Held to just 132 yards on offense while turning the ball over three times, Bemidji lost the Babe’s Bell rivalry trophy for the first time since its creation prior to the 2018 season in a 19-7 loss to Brainerd on a rainy Friday at Don Adamson Field.
The Lumberjacks had won their last six meetings with Brainerd dating back to a 28-21 loss in the 2017 Section 8AAAAA semifinals, including all four regular season games played for the Bell. But after reclaiming the trophy on home field for their first win of the 2021 season, the Lumberjacks could not replicate the feat on the road in dropping a fourth straight to begin the year.
With rain limiting both teams’ offensive gameplay for the night, the Warriors used a methodical rushing attack to plunge in for the game’s first touchdown on a 3-yard score by Damen Bentho.
The Lumberjacks found sustaining drives to be a challenge in the first quarter, but caught a break in the second frame after Brainerd turned the ball over on downs following a failed punt attempt.
Bemidji drove inside the Brainerd 5-yard line with a series of interior runs, but a Seth Newby fumble on 3rd and Goal denied the Lumberjacks the chance to tie the game.
Special teams came up with another big play for the Lumberjacks on the ensuing drive, blocking a Warriors punt at midfield to get the ball back on the Brainerd 44-yard line.
The following play saw Bemidji knot the score at 7-7 when quarterback Peyton Neadeau found Ethan Biehn wide open beyond the secondary for a 44-yard touchdown reception.
Brainerd’s response was another run-heavy drive deep into Bemidji territory, but it was a 15-yard pass from quarterback Marcello Getty to receiver Jake Merseth late in the second quarter that gave the Warriors a 13-7 lead at halftime after the extra point was blocked.
Another special teams flashpoint went in Bemidji’s favor in the third quarter after a strong punt by Neadeau bounced off Brainerd’s returner, giving Bemidji a fumble recovery and field position inside the Warriors’ 30-yard line.
The ensuing offensive drive sputtered immediately during a quarter where the Lumberjacks accumulated a mere four yards on offense. Neadeau concluded the possession with a lost fumble on 4th down that gave the ball back to the Warriors.
Brainerd rode its ground game to another Goal-to-Go situation, but the Lumberjacks’ defense dug in for a stop that concluded with an incomplete pass to Warrior running back Dylan Gross on 4th-and-Goal.
But just one play later, the Jacks’ defense was back on the field. Reece Mostad’s carry up the middle saw the ball come loose and into the hands of the Warriors defense to again set up the offense inside the 10.
Once again, however, Bemidji’s defense put up a valiant stand. The Warriors failed to reach the end zone on a series of runs, and a 4th down pass from Getty to receiver Nolan Johnson was caught a fraction out of the end zone.
The Lumberjacks mustered just 28 yards for the entirety of the second half, and another grounded drive on offense allotted one too many chances for the Brainerd offense to find another score. Bentho rounded off a grinding night of 44 carries for 229 yards by taking in a 3-yard touchdown rush to give Brainerd its final cushion on the scoreboard.
Mostad finished with 18 carries for 61 yards and the fumble, while Neadeau was 3-of-11 passing through the rain for 57 yards and the touchdown to Biehn.
Bemidji (0-4) will return home for its homecoming game against Sauk Rapids-Rice at Chet Anderson Stadium on Friday at 7pm.
Postgame interview with Bemidji head coach Bryan Stoffel: