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BOYS SOCCER: Moorhead too much for Bemidji in Jacks' home opener

The Lumberjacks return to the pitch at 5 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 7, against Grand Rapids at Bemidji Middle School.

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Bemidji senior John McNallan (1) makes a save in the first half against Moorhead on Friday, Sept. 3, 2021, at Chet Anderson Stadium. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

BEMIDJI -- Moorhead is a frequent opponent for the Bemidji High School boys soccer team. Yet despite the Lumberjacks' familiarity, the Spuds' combination of size, speed and technical ability presents a significant challenge for any team, even one that knows them well.

BHS hung with Moorhead for a half, but even with significant advancement from the Jacks' debut match with Hill-Murray, Moorhead simply had more than Bemidji did Friday night at Chet Anderson Stadium: more offensive possession, more chances, and -- most importantly -- more goals: 2 to Bemidji's 1.

"It's early on in the season. So we understand that this team is a work in progress, so to speak," BHS head coach Rick Toward said. "We're not bringing back a lot of varsity experience from last year. But definitely an improvement from (what) we saw on Tuesday."

The Lumberjacks' performance was indeed an improvement from their season-opening 5-0 loss. BHS got on the board early when defender Tommy DeGeus laced in a spinning shot in the ninth minute, giving the Jacks their first goal of the season.

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The Lumberjacks celebrate after junior Tommy DeGeus (15) scored his first career goal and Bemidji’s first goal of the season on Friday, Sept. 3, 2021, against Moorhead at Chet Anderson Stadium. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

Unfortunately for Bemidji, that was its lone shot on goal of the night. Moorhead, meanwhile, turned up the pressure, countering in the 18th minute with a goal by Abdirahman Ahmed on an assist from Max Hodny.

In the second half, the Spuds sliced up the Lumberjacks' defense, generating several quality chances before Revar Qaqos punched in what would be the game-winning goal in the 49th minute.

But the Lumberjacks kept it close largely thanks to the effort of senior goalkeeper John McNallan. McNallan, who turned away several Moorhead opportunities early in the second, gave Bemidji's defense a chance to settle in after the Spuds' torrid start.

"Johnny McNallan is definitely the player of the game," Toward said. "He had a phenomenal game. He made some tremendous saves."

None of McNallan's saves were bigger than those he made down the stretch as Bemidji fought to equalize. Moorhead's counterattack had multiple openings for easy goals, but McNallan shut down each one, including an athletic kick save with a minute remaining to give the Jacks one final chance to tie.

BHS was unable to, but Toward saw a number of positives and chances to improve that the team can take into next week.

"We need to play in competitive matches," Toward said. "It's a nice thing about the way the schedule is set up. We start out with a top-10 team in the state in Hill-Murray. We come back and play a section rival, a classic Bemidji-Moorhead rivalry game, and, you know, that level of competitive spirit ... that was a good environment for us to be in, and we had a good time with it. And now we just got to turn that 2-1 for the other team into a 2-1 for us."

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The Lumberjacks return to the pitch at 5 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 7, against Grand Rapids at Bemidji Middle School.

Moorhead 2, Bemidji 1

MOOR 1 1 -- 2

BHS 1 0 -- 1

First half -- 1, BHS GOAL, DeGeus (Stone), 9'; 2, MOOR GOAL, Ahmed (Hodny), 18'.

Second half -- 3, MOOR GOAL, Qaqos, 49’.

Christian Babcock is a sports reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer. He trekked to Bemidji from his hometown of Campbell, Calif., after graduating from the Cronkite School at Arizona State University in 2021. Follow him on Twitter at @CB_Journalist for updates on the Lumberjacks and Beavers or to suggest your favorite local restaurant.
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