Backed by four takeaways on defense and the largest offensive yardage output of the season to date, Bemidji football secured Babe’s Bell for a fourth year out of four with a 19-6 triumph over Brainerd on Homecoming Friday at Chet Anderson Stadium.
Both offenses toiled in moving the football on the game’s initial drives, with Bemidji rotating quarterbacks Jack Larson and Hunter Brodina on a drive-by-drive basis and Brainerd quarterback Marcello Getty missing on several deep plays in the passing game. Late in the first quarter, the Lumberjacks secured the game’s first takeaway following a lengthy discussion regarding a dropped pass from Getty to running back Nate Staehling that appeared to go backward. The play was ultimately deemed a fumble recovered by Seth Newby, halting a promising drive for the Warriors that was in Bemidji territory.
The Lumberjacks bridged the first and second quarters with a lengthy drive following the turnover, setting up an eventual 25-yard field goal from Tavin Peterson that split the uprights to put the trophy’s holders in front.
A special teams error presented yet another opportunity later in the first half for Bemidji when a high snap eluded Staehling on a punt attempt. His recovery of the fumble came all the way back at the Brainerd 5-yard line.
On the ensuing play, Larson helmed the Bemidji offense and snuck an option keeper into the end zone from five yards away to extend the lead.
The unsportsmanlike conduct penalty from the touchdown proved costly, as a backed up kickoff for the Lumberjacks turned into Brainerd starting with the ball in Bemidji territory after a decent return. Helped by a 39-yard, 3rd-down connection from Getty to Hoelz, the Warriors found the end zone with less than a minute left in the half on a one-yard run by Staehling.
Bemidji blocked the extra point to reach the locker room with a 10-6 lead and the prospect of receiving the second half kickoff. But after an unsuccessful three plays to begin the third quarter, Bemidji faced an early punt–one that nearly turned into disaster on a low snap to punter Barrick Nelson.
In what would become a crucial play, Nelson bailed out on attempting the punt in favor of scrambling toward the left boundary and picked up five yards to secure a first down for the Lumberjacks.
Buoyed by the unexpected new set of downs, the Lumberjacks got another significant lift on the following play thanks to Gemini Ellis’ 65-yard touchdown dash.
A missed extra point left Bemidji ahead 16-6, but the defense came up with another takeaway on the next Brainerd series when Caden Bolte hauled in an underthrown deep shot by Getty for his second interception of the season.
Bemidji’s next drive again stalled inside the 10-yard line, but Peterson clanged a 23-yard field goal off the right upright and in to stretch the lead to 19-6.
Further offensive sputters in the fourth quarter–including adding to a total of four turnovers on downs in the game–left the outcome still in the balance, but Bemidji’s defense continued its second-half shutout effort with several more big plays. Bolte jumped a route in the slot to again intercept Getty and hand the offense good field position.
Getty connected with Klang on a third-and-long throw to save a late drive for the Warriors deep in their own end of the field before airing out a 65-yard completion to Hoelz that needed a touchdown-saving tackle from Logan Willard. The Lumberjacks still dug in for a stop in the red zone, capped by a sack on 4th down by Gavin Luksik.
Brainerd’s desperation on its final offensive series of the game led to another turnover on a dropped lateral following a completion.
Ellis carried 25 times for 155 yards and the touchdown and–along with 50 yards on seven carries by Ethan Biehn–highlighted a Bemidji rushing attack that ran 56 times for 272 yards among eight different ball carriers. The Lumberjacks gained a total of 329 yards on offense.
Brainerd mustered 210 yards of offense–80 of which came on the back-to-back passing plays to Klang and Hoelz–with Bemidji securing two interceptions and two fumble recoveries on defense.
The Lumberjacks have now won Babe’s Bell in all four contests for the trophy since its creation for the longtime rivals prior to the 2018 season. Bemidji has also captured the last six total meetings with Brainerd including postseason games.
Bemidji (1-2) will next travel to Sauk Rapids-Rice on Oct. 1 for a 7pm game.
Postgame with Bemidji head coach Bryan Stoffel:
Postgame with Bemidji defensive back Caden Bolte: