Bulldogs survive a shootout with Beavers

Minnesota Duluth safety Kegan Wirtz lay on the field after breaking up a fourth-down pass in the closing minutes against Bemidji State.Wirtz finally was helped to his feet and raised a fist to the crowd, signaling victory.Normally, that would be ...

Minnesota Duluth’s Jason Balts catches the pass for a touchdown in the second quarter while pursued by Bemidji State’s Jordan Johnson in Saturday’s game at Malosky Stadium in Duluth. Bob King /

Minnesota Duluth safety Kegan Wirtz lay on the field after breaking up a fourth-down pass in the closing minutes against Bemidji State.
Wirtz finally was helped to his feet and raised a fist to the crowd, signaling victory.
Normally, that would be it, but there was nothing normal in this one.
Senior Beau Bofferding rushed for a career-high 171 yards and four touchdowns and senior quarterback Drew Bauer threw for 331 yards and three touchdowns to Jason Balts to lead the No. 24 Bulldogs to a 54-47 NSIC North Division win over the No. 21 Beavers before 4,062 fans on a sunny Saturday at Malosky Stadium.
“It doesn’t matter what the score is, whether it’s 3-0 or 54-47. A win’s a win,” UMD coach Curt Wiese said. “We’ve had quite a few battles with Bemidji over the years, but this one might have topped them all.”
UMD (7-1) is in strong position for an NCAA playoff berth with its seventh straight win while Bemidji State (6-2) could be on the outside looking in when the first regional rankings come out this week. The Beavers, who fell 14-9 at home to UMD last fall, haven’t won in Duluth since 1941.
All but two of UMD’s games have been close, with the Bulldogs 5-1 in games decided by eight points or less this season.
“Another wild win,” Wiese said. “We continue to play at a high level in the fourth quarter of football games. I’m sure it was a fun game to watch from the stands, but it had us holding our breath. Bemidji is a top 25 team for a reason, and they showed it.”

Bauer threw for 178 passing yards and two TDs and UMD took advantage of a fumbled kickoff return to take a 27-7 halftime lead. It was arguably the Bulldogs’ best half this season.
The second half, not so much.
Bemidji State was just getting warmed up.
UMD surrendered 40 points and 394 yards in the second half. Most of that came via the arm of junior quarterback Jordan Hein, who threw for career-high 434 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions.
Hein threw for 377 yards and all five of his touchdowns in the second half as the Beavers stormed back from a 41-18 deficit early in the fourth quarter.
“We just dug ourselves in too big a hole,” Bemidji State interim head coach Brent Bolte said. “We got behind the 8-ball early and had to scramble to catch up the entire game.”
And to think Hein was only about 75 percent healthy due to a knee injury. That limited his mobility, a big part of his game. UMD brought a heavy blitz but the Beavers’ offensive line protected Hein until the end.
Contrary to what he said Thursday, Bolte said Hein didn’t practice all week and Saturday marked the first snaps he took. Bolte said he decided to go with Hein over Superior native Nick Mehlum or third-stringer Jared Henning about 25 minutes before the game after consulting with the Beavers’ training staff.
“Normally, when healthy, Jordan can escape the pocket, but he forced himself to stay in there,” Bolte said. “Jordan was pretty vocal about wanting to play. He’s a competitor.”
UMD countered Bemidji’s quick-strike offense with Bofferding, a speedy 5-foot-8 senior. After starting running back Darren Walker went out in the second quarter with a leg injury, Bofferding moved to the backfield full time and turned in a career performance.
Bofferding had 158 yards rushing and three of his four touchdowns after halftime. He finished with a career-high 18 carries. Balts, meanwhile, had seven receptions for career-high 165 yards.
“I tried to make the most of the opportunity, but credit goes to the offensive line,” Bofferding said. “Every time I got the ball, they gave me a chance to make something happen.”
He sure did.
Bofferding ran one in from 65 yards out to give UMD a 47-33 with 7:43 to play. Bemidji State countered with Hein’s 10-yard touchdown pass to Christian Lunde.
The Beavers forced UMD to punt and took over at their own 20 with 2:59 remaining. Just when you thought UMD’s defense was AWOL, the Bulldogs made a stop, keyed by a Beau Bates quarterback sack, an intentional grounding and Wirtz’s pass breakup.
UMD took over with 2:01 left and Bofferding broke free for a 37-yard gain down the left sideline and then added his fourth score the game, this one from 2 yards out.
“The more I’m in the backfield, the more comfortable I get,” Bofferding said. “Compared to last week, I felt twice as comfortable back there. It was fun, and I learned a lot from it.”
Trailing 54-40 with 1:19 to play, Bemidji needed just 29 seconds to score again, this time with Hein finding Brady Schmidt from 44 yards out to make it 54-47 with 58 seconds remaining.
That’s how it stayed as the Beavers’ onside kick didn’t go 10 yards and the madness, finally, was over. The teams combined for 67 points in the second half and 49 in the fourth quarter.
“Give credit to Bemidji,” Bofferding said. “We jumped on them right out of the gate, but they hung in there and fought back. We knew they were a dangerous team, and they proved it. Sometimes you just shake your head and go, ‘Oh man, we got to go back out there and do it again?’ It was just that kind of game.”
With a combined 101 points and 1,100 yards, this made Tecmo Bowl look defensive. UMD’s 604 yards were the Bulldogs’ highest in four seasons.
“Whatever the scoreboard says, the most important thing is if you get the win or not, and we did,” Bofferding said. “All the other things will get corrected during the week.”

