When Bemidji High School wrestling coach Rance Bahr studied the Section 8-3A bracket, he thought every match would be close but he felt the Lumberjacks had a chance to make a statement.
And at the conclusion of Saturday's tournament, Bahr proved to be a prophet.
The Lumberjacks stunned their section peers by posting three victories and capturing the Section 8-3A crown. Seeded second heading into Saturday's event, BHS defeated St. Cloud Tech 39-28 in the quarterfinals, edged Moorhead 33-29 in the semifinals and upset top-ranked Willmar on criteria after the teams battled to a 34-34 stalemate in the championship match.
Trailing 34-25 with two individual matches to go, Bemidji's coaches and wrestlers knew that they needed wins from Nick Maggert at 215 and heavyweight Alex Johnson to have a chance at the title.
Maggert did his part as he posted an 8-3 decision. That outcome meant that a pin by Johnson would result in a 34-34 final. Anything less would mean that Bemidji's effort would come up short.
Johnson, however, was not going to let his teammates down as the sophomore pinned his foe in 3:10.
The 34-34 final score meant that officials had to determine a winner by checking the tie-breaking criteria and the outcome came down to the fact that Bemidji won eight of the individual matches and Willmar captured only six.
"This is unbelievable," Bahr said. "Everybody on the team knew what they had to do to make this happen and words can't describe how happy I am for the kids and how proud I am of the kids.
"Everybody stepped it up," the coach continued. "Last year we finished eighth out of 10 teams in the section and no one expected us to pull this off. The fact that we went from worst to first in one year is pretty exhilarating."
Earning the victories in the title match were Logan Crosby at 119, Jake Crosby at 125, Craig Maas at 135, Colton Doty at 140, Kade Johnson at 145, Kodi Craft at 160, Maggert and Johnson.
Craft posted a 15-9 decision despite wrestling with 10 stitches near his eye, an injury sustained in the quarterfinals and one which forced BHS to forfeit in the semifinals.
High school league rules state that any forfeit during a post-season tournament continues throughout the rest of the season, so the Jacks had to forfeit at 171 against Willmar.
"I knew the match was going to be close but that forfeit meant that every point was even more important," Bahr said. "At 189, for example, Brenden Fredriksen lost 28-15 but he did a terrific job of not being tech-falled. If that would have happened Willmar would have had one more team point and we would not have been able to catch up."
Early in the season the Lumberjacks tested their potential when they headed to Willmar. Although they lost 36-31 that day the Jacks gained the confidence that led to Saturday's section championship.
"After wrestling at Willmar the coaches and the kids believed that we had the ability to be section champs," Bahr said. "I'm not sure the other teams in the section thought we could pull this off but we certainly did."
Bemidji will open its state tournament action March 3.
Tech defeated Rocori in the opening round to set up its match against Bemidji while Moorhead defeated Apollo, Willmar downed Alexandria and Sauk Rapids upset Brainerd in the other quarterfinals
Willmar stopped Sauk Rapids in its semifinal match.