Bemidji shook off a fast start from visiting Sartell and a sluggish second half to notch a 28-12 victory over the Sabres, clinching Section 8AAAAA’s #3 seed for the postseason on Wednesday evening at Chet Anderson Stadium.
Sartell entered with just one win in the first seven games of the season, but emerged out of its bye week with a stunning opening play from scrimmage. Quarterback Gavan Schulte went deep to a wide-open Austin Henrichs for an 86-yard touchdown pass that bolted the visitors to a 6-0 lead.
The response from Bemidji’s offense was a fast-moving drive that put it into Sartell’s red zone before penalties and losses on plays had the Lumberjacks facing a 4th-and-Goal from the 22-yard line. Quarterback Jack Larson lobbed a pass to the left side of the end zone that tight end Gavin Luksik hauled in for his first score of the season.
A converted extra point gave Bemidji a lead it would never yield the rest of the night with help from four first-half turnovers by the Sabres. Schulte muffed a high punt by Barrick Nelson early in the second quarter, giving the Jacks the ball back in prime field position.
Three plays after the start of the new drive, Gemini Ellis rumbled into the end zone from five yards away for his fifth touchdown of the season to increase the lead to 14-6.
The Lumberjacks’ defense forced another turnover out of Schulte, this time piling pressure on that led to an ill-advised throw into the hands of Dakotah Canty.
Ellis again got the call deep in the red zone, cutting to the right to score his second touchdown in as many runs before the extra point was missed.
Ethan Biehn electrified the crowd for a third Bemidji touchdown of the quarter when he darted his way through and around the Sabres’ defense for a 55-yard dash to the end zone that brought the score to 28-6 when Ellis punched in a two-point conversion.
Schulte was intercepted twice more by the Lumberjacks in the first half–first on a tip into the hands of Seth Newby and later when Logan Willard won a battle for a jump ball down the sideline in Bemidji territory.
The lead stuck going into halftime, but Bemidji emerged flat in the second half and saw the Sabres trim the margin to 28-12 when Schulte found Anthony Mahowald for a 17-yard strike to cap an efficient drive midway through the third quarter.
Luksik made another highlight-reel play in the third quarter when he made a twisting grab along the sideline for a third-down conversion at midfield.
Bemidji’s defense made several stops–including deep in its own end–to keep Sartell from edging closer, and got both Luksik and Nate Schwinghammer into the backfield to sack Schulte during a late drive.
Bemidji’s four takeaways on defense brought its season total to 22–14 of which have come on interceptions. Ellis led the offensive attack with 132 yards on 19 carries to go with his two touchdowns, while Biehn ran six times for 92 yards and a score.
The Lumberjacks have won four of their last five games to finish the regular season 4-3 overall, locking up the #3 seed in the Section 8AAAAA playoffs. Bemidji will be opposed by #6 St. Cloud Tech in a quarterfinal game at 7pm on Tuesday evening at Chet Anderson Stadium. The winner will meet #2 Sauk Rapids-Rice in a semifinal game on Saturday.
Postgame interview with Bemidji head coach Bryan Stoffel:
Postgame interview with Bemidji tight end/defensive end Gavin Luksik:
Postgame interview with Bemidji safety Logan Willard: