head coach will require the Lumberjacks to be creative and focused on both sides of the ball.

“We have to make explosive plays,” Stoffel said. “And whether that's in the run game or the pass game, we have to have explosive plays. And then secondly, we have to win the turnover battle. We have to be sound with the ball. And if we can have a low to zero turnover affair on offense on Friday, we're gonna put ourselves in a real good spot.”

The Jacks face Alex at 7 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 5, at the Chet.

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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