BEMIDJI -- A brand new season was anything but state of the art for the Bemidji High School football team.
The Lumberjacks struggled to muster much of an offense Friday night at Chet Anderson Stadium, falling 17-7 to Andover in a lackluster start to the year.
“We made too many mistakes to win a game against a solid opponent,” first-year BHS head coach Bryan Stoffel said. “That’s what it comes down to. We put ourselves, offensively, in second-and-longs and third-and-longs, which seemed to be all night. Running an offense out of those situations is going to be tough for us.”
The night will be remembered as a penalty-packed, fumble-filled affair with neither side taking full advantage of its opportunities. Both teams trudged through some early season rust, yet the Bemidji defense did all it could to keep the game within reach.
“I thought the defense played extremely well. That was a really nice bright spot,” Stoffel said. “We put them in some bad spots quite a bit, and I thought they rallied around that and battled. That’s a really good offense that they held in check, especially considering the field position all night.”
Despite the struggles on offense, the Jacks (0-1) opened with a bang.
On Bemidji’s second drive of the game, Matt Arel burned the defense for the season’s first score. The senior wideout reeled in a soft Brett Tharaldson pass on fourth-and-3 for a 28-yard touchdown.
“The first drive, it shows what we’re capable of when we execute. That was right down the field and score,” Stoffel said. “That’s the positive. When we execute our offense and we’re able to move the ball, we’re going to be productive.”
In the second quarter, Andover answered through Caden Wheeler’s 6-yard touchdown rush and Ethan Gallipo’s 20-yard field goal as time expired in the half. But the BHS defense limited the damage by recovering a fumbled snap after the Huskies got down to the 7 to start the second quarter, plus the late stand to force a kick at the end of the quarter.
Just 23 seconds into the third, Caden Bolte punched a ball loose, and Grant DeClusin recovered to give Bemidji possession on the Andover 24. The Lumberjacks marched as deep as the 2, but a big loss and a holding penalty pushed DeClusin into a 28-yard field goal attempt, which went wide left.
The Huskies built a two-score lead late in the third frame. After Tharaldson fumbled on an option handoff, Andover recovered and capped a short, 20-yard drive with Sam Musungu’s catch, juke and dash to the pylon for a 13-yard touchdown.
The deficit ballooned to 17-7 on BHS, but Bemidji had a final chance to mount a two-score comeback in the fourth. Any momentum fizzled out in the red zone, though, as a fourth-and-3 pitch to the outside was quickly bottled up for a loss.
Time dwindled down as the Huskies nursed the 10-point lead, and a final goal-line stand from the Andover defense put the game to bed.
“What ended up happening is a series of mistakes,” Stoffel said of the offensive woes. “It wasn’t just one person. It was one person here, one person there. When we fix those things, we’re going to be a solid offense.”
The defeat is the first season-opening loss for the Lumberjacks since 2016.
Bemidji will next host Sartell-St. Stephen at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 16, back at Chet Anderson Stadium for a shot at redemption.
“We’re going to watch the film. We’re going to learn from the film. And then we’re going to move onto the next game,” Stoffel said. “It’s a shortened season, we don’t have time to dwell on this one. But there are a lot of lessons for us to learn. Then we’ll apply those moving forward.”
Andover 17, Bemidji 7
AND 0 10 7 0 -- 17
BHS 7 0 0 0 -- 7
First quarter -- BHS TD, Arel 28-yard catch from Tharaldson (DeClusin PAT), 7-0 BHS.
Second quarter -- AND TD, Wheeler 6-yard rush (Gallipo PAT), 7-7; AND FG, Gallipo 20-yard kick, 10-7 AND.
Third quarter -- AND TD, Musungu 13-yard catch from Develice (Gallipo PAT), 17-7 AND.
Fourth quarter -- No scoring.