While Clemson and LSU held center stage in their College Football Playoff showdown Monday night, just a few weeks earlier Joe Beschorner experienced what it’s like to call the offensive plays in a scoring shootout for a national championship.
For the last five seasons, Beschorner, a Lohrville-area native and 1996 Southern Cal (now South Central Calhoun) High School graduate, has coached the quarterbacks and masterminded the Minnesota State University offense, which since his arrival has been breaking school records for rushing, passing and scoring numbers.
Minnesota State and West Florida both rolled into the NCAA Division II championship game on Saturday, Dec. 21, in McKinney, Texas, with 14-0 season records. Minnesota State and West Florida were deadlocked 14-14 after the first period. West Florida surged ahead 38-21 in the second, however, Minnesota State battled back to within 48-40, and in the final minute the Mavericks had a chance to score a touchdown and then go for two extra points to tie the game and send it into overtime. But a pass on fourth-and-nine from the West Florida 18-yard line failed.
“It was a great experience. The only thing I’d change is the outcome,” Beschorner said in a recent phone interview with the Times Herald.
“It was very cool. It was a lot of hard work by our players. They did a great job this season obviously with the ability to get to that game and then to compete in it. The way the game ended was disheartening, but I know our kids left it all on the field, and our coaches did as well.”
In the title game, Minnesota State racked up 562 total yards — 419 passing and 143 rushing.
Seeking the last-minute TD, Beschorner said of the Mavericks’ final play, which was an option-route pass to the wide receiver, “I called it because it was fourth-and-nine and I wanted to give one of our best players an opportunity to make a play.”
Following the title game, Beschorner quickly hit the recruiting trail, aiming to reload the Minnesota State offense for another shot at the first-ever NCAA Division II football crown for the Mankato school. In their only other trip to the championship game, before Beschorner joined the staff, the Mavericks fell to Colorado State-Pueblo 13-0 in 2014.
The Mavericks lose several starters — one of the two quarterbacks who shared playing time, two receivers, a tight end and running back — from the 2019 team that achieved remarkable per-game averages: 47.5 points, 283.1 rushing yards (59 TDs for the season) and 234.7 passing yards (30 TDs).
“We have some holes to fill, but that’s why you recruit, and that’s the nature of the beast. We all understand that,” Beschorner said. “It’s college football, and kids move on. We have to have guys who are prepared physically and mentally to step into those new roles.”
Beschorner primarily recruits the state of Minnesota, while the Mavericks also target players from Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin.
“It has a good population, solid football, so we do a pretty good job in Minnesota,” Beschorner said. “We’re the second-largest school in the state (behind the University of Minnesota), and 15,000 to 17,000 students go to school here.”
Minnesota State’s success along with revival of the University of Minnesota’s program the last couple of years boosts high-school players’ interest, Beschorner said.
In his own playing career, Beschorner started at running back and defensive back at Southern Cal under head coach Don Boulware, who was the new head coach after succeeding Delos Schumacher. After graduation from Southern Cal in 1996, Beschorner played defensive back at Simpson College in Indianola on teams that won Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (now the American Rivers Conference)championships in 1996 and ’97. Simpson qualified for the NCAA Division III playoffs those seasons, losing in the first round in ’96 and advancing to the semifinals in ’97 before losing to powerhouse Mount Union.
A 2000 Simpson graduate, Beschorner joked about his decision to pursue a coaching career: “What’s the old saying, ‘Those who can’t do teach, and those who can’t play coach?’ I still wanted to be around football. I wasn’t good enough to keep playing, but I really liked being part of a team, and I really liked the game of football. This was an avenue for me to be able to do that.”
Beschorner said he ended up on the offensive side of the ball because that just happened to be where he found his first coaching opportunity.
He kicked off his career as a graduate assistant at
Minnesota State in 2000 and ’01, then moved on to running backs coach and recruiting coordinator at the University of South Dakota and assistant head coach and offensive coordinator at Simpson.
According to the Minnesota State website, since Beschorner joined the staff there five years ago as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, 21 Mavericks have received All-North Sun Intercollegiate Conference honors. He has coached seven All-Americans.
Over the last five seasons, Minnesota State has posted records of 10-2, losing in the first round of Division II playoffs; 8-3, finishing second in the conference; 13-1, losing in the Division II quarterfinals; 13-1, falling in the seminfinals; and 14-1, losing in the championship game.
Beschorner said of coaches’ role, “It’s our job to put the best guys out there and put them in the best possible situations to be successful, give them the least amount of information needed to be successful, and let them play football.
“We’re going to adapt our style to who are people are, however, we want to be able to run the football. I think all successful teams have to have the ability to run the football at some point.”
The Mavericks challenge opponents’ defenses with all kinds of offensive styles during a game.
“We’re under center, we’re in the shotgun, we’re in the pistol, we run some zone read, we run some quarterback-run game, but we also run the old-school running-back-downhill. We do no-huddle, but we’ll also huddle,” Beschorner said. “We try to change up that way.”
He said of the evolution he’s seen in offensive strategies, “It’s cyclical. You want to stay as advanced as you can from a schematic standpoint so people can’t get a bead on what you’re doing. And you also want to make sure you’re putting the football in your best players’ hands.
“There are a thousand ways to skin a cat. But you get the ball into the best players’ hands with as much space as possible, because the players are the ones who ultimately decide the outcome of the game. The coaches don’t make any plays out there.”
He added, “The game’s always won or lost up front. It’s a line-of-scrimmage game, so we want to make sure our offensive linemen are playing really fast and really physical. Schematically, yeah, there are a ton of different things that have changed over the years.”
The last few years, Minnesota State’s rosters have resembled the teams at Big 10 West leaders Iowa and Wisconsin, so the Maverick coaches have visited the coaching staffs at those schools for ideas.
Beschorner also visits frequently with his younger brother Wesley, a 2001 Southern Cal graduate who started at quarterback and defensive back for the Mustangs’ 2000 state-championship team. At quarterback at South Dakota, Wesley topped off his stellar career by finishing runner-up in voting for the Harlon Hill Trophy, awarded to the most-outstanding player in NCAA Division II.
Joe was a coach at South Dakota during Wesley’s career there, and Wesley, too, jumped into the coaching ranks. Wesley has held assistant positions at South Dakota, Rice and Maryland and recently completed his first year as head coach at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, an NCAA Division III program.
“There are a ton of different ideas you can bounce off each other,” Joe said of the visits with his brother. “He’s been an offensive coordinator (at Conference USA and Big 10 schools) and now he’s a head coach, so he had a little different perspective than I have.
“We’re in constant communication about different things, whether it’s philosophy, scheme, recruiting — all the different things in the day-to-day life of coaching.”
Joe said he, of course, would like to be in charge of his own program someday.
“But it’s more about having the right fit for me and my family,” he added. “There are a lot of places you can go, but not a lot of places you can go that have the resources and things you’re going to need to be successful. First and foremost, I want to make sure it’s a great fit for my family.”
Joe’s wife, Beth, a Cedar Rapids native, received a bachelor’s degree at Minnesota State, a master’s degree at Southwest Minnesota State in Marshall and a doctorate at Iowa State University. She’s taught at Drake University and Simpson and is now an associate professor of elementary and literary education at Minnesota State.
The Beschorners, who have been married 15 years, have four children: Olivia, 14, a ninth-grader; Shea, 13, a seventh-grader; Piper, 11, a sixth-grader; and Mack, 9, a fourth-grader. The children are all very active in school and youth athletic programs.
Beschorner credits Beth with doing much of the running to get the children to their different activities.
During football season, he begins his days at 6 a.m. with an offensive-staff meeting and doesn’t return home till about 6 or 6:30 in the evening.
“It’s not like hard work,” he said of the demands. “It’s not like farming. It’s just a lot of hours.”
He knows all about farm hours. A son of Duane and Jane Beschorner, he grew up on a grain and livestock farm east of Lohrville. His mom was a longtime librarian in Lohrville. His dad still raises crops, and his mom is semi-retired. In addition to Wesley, Joe has a brother, Nicholas, who’s a 2002 Southern Cal graduate and now lives in Yarmouth, in southeast Iowa, where he works as an on-site mechanic for John Deere and also farms.
Beschorner said of the rewards of coaching, “The thing I enjoy the most is the relationships you build with the players, the other coaches, the administration, the people you work with day to day. With about any other job there’s usually a product. Our product is what we do on Saturdays and sometimes Thursday nights. That’s our product. Our product is also our people. It’s a people business. I like being around the kids. ... The relationships you build with the players, because you’re around them so much, that’s a lot of fun.”