An early second-half turnover left Bemidji football playing catch-up the rest of the night in a 27-13 defeat at Moorhead on Wednesday evening, handing the Spuds the Axe rivalry trophy and the top seed in Section 8AAAAA going into the playoffs.
After stopping a long, methodical Moorhead drive in Bemidji territory, the Lumberjacks embarked on their own patient maiden drive, which lasted into the second quarter. On the first play of the new period, the Lumberjacks turned a 3rd down into a touchdown thanks to an option reverse from James Williams that went 42 yards for the score.
On the ensuing Spud possession, the Lumberjacks forced just the third turnover of the season committed by the home team. Colton Hinrichs wrapped up Blake Walthall following a reception and was able to knock the ball loose for Matt Arel to recover for an immediate takeaway on the Spuds’ first play of the new possession.
Moorhead’s vaunted defense responded by forcing a three-and-out, as the Lumberjacks went into a significant wind during the second quarter. Back with the ball, the Spuds went to the air to tie the game at 7 on a 43-yard connection from Trey Feeney to Brady Walthall.
The Lumberjacks came up with a massive hold defensively going into halftime. Facing a 1st-and-Goal from their own 5-yard line, the visitors forced two incompletions before a false start and an illegal touching call on Blake Walthall for catching a touchdown after going out of bounds forced Moorhead back to the 25-yard line. Another incompletion and missed long field goal kept the game tied at 7 at the break.
Bemidji’s offense failed to capitalize on the momentum starting with the ball in the second half. On 3rd-and-long, Brett Tharaldson’s attempted screen pass to Hinrichs was juggled and eventually intercepted in a crowd by the Spuds, who brought the ball back to Bemidji’s 2-yard line. The following play, Feeney again connected with Walthall for the score.
The Lumberjacks played from behind for the rest of the night, failing to keep their next drive sustained after the playmaking Williams exited with a leg injury. Moorhead promptly worked another long drive into points thanks to a third touchdown from Feeney to Walthall–this time for 11 yards. The Spuds’ senior quarterback brought his state-leading touchdown total to 29 with the three scores, while Walthall posted 10 receptions to add to his top state mark in that category.
One final push from the Lumberjacks came early in the 4th quarter. Hit while throwing, Tharaldson was still able to sky a deep pass for Aaron Hoefer to haul in a hard-fought first varsity reception for a massive 45-yard gain into Moorhead territory.
A few dashes later, Hinrichs blasted in a 1-yard rush to cut Moorhead’s lead to 21-13 following a missed extra point.
Moorhead’s reply came on the next drive, mixing in a relatively dormant rushing attack for large gains through George Nyanforth. The running back capped the drive with a short-range touchdown run to increase the lead to 27-13.
There was still time for one more highlight-reel grab from the Lumberjacks at receiver, as Matt Arel pulled in a one-handed catch on the run to briefly keep a Bemidji drive going.
No further threat was posed by Bemidji from there however, as the Lumberjacks lost for the first time since their opening game against Andover.
Tharaldson finished 8-14 passing on the windy night for 109 yards and the interception, while Feeney 16-28 for 183 yards and three touchdowns for Moorhead. Williams nabbed four catches for 33 yards and rushed three times for 49 yards and a touchdown before exiting. Hinrichs led Bemidji on the ground with nine carries for 44 yards and a score on a night where the Lumberjacks’ leading rusher Will Falldorf managed just 19 yards on 10 carries against the Spuds’ tough front seven.
Bemidji drops to 4-2 with the loss, while Moorhead stays unbeaten at 6-0 heading into the Section 8AAAAA playoffs. Both teams figure to receive a bye in the coaches’ vote for Section playoff seeding on Friday, which would mean passage into hosting semifinal games next Saturday.
Postgame interview with Bemidji head coach Bryan Stoffel: