The big plays that were expected were present. The anticipated offensive show did not disappoint.
Bemidji lived up to its high-octane reputation, upsetting top-ranked Mankato West 45-26 on Friday in the Class 4A semifinals.
Bemidji, you say? Wasn't Mankato West, with big-armed quarterback Philip Nelson and team speed galore, supposed to be the team of destiny? That was the pregame scuttlebutt, as the Scarlets had averaged nearly 50 points per game.
But Bemidji (12-0), making its third trip to the state tournament in a row but its first trip to the Metrodome, showed the talent and poise of a team destined for big things. The undefeated Lumberjacks spotted Mankato West an early 14-0 lead, then roared back with big play after big play.
"We were the unknown team," Lumberjacks coach Troy Hendricks said. "We wanted to come down here and show what Bemidji football was all about."
The Lumberjacks closed the gap to 14-7 on an 11-yard run by Mitch Brown, but the big blow came on their next possession. Bemidji trailed 17-7 when tailback Carey Woods took a pitchout from Mitch Hendricks and raced untouched around left end for a 92-yard touchdown.
"We knew that play would be open for us," said Woods, who also scored on receptions of 61 yards in the first half and 67 yards in the second half. "But I never expected it to be that open."
Bemidji finished with 551 total yards, including four touchdowns of more than 60 yards.
Its defense also started to control the line of scrimmage and make things difficult for Nelson. With his favorite receiver, Hunter Friesen, hampered by a leg injury, Nelson was forced to do more on his own. He ended up with 183 yards rushing, including a 67-yard TD run in the second half that cut the lead to 31-26.
Nelson, set to play for the Gophers next year, finished with 307 yards and two touchdowns passing in addition to his rushing yards, giving him 490 yards of total offense.
"Our kids never gave up," Mankato West coach Mark Esch said. "We never felt like we were out of it. We made some mistakes early, but so did they. You have to give Bemidji credit. They made the big plays."