BEMIDJI -- Tested for the first time this season, the Bemidji High School boys soccer team was up for the challenge in all aspects of the game. Except the scoreboard.
The Lumberjacks largely controlled Thursday’s match against Duluth East at Bemidji Middle School, but the visiting Greyhounds snuck out of town with a narrow 1-0 victory.
“We know we’re on the right track. If that’s one of the best teams in (Class) AA soccer, then we’re in pretty good shape,” BHS head coach Rick Toward said. “… We talked about it after the game was over. I said, ‘You lost the game on the scoreboard, but that’s not really the important part right now. It’s where you go from here, what you learn from this.’”
Both teams came in with impressive resumes, having each reached the 2018 state championship games in their respective classes. Bemidji, then, wasn’t expecting another lopsided victory like it has seen early this season, but rather an opportunity to test the waters against another top program in northern Minnesota.
“That’s what we want,” Toward said. “That’s why we schedule games like this: It’s to be pushed.”
Still, Duluth East (4-3) brought a swarming defense to which Bemidji needed acclimating.
“We haven’t played a team of this caliber this season. We’re not used to the loss of time and space that we get,” Toward said. “These guys, they close you down faster. … You have to be quicker in those decisions, and, obviously, we were unable to do that.”
The Jacks had no trouble in keeping possession in their attacking third. The trouble began when they looked to finish, as the Greyhounds bunkered down defensively and bottled up Bemidji’s efforts.
BHS racked up eight corner kicks in the first half, serving as evidence of the constant threat it posed to the scoreboard. But the Lumberjacks had just one first-half shot on goal to show for it.
Duluth East ultimately broke through first. In the 54th minute, Nolan Haney lined up a free kick from near midfield, and Duncan Zentz nodded it home for the 1-0 lead off the team’s first shot on goal.
Bemidji certainly had its chances for the equalizer. In the 57th minute, Aidan Helwig was hip-checked to the ground at the edge of the 18-yard box for what could have produced a penalty kick. After the referees conferred, Helwig was ruled outside the box, and the ensuing free kick floated harmlessly away.
Chase Mock had a golden opportunity, too. Ethan Mock’s run into the box got Greyhound keeper Anthony McHenry out of position, and Ethan’s cross found a wide-open Chase on the doorstep.
And yet, once again, the Jacks came up empty.
“I liked the second half in terms of our movement down in that final third,” Toward said. “We were getting the ball in and creating opportunities for ourselves. Things that we’ve stressed most of the season, we saw executed here. It’s just opportunities in that final third are few in this kind of game.”
To the finish, Bemidji had the dramatics, but not the answer. Time ran out on the comeback attempt and BHS dropped to 3-1 on the young season.
“At halftime, we said, ‘You’re going to get five chances to score a goal in this game,’” Toward said. “And what’d they get? Two? Well, they scored one off their two, and we scored zero off our five. It’s a funny game that way.”
JD Bitter finished with one save for the Lumberjacks. McHenry had nine for the Greyhounds.
Bemidji will be back in action at 7 p.m. Monday, Sept. 9, for a road test at St. Cloud Apollo.
Duluth East 1, Bemidji 0
DE 0 1 -- 1
BHS 0 0 -- 0
First half -- No scoring.
Second half -- 1, DE GOAL, Zentz (Haney) 54’.
Saves -- Bitter (BHS) 1; McHenry (DE) 9.