FOOTBALL: Bemidji gears up for Rogers in hopes of changing last year’s script – Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI — The Bemidji High School football team did not have a great time in its season opener last year.

Against Rogers, eventual Class 5A semifinalists in the state tournament, the Lumberjacks struggled to keep up, losing 24-0 at Chet Anderson Stadium. This year, they’ll have to face the same formidable foe, but they’ll have to do it on Royals territory.

“I feel good about our preparation,” said BHS head coach Bryan Stoffel. “I feel good about where we are. I’m excited to see what we have. And you don’t really see it until you actually go out on the field on Thursday.”

Meanwhile, the Jacks are doing their best to prepare for the big task of opening against such a strong challenger. They haven’t shied away from using last year’s shutout loss as motivation.

“We’re just preparing a lot better than we did last year,” new starting quarterback Peyton Neadeau said. “Last year, we weren’t even close to where we are now.”

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Bemidji junior Peyton Neadeau hands off the ball during a drill at practice on Monday, Aug. 15, 2022 at BHS.

Madelyn Haasken / Pioneer of Bemidji

Neadeau sat on the sidelines during last season’s matchup with the Royals, but is now the man in charge of an offense that must replace 10 starters from a year ago. A junior, Neadeau must also find a way to command a group that includes players older than himself.

“I’m just trying to cheer everyone up when they’re down,” Neadeau said. “Looking for the same for other guys too.”

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Stoffel previously said that Neadeau has been “groomed” for the starting role, and he likes what he has seen in practice. However, it’s a different ball game when the pads go on Thursday.

“He’s been really good with our triple-op offense, he’s got a good command,” Stoffel said. “He’s a good athlete who can make a defense pay if they don’t respect him in the running game. And he has done a very good job of handling the ball with the triple option. So he’s done a really good job of developing it. We are excited to see it.”

Though Bemidji is fully up for another shot at Rogers, to go toe-to-toe with the Royals, the Lumberjacks must first focus on what led up to last year’s debacle.

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Bemidji junior Seth Newby (22) knocks down Rogers’ Tyson Vylasek in the first half of the season opener on Thursday, September 2, 2021 at Chet Anderson Stadium. (Jillian Gandsey/Bemidji Pioneer)

“We have to compete better than we did last year,” Stoffel said. “We just made too many mistakes to stay and compete with a really good football program, which is Rogers, and we have to eliminate those mistakes. We have to put ourselves in the best possible position on every play, and that’s doing our homework and our job.”

Anything Stoffel isn’t worried about? BHS is overwhelmed at the moment.

“It’s their turn to fight and fight and compete, and that’s what we’re looking for from this group of kids,” Stoffel said. “That’s something I’ve said over and over again about the Bemidji kids: They’re not afraid to fight, and now it’s these guys’ turn to prove it.”

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You can’t win a game with zero points, of course, so Neadeau is aiming to lead the Jacks’ offense to a much more prolific performance in this year’s matchup.

“(We’ll try) like the mid-20s,” Neadeau said of Bemidji’s projected point total.

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Bemidji junior Ethan Biehn (2) runs for a 55-yard touchdown in the first half against Sartell-St. Stephen on Wednesday, October 20, 2021 at Chet Anderson Stadium. (Jillian Gandsey/Bemidji Pioneer)

Neadeau won’t have to do it alone. He has the full support of dynamic senior running back/wide receiver Ethan Biehn, the only starter to return to the offense.

“That really boosts my confidence, because if he and I can be on the same page, it’s going to be a good year,” Neadeau said.

A point total in the mid-20s should be enough to give the Jacks a chance. But what really matters is whether BHS really nailed down the details necessary to be successful this week in practice.

“(We need to be) dialed in with the mental part of the game so they feel confident going down and executing what we’re asking them to do,” Stoffel said.

The Lumberjacks take on Rogers at 7 pm on Thursday, September 1 at Rogers.

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