The Bemidji High boys soccer team used its heads to good advantage Thursday to vault into the Section 8A semifinals with a 3-2 win over Alexandria.
Playing one of its finest games in its 21 year history, the Jacks used headers by Max Hazelton and Rylee Curb to take a 2-0 lead into the final four minutes of play and a breakaway goal by Curb to cement the win.
The Cards scored twice in that span, the last with 21 seconds remaining, but never caught up.
It marked only the second time Bemidji has ever won twice in post season play matching that mark set in 2007.
Under the new Class A playoffs, the top two teams from the north and south sub-sections will be cross bracketed Tuesday for the semifinals.
Bemidji expects to head to St. Cloud for a 4 p.m. game with the south's top seed, Cathedral, a long time section and state power and the defending champion. It bowed to Duluth East 3-1 in the opening round of the state.
Cathedral met Little Falls in Tuesday's second round.
The south's No. 2 team, Minnewaska, played No. 3 Sartell.
The North's top team, Detroit Lakes, went against No. 5 Crookston and will host the second Tuesday game if it won.
The title game will be Oct. 22 at St. Cloud State at 5:30.
Thursday's game was played under cold, wet conditions made playable only by the lack of any wind.
Bemidji came out firing from the start, kept the ball in the offensive zone the entire first half and played a staunch defensive display that kept the Cards away from the box.
While the shots were even (7) and the stops also even (3), Bemidji held a large territorial advantage.
But its lone goal came at the 22.37 mark when Hazelton took Curb's long lead pass from the right side at the left corner to head the ball past goalie Scott Hennen.
The best Alex threat came at the 27:36 mark when a long free kick caught the cross bar and caromed over the net.
Alex came out with a vengeance after the break and began taking the play away from the host team.
Play shifted into the Alex offensive zone for long periods. But the strong Bemidji defense kept the Cards at bay although they held a shots advantage.
But at the 59:25 mark, Izak Sommer and Curb matched up for another score, Sommer feeding from the right corner to the left corner of the net where Curb headed it home.
The Jacks defense continued to hold off Alex as time dwindled into the final four minutes.
Suddenly the defensive battle became an offensive barrage.
Alex broke the shutout when Eric Maloney was awarded a free kick near the left corner and launched a high shot into the crease where Brandon Ludwig got free to head it past Kevin Larson.
Curb removed much of the worry two minutes later when he captured Hazelton's long feed past the center line, dribbled past the last defender, deked out Hennen and tucked the ball into the net behind him.
There was 1:14 to play. It was enough for Alex to score again, It came on the identical play when Maloney was again awarded a free kick from the near identical spot as his first.
And again he lofted the ball into the crease where Ludwig headed it into the goal.
But only 21 seconds were left to play and Bemidji ran out the clock.
With a strong 15-11 second half shots advantage, Alexandria ended with a 22-18 edge in that category.
Hennen ended with seven stops. Larson had eight.
The en lifted Bemidji to 12-4-2 going into its expected battle with the unbeaten Wright County champion Crusaders who were 15-0-2 entering Thursday's game with Little Falls.
Alex, the Central Lakes Conference champs, ended 11-6-1.
Coach Rick Toward rated the game as perhaps the best played of his 15 years at the helm.
"Emotionally, it matched the 1-0 shootout victory over Brainerd two years ago but I think we played better ball in this game. I feel we are peaking at the right time and can hold our own with anyone. We'll find out Tuesday.
Alexandria 0 2---2
Bemidji 1 2---3
22:37 Bem-Hazelton (Curb)
59:25 Bem-Curb (Sommer)
76:44 Alx-Ludwig (Maloney)
78:46 Bem-Curb (Hazelton)
79:39 Alx-Ludwig (Maloney
Alx-Hennen 3 4---7
Bem-Larson 3 5---8Corner kicks: Alexandria 11, Bemidji 5
Officials; Rob Williams, Dennis Dobbelstein and Rod Thorough