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FOOTBALL: Jacks prep for section title rematch as Alexandria comes to town

The last time the Bemidji High School football team faced Alexandria, the contest didn’t quite end the way the Lumberjacks wanted.

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Bemidji junior Barrick Nelson (42) makes a 73-yard run after a botched punt snap in the second half against Alexandria in the Section 8-5A championship on Friday, Nov. 5, 2021, at Chet Anderson Stadium. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)
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BEMIDJI – The last time the Bemidji High School football team faced Alexandria, the contest didn’t quite end the way the Lumberjacks wanted.

In last year’s Section 8-5A championship game at Chet Anderson Stadium, BHS built a two-touchdown lead over Alex in the fourth quarter and looked primed for its first section title since 2018. But the Cardinals pecked away at the advantage, eventually taking the lead late in the period with three consecutive TDs and holding on to claim the section crown.

This Friday night, the Jacks get another crack at Alexandria back at the Chet.

“(Head coach Bryan Stoffel) said, ‘We were this close,’” senior running back/wide receiver Ethan Biehn recalled during fall camp. “And he said, ‘Even being this close, you need a little more.’ (Last year) just proves how much you need to win a section title.”

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Bemidji junior Ethan Biehn (2) runs for a touchdown in the first half against Alexandria in the Section 8-5A championship on Friday, Nov. 5, 2021, at Chet Anderson Stadium. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

Bemidji brought a lot to the table for last season’s section championship, but no one brought more than Gemini Ellis. The now-graduated running back rushed for 287 yards and three touchdowns against the Cards, setting the tone for the Lumberjacks as a whole.

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Returning linebacker/punter Barrick Nelson had a standout play as well, picking up a dropped punt snap and running 73 yards down the field to set up a BHS touchdown. He’s back this season to anchor the Jacks’ defense, and he has his mind set on purging the bitter taste of last year’s defeat.

“That motivates me a lot, because at the beginning of last year, no one expected us to probably even reach the section title (game),” Nelson said. “And then achieving that goal last year – getting there and just falling that short to it, it kind of sucked. But this year, it motivates us to keep on going and make it this year.”

Bemidji (0-1) will not have Ellis eligible for this season’s matchup, but Alexandria (0-1) will be missing dynamic receiver Kristen Hoskins, who carved up the Lumberjacks in both meetings last year. He suits up for the University of Minnesota now, but facing the Cardinals still won’t be a walk in the park for the BHS defense.

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Bemidji quarterback Jack Larson (10) hands off the ball to Gemini Ellis (1) in the first half against Alexandria in the Section 8-5A championship on Friday, Nov. 5, 2021, at Chet Anderson Stadium. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

“Alexandria is a solid program,” Stoffel said. “It's nice to have a home game. So we should have hopefully good weather and great fans and a great atmosphere. (Personnel-wise), Alexandria is kind of in the same boat we are in as far as replacing quite a few kids from last year's team.”

The Jacks struggled to generate consistent production on the ground last Thursday in their 40-12, season-opening loss against Rogers. Biehn had a long scamper for Bemidji’s best run of the game, but the second-best rush – a solid scramble by new starting quarterback Peyton Neadeau – was called back after a penalty.

The Lumberjacks’ passing attack showed signs of promise, though. Senior Quinten Yeung broke open over the middle for a 20-yard touchdown catch from Neadeau, who looked comfortable slinging the ball downfield. The next step will be translating those sparks into a complete game that leads to victory.

“It's learning opportunities both ways,” Stoffel said of the team’s performance against the Royals. “It shows what we can do well, and what we need to do better in order (surpass that).”

The Jacks face the Cardinals at 7 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 9, at the Chet.

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Bemidji junior quarterback Peyton Neadeau (16) eludes the Rogers rush on Thursday, Sept. 1, 2022, at Rogers High School.
Christian Babcock / Bemidji Pioneer

Related Topics: BEMIDJI LUMBERJACKSFOOTBALL
Christian Babcock is a sports reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer. He trekked to Bemidji from his hometown of Campbell, Calif., after graduating from the Cronkite School at Arizona State University in 2021. Follow him on Twitter at @CB_Journalist for updates on the Lumberjacks and Beavers or to suggest your favorite local restaurant.
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