Bemidji proves it is among section's elite
BEMIDJI – The Lumberjacks and St. Cloud Cathedral are considered among the elite of Section 8A boys soccer and those associated with both programs believe that a state tournament appearance is well within reach.
Last year the Crusaders ended Bemidji’s season with a 3-2 shootout decision in the section semifinals. This fall the Jacks hope to reverse that trend.
Saturday at the middle school field BHS and St. Cloud Cathedral renewed their rivalry and, to no one’s surprise, the result was a 1-1 overtime draw.
“No coach likes a tie but Cathedral coach John Pepper and I both said after the game that this was a fun one to watch,” said Lumberjacks coach Rick Toward. “There were two even teams on the field and when the play is this even you win some and you lose some. And this one ended in a tie.”
The Crusaders held a territorial advantage through much of the game but Bemidji scored the lone first-half goal and maintained the 1-0 advantage through the early going of the second stanza.
Austin Kovach opened the scoring 28:12 into the action when he zipped a feed from Wyatt Miller through St. Cloud Cathedral goalie Andres Almarza.
The goal actually seemed to spur the visitors as the Crusaders pressed the attack in the final 10 minutes of the first half and through the first 30 minutes of the second period.
That pressure paid dividends seven minutes into the second session when Phil Ruegemer blasted a rocket from the right side of the box. Jacks goalkeeper Connor McNallan dived to make the save but the carom bounded to Alan Flores who was unguarded in the high slot and his bullet found the net inside the right post.
For the next 25 minutes the ball remained in Bemidji’s defensive zone. Occasionally the Crusaders would turn that pressure into a scoring chance but, for the most part, the Jacks’ defenders were able to minimize the danger.
Bemidji, however, was on its heels until Toward made a tactical switch with 10 minutes remaining in regulation.
“Cathedral was exploiting the open space we gave them to the outside so we switched to a 4-4-2,” the coach said. “By doing that we eliminated Cathedral’s ability to work the outside. And, because of that, we were able to create opportunities for ourselves.”
That alignment switch paid immediate benefits as the Lumberjacks went from being on the defensive to going on the attack.
In the final 10 minutes of the second half Almarza was busy and his play in the net was the only thing that prevented BHS from taking the lead.
His best save came with seven minutes to play when Bemidji was awarded a free kick just outside the left corner of the box after Isak Sommer was hauled to the ground.
Alex Schussman took that kick and his low banana around Cathedral’s wall was headed for the right post when Almarza dived to his left to make the save.
McNallan also was called upon in the final minutes but Bemidji’s keeper was in the perfect position to deny Austin Mareck’s blast from 30 yards out.
The home team dominated play in both overtimes but couldn’t work a shot through the St. Cloud Cathedral defenders. Neither keeper made a save in either 5-minute overtime and it probably was fitting that the game ended in a draw.
“I would have loved to get the win but at this stage in the year we are looking to see where see sit in the section,” Toward said. “The path to the state tournament will go through St. Cloud. Among the top teams are Cathedral, St. Cloud Apollo and Sartell and Saturday we showed that we can play with any of them.”
Bemidji, 5-0-1, returns to action Monday night at Detroit Lakes. The next home appearance will be Sept. 20 against Hibbing.
St. Cloud Cathedral 0 1 0 0 - 1
Bemidji 1 0 0 0 - 1
B-Kovach (Miller). 28:12
SCC-Flores (Rugemer). 6:43
Almarza (SCC) 4; McNallan (B) 6