MSU seniors hoping to end ‘long year’ with win

A football game between 2-8 teams isn’t enough to boost the heart rate of anyone but the most ardent supporter.

But for those involved in today’s season-ending 1:30 p.m. clash at Herb Parker Stadium, there is plenty to play for.

Bemidji State, picked sixth out of 16 teams in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference preseason poll, is trying to snap a six-game skid and end a disappointing year on a positive note. The Minot State University program would like to send its 15 seniors out with a victory on Senior Day.

“You certainly remember the last game when you put things on,” MSU coach Paul Rudolph said, “so you’d like them to play well.”

Many of MSU’s seniors were recruited into an NAIA program only to take their lumps as the Beavers transitioned to NCAA Division II. Rudolph said he’ll remember this class as a group that kept a positive attitude despite its struggles on the field. The Beavers went 6-2 against NAIA opponents in 2010, but are 7-24 in the three Division II seasons that followed.

“They’re a good bunch of guys,” Rudolph said of his seniors. “Obviously they were recruited under a different governing body and they’ve kind of been the pioneers, I suppose. They’ve been thrown to the wolves a little bit. They’ve fought and hung hard and done a lot of good things.”

MSU’s defense is particularly senior-heavy. Eight players who see significant snaps on that side of the ball will suit up for the last time. They’ll be tasked with shutting down an offense that relies heavily on senior running back Avery Walker, the NSIC’s fifth-leading rusher at 112 yards per game.

“He’s our first big home-run threat that we’ve had here in a lot of years,” 18th-year BSU coach Jeff Tesch said. “He’s capable of making some big plays running the ball and he can catch the ball, too. But he can grind, too.

“He’s one of the best backs that we’ve had here in a long time and obviously we’re hoping he can have a big day Saturday.”

Rudolph said Walker is as good as any running back MSU has faced all season. Senior linebacker Josh Weidler said slowing him down is a matter of limiting his opportunities.

“We gotta get off the field on third down,” said Weidler, a Velva native. “We haven’t done that all year. Our D-line, they’ve been great all year and we’ve gotta get one more game out of them.”

Walker’s numbers are even more impressive considering how one-dimensional Bemidji State’s offense is; BSU ranks last in the NSIC with 115 passing yards per game. Tesch said injuries and inconsistent play have caused him to try three different quarterbacks, and that redshirt freshman Ryan Shields will start today after sitting out last weekend’s loss at Minnesota State-Moorhead with an injury.

MSU is the opposite on offense. The Beavers have struggled to run the ball consistently but have thrown the ball for 213 yards per game. MSU senior wideout Wayne Peters enters today with 66 catches, one behind Harry Mills’ single-season record of 67 set in 2002.

“Individually, (the potential record) is a great reward, but basically we’re really looking forward to the win,” Peters said. “It’s our last game for all our seniors and me. A win would be a lot more enjoyable.”

Weidler echoed that sentiment. BSU has won 13 of 14 matchups against Minot State, but is surprisingly vulnerable this season.

“We just wanna get a win,” Weidler said. “It’s been a long year and been a long five years, but we rode this thing out and just want to come out with a victory and end our career off on the right way.”

Daniel Allar covers Minot State University athletics.

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