The No. 23 Bemidji State football team received an unexpected test Saturday from Minnesota State University, Moorhead at Chet Anderson Stadium.
The Beavers trailed at halftime but rallied behind quarterback Lance Rongstad in the second half to defeat the Dragons 35-10 and retain the Battle Axe trophy.
Rongstad passed for a career-best 226 yards and three touchdowns. He also rushed for 86 yards and one touchdown. His touchdown passes went to Matt Gandrud, Brent Kondziolka and Cameron Abram.
“We came out flat in the first half and Moorhead had more energy than we did,” Rongstad said. “But in the second half we were able to throw, our receivers made plays, we executed and played well. It says a lot about our team. We’re not going to quit and we’re not going to stop fighting.”
BSU (6-1, 5-1 NSIC) maintained pace at the top of the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference standings and moved into a tie for first place following Wayne State’s loss to Concordia-St. Paul. The Beavers go on the road for the next two weeks, starting with U-Mary in Bismarck, N.D. next Saturday at 2:30 p.m.
Moorhead (2-5, 1-5 NSIC) bottled up Bemidji State’s potent rushing attack early on to keep the game close. Moorhead’s defense had a fumble recovery in the first quarter and a four-down defensive stand in the last minute of the second quarter.
Rongstad scrambled for a 17-yard touchdown run late in the first quarter for BSU’s only touchdown of the first half.
The Dragons led 10-7 at halftime behind a 24-yard field goal from Wes Kramer in the first quarter and a one yard touchdown run from E’Boni Lucious-West in the second quarter.
“I’m happy with the intensity and toughness we had in the first half,” Moorhead head coach Steve Laqua said. “The second half was a different story and we lacked consistency. That’s been our problem all year. They (Bemidji) have the size and strength to wear you down, and you just reach a breaking point. I think they are the most physical team we’ve played all year.”
The Beavers took control in the third quarter when Rongstad threw two touchdowns: a 24-yard touchdown pass to Matt Gandrud in the middle of the end zone and a four-yard pass to Brent Kondziolka.
The BSU offense gained 166 yards and 11 first downs in the third quarter to take a 21-10 lead.
The Dragon offense was shut down in the second half by the top-ranked scoring defense in the conference. Moorhead managed only seven plays in the third quarter and three first downs in the second half.
Abram put the Beavers ahead 28-10 on a 30-yard strike from Rongstad with 9:29 left to play and Alex Hass scrambled through the middle of the field on a 35-yard touchdown run with 2:04 remaining to close out the win – BSU’s 11th victory in the last 12 meetings against the Dragons.
The Beavers rushed for 328 yards, but it was the 226 passing yards and passing variety BSU head coach Jeff Tesch was most pleased with.
“I think it was good that it happened because we were able to spread out the ball more and do some play-action passing,” Tesch said. “We’re going to be tougher to play against now that teams can’t just try and stop our power game. There’s nothing wrong with facing some adversity and coming back to play a little bit better.”
MSUM 3 7 0 0 – 10
BSU 7 0 14 14 – 35
MSUM- Kramer 24 FG, 3:00.
BSU- Rongstad 17 run (Pulkinen kick), :39.
BSU- Lucious-West 1 run (Kramer kick), 6:43
BSU- Gandrud 24 pass from Rongstad (Pulkinen kick), 7:04.
BSU- Kondziolka 4 pass from Rongstad (Pulkinen kick), :45.
BSU – Abram 30 pass from Rongstad (Pulkinen kick), 9:29.
BSU – Hass 35 run (Pulkinen kick), 2:04.
All photos by Eric Stromgren, Bemidji Pioneer.