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FOOTBALL: Now healthy, Brandon Alt leading Bemidji State attack into Minnesota Duluth

“I’ve loved the game of football my whole life. Knowing that the love is getting taken away from you each year, it hurt,” said Bemidji State quarterback Brandon Alt. “… It’s a pretty amazing feeling (to be back), but the job’s really not finished.”

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Bemidji State quarterback Brandon Alt (10) is finally healthy, and his successful season this fall has been a long-awaited payoff after four years on the sidelines. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

BEMIDJI -- Brandon Alt redshirted. Then he tore his ACL. And then he tore it again. And then COVID-19 hit.

As he largely sat on the sidelines for four grueling years, the Bemidji State football team’s heralded quarterback never had a chance to lead the Beavers.

“I thank God for the team having my back through it all,” Alt said. “But it was hard. It was hard. Being able to lean on the guys and help me get through it, that’s what helped.”

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Bemidji State quarterback Brandon Alt (10) throws a pass in the first half against Augustana on Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021, at Chet Anderson Stadium. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

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The Cottage Grove native did appear in three games between 2018 and 2019, teasing huge upside with 540 passing yards, 10 touchdowns and no interceptions. But season-ending injuries benched him in early September each year.

“I’ve loved the game of football my whole life. Knowing that the love is getting taken away from you each year, it hurt,” Alt said. “But football was still in my future, that was the hope. That’s what drove me every day. … It’s a pretty amazing feeling (to be back), but the job’s really not finished.”

This fall, Alt is now through seven games with hardly a scratch on him. He led his first career game-winning drive in the fourth quarter when BSU defeated Minnesota State Moorhead 22-19 last week . But the biggest test of the season is next.

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The Beavers celebrate after defeating Minnesota State Moorhead 22-19 on Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, at Chet Anderson Stadium. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

Bemidji State meets No. 16 Minnesota Duluth at 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 23, in Duluth. Not only will the Beavers try to break a current seven-game losing streak against ranked opponents, they’re trying to buck an 18-game skid against the Bulldogs.

To put the challenge in even greater perspective, BSU’s one and only win in Duluth came during World War II.

“It’s definitely a trend that we don’t like to see,” Alt said. “It’s always come down to this game, really, for who wins the North (Division). It’s hard to not look at it that way, but we know, deep down, that’s what it is.”

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Bemidji State (5-2) and UMD (6-1) are currently tied atop the NSIC North standings at 3-0. Minnesota Duluth hasn’t lost a division game since 2015, when it shared the North title with the Beavers. More often than not, it’s lately been the Bulldogs who deliver the final blow to BSU’s championship hopes.

“We’ve had a lot of good games,” Bemidji State head coach Brent Bolte said. “Yeah, we haven’t gotten them in the win column, but we’ve had opportunities. Just like we’ve had opportunities against Mankato, Sioux Falls, Augie. We’ve found a way to beat those teams. Now we just have to find a way to beat Duluth.”

Back-to-back comebacks

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Bemidji State quarterback Brandon Alt (10) passes the ball in the first half against Minot State on Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021, at Chet Anderson Stadium. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

Alt tore his right ACL for the first time on Sept. 8, 2018, during a non-contact play against U-Mary. He did it again 362 days later against Northern State.

The damage was worse the second time around, Alt said, and he had surgery to repair the ligament.

Understandably, doubt began to creep in as he endured the same rehab process and worked to make a second comeback. Throw in a global pandemic that axed the entire 2020 season, and Alt had to endure two full years before he returned to the field.

Once he did, though, he didn’t need long to settle in.

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“I knew I was really ready to go out and perform,” Alt said. “After that first game, how healthy I was, I just knew I was ready to go this year. Thank God for keeping me safe and healthy. I’m very excited that the hard work is starting to pay off.”

Paying off indeed.

Alt currently ranks fourth in Division II with 2,271 passing yards, and his 22 passing touchdowns have him tied for sixth in the nation. He does have nine interceptions that need cleaning up, but his passing prowess has given BSU a spark it’s lacked without No. 10 on the field.

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The Beavers run onto the field for their first home football game in 679 days on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021, at Chet Anderson Stadium. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

“We’ve known about him a long time,” Bolte said. “He’s probably the oldest sophomore in the country. He’s a good player, we’ve always known it. He’s just had some issues with health. It’s fun to see him healthy and able to rip the ball around.

“He’s had a long journey to get to that point. You just feel happy for the kid. You can’t help but be happy for him.”

The healthy version of Brandon Alt is on pace to break the program’s single-season passing yards record (3,007) and passing touchdowns record (31), both set by Jordan Hein in 2016. It’s the same upside Alt flashed years ago, only now he’s able to consistently prove it.

“I just have fun putting on my cleats,” he said. “It’s a blessing. It really is. I am grateful to be where I’m at, obviously, and just having a blast.”

The fun will really kick into high gear on Saturday if the Beavers win in Duluth for the first time since 1941. A nearly unprecedented victory of that kind would give BSU the inside track to the division title -- and perhaps even a postseason berth.

Alt may have downplayed the matchup a bit, but he also recognized what this season can become.

“We don’t really look at games as how big they are, we just go out and go play,” Alt said. “This is a special group of guys that we know is very talented. If we lock in and get serious about it, we’ll go win a bunch of games.”

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