A pair of Moorhead freshmen connected for a 58-yard catch-and-run touchdown that Bemidji was unable to match despite a last-gasp drive in a narrow 26-21 loss for the Lumberjacks on Friday evening at Chet Anderson Stadium.
The Jacks’ offense had opened each of the first two games of the season with a touchdown drive and were hoping for a similar start in pursuit of a first victory over Moorhead since 2018. But they had that statistical streak snapped in frustrating fashion with a fumble just a few plays into the night after a catch and run.
Moorhead turned the takeaway and short field into a quick touchdown from freshman quarterback Jett Feeney to wide receiver DJ Smith for a quick 7-0 lead.
The response from Bemidji was a polished scoring drive on offense that was capped by a double fake of handoffs by quarterback Peyton Neadeau before finding Sam Gish for a 13-yard touchdown strike.
A missed extra point left the Jacks down 7-6, a deficit that grew on Moorhead’s next possession after the Spuds capped a quarter-bridging drive with a 4th-down pass from Feeney to running back Taye Reich that turned into a touchdwon.
Moorhead’s own missed extra point–a product of a growing number of false starts–left Bemidji down by just seven. The Jacks created a big opportunity for themselves thanks to Owen Frazer’s pick of Feeney that set Bemidji up in Spuds territory.
But as quickly as the Lumberjacks took the ball away, they gave it back after a mishandled snap was recovered by the Spuds. The turnover led to another Moorhead touchdown two plays later, as Owen Thielges turned a pass from Feeney into a 47-yard score after shaking two tackles along the sideline.
With time ticking down in the first half and Moorhead receiving the second half kickoff, the Jacks were able to produce a much-needed touchdown before the break. A long drive set up junior Ephram Boucher for a one-yard plunge to the end zone that left Bemidji trailing just 20-13 at halftime.
The third quarter turned into a defensive struggle between the two teams, as Bemidji found needed stops on defense without capitalizing on offense. Among them was a critical pick by Alec Newby on a tipped pass that stifled a Moorhead drive deep into Bemidji territory.
The Lumberjacks failed to polish off a fourth quarter drive that got inside the Moorhead 10-yard line on a turnover on downs, but the defense quickly forced the Spuds to punt after Frazer secured his second sack of the night.
A short punt put Bemidji on the 35-yard line of the Spuds, and after a pick of Neadeau was wiped off the board due to a roughing the passer flag, the Jacks took advantage. Frazer found the edge on a sweep to score an 8-yard touchdown that momentarily brought the hosts within a point with four minutes to go.
Bemidji elected to go for two and the lead following the touchdown, and Dawson Degelder’s hard-charging run off the right side was enough to find the end zone for a 21-20 edge.
The ensuing Moorhead possession featured a pair of 3rd down conversions, but it was the second one that changed the lead for good. Feeney’s throw along the line of scrimmage to Reich was pulled inches off the turf before the running back turned the grab into a 58-yard touchdown and a 26-21 lead.
Bemidji had two more chances to answer, but Neadeau’s 4th down pass on the first try was intercepted by Thielges along the sideline. Without any timeouts and less than a minute to go, the Jacks mustered one last chance with a push to the Moorhead 42-yard line before a final heave from Neadeau was knocked down at the goal line.
Boucher finished with 95 yards and the touchdown on the ground to lead Bemidji’s rushing attack, while Neadeau was 8-for-19 passing for 129 yards with both a score and a pick.
Bemidji drops to 1-2 heading into a visit to St. Cloud Tech on Friday at 7pm.
Postgame interview with Bemidji head coach Bryan Stoffel: