UPDATED FOOTBALL: St. Thomas Academy proves too much for Jacks in 5A semis
MINNEAPOLIS -- Brendan McFadden and the St. Thomas Academy Cadets were too much for the Bemidji High School football team in the Class 5A state semifinals on Saturday, as the senior running back finished with 211 yards and three touchdowns on 26 carries on the way to a 33-21 Cadets win at U.S. Bank Stadium.
The Lumberjacks finish the season with a 10-2 record, while St. Thomas advances to face the defending state champions from Owatonna (12-0) at 4 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 24, for the championship at U.S. Bank Stadium.
“They took us out of our game plan,” BHS head coach Troy Hendricks said. “Defensively, they did a really nice job of stopping what we do well. We didn’t underestimate their defense, but their defense was really good. We drew up what we thought would work, and whether it be execution or whether it be scheme, it just wasn’t working for us and we weren’t able to run the football. We have to be able to run the football to be successful, and that’s what they took away.”
After the Lumberjacks’ game-opening drive ended with a Jacob Beberg interception to STA’s Stephen Betts, the Cadets used Brendan McFadden on the ground to march 56 yards before Bemidji halted them in the red zone to force a 29-yard John Copeland field goal.
The teams exchanged punts on the following pair of drives, and Bemidji took over on its own five yard line. On second-and-seven, Beberg couldn’t escape the Cadets’ pass rush and was sacked in the end zone for a safety.
“As the game went on, they just found a way to take out our star players,” senior running back Caleb Grant said. They were keying in on that. Looking at formations and stuff like that, you can really tell they studied their film.
Down 5-0, Bemidji gained the momentum all at once when Isaiah Rintala stripped McFadden of the ball and recovered for the Jacks at the STA 29 yard line.
Seven plays later -- including a fourth-down conversion to James Williams through the air -- a scrambling Beberg hit Kade Peterson for a 13-yard strike and a 7-5 Bemidji lead after the extra point.
The Cadets’ next series started on their own 34, but Bemidji stuffed their attack to force another punt. On fourth-and-six, Bemidji broke through to sack the punter and regained possession at the STA 25.
A missed pitch between Beberg and Williams on fourth down turned the ball back over to St. Thomas late in the half, and the Cadets marched 77 yards for a one-yard McFadden touchdown on fourth-and-goal.
After McFadden ran in the two-point conversion, STA led 13-7 with 39 seconds left in the first half, where it stayed until the intermission.
McFadden kept the scoring going in the third quarter by breaking through for two long touchdown rushes, one for 32 yards and one for 71 yards for a 26-7 lead going into the fourth quarter.
“You’ve got to create some momentum on offense in order to give your defense that hope, so some of those yards came towards the end when we’re trying to force the issue and create something and they’re able to create big plays with that kid,” Hendricks said. “He’s a special kid. He’s a really good football player, and you give him the rock enough times and we give him enough opportunities, good things are going to happen to them.”
Early in the final stanza, the Cadets stretched the difference to 33-7 with a perfect pass from quarterback Joe Fafinski to Joe Deyak for a 57-yard score.
Bemidji Grant broke free for a 12-yard touchdown rush with 3:07 left and Zak Justice caught a 17-yard touchdown pass from Beberg to cut the deficit to 33-21 just inside a minute to go.
Colton Jensen recovered Beberg’s onside kick attempt for a final Bemidji drive, but the Lumberjacks ran out of time to mount a comeback and fell, 33-21.
The Cadets outgained the Jacks, 453-290, with Bemidji compiling 98 rushing yards and 192 passing yards.
Grant carried 17 times for 81 yards and a touchdown on the ground, while Beberg was 11-for-28 through the air for 158 yards and two touchdowns.
Peterson and Bieberdorf led the receiving corps with three catches each for 73 and 33 yards, respectively.
On reaching the state semifinals on the heels of a 4-6 finish last fall, Bieberdorf said, “It’s really huge for us.
“Coming out of my sophomore year, we went 1-8, and just being able to get here is just proving to our guys that if you work hard, you can get here. It doesn’t take a special team. It takes just a hard-working team. If you work hard, you can get here.”
The Lumberjacks graduate 18 seniors from this team in the spring.
“I’m just really proud of these kids, and I’m always proud of my coaching staff,” Hendricks said. “They’re the hardest-working bunch of guys that I’ve ever been around. These kids have had belief and they’ve had a love for each other like no other team that I’ve had, so it’s going to be tough to replace those 18 seniors. We’ve got a lot of wonderful kids coming back, but I’m going to miss those 18 kids. They put their stamp on this program. I’m just extremely proud right now.”