BEMIDJI -- The first was manageable. The second was uncomfortable. But the third was a nightmare.
For the Bemidji High School girls soccer team, a 3-0 lead evaporated in the final 11 minutes of Thursday’s game against Willmar at Chet Anderson Stadium. What the Lumberjacks had built into a surefire victory crumbled into a 3-3 tie on a trio of Cardinal goals before the finish.
“Maybe we were too comfortable. Maybe we felt like we had too much time,” BHS head coach Logan Larsen said. “If a team’s down, that’s what they’re going to do: They’re going to try to press hard and try to counter. It’s something we can be more aware of in the future.”
Willmar (2-1-1) executed the blueprint flawlessly, building energy with every goal and proving to be too much for Bemidji (2-0-1) to contain in the end.
“I think when you get a lead, sometimes you can get relaxed,” Larsen said. “There were times when we could have played with a little more intensity. Sometimes you can just relieve pressure by clearing a ball hard, things like that.”
Even despite the finish, though, Larsen was pleased with what he saw for the vast majority of the night.
“We improved on the things we’ve been working on in practice,” he said. “So really, this game, it’s not the result we’ve gotten in the last two, but so much of it looked better than what we did in the last two.”
It was all Lumberjacks for the first 69 minutes. Peyton Oelrich and Sophie Morin sent BHS into the half with a 1-0 lead, connecting on a corner kick with six seconds to spare. Although rushed to take it before time expired, Oelrich lofted a perfect ball to Morin, who headed it on and in.
BEMIDJI GOAL: Sophie Morin heads in a goal just before the buzzer.— Micah Friez (@micahfriez) September 11, 2020
Peyton Oelrich took a rushed corner kick in the closing seconds, but it was a thing of beauty. The Jacks take a 1-0 lead into halftime. pic.twitter.com/Vr79q8u6Pg
Right away in the second half, Morin set up Oelrich to assist Lauren Berg in the 42nd minute. Bemidji’s second goal in 1 minute, 38 seconds of game time was good for a 2-0 advantage, which Berg stretched into 3-0 with a close-range no-doubter off a pass from Morin in the 51st minute.
“I’m really pleased not only with the offense, but the center of the field knocking the ball around more, spreading the field more,” Larsen said. “Defense (was) involved in possession. Most of the game was exactly what we wanted. Obviously we took it a little too easy in the end, and we paid for it.”
As the Lumberjacks coasted to the finish, Samantha Christoffer brought the Cardinals back from the dead. She exposed a backline breakdown for her first strike in the 70th minute, and then she made it a one-goal game four minutes later by racing past the defense, blasting a shot off a charging Kiera Nelson and guiding the ricochet into the net.
By then, the equalizer felt almost imminent. With BHS on its heels, Willmar came to life. Ellary Lange played the hero by finding the back of the net with 1:46 remaining.
“We just have to play a full 80 (minutes),” Larsen said. “Possession doesn’t count for more goals, so really, we just have to play the full 80.”
Due to coronavirus guidelines, the game finished without extra time.
Bemidji is back on the pitch at 1 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 12, at Sauk Rapids-Rice in a rematch of last season’s Section 8A championship game.
Bemidji 3, Willmar 3
WIL 0 3 -- 3
BHS 1 2 -- 3
First half -- 1, BHS GOAL, Morin (Oelrich) 40’.
Second half -- 2, BHS GOAL, Berg (Oelrich) 42’; 3, BHS GOAL, Berg (Morin) 51’; 4, WIL GOAL, Christoffer (Ossa-Letelier) 70’; 5, WIL GOAL, Christoffer (Reiman) 74’; 6, Lange (Ossa-Letelier) 79’.
Saves -- Pemberton (BHS) 0; Nelson (BHS) 2; Swenson (WIL) 9.