BEMIDJI, Minn. – MSU Moorhead was held to a season-low 14 points in a slobberknocker of a matchup with 13th-ranked Bemidji State on Saturday afternoon. The Beavers claimed the Battle Axe for the fourth consecutive season, defeating the Dragons 27-14.
In the loss, sophomore wide receiver Gage Florence reset his own single-season school receptions record. Florence moved his 2023 total to 101 catches for the year. Quarterback Jack Strand also threw his 34th touchdown pass of the season in the game, tying the school record held by Dustin Long (2007).
The loss moves MSUM's record in Battle Axe games to 38-33-3. Today was the 74th Battle Axe game in the longstanding rivalry.
Bemidji State would stop the Dragons on the opening drive of the contest and would gain favorable field position for their initial drive. Taking over at the Dragon 46-yard line, Bemidji State could only muster 14 total yards and were faced with a fourth and nine play. The Beavers opted to go for it but were stopped by the Dragon defense. MSUM would use that momentum to cobble together a 13-play, 75-yard drive that resulted in a Dragon touchdown. Jack Strand would link up with the outstretched arms of Ryan Bieberdorf for a 27-yard score. The stretch chewed up nearly six minutes of game clock as Strand began the contest completing 10 of his first 11 passes. MSUM's defense would continue to shine, forcing a Beaver punt on the ensuing drive.
The Dragons would continue their forward momentum on the next drive, inching down the field in hopes of jumping up by two scores early. MSUM found success on the ground during the drive as Tyson Powell found a massive hole and dashed upfield for 20 yards with the senior gaining 33 yards on his first three carries of the game. However, Bemidji State's defense would eventually buckle down, forcing a turnover on downs late in the drive.
The Beavers would drive close to the Dragon red zone but would again fall victim to a turnover on downs. After one quarter, MSUM led 7-0 and had possession. While MSUM could not make anything happen on that drive, a Jake Bettcher interception gave the Dragons the ball right back at the Bemidji State 46-yard line. The Beavers would force the fourth turnover on downs of the half to keep MSUM at bay. Bemidji State would travel 63 yards on nine plays to score their first touchdown of the contest to knot the game at seven.
In response, MSUM would drive 56 yards on 11 plays and would be faced with another fourth down try from the Beaver 19-yard line. Strand connected with sophomore wide receiver Brady Perrymanin the back of the end zone on the play, but the pass was ruled incomplete as Perryman apparently bobbled the catch. Although the Beavers would gash MSUM for a 33-yard run as time dwindled in the half, a pair of sacks from Abe Hestdalen helped keep the score at 7-7 at the break.
Bemidji State would strike quickly to begin the second half, driving 65 yards in under three minutes, culminating in a 42-yard touchdown pass. With less than five minutes off the clock in the third quarter, the Beavers led 14-7. The Dragons would waste zero time in responding with a six play, 65-yard drive. Strand found Madden Thorson for a 50-yard completion early in the drive before Gage Florence caught the equalizing touchdown. The catch also broke Florence's own single-season receptions record (formerly 100) which he set last season.
Nearing the end of the third stanza, Bemidji State would tack on a touchdown to take a 21-14 advantage. That score would hold true as the third quarter ended. Strand was intercepted to begin the fourth quarter to give Bemidji State the ball in solid field position. Bemidji State would drive 60 yards on 15 plays for an insurance score. The drive took nearly seven minutes off the fourth quarter clock.
The Dragons would be forced to punt on their ensuing drive, followed by a Strand interception, as Bemidji State controlled the ball in the frame. The Beavers held the ball for nearly 10 minutes in the quarter with the timely plays enough to gain a 27-14 win.
Jack Strand: 42-61, 310 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions
Gage Florence: 10 receptions, 46 yards, one touchdown
Ryan Bieberdorf: Six receptions, 49 yards, one touchdown
Tyson Powell, 13 receptions, 65 yards, 33 rushing yards
Josiah Behm: 12 tackles, one sack
Kennan Stowers: Nine tackles
Abe Hestdalen: Eight tackles, two sacks
Jake Bettcher: Two tackles, one interception
MSUM (6-4, 5-4 NSIC) concludes the 2023 regular season at home against the University of Mary in the annual Battle for the Paddle. Kickoff from Nemzek Stadium is slated for 12 p.m. on November 11 with game coverage available on AM 1100 The Flag.
This article was written by MSUM's Nolan Schmidt