BEMIDJI – The verdict is in: Bemidji’s defense is pretty good. And their offense isn’t bad either.
Alex Schussman scored a hat trick for the Lumberjacks, Connor McNallan recorded his second-straight clean-sheet shutout and the Lumberjacks topped East Grand Forks 5-0 on a rainy Thursday night at Bemidji Middle School.
McNallan, who saved all seven of the shots East Grand Forks sent his way, credited his back line of Gunnar Nelson, Matt Bitter, Jack Schmigdall and Wyatt Miller for helping him and the Lumberjacks (5-0, 3-0 Lakes To Prairie Conference) secure the victory.
“Our defense has been coming together great so far this year,” McNallan said. “We’ve got a lot of speed on that back line, and two starters in Gunnar and Matt who are coming off strong seasons.
“Matt basically clears everything away for me, and anything he doesn’t get Gunnar is able to run down. We’ve all been working really well together.”
BHS head coach Rick Toward said the Wave (2-2, 2-1) didn’t get many chances because they were basically playing with 10 defenders.
“It was a tough game for us offensively,” he said. “They put basically 10 guys behind the ball. They were content to pack it in and only play with one striker. That made it easier on our defense but tough on our offense to get going.”
Indeed, the Jacks didn’t score until late in the first half, when they were awarded a free kick deep in the East Grand Forks zone. Riley Brooks took the kick and it went off another Bemidji player but right at the feet of Austin Kovach.
Kovach, standing just inside the penalty area, ripped it home for the first goal of the game.
“It was a bit frustrating for us,” Toward said. “That’s why that first goal was key to getting us the momentum.”
Later, Schussman put the Jacks up 2-0 just before halftime.
With just over two minutes to go, Schussman streaked down the left side and deked a Green Wave defender out of his shoes, hesitating just enough to bait him into charging early. When he saw he had a shot he dribbled forward and flicked the ball toward the goal. It bounced off a Wave defender and into the back of the net.
In the second half, the Jacks didn’t score until midway through. But once again, Schussman worked his magic, scoring directly off a corner kick.
He lofted the ball toward the nearest goalpost. However, when the ball landed the Wave defender missed it. It went under his legs and the keeper couldn’t pick it up before it crossed the goal line.
That’s the third time Schussman had scored directly off a corner kick this season. The second came only two days before, when the Jacks won 4-0 at Grand Rapids.
He scored his third and final goal with 13:31 to go in the game, this time using his speed to burn the defense and the keeper.
After that, it was mostly over – although Neiko Gale and Alex Mino connected for a nice goal with eight minutes to go.
“It’s nice to get another conference win,” McNallan said. “We’ve got a lot of confidence now, and we’re going to need it this weekend against Cathedral.”
It’s true; the Lumberjacks deserve to have a lot of confidence. They’ve scored 17 goals this season and allowed only three – for a plus-15 goal differential.
But St. Cloud Cathedral poses an even greater challenge than anything they’ve seen before. They’ll come to Bemidji to take on the Jacks at 4 p.m. Saturday.
The Crusaders always have a tough program, and are perennial contenders for the Section 8A title. They’ve made nine appearances at state, including four straight years from 2007-2010.
This year they’re 3-0-1 and will be a good test of how well the Lumberjacks are doing at this point in the season.
“We want to make sure we’re ready to play them Saturday,” Toward said. “We got a chance to rest some guys near the end tonight, but we think we’ll need everybody to step up against Cathedral.
Bemidji 5, East Grand Forks 0
EGF0 0 – 0
BHS2 3 – 5
B – Kovach, 12:11
B – Schussman, 2:04
B – Schussman, 22:41
B – Schussman, 13:31
B – Mino (Gale), 8:00