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BOYS SOCCER: Zeke Graf scores, dances and more as Jacks thump EGF 8-0

Zeke Graf scored his first career goal on Monday, turning on a ball and firing a rocket into the back of the net. He sprinted toward the home crowd with a jolt of adrenaline, raised his hands triumphantly and celebrated with a confident and choreographed dance.

100522.S.BP.BHSBSOC Lincoln Schmitt.jpg
Bemidji sophomore Lincoln Schmitt (12) fights for the ball during the first half against East Grand Forks on Monday, Oct. 3, 2022, at Bemidji Middle School.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer
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BEMIDJI -- Coming into the year, Zeke Graf knew he wasn’t going to start for the Bemidji High School boys soccer team. He knew he wasn’t going to top the scoring chart. Heck, he knew he wouldn’t even play every game.

But there was also something he didn’t know.

“I’ve got to say, when I woke up this morning I was not planning on getting the final goal of the day,” the senior defender said. “But it certainly makes a day better.”

Graf was decisively the man of the match on Monday, scoring his first career goal in the 70th minute as BHS blitzed East Grand Forks 8-0 at Bemidji Middle School.

If anyone else had scored it, an eighth goal likely would’ve been a mere footnote in a game riddled with them. But not so with Graf. And that’s a testament to his role on the team.

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Head coach Rick Toward gushed about his everyday presence, an imperative one that leads to chemistry, competitive practices and a team-first mentality. Toward recounted that, during preseason tryouts, Graf wasn’t demanding one second of playing time. He just wanted to be a part of the team “so badly.”

“I said that I can’t promise you a ton of time on the field,” Toward said, “but I see you having a moment (like Monday’s).”

And it was one to write home about.

Graf scored from inside the box, turning on a ball and firing a rocket into the back of the net. He sprinted toward the home crowd with a jolt of adrenaline, raised his hands triumphantly and celebrated with a confident and choreographed dance.

“Oh my gosh, it was like winning the Super Bowl almost,” Graf said. “It was crazy. You just enjoy the moment, relish it while you can and just never forget it after it happens.”

100522.S.BP.BHSBSOC Tommy DeGeus.jpg
Bemidji senior Tommy DeGeus (15) goes to kick the ball during the first half against East Grand Forks on Monday, Oct. 3, 2022, at Bemidji Middle School.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

The Lumberjacks (6-7-1) also clinched the Lakes to Prairie Conference championship in the process, meeting a preseason goal and standing as a pretty solid birthday present for Toward.

“We’ve had a lot of games on my birthday over the years, and we usually have good results,” Toward said. “I’m certainly happy for the boys to get that conference title again. … We’re in the mentality that we’re in the playoffs. We have to try to maintain this momentum and mindset.”

Bemidji had no problem generating offensive chances on Monday. They outnumbered the Green Wave (1-10) in shots on goal by a 28-2 margin, overwhelming EGF all afternoon and hanging eight on the scoreboard.

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There were plenty of goals to be had in a strong first half, but Nick Rautio had perhaps the prettiest of them all. In the third minute, Rautio blasted a shot on target from the edge of the 18-yard box and buried the opening strike.

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Bemidji sophomore Isaac Stone (8) fights for control of the ball during the first half against East Grand Forks on Monday, Oct. 3, 2022, at Bemidji Middle School.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

Isaac Stone’s goal came next in the ninth minute, and then Bo Hofstad’s header made it 3-0 less than 11 minutes in. Jacob Stanoch scored another in the 19th minute, and Brodie Price and Conor Stodgell went back-to-back with headers in the 26th and 38th -- with Price even assisting Stodgell’s goal by heading a pass his way.

After halftime, Stone scored again in the 55th minute to make it 7-0. But all that action stood as a precursor to the main event. While Graf had to do most of the legwork for his goal, it felt like all his teammates were partially responsible with how deeply they willed it to happen.

“Honestly, this is one of the best groups of guys I’ve ever seen,” Graf said. “If their plan is to get a goal for me, wonderful. If it’s not, equally wonderful. … I’m not the most physical or getting the most minutes in a game, but I just want to build them up to better their performance.”

100522.S.BP.BHSBSOC Levi Renn.jpg
Bemidji sophomore Levi Renn (20) heads the ball during the first half against East Grand Forks on Monday, Oct. 3, 2022, at Bemidji Middle School.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

And it’s an attitude like that that makes his goal so meaningful to everyone on his team.

“It’s fun to win games, and it’s certainly fun to lift trophies,” Toward said. “That’s also a part of what we’re trying to do, but in the end, it’s about the experiences and the memories that we get to create together.”

Bemidji will next play at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 6, against St. Cloud Apollo at Chet Anderson Stadium.

Bemidji 8, East Grand Forks 0

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EGF 0 0 -- 0

BHS 6 2 -- 8

First half -- 1, BHS GOAL, Rautio (unassisted), 3’; 2, BHS GOAL, Stone (Devescovi), 9’; 3, BHS GOAL, Hofstad (Schmitt), 11’; 4, BHS GOAL, Stanoch (Stone), 19’; 5, BHS GOAL, Price (DeGeus), 26’; 6, BHS GOAL, Stodgell (Price), 38’.

Second half -- 7, BHS GOAL, Stone (Schmitt), 55’; 8, BHS GOAL, Graf (unassisted), 70’.

Saves -- Helm (BHS) 2; Cordts (EGF) 20.

100522.S.BP.BHSBSOC Conor Stodgell.jpg
Bemidji sophomore Conor Stodgell (13) chases the ball during the first half against East Grand Forks on Monday, Oct. 3, 2022, at Bemidji Middle School.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer
100522.S.BP.BHSBSOC Brodie Price.jpg
Bemidji senior Brodie Price (17) controls the ball during the first half against East Grand Forks on Monday, Oct. 3, 2022, at Bemidji Middle School.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

Micah Friez is the former sports editor at the Bemidji Pioneer. A native of East Grand Forks, Minn., he worked at the Pioneer from 2015-23 and is a 2018 graduate of Bemidji State University with a degree in Creative and Professional Writing.
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