The woe and misfortune the Bemidji State football team experienced over the last two weeks turned around on a single play late in the first quarter Saturday afternoon at Chet Anderson Stadium.
When St. Cloud State running back Michael Walker leaped over a pile at the 1-yard line, BSU senior safety Brody Scheff closed in and ripped the ball out of his outstretched hands before he could reach for the touchdown.
The turnover saved points that proved valuable in Bemidji State’s 19-14 win over No. 6 ranked St. Cloud State in the final home game of the season.
“I just reached out and said ‘no,’” Scheff said. “That gave us some momentum. We knew they were probably going to drive on us because they are very good team, but that gave us some confidence. We overcame injuries and played with all kinds of heart today. This is the biggest team win I’ve ever been a part of.”
BSU regained its form from the first half of the season when it was ranked as high as No. 20 in the national poll before losing road games to unranked U-Mary and Northern State the last two weekends. The Beavers improved to 7-3 (6-3 NSIC), kept its slim NCAA Tournament hopes alive and remained in contention for the Mineral Water Bowl. BSU ends the regular season next Saturday at Minnesota-Crookston at 1 p.m.
“We’re still alive and have something to play for,” said BSU running back Dustin Kroeplin, who rushed for 32 yards and a touchdown. “We have our teammates to play for, our seniors to play for and our university to play for. We came in knowing we could do more and we expected to be great.”
The Beavers were able to stop St. Cloud State’s (8-2, 7-2 NSIC) winning streak at six games with a power running game and a stout pass defense on a clear day where winds gusted up to 30 miles per hour.
BSU rushed for 183 total yards, led by quarterback Lance Rongstad’s team-high 69 yards and one touchdown. Senior Brandon Miles rushed 12 times for 60 yards.
Rongstad was efficient through the air and completed 15-of-23 passes for 126 yards and a touchdown to tight end Brian Leonhardt.
St. Cloud State quarterback Phillip Klaphake, leader of the NSIC’s top scoring offense, passed for 182 yards and rushed for 83 yards. He threw his only interception in the first quarter, struggled in the second half and finished the day 14-of-30 passing.
“Bemidji executed on offense, defense and special teams better than we did,” SCSU head coach Scott Underwood said. “They made the first downs. They made the catches. They did the things we couldn’t do. We knew they were going to be physical and play hard.”
St. Cloud State running back Brandon Geiss scored on a 4-yard touchdown run to cap the Huskies first possession of the game. It gave SCSU a 7-0 lead with 9:03 left in the quarter and the Huskies were not able to score again until the final minutes of the game.
BSU linebacker Cory Crosby intercepted Klaphake to stop SCSU’s next drive at midfield and the Beavers converted the turnover to points when Rongstad scrambled for an 8-yard touchdown run through the middle of the field with 3:05 left in the quarter. It was BSU’s first touchdown since the fourth quarter of the 49-21 loss to U-Mary two weeks ago.
Kicker Zach Pulkinen’s extra point attempt missed and the Beavers trailed 7-6.
When it looked like the game was about to slip through BSU’s fingers for the third straight week, Scheff robbed Walker for what turned out to be the biggest stop of the game.
“Defensively we made them have to earn it today and that goal line stand was huge for us,” Bemidji State head coach Jeff Tesch said.
Rongstad connected with Leonhardt on a 7-yard touchdown pass in the middle of the end zone with 41 seconds left in the second quarter to cap a 13-play, 70 yard drive. The Beavers were unable to score on the ensuing two-point conversion and carried a 12-7 lead into halftime.
Kroeplin put BSU ahead 19-7 on a 1-yard touchdown run with six seconds left in the third quarter.
St. Cloud State moved the ball on the Beavers in the second half but could not get a touchdown until the fourth quarter when Klaphake hit Damon Treat for a 21-yard strike with 1:27 to play.
With no timeouts left, the Huskies last hope was an onside kick and BSU wide receiver Matt Gandrud leaped to secure the ball as he was driven hard into the turf.
“The second half was a slugging match and at the end I was proud of our guys,” Tesch said. “I thought we were able to control the line in the fourth quarter and we were able to get pressure. We wanted to show how we are a better team than we were the last few weeks.”
Making Bemidji State’s improbable win even more surprising was the extensive amount of injuries the team was dealing with.
“I didn’t know whether to give credit to the good Lord or our trainers,” Tesch said. “We didn’t even know if we were going to be able to have a full group of guys. It was a taped up group today.”
Defensive linemen J.J. Reinke was lost this week for the season to shoulder surgery as was Dan Kiebler to a broken leg suffered during the Northern State loss.
Playing with what Tesch described as a ‘ballooned up’ knee, Crosby had 12 tackles and was second only to Scheff’s 19 tackles.
The hardest hit part of the team was the offensive line. Center Cory Immerman was out and replaced by Steve Pappas. Starting right tackle Davis Mickelson was out and replaced by Alonzo Melton. Starting left guard Brett DeLange suffered a severe finger injury last week against Northern State and was not cleared to play until Saturday.
Jordan Anderson’s ankle rolled twice in recent practices and Tesch said he probably should not have played at right guard.
“We executed and believed we could do it,” said Anderson, a senior captain. “You just have to fight through the pain sometimes but I’m not going to act like some hero because I’m not. We seniors knew this was going to be the last game at the Chesterdome and we had the support of everyone. Brody’s stop was huge and right then we just knew things were going to go our way today.”
SCSU 7 0 0 7 – 14
BSU 6 6 7 0 – 19
SCSU- Geiss 4 run (Aldridge kick), 9:03.
BSU- Rongstad 8 run (Pulkinen kick missed), 3:05.
BSU- Leonhardt 7 pass from Rongstad (Rongstad pass failed), :41.
BSU- Kroeplin 1 run (Pulkinen kick), :06.
SCSU- Kaphake 21 pass to Treat (Aldridge kick), 1:27.
All Photos by Eric Stromgren.