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High School Football: Warriors hold off Bemidji to reach section final

Warriors 28, Bemidji 21 The key: Brainerd shut out the Lumberjacks in the second half Overall: Brainerd 7-2, Bemidji finishes 4-6 Next:No. 3 Alexandria at No. 1 Brainerd for Section 8-5A championship 7 p.m. Friday. Someone mentioned to Brainerd W...

Brainerd’s Max Zimmerman runs the ball Saturday against Bemidji during the semifinals of the Section 8-5A tournament at Adamson Field. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch - Gallery and Video
Brainerd’s Max Zimmerman runs the ball Saturday against Bemidji during the semifinals of the Section 8-5A tournament at Adamson Field. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch - Gallery and Video

Warriors 28, Bemidji 21

The key: Brainerd shut out the Lumberjacks in the second half

Overall: Brainerd 7-2, Bemidji finishes 4-6

Next:No. 3 Alexandria at No. 1 Brainerd for Section 8-5A championship 7 p.m. Friday.

Someone mentioned to Brainerd Warriors head coach Ron Stolski afterward that it was a hectic finish.

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"I thought the whole game was hectic," Stolski replied after the top-seeded Warriors scrambled to hold off the No. 4 Bemidji Lumberjacks 28-21 in the Section 8-5A semifinals Saturday at Adamson Field. "We just never got into a rhythm."

With 2:10 remaining, after Brainerd had to punt to protect its seven-point lead, the Lumberjacks started from their 33. Seven plays after a 15-yard penalty against the Warriors, Bemidji faced fourth and 1 at the Warrior 32. The Lumberjacks' Calvin Faust then swept around end to score with 44 seconds left.

But wait. The Lumberjacks were penalized for holding, moving the ball back to the Bemidji 42. On fourth and 11, a pass by Lumberjacks quarterback Jake Beberg fell incomplete with 21 seconds left.

Bemidji was out of timeouts and Brainerd quarterback Joe Stolski knelt for the game's final play.

The victory sends ninth-ranked Brainerd to its first section final since 2013 when it finished second in Class 5A. Brainerd (7-2) hosts the No. 3-seeded Alexandria Cardinals for the Section 8-5A championship at 7 p.m. Friday. The Cardinals bumped off No. 2-seeded Moorhead 27-20 with five seconds remaining in their semifinal Saturday.

"It's a big confidence booster for us," Brainerd wide receiver/defensive back Max Boran said of the win. "We haven't been (to the section final) for a while. Hopefully, we can get it done next week."

"It feels great," Warrior running back Charlie Geraets said. "I knew we had it in us. It's going to be a tough week next week."

Geraets finished with 33 carries for 156 yards and rushed for two TDs. He also returned a kickoff for a score.

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Beberg passed for 167 yards and two scores, both to talented wide receiver Ryan Bieberdorf who ended with seven catches for 138 yards. The Lumberjacks finished with 359 total yards to Brainerd's 340.

Geraets' second rushing touchdown was from a yard out with 6:06 left in the third. The fourth of four Zach Henke kicks accounted for the final score.

But on this night no Brainerd lead was safe. On their next two possessions, the Warriors were denied on fourth and 1 from the Bemidji 14 and the Bemidji 1. That allowed the Lumberjacks to hang around.

"The offensive line played well," Ron Stolski said, "except you've got to get a yard when you've got to get a yard."

After the second fourth-down denial, Bemidji started from its 3-yard-line with no timeouts left and ran 13 plays from scrimmage. One was a 19-yard completion from Beberg to Jordan Anderson.

Then, on fourth and 5, the Lumberjacks engineered a fake punt as Cole Milz passed to Anderson for a 17-yard gain to the Brainerd 46.

On another fourth down, Beberg hit Keegan Saari for a 10-yard gain to the Brainerd 27. Three plays later, Boran intercepted in the end zone, wrestling the ball away from Bieberdorf with 2:34 remaining.

"He had done that route a couple times before," Boran said. "I had stopped him every other time except for once. He got one. I looked back for it, high-pointed it and came down with it luckily."

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"Every time it looked like we would get some breathing room then something happened," Ron Stolski said, "and Max Boran made the big play in the end zone."

The first half set the pace for the contest, which was played in 30-degree temperatures. Brainerd scored 21 points in the half and Bemidji hung up all 21 points of its points in the second quarter. The Lumberjacks gained 231 yards in the first half to Brainerd's 153.

"The first half I thought we really performed well offensively," Ron Stolski said. "You have to be proud of a terrific effort, first offensively and of course defensively.

"We had a number of chances to put this game away in the second half and didn't do it, but thankfully we play again. I'm really thankful we won because I like this team."

Brainerd's Max Zimmerman, who added 86 yards rushing on 15 carries, opened the scoring with a 3-yard run with 2:02 left in the opening quarter.

Bieberdorf tied it on the next possession as he latched on to a 27-yard TD pass from Beberg.

Geraets ran seven yards for a score on the Warriors' next series and it was 14-7 Brainerd with 8:49 left in the half.

Beberg kept for a 3-yard score on the next Bemidji possession but the 2-point conversion run failed. The Lumberjacks went for two after a dead-ball penalty against Brainerd nullified Anderson's extra-point kick.

Clinging to a 14-13 edge, Geraets fielded the ensuing kickoff at his 22 and dashed 78 yards to the end zone for an eight-point edge.

"It was a short squib," Geraets said of the kick. "We had planned to take it to the left. We made some blocks, there was a wide open hole, there was just nobody left."

But the Lumberjacks rallied to deadlock it 21-21 at the intermission. On first down at their 30, Beberg connected with Bieberdorf for a 51-yard gain to the Brainerd 19. Five plays later, Bieberdorf grabbed a 9-yard scoring pass from Beberg.

Bemidji 0 21 0 0-21

Brainerd 7 14 7 0-28

First quarter

Brd-Max Zimmerman 3 run (Zach Henke kick) 2:02

Second quarter

Bem-Ryan Bieberdorf 27 pass from Jake Beberg (Jordan Anderson kick) 11:26

Brd-Geraets 7 run (Henke kick) 8:49

Bem-Beberg 3 run (run fails) 5:54

Brd-Geraets 78 kickoff return (Henke kick) 5:42

Bem-Bieberdorf 9 pass from Beberg (Beberg pass from Bieberdorf) 3:04

Third quarter

Brd-Geraets 1 run (Henke kick) 6:06

Team statistics

Rushes-yards: Bem 40-175, Brd 64-305

Pass comp-att-int-yds: Bem 10-21-1-184, Brd 1-4-0-35

Total offense: Bem 359, Brd 340

Fumbles-lost: Bem 1-1, Brd 0-0

Individual leaders

Rushing: Brd-Joe Stolski 4-2, Charlie Geraets 33-156, Max Zimmerman 15-86, Joe Klang 9-60, Pat Gervenak 2-6; Bem-Jake Beberg 8-18, Calvin Faust 10-28, Alec White 15-81, Caleb Grant 5-29, Jordan Anderson 2-19

Passing: Brd-Joe Stolski 1-4-0-35; Bem-Beberg 9-20-1-167, Cole Milz 1-1-0-17

Receiving: Brd-Max Boran 1-35; Bem-Ryan Bieberdorf 17-138, Anderson 2-36, Keegan Saari 1-10

For Photo Gallery go to https://goo.gl/Zbmnvh

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