BEMIDJI, Minn. (Chet Anderson Stadium) -- For the second consecutive week, the Bemidji State University football team took a lead over a nationally-ranked opponent into the final minutes of a game. Today, the Beavers' defensive unit stood strong to hold off a late Winona State University comeback attempt and escape with a 24-19 over the No. 20 Warriors in Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference play at Chet Anderson Stadium.
Memories of comeback just seven days earlier surly kept into the minds of the BSU coaching staff and team late in the fourth quarter.
Owning a 24-19 lead with just over five minutes to play, the Beavers were in position to run down the clock and put the game out of the reach. Instead, the Winona State defense forced BSU to punt after just three plays and 1:11. A 35-yard punt put the Warriors on their own 48 yard line to begin the possession. After 16 yards on the ground and a key 15-yard pass to Mark Jundt on a third-and-10, WSU marched to the Beavers' 21. Winona State quarterback Greg Preston had two incompletions setting up a fourth-and-six with the clock hovering around two minutes. Preston flung a pass over the BSU defense that was tipped and caught in the end zone by Drew Alexander, but the play was nullified due to an ineligible receiver down field and the Warriors would not complete the fourth-and-11 pass play and would turn the ball over on downs.
The Beavers finished the game trailing the Warriors 265-278 in total yardage, piling up 145 yards on the ground with two touchdowns while passing for 120 and an additional score. Bemidji State monopolized the ball early and dominated Winona State in time of possession 36:06-23:54.
Lance Rongstad (Fr., QB, Eleva, Wis.) led the Beavers' balance rushing attack with 71 yards on 11 carries as a change-of-pace reserve at quarterback. Dustin Kroeplin (Fr., RB, Withee, Wis.) added 55 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries and Derek Edholm (Jr., QB, Anoka, Minn.) added a touchdown run and 13 rushing yards on 15 attempts.
Edholm, one of the NSIC's most accurate passers, continued on his torrid pace completing 12-of-19 passes (63-percent), while connecting with Andrew Schultz (Jr., WR, Grand Forks, N.D.) for the Beavers' only touchdown reception of the day. Justin Lee (Fr., WR, Burlington, Ill.) led all BSU receivers with three catches for 32 yards.
The Beavers scored first in the game, assembling a 17-play, 58-yard drive that ate up 8:21 and was capped by a 31-yard field goal by Jesse Sundby (So., K/P, Argyle, Minn.).
Winona State bounced right back to take a 7-3 lead just 2:34 later, needing just five plays which included a 26-yard touchdown strike from Preston to Drew Alexander.
Bemidji State regained the lead with just over three minutes to go in the second quarter when Kroeplin took an option pitch around the right side virtually untouched from one yard out on a fourth-and-goal attempt to put the Beavers in front 10-7. The touchdown plunge capped a sustained drive stretching 51 yards and 8:16.
The lead would last just 2:14 as WSU would march 71 yards down the field on the strength of a pair of passing plays that reached beyond 20 yards. Cullen Fahey hauled a 25-yard pass to put the Warriors up 13-10.
The first half would end with the Warriors holding the three-point advantage despite tailing the Beavers 21:20-8:40 in time of possession.
As the second half got underway, the Warriors found their way down to the BSU two yard line, but penalty and a sack by George Percak-Dennett (So., LB, Wasilla, Alaska) and Rob Wills (Jr., DE, Roseville, Minn.) buried WSU in a fourth-and-goal situation from the 16 and WSU missed a field goal.
BSU converted the turnover on downs to seven points and the lead. Edholm engineered an 80 yard drive during which he was three-for-three for 26 yards passing, while running for 18 yards, which included a nine-yard touchdown scamper to put the Beavers up 17-13 with 2:13 to go in the third.
During the Warriors' next possession, the Gang Green defense made a stand that may have won the game for BSU. Jake Anderson (Sr., LB, Karlstad, Minn.) and Andrew Eagan (Jr., LB, Sauk Village, Ill.) combined to hold WSU for no game on first down, after a four-yard gain on second down, Anderson and Wills got to the quarterback to record a sack for a loss of seven yards on third down. The Warriors elected to punt on fourth, but Cory Crosby (Fr., LB, Cold Spring, Minn.) blocked the punt and the Beavers recovered on WSU's 38 yard line. Five plays later, Edholm would connect with Schultz to build a 24-13 lead.
Then the comeback began.
On their second possession of the fourth quarter, WSU scored from one yard out on a Rayon Simmons plunge. The touchdown was made possible by a 41-yard pass from Preston to Derrick Engel on fourth-and-two earlier in the drive.
Winona State would go on to threaten on their next possession, but fell short as the Beavers picked up their first victory over a nationally-ranked opponent since it defeated the same (18) Winona State team, 28-7, Oct. 21, 2006.
The victory lifts BSU to 2-1 overall and evens its record to 1-1 in NSIC play. Winona State falls to 2-1 overall and 1-1 in the NSIC.
Bemidji State will be back in action Sept. 19 when it hosts Minnesota State University, Moorhead in the Battle for the Axe. The Beavers will attempt to not only win their seventh consecutive home contest, they also sets out to regain possession of the Battle Axe--NCAA Division II's second oldest traveling trophy after losing it to the Dragons last season. The game is set for 1:00 p.m. at Chet Anderson Stadium.