Bemidji blanked Sartell 28-0 in the second half after trailing by a point at halftime, eventually pulling away for a 41-14 victory in Friday’s Homecoming game at Chet Anderson Stadium.
The game marked a second straight week where the Lumberjacks squared off with a winless Section 8AAAAA opponent, and its first half shared the discomfort encountered early a week ago against St. Cloud Tech. A turnover on downs ended Sartell’s time-consuming opening drive, but a three-and-out by the Jacks quickly handed the initiative back to the Sabres.
Running back Will Mathiasen was then able to pick his way through a hole and rumble for a 61-yard burst that set Sartell up deep in Bemidji territory.
The Sabres moved as far as the 4-yard line, but a holding penalty wiped a touchdown off the board and a loss of yardage on a reception was followed by a monster sack by Lucas Caron that eventually led to Sartell again turning over on downs after a 4th-and-Goal from the 28-yard line.
Bemidji’s offense compiled a crisp scoring drive after taking over, capped by Ephram Boucher’s 28-yard touchdown run on an option pitch.
A failed extra point attempt left the lead at 6-0, but the Jacks gave Sartell a chance to respond on an interception of quarterback Peyton Neadeau that the Sabres fumbled out of bounds at the Bemidji 1-yard line.
Sartell needed three plays for Mathiasen to ram in a one-yard touchdown off a direct snap, but his failed 2-point rush kept the game tied.
Neadeau bounced back from the interception almost immediately on the next drive, threading a perfectly thrown 39-yard score down the middle to wide receiver Braden Lukisk.
A third first-half turnover on downs by Sartell gave Bemidji the ball with 26 seconds remaining in the half and three timeouts. The Jacks’ bid to make a push into scoring range proved to be costly on the very first play of the drive, as Neadeau’s screen to Alec Newby was tipped into the hands of the Sabres’ Trevor Schmidt for a 25-yard interception return to the end zone.
Mathiasen converted the 2-point try to suddenly put Sartell ahead 14-13 at halftime, leaving the Homecoming crowd stunned and the Jacks again looking up at the break.
Opening with the ball in the second half, Bemidji started with good field position from an excellent kickoff return. The ensuing drive swiftly resulted in a touchdown run by Dawson Degelder, who then pushed Bemidji ahead 21-14 with a dash for two.
An injury to Sartell quarterback Will Thompson forced the Sabres to pivot to running direct snaps for Mathiasen for much of the third quarter–frequently to no avail.
Meanwhile, the Lumberjacks were firing on all cylinders on offense. Boucher sliced his way through the Sartell defense to pick up 30 on a big run, setting up his second touchdown of the night later in the drive–followed by a missed PAT–that put the lead at 27-14.
The Lumberjacks threw the ball just once in the second half, but Neadeau made it count when he aired out a jump pass that Degelder hauled in before racing for a 50-yard score.
Sartell returned to a conventional quarterback by putting Alexander Bird into the game, but he struggled with a snap that led to a fumble recovery by Caron.
Degelder added on one more touchdown–his third of the night–to polish off the Lumberjacks’ dominant second-half showing.
Bemidji rolled up 372 total yards of offense, backed by Boucher’s 128 rushing yards on 18 carries and 114 all-purpose yards from Degelder. Neadeau finished 3-of-6 through the air for 104 yards, with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
The win takes Bemidji over .500 for the first time this season at 3-2. The Jacks will next visit Alexandria on Friday for a 7pm game.
Postgame interview with Bemidji head coach Bryan Stoffel: