LUMBERJACK THROWBACK: The First Game For Babe’s Bell (9-28-18)

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, KBUN Sportsradio presents a “Lumberjack Throwback”, as we recall a memorable Bemidji High School game from recent years through archived highlights and interviews. Not surprisingly, this classic Bemidji-Brainerd football battle was one to remember…

In an early-2015 bracket poll conducted by Northstar Football News, the Bemidji-Brainerd rivalry was voted the best in the state of Minnesota. Entering the fall of 2018, the two teams had played in 71 games with Brainerd tallying 38 wins, Bemidji taking 31 victories, and two ties.

But, as Troy Hendricks pointed out to the Bemidji Pioneer after the rivalry vote, no traveling trophy existed.

At least, not until 2018.

Thanks to some brainstorming from Bemidji offensive coordinator Bryan Stoffel and Brainerd defensive coordinator Jason Freed, Babe’s Bell was created prior to the 2018 fall season as a means of finally rewarding the winner of the matchup with a trophy. And what a trophy, indeed.

Forged by a Bemidji High School welding class, the 75-pound cowbell was finished off with a personal touch: painting done by Bill Stoffel, Bryan’s father. Both school logos were added on each color-coded side, as well as space for scores from each year.

The game had plenty of significance attached to it as well. The Lumberjacks entered at 3-1 overall, with their lone loss a weather-shortened 38-37 loss to Sauk Rapids-Rice that many felt had an asterisk attached to it due to its incompletion. Bemidji was also fresh off winning the rivalry Axe with Moorhead for the first time the prior week on the road.

Brainerd was the defending Section 8AAAAA champion, and had won two straight games–including over Sauk Rapids the previous Friday–after two losses to begin the season. The stage was set for a terrific showdown on a chilly Homecoming Friday evening at Chet Anderson Stadium, on a night that brought MSHSL.org features writer John Millea north to take in the game.

Bemidji struck first, thanks in large part to a showcase of its quick-strike passing attack. Jacob Beberg and Ryan Bieberdorf connected on a long pass play to set up first-and-goal for the Jacks.

Beberg would take charge from there, rolling off the line for a 2-yard score to nudge the Jacks in front 6-0, though the extra point was not converted.

Despite a good night of yardage for both teams’ offenses, turnovers were a major story. The Lumberjacks rolled up 278 yards of offense in the first half, but turned the ball over four times on two interceptions and two fumbles. Brainerd had similar problems, as the Jacks were able to force a fumble immediately after one of their own giveaways.

Two late interceptions also played a critical role in maintaining the 6-0 to the half for the Lumberjacks. Zach Priewe first came up with an pick in coverage, followed by another interception by Ryan Bieberdorf down the sideline late in the half on the next throw from Brainerd quarterback Sam Miller.

Taking solace in only trailing 6-0 at halftime despite being outgained 278-142, the Warriors eventually turned the tide on offense, putting together a drive that culminated in a 4-yard touchdown rush from Miller. The extra point put Brainerd ahead 7-6 just moments into the fourth quarter.

Bemidji’s offense sputtered again, turning the ball over on downs and handing Brainerd the chance to burn some clock. However, the Lumberjacks’ defense forced a punt from the Warriors and gave the offense another chance with 5:40 to play and 82 yards to travel.

The drive that followed featured three separate third-down conversions by the Jacks, as well as a dramatic 4th-and-13 in Brainerd territory that brought out another Beberg-to-Bieberdorf connection to keep the game alive.

After the final of the third-down plays, the Jacks were in business with a first-and-goal with under a minute to play. That set the stage for an end around rush from sophomore James Williams, who got to the edge and tumbled into the end zone at the pylon to restore the lead for good.

A failed 2-point conversion meant the Jacks held a 12-7 lead with one last chance for Brainerd to muster a drive. Two sacks–from Justin Nelson and Conrad Robertson–ensured that Bemidji would keep the Bell with Paul and Babe.

Jubilant postgame celebrations followed, including a hoisting of the massive bell by the Bemidji senior class on the field. The trophy also made its way to Paul and Babe, where the full team serenaded the landmark with the school fight song.

The Lumberjacks were on their way to a second meeting with Brainerd for another trophy: the Section 8AAAAA championship. In another close battle at Chet Anderson, the Jacks would emerge with a 25-22 victory, on their way to a semifinal appearance in the Class AAAAA state tournament.

COMING THURSDAY: The end of a playoff drought.