BEMIDJI – A three-goal outburst during a two-minute span early in the first half was all the Bemidji boys soccer team needed to eliminate East Grand Forks 4-0 Saturday and advance to Tuesday’s Section 8A semifinal against Sartell.
The semifinal probably will start at 4 p.m. at the middle school field but that decision won’t officially be made until Monday. Earlier this fall BHS downed Sartell 1-0 on its home turf.
Saturday’s victory could have been more one-sided had the Lumberjacks opted to continue to apply pressure. The players and coaches knew, however, that the outcome had been decided after those early goals and, in an effort to better prepare for Tuesday and to prevent any injuries, the starters saw scant duty in the second half.
“The game plan was to go out and get past East Grand Forks so we could get to Tuesday,” said attacker Alex Schussman. “We wanted to come out strong and once we got those three goals it was pretty much over.”
Schussman had a hand in all three of those tallies. At the 9:10 mark he sent a corner kick to the right side of the box and Matt Bitter headed it into the net.
A minute later Schussman drilled another corner kick to the slot and this one bounced off Riley Brooks straight to Seth Wall who rammed it home.
Schussman scored the final goal of the string at the 11:18 mark when Isak Sommer found his teammate streaking toward the net and the sophomore dumped it over the keeper from 12 yards out.
Bemidji scored the final goal five minutes into the second half when Brooks camped in the slot and converted a rebound of Sommer’s initial shot.
“We were very confident going into this game that if we put in the effort we should win,” said Jacks coach Rick Toward. “We put in that effort for 15 minutes in the first half and we scored three early goals.
“After that, we did what we needed to do to win the game.”
Bemidji is 12-2-2 and has yielded only 13 goals all season. The only time an opponent has scored more than two goals against the Lumberjacks was Sept. 25 when Moorhead stopped BHS 3-1.
“We know we aren’t going to give up many goals,” Toward said. “With Connor (McNallan) in the net as our keeper, and Gunner Nelson and Matthew Bitter doing their jobs as center defenders, defense is one of our strengths.
“Our back lineup is very solid. When somebody makes a mistake someone else is there to cover,” the coach continued.
Bemidji played much of the second half with its reserves, partly because of the score and partly because there was a strong potential for injury.
The officials issued four yellow cards and a red card for rough play and the action was often stopped by fouls and plays that could have been viewed as fouls.
“It’s playoff time and you don’t want to let up but on the other hand this was a physical and, in some ways, a chippy game and I didn’t want anybody to get hurt,” Toward said.
Austin Kovach sat out the second stanza after getting drilled in the back with a kick by Green Wave midfielder Cole Orthaus at the end of the first half.
With the whistle only seconds away Kovach was guarding Orthaus at midfield. Orthaus appeared to do his version of football’s “take a knee”, standing just inside midfield with no apparent desire to move the ball, and Kovach headed for the halftime huddle area behind the net.
When Kovach turned his back on the play, however, Orthaus ripped a boot from point blank range which caught Kovach in the upper back and dropped the senior.
No penalty was called because time hadn’t officially expired. According to the officials, the kick was legal but, according to the code of the game, the kick was uncalled for and unethical.
“Austin is sore but he’ll be okay,” Toward said. “We kept him out of the second half for precautions.
“The only starter we had on the field at the end was Gunnar Nelson. This was the type of game when it’s better to get the starters out as soon as you could.”
Schussman believes that Saturday’s win is the first of many postseason victories this fall.
“I think we have a great chance to go to state,” he said. “We certainly have the physical ability. We just need to believe in ourselves.”
East Grand Forks 0 0 - 0
Bemidji 3 1 - 4
B-Bitter (Schussman). 9:10
B-Wall (Brooks). 10:01
B-Schussman (Sommer). 11:18
B-Brooks (Sommer). 45:20
Johnson (EGF) 3 5 - 8
McNallan (B) 1 3 - 4