Thank you for reading Football Across Minnesota (FAM), my weekly column that tours football topics in our state from preps to pros. You can find all the previous FAM columns right here. — Chip
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Bemidji State quarterback Brandon Alt is one of the most prolific passers in all of Division II college football. His teammate Brendan Beaulieu is one of the most prolific wide receivers in the nation.
Both players own multiple single-season and career school records. Both had monster performances Saturday as Bemidji State won a home NCAA playoff game for the first time in the program's 96-year history.
Nobody should be surprised by this development. The two friends have been preparing for success like this since third grade.
That's when they first became teammates, two kids playing travel basketball and youth football in Cottage Grove.
They remained teammates and classmates at Park High in football and basketball, graduating together in 2017. They took their recruiting visits to Bemidji State on the same weekend as seniors, but they were not a package deal. Both considered their options independently. Nothing prearranged.
A short time later, at a Park High basketball practice, both Alt and Beaulieu were telling teammates how much they enjoyed their visits to Bemidji State. They looked at each other and it hit them. Both knew they wanted to commit to Bemidji State.
Still teammates and now roommates off the field, they give the Beavers a formidable quarterback-receiver tandem.
Alt ranks second among D-II quarterbacks this season in touchdown passes (37) and third in passing yards (3,686). He holds Bemidji State's career records in both categories.
Beaulieu ranks second nationally in receiving yards (1,445) and is tied for first in touchdown catches (18). He also holds the school record in both categories.
"It's one of those things you don't really strive for, it just kind of happens," Alt said. "We just want to win each week. The numbers evolve from it."
This is their sixth year on campus, though Alt is technically a junior in eligibility and plans to come back. He suffered two separate ACL injuries early in his career, along with the 2020 season canceled by the pandemic.
He returned last season and became the 20th player in Division II history to pass for 4,000 yards and 40 touchdowns in a season.
"I always knew what he can do," Beaulieu said.
And vice versa. Their chemistry formed over years of being together on the football field and basketball court allows them to communicate without having to talk.
"There have been a couple of times this year where we just look at each other and we'll change a play or he'll know what I'm doing," Beaulieu said. "It might not necessarily be the play call, but he knows where I'm going to go."
Said Alt: "It's just eye contact and knowing that we're seeing the same thing."
That connection came in handy in a 31-7 win over Winona State in miserable conditions Saturday. Alt passed for 260 yards and four touchdowns. Beaulieu caught all four touchdown passes.
The bitter cold and 20-mph wind gusts didn't derail their fast-tempo, spread passing attack.
"There are a couple of tricks you can do with [clothing]," Beaulieu said. "We practice in it all spring for spring ball so we get used to it. The wind really doesn't bother Brandon. He has a powerful arm."
Bemidji State faces undefeated No. 1 seed Angelo State in the second round Saturday. The game is being played in San Angelo, Texas.
"75 and sunny," Alt said, chuckling.
Perfect weather to throw around the ball with a longtime friend.
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HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL
One powerful Prep Bowl
Next week's Class 6A and 5A high school championship games will feature matchups of undefeated teams and strength vs. strength clashes.
In 6A, Maple Grove's high-powered offense goes against Rosemount's stingy defense.
In 5A, Elk River's old-school Power-T offense squares off against Mankato West's swarming defense.
Offenses usually receive more attention and headline hype in football conversations. Let's focus on those two terrific defenses.
Rosemount finished 5-5 last season, but coach Jeff Erdmann saw positive signs in how his team competed defensively. That improvement was validated early this season when, in a three-game stretch, the Irish defeated Lakeville North, Eden Prairie and Lakeville South by holding each team to a single touchdown.
"That really kind of gave us an idea of where we stack up among 6A teams," he said.
The Irish defense has allowed only 10 touchdowns in 12 games, despite playing Eden Prairie twice, along with three other ranked teams.
Their final opponent will be the toughest yet. Maple Grove averages 38 points per game behind dynamic quarterback Jacob Kilzer who has accounted for 30 touchdowns as a passer and runner.
"They're probably the most explosive offense we will have played this year," Erdmann said.
A year ago, Mankato West rode into the 5A title game having scored more defensive touchdowns (nine) than they allowed (eight) for the season.
That's not the case again this season, but there is no secret behind the team's 31-game winning streak. The Scarlets allow only 8.5 points per game.
"Our defense is the backbone of our team," coach JJ Helget said.
Helget's staff installed a new defense several years ago that is a simplified version of schemes used by Minnesota State Mankato and Augustana.
Helget calls it a "crush" scheme that is predicated on collapsing the interior of the offensive line on running plays, forcing the ball carrier to bounce outside.
"We want everything to go east-west," Helget said.
That puts their linebackers and safeties in position to feast on tackles.
The Scarlets are holding teams to 67 yards rushing per game, with only six rushing touchdowns allowed in 12 games.
That's a stark contrast to their Prep Bowl opponent. Elk River averages 419 yards on the ground and has scored 65 rushing touchdowns.
Helget's coaching staff has scouted Elk River's famous Power-T offense over the years in anticipation of facing it in the playoffs. That matchup will finally happen next Saturday, Dec. 3.
"This is what you want," Helget said. "You want two good teams in the championship."
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- Mohamed Ibrahim: Senior running back carried the Gophers offense against Iowa with 263 yards rushing and one touchdown on 39 carries, 24 of those carries in the second half. His fumble late was costly but he poured his heart into that performance.
- Glenn Caruso: St. Thomas coach led Tommies to the outright Pioneer Football League championship and undefeated record in conference in only their second FCS season.
- Cade Osterman: Elk River quarterback rushed for 225 yards and two touchdowns and also contributed six tackles on defense and 113 yards on kickoff returns in a Class 5A semifinal win over Mahtomedi.
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He said what?!
"These are the weeks that you want to get back on the field as quickly as possible and go play a game. It will be good to get back on the field and be able to show who we really are. Flush this one and move on and find a way to get better." — Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen after a 40-3 dud against the Cowboys.
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Numbers to know
- 0: Penalties in the Gophers-Iowa game.
- 1: Third downs converted by the Vikings in 11 chances against the Cowboys.
- 12: Third downs converted by the Cowboys in 17 chances.
- 5: Touchdown passes thrown by Springfield High's Jakob Nachreiner — with only four incompletions — in Class 1A semifinal win over Deer River.
- 6: Rushing yards allowed by St. John's in a 49-0 win over Northwestern (St. Paul) in the first round of the Division III playoffs.
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Not a specific play or moment today but an entire game. Seriously Vikings. What was that?
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Grab your popcorn
Gophers at Wisconsin, Saturday at 2:30 p.m. Yes, the Gophers were eliminated from Big Ten West contention with the Iowa loss, removing any of that potential drama from this game. But the battle for Paul Bunyan's Axe always matters.
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An important 48 hours for …
Kevin O'Connell. The Vikings coach has little time to get his team past that no-show performance Sunday and make sure there is no carryover into Thursday's home game against New England.
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In the playoffs
Minnesota teams in Division II and III playoffs: Bemidji State is featured above, and Minnesota State Mankato (D-II) and St. John's and Bethel (D-III) join the Beavers as Minnesota programs still alive in the NCAA postseason. The Mavericks travel to Golden, Colo., to play Colorado School of Mines in a matchup of 10-2 teams Saturday. The Johnnies (10-1) will play host to Wartburg (11-0), while Bethel (9-2) travels to play Linfield (10-0).
Making the 24-team FCS playoff field and worth an honorable mention here: North Dakota, North Dakota State and South Dakota State. North Dakota (7-4) opens at Weber State on Saturday while defending champion NDSU (9-2) and the 1-seed Jackrabbits (10-1) have a bye.
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A FAM FINAL WORD
That's the word to describe the football weekend here in the Twin Cities.
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Thank you for reading Football Across Minnesota. I'll publish this each Tuesday morning in time for your lunch-hour reading. I appreciate feedback so please reach out anytime.
Chip (@chipscoggins on Twitter)