DULUTH — Minnesota Duluth football coach Curt Wiese was reached by phone Thursday night and told that Bemidji State quarterback Brandon Alt was listed on the Beavers’ roster as a junior.
“Oh my God, I can’t believe you just said that,” Wiese said, drawing a laugh.
Yes, Alt has been around for so long that is hard to believe, but after redshirting in 2017, he has saved a couple more years of eligibility by taking a medical redshirt in 2019 and gained a year of eligibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic canceling the 2020 season.
“I couldn’t believe he was back this year,” Wiese said.
Wiese wishes Alt wasn’t back, because he’s a good one. With Alt at the helm, Bemidji State averages 42 points per game, seven more than anybody else in the 14-team NSIC.
Minnesota Duluth will try to slow down the superstar junior when the Bulldogs take on Bemidji State in an NSIC North Division clash at 1 p.m. Saturday at Chet Anderson Stadium in Bemidji. Both teams are 5-2 and 3-0 in the NSIC North Division, so Saturday has strong implications in regards to divisional bragging rights and the NCAA Division II postseason.
Last year Bemidji State rallied for a 42-35 victory over UMD for the Beavers’ first victory in Duluth since World War II. That propelled them to their first outright NSIC North Division title and their first NCAA Division II playoff berth.
“It’s not a revenge game,” Wiese said. “We got beat last year at home in a really important game. They found a way to win and we found a way to lose.
“They’re Bemidji. They’re well coached, they’re physical and they’re playing hard and just like us, they understand the significance of this game. This is an opportunity to put yourself ahead in the race for a North Division championship, as well as keeping your playoff hopes alive.”
It should be noted that in Alt’s one and only game in 2019, the 6-foot-2, 210-pound completed 15 of 25 passes for 192 yards, with four touchdowns with no turnovers.
Talk about a sign of things to come.
Last year the sophomore was a team captain and Harlon Hill finalist for D-II player of the year, finishing fifth. The All-Super Region 4 Second Team selection was named Bemidji State’s athlete of the year after going 284-for-530 passing for 4,245 yards, or 326.5 per game. He had 46 touchdowns to 19 interceptions.
“He’s been there a long time. He’s kind of the John Larson of Bemidji,” Wiese said, referring to the UMD signal caller who graduated last fall.
This year Alt is 150-for-248 passing for 2,217 yards, with 20 TDs to 11 picks. He’s averaging 316.7 passing yards per game,
“He’s very talented,” Wiese said. “He’s as good as we’ve seen and he’s as good as we’re going to see in our league. He can disperse the ball, he’s mobile enough and has a lot of veteran leadership behind him right now, so he’s a tough guy to beat.”
Alt’s top target being 6-foot-3, 215-pound senior Brendan Beaulieu, who leads the NSIC with 847 receiving yards on 46 receptions, good for a stellar 18.4 yards per reception. His eight receiving touchdowns are three more than anybody else in the league.
Junior running back Jalen Frye, meanwhile, has rushed 131 times for 526 and six touchdowns and the Bemidji State defense is holding opponents to 19.1 points per game, fifth-best in the league.
“Bemidji is kind of like this every year,” Wiese said. “They’re a quality football team and they’ve become the rival of the North Division for us, for sure.”
Wiese called senior quarterback Garrett Olson “day to day” after Olson appeared to hurt his throwing hand in the second quarter of last week’s 53-7 victory at Concordia-St. Paul.
“He hasn’t practiced yet this week but there’s a chance we’ll still have him back,” Wiese said.
Wiese said if Olson can’t go, freshman Kyle Walljasper would get the start.
Junior linebacker Drew Hennessey will not play this week. Hennessey, who leads the Bulldogs with six quarterback sacks, limped off the field in the third quarter last week with help from his teammates. Wiese was asked if the lower-body injury was season ending.
“We’re hoping not but we don’t know yet,” Wiese said.
Then there’s kicker Curt Cox, who left the game in the first half last week. He returned to practice this week and will play Saturday.
UMD quarterback Kyle Walljasper said last week’s 53-7 victory at Concordia-St. Paul was particularly gratifying because it happened on the road.
It was the Bulldogs’ first road win as both of their losses occurred away from home, 17-10 Sept. 10 at Minnesota State-Mankato, and 34-31 Sept. 24 at Sioux Falls.
“It was nice to finally get a road win,” Walljasper said. “Losing on the road … they’re not fun.”
Walljasper was asked what that eight-hour bus ride back from Sioux Falls felt like.
“Felt more like a week,” Walljasper said. “And Mankato, same thing. I’ll remember that when we play them again.”
MINNESOTA DULUTH AT BEMIDJI STATE
What: NSIC North Division football game
When: 1 p.m. Saturday
Where: Chet Anderson Stadium, Bemidji, Minnesota
Records: UMD 5-2, Bemidji State 5-2
Bemidji forecast: cloudy with a high of 62 and 12 mph wind
Radio: KDAL 610 AM & 103.9 FM
MINNESOTA DULUTH AT BEMIDJI STATE
National rankings: Neither team is ranked.
Series: Minnesota Duluth leads 48-11-1 but fell to the Beavers 42-35 last year at Malosky Stadium. The loss not only snapped UMD’s 18-game winning streak in the series, it was the first time Bemidji State had beaten the Bulldogs in Duluth since World War II.
Coaches: Curt Wiese is 85-20 in nine seasons at UMD; Brent Bolte 47-18 in six seasons as head coach and 22 overall at Bemidji State. Bolte was named the 2021 NSIC Coach of the Year after guiding the Beavers to a 10-3 record, their first 10-win season, first berth in the NCAA Division II tournament and first NCAA playoff victory. They also captured their first NSIC championship since 2006, and sixth overall, and first outright NSIC North Division championship.
Outlook: Minnesota Duluth is coming off its second straight blowout victory and third overall as the Bulldogs blasted Concordia-St. Paul 53-7 last week at Sea Foam Stadium in St. Paul. Ffreshman quarterback Kyle Walljasper was 11-for-16 passing for 132 yards and two touchdowns, his first extensive action throwing the football this season. Walljasper also rushed 12 times for 67 yards and another score. UMD finished with 573 yards of offense, including 304 on the ground as senior Wade Sullivan added seven carries for 100 yards, including a 56-yard touchdown. … UMD’s defense held Concordia to just 164 yards and didn’t allow a single passing yard in the first half. Up 39-7 after three quarters, the Bulldogs got their backups some work and freshman linebacker Harrison Kielar (Monterey, Calif.) came through with a 24-yard interception return for touchdown in the fourth quarter. … UMD has now topped 50 points in all three of its games at Sea Foam Stadium, including a 52-49 victory in 2016 and a 70-24 blowout in 2012. .. After starting the season off with a pair of tough losses, Bemidji State has rattled off five straight victories including last week’s 46-7 rout at Minnesota State-Moorhead. Quarterback Brandon Alt was 20-for-27 passing for 311 yards, with a touchdown and no interceptions, and Jalen Frye rushed 24 times for 92 yards and three touchdowns.
“They’ve had a very similar year to us where they could be a one or zero loss team,” UMD coach Curt Wiese said. “They probably kicked themselves for one or two plays early in the year that have put them in the position they’re in, but we’re both still in the race and there’s a lot of football still to be played. I think both of our teams are playing at a high level, we’ve fought through quite a bit of adversity, battled some injuries, and now, here we are. This game will be really big.”
— Jon Nowacki, Duluth News Tribune