BEMIDJI, Minn. (Chet Anderson Stadium) -- Owning a 14-10 lead with just over eight minutes to play, the Bemidji State University defensive unit stood strong on a pair of quarterback keepers to halt a Wayne State College comeback threat and turn the ball over on downs. The Beaver offense responded by converting a fourth-and-12 into an insurance touchdown 2:15 later, solidifying a 21-10 Northern Sun Intercollegiate (NSIC) victory over the No. 14 Wildcats in wintery Northern Minnesota conditions at Chet Anderson Stadium.
Head coach Jeff Tesch and the Beavers came into the contest hoping to keep the ball out of the hands of an offense that entered the game ranked third in the country averaging more than 500 yards per outing.
Game plan achieved.
The Beavers dominated play grinding 44:06 off the clock in the slugfest, while assembling a pair of sustained scoring drives that together eliminated more than a quarter.
Of the Wildcats nine possessions, BSU’s Gang Green defense forced four three-and-outs, while five drives were 1:36 or shorter. Wayne State converted on just 1-of-9 third downs and were 0-for-2 on fourth down tries. In all, WSC managed just 206 yards of total offense, including 150 through the air and a meager 56 on the ground.
“I very, very proud of the way our kids executed our game plan. “We kept a talented offense that has been averaging over 500 yard per game off the field.” Tesch added, “We made plays in third and fourth down short-yardage situations and they didn’t and those were keys to the game for us.”
After a scoreless first quarter, it was Wayne State that struck first on a 34-yard field goal from Nick Hope in the opening moments of the second.
The Beavers bounced back to melt 8:29 off the clock on a 14-play, 63-yard drive to take the lead 7-3. BSU capped the scoring drive off with a 22-yard touchdowns strike from Derek Edholm (Jr., QB, Anoka, Minn.) to Brian Leonhardt (Fr., TE, Blaine, Minn.).
“That was huge. That’s is eight minutes that [the Wildcats] aren’t out there. As you could see, it didn’t take them long to get down the field when they were clicking,” commented Tesch.
The score would remain at 7-3 for the remainder of the half as the teams combined for just 239 yards of total offense thanks to 154 from the Beavers.
Wayne State would record the only score of the third quarter snatching the lead away from the Beavers, 10-7 with just over six minutes left. The Wildcats needed just seven plays and 2:19 to cover 62 yards using a pass interference call to buoy the drive before Silas Fluellen scampered seven yards into the end zone.
The BSU offense would again answer taking the ball on their own 21-yard line on the ensuing kickoff and marching 79 yards over the next 7:35 to regain the lead 14-10. It would never trail again.
After a three-and-out by each team, WSC took the ball on their own 19 and advanced it to the 44, but the Bemidji State defense would bend no more, turning the ball over on downs after a pair of impressive short-yardage stands.
With the ball, the lead and just over eight minutes to play, the BSU offensive unit again went to work grinding out 10 plays, with none reaching beyond five yards until Edholm connected with sophomore Jody Henningson (WR, Aurora, Ill.) on a fourth-and-12 from the WSC 23 yard line, for his second touchdown throw of the game and the second in as many weeks for Henningson.
The 21-10 advantage with 2:09 remaining signaled a NSIC victory over a nationally-ranked opponent for the second time this season.
The Beavers were led offensively by Dustin Kroeplin (Fr., RB, Withee, Wis.) who rushed for 100 yards on 28 carries with a touchdown. Edholm finished 8-of-15 for 116 yards with two TDs and an interception. Leonhardt led the team with three receptions for 36 yards and a score.
Defensively, Tiger Ellison (Sr., CB, Columbus, Ohio) returned to action after sitting out four weeks with an arm injury to lead the team in tackles with nine (five solo). Brody Scheff (So., S, Waconia, Minn.) added five (three solo), while Rob Wills (Jr., DE, Roseville, Minn.) and Jake Anderson (Sr., LB, Karlstad, Minn.) each totaled four stops an shared a sack.
The 5-2 Beavers, who are now 4-2 in NSIC competition, hit the road next weekend to clash with NSIC North foe University of Minnesota, Crookston. Kickoff is set for 1:00 p.m. at Ed Widseth Field in Crooskton, Minn.