Down 28-14 at halftime after three first-half fumbles, Bemidji piled up 29 second-half points–including 21 unanswered to end the game–and came up with a critical interception in the end zone to escape St. Cloud Tech with a 43-35 victory on Friday night.
The Lumberjacks had won five straight against the Tigers dating back to their last loss in 2017, and the hosts entered Friday night 0-3 for the season and winners of just one of their previous 27 games going back to 2019. But Tech gave its homecoming crowd an immediate jolt of energy by forcing a Bemidji fumble on the opening kickoff, then turning it into a 34-yard running back touchdown pass from Connor Harnes to Jaden Harris.
Bemidji quickly marched down the field on its opening drive, but Dawson Degelder’s fumble inside the red zone after a sweep run turned possession back over to the Tigers once again. Tech mixed a variety of passes with effective edge rushes to briskly move into scoring position, setting up an 8-yard dash to the end zone for Harnes and a sudden 14-0 lead.
Better ball security helped the Jacks polish off another swift drive with a Degelder touchdown run and two-point conversion that pulled Bemidji within 14-8.
Tech again answered on the next possession with a drive that culminated in Jackson Sheetz’s touchdown run from four yards out.
The Lumberjacks had stayed exclusively on the ground after a completed pass from Peyton Neadeau to Owen Frazer on the first play from scrimmage. But after crossing midfield on their next drive, they went to the air again when Neadeau used a pair of fake handoffs to give Braden Luksik the chance to break free in the secondary for a 45-yard touchdown reception.
A missed extra point left Bemidji trailing 21-14, and the deficit almost grew immediately when the Tigers had a kickoff return touchdown wiped off the board due to an illegal block. But with a short field resulting from a portion of the return, Tech capitalized with a short-yardage plunge by quarterback Noah Theis to increase the lead again.
Bemidji looked to be on the brink of pulling back within a score before halftime, but a Degelder fumble inside the 10-yard line on a miscued pitch left the Jacks trailing 28-14 at the break–and with Tech receiving the second-half kickoff.
Hopes of a rally took a further hit during the course of the first half when Frazer–one of Bemidji’s prominent two-way players–exited the game with what was later confirmed as a broken collarbone.
Seeking to find a spark, the Jacks opened the second half with a crafty pop-up kickoff by Spencer Ness that was secured along the sideline to quickly give them possession in Tigers territory.
The recovery paid off a few plays later with a touchdown run from Ephram Boucher–and ensuing two-point run by Degelder–that pulled the Lumberjacks back within six.
Yet again, Tech’s offense could not be contained on the way to a touchdown for running back Batuo Teboh that opened the lead back up to 35-22.
But by now, Bemidji’s rushing attack was punching big holes in the Tigers’ defense through a combination of Boucher’s interior carries and Degelder’s dashes from the slot. It was Boucher who again found the end zone for six on the Jacks’ next drive–and Degelder, astoundingly, made it 3-for-3 on his two-point conversion attempts for the night.
Tech’s first punt of the night gave Bemidji the ball back early in the 4th quarter, and the Jacks took full advantage of the chance to take their first lead. A march into Tigers territory gave Neadeau and Luksik the chance to connect again on just the fifth pass of the night from Bemidji–a 49-yard connection for the lead, though a failed two-point run from Boucher left the advantage at 36-35.
Boucher was on his way to posting a 201-yard performance on the ground, and more bruising running from the junior both chewed clock and set the Lumberjacks up for another chance to score following a Tech punt.
With time ticking down, Degelder polished off his own 127-yard night on the ground by dashing for his second touchdown of the evening. Alec Newby’s extra point pushed the lead to 43-35 with less than two minutes to go.
Despite having just one timeout remaining, St. Cloud Tech used quick passes and a personal foul penalty against Bemidji to move on the brink of the red zone with less than a minute to play. But Theis’ lobbed pass to the end zone was yanked down by Fisher Ganske to secure a wild victory for the Lumberjacks.
Bemidji piled up an incredible 547 yards of offense in the comeback effort, with 397 of them coming on the ground. Neadeau posted 150 passing yards and two touchdowns–both to Luksik–on just 4-of-5 passing.
The Lumberjacks return home with a 2-2 overall mark to host Sartell on Friday at 7pm at Chet Anderson Stadium.
Postgame interview with Bemidji head coach Bryan Stoffel: