BEMIDJI -- Some games have everything but the kitchen sink.
The Section 8-5A championship between Alexandria and the Bemidji High School football team was one of them. But then it threw in the sink, and the countertops, and the cabinets. Oh, and an onside kick for good measure.
When the clock finally struck zero in an impossibly eventful fourth quarter, the scoreboard read Alexandria 43, Bemidji 35. But that told about one-thousandth of the story.
“What I told the boys is that I never questioned their effort tonight,” BHS head coach Bryan Stoffel said. “Their effort was fantastic. I thought they battled their butts off, and put themselves in a great position in the fourth quarter to win the game.
“What happened was we just didn't make enough plays in that fourth quarter at the end of the game to get us past that finish line. We were oh, so close. And just a couple plays here and there put us in a tough spot."
Bemidji built a 35-21 lead in the final period on a Gemini Ellis touchdown run one play after Barrick Nelson picked up a botched punt snap and ran 73 yards to the Cardinals’ 2-yard line. It seemed at that point, with 8:58 remaining in the game, that the Lumberjacks might have clinched the championship.
But, with three touchdowns in the final 2:48, the Alex offense didn’t agree.
Despite being stopped on fourth down on their next possession, the Cardinals forced a Jacks punt and marched down to make it a one-touchdown deficit on Kristen Hoskins’ direct-snap touchdown run from 1 yard out.
Alexandria then attempted an onside kick. BHS couldn’t corral it, and the Cardinals recovered and took over on Bemidji’s 42-yard line.
“It's not over until it's over, and Alexandria proved that today by coming back,” said Ellis, who rushed for 287 yards and three touchdowns.
Alex took full advantage of its fortune, marching down the field in 19 seconds of game clock and tying the game on a Will Heydt touchdown run. The Cardinals decided to go for two and converted, with Hoskins running it in once again to give them a 36-35 lead.
“To be honest, it just hurts,” Ellis said. “We played as hard as we could. But in the end, we just couldn't (pull out the win).”
Here are the full highlights of tonight's crazy section 8-5A title game between @alexmnschools and @BemidjiFB— Chaz Mootz (@ChazMootzTV) November 6, 2021
Multiple lead changes, a muffed punt that went for 73 yards, and 3 TD's in the final 2:48 from Alexandria to punch their ticket to state https://t.co/UY0468OQ62 pic.twitter.com/MZycdTFZHz
Alexandria added a late score after cornerback Teagan Pfeffer intercepted Lumberjacks quarterback Jack Larson deep in Bemidji territory. BHS got the ball back, down by eight points and needing only one score to tie, but a fourth-down interception by Hoskins sealed the outcome, as the Cardinals kneeled out the game and earned the championship win.
Despite the excruciating pain of the loss, Bemidji’s players reflected on how far they had come from a 24-0 loss to Rogers to open the season. Two months later, they were hosting a section championship on home turf.
“Just the team we had, we came together and we started off way down,” senior tight end Gavin Luksik said. “No one expected us to be here. And the team came together, and we knew we had it. And nobody else thought we did, and we came and we proved that. And this is a hell of a team. They did so well. I love every single one of them.”
The Lumberjacks (6-4) also had to recover from setbacks in the first half, including a two-touchdown second quarter that gave Alexandria (6-5) a 21-14 lead. BHS answered with a score right before halftime, then added two more in the third quarter to take the double-digit lead. It just didn’t result in a win on this night.
“That's the thing I told the boys, and that's the hard part about high school football, is that at some point it ends,” Stoffel said. “And tonight just wasn't our night. I thought for sure it was going to be. I was expecting to raise a trophy tonight.
“And I told them that I wish like heck we could have a different result for them, because they've earned it, and they've earned it in the way they've progressed through this year. And I couldn't be more proud of a group of seniors than I am tonight with these guys.”
No. 4 Alexandria 43, No. 3 Bemidji 35
ALX 7 14 0 22 -- 43
BHS 14 6 8 7 -- 35
First quarter -- BHS TD, Ellis 53-yard run (Peterson PAT), 7-0 BHS; ALX TD, Hoskins 13-yard catch from Steffensmeier (Sansted PAT), 7-7; BHS TD, Biehn 21-yard run (Peterson PAT), 14-7 BHS.
Second quarter -- ALX TD, Hoskins 38-yard catch from Steffensmeier (Sansted PAT), 14-14; ALX TD, Heydt 2-yard run (Sansted PAT), 21-14 ALX; BHS TD, Luksik 13-yard catch from Larson (Peterson PAT no good), 21-20 ALX.
Third quarter -- BHS TD, Ellis 62-yard run (2-pt conversion good), 28-21 BHS.
Fourth quarter -- BHS TD, Ellis 2-yard run (Peterson PAT), 35-21 BHS; ALX TD, Hoskins 1-yard run (Sansted PAT), 35-28 BHS; ALX TD, Hoskins 1-yard run (2-pt conversion good), 36-35 ALX; ALX TD, Hoskins 6-yard run (Sansted PAT), 43-35 ALX.