Bemidji State 0-7-11-29-47
Minnesota Duluth 13-14-7-20-54
First Quarter
UMD - Jason Balts 9 pass from Drew Bauer (Cameron Hausman kick), 9:00
UMD - Beau Bofferding 3 run (kick blocked), 1:45
Second Quarter
BSU - Gena Adams 15 run (Mason Hoffer kick), 13:32
UMD - Nate Ricci 5 run (Hausman kick), 10:21
UMD - Balts 35 pass from Bauer (Hausman kick), 0:43
Third Quarter
BSU - Hoffer 35 field goal, 12:03
UMD - Bofferding 22 run (Hausman kick), 7:28
BSU - Blake Holder 60 pass from Jordan Hein (Blake Petrich run), 7:10
Fourth Quarter
UMD - Balts 58 pass from Bauer (Hausman kick), 11:46
BSU - Brady Schmidt 90 pass from Hein (Petrich run), 11:26
BSU - Dexter Taylor Jr. 56 pass from Hein (Hoffer kick), 8:52
UMD - Bofferding 65 run (kick blocked), 7:43
BSU - Christian Lunde 10 pass from Hein (Hoffer kick), 5:53
UMD - Bofferding 2 run, (Tyler McLaughlin kick) 1:26
BSU - Schmidt 44 pass from Hein (Hoffer kick), 0:58

First downs 18 28
Rushes-yards 22-62 58-273
Passing 434 331
Comp-Att-Int 17-33-0 22-32-0
Kick returns-yards 8-148 5-99
Punts-yards 3-37.3 2-51.0
Fumbles-lost 2-1 1-1
Penalties-yards 5-34 7-90
Time of possession 17:00 43:00

RUSHING - BSU, Tahi Nomane 6-33, Adams 8-25, Petrich 2-15, Jared Henning 2-(-5), Hein 4-(-6). UMD, Bofferding 18-171, Bauer 19-35, Walker 9-33, Jaleen Jones 4-19, Beau Bates 1-9, Ricci 1-5, Balts 2-3, Nolan Folkert 1-1, Team 3-(-3).
PASSING - BSU, Hein 17-33-0-434. UMD, Bauer 22-32-0-331.
RECEIVING - BSU, Schmidt 4-167, Holder 4-104, Taylor 1-56, Vince Dinkel 2-48, Juwaan Richard 4-33, Lunde 2-26. UMD, Balts 7-165, Ricci 6-72, James Conner 5-71, Obi Ibeneme 2-13, Bofferding 2-10.

Jon Nowacki joined the News Tribune in August 1998 as a sports reporter. He grew up in Stephen, Minnesota, in the northwest corner of the state, where he was actively involved in school and sports and was a proud member of the Tigers’ 1992 state championship nine-man football team.

After graduating in 1993, Nowacki majored in print journalism at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, serving as editor of the college paper, “The Aquin,” and graduating with honors in December 1997. He worked with the Associated Press during the “tobacco trial” of 1998, leading to the industry’s historic $206 billion settlement, before moving to Duluth.

Nowacki started as a prep reporter for the News Tribune before moving onto the college ranks, with an emphasis on Minnesota Duluth football, including coverage of the Bulldogs’ NCAA Division II championships in 2008 and 2010.

Nowacki continues to focus on college sports while filling in as a backup on preps, especially at tournament time. He covers the Duluth Huskies baseball team and auto racing in the summer. When time allows, he also writes an offbeat and lighthearted food column entitled “The Taco Stand,” a reference to the “Taco Jon” nickname given to him by his older brother when he was a teenager that stuck with him through college. He has a teenage daughter, Emma.

Nowacki can be reached at or (218) 380-7027. Follow him on Twitter @TacoJon1.
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