BEMIDJI -- There’s never a dull moment when Bemidji State and Minnesota Duluth square off on the football field.
Their last three meetings have featured an overtime thriller, a blizzard and a 101-point barnburner. But what those Highway 2 rivalry games lack is what has continued to evade the Beavers for the last two decades against the Bulldogs: a win.
“Some of those years, I felt like we had better teams,” BSU head coach Brent Bolte said, reflecting on the last three years. “Especially the year we got caught in the blizzard. But on a piece of paper, you can throw that all away. It’s just going to come down to execution and who can hang on to the ball.”
UMD has won 17 straight games in the series, with BSU’s last win coming in 1999. The Beavers know they haven’t held up their end of things in the rivalry, but they hope to change that with Saturday's 4 p.m. contest at Chet Anderson Stadium.
“There hasn’t been a (rivalry) series at all. We haven’t won,” sophomore running back Jalen Frye said. “So getting that W on the board and keeping it that way for years going on, that’s our motivation. We know that we have a good chance to beat them. It’s just doing our job at the end of the day.”
Both teams sit atop the NSIC North Division standings with unblemished 3-0 records. Though it’s still early in the season, the result of today’s game will go a long way toward deciding who takes the division crown. UMD has claimed at least a share of the division title in all 11 seasons since divisional play began.
The Bulldogs enter the weekend ranked No. 13 in the latest AFCA Coaches Poll. So far this season they’ve rattled off wins over Minot State (52-7), Minnesota State Moorhead (48-20) and St. Cloud State (20-14) to extend their NSIC winning streak to 23 straight games, stretching back to Sept. 16, 2017.
The “Gang Green” defense, ranked first in the NSIC and tied for third in the country in scoring defense by allowing just eight points per game, will go head-to-head with the conference’s top scoring offense. Led by third-year starting quarterback John Larson, Minnesota Duluth boasts the NSIC’s top scoring offense at 40 points per game.
“It’s the same as every year. It’s just like Groundhog Day when you go against them,” Bolte said. “They’re really aggressive on defense, they’re well coached. They’re always good on the front seven. I think their safeties are really, really good. … And then offensively, they’ve just got a great quarterback.”
“Their quarterback is their playmaker,” senior defensive end Alex Hoffman said. “We just have to keep him in the pocket. He’s kind of a little magician back there. He’s a good scrambler.”
The run game has come on strong for the Beavers, especially in last week’s 27-10 win at Minnesota Crookston. Quarterback Jared Henning rushed for 135 yards in muddy conditions, while Frye added 108 yards.
Bemidji State won’t have to worry about the mud at the Chet this week. If the Beavers can generate as much offense on the turf today, they’ll stand a good chance at ending their 20-year drought against UMD.
“To be part of the first win would be exciting for me,” Frye said of ending the streak. “Of course, I look to have a big game. But I also want to do my role. I have to do what I have to do to get the win. Because at the end of the day, we want to be 4-0, we want to win the North and we want to go to the playoffs. Doing that starts with them.”