ALEXANDRIA -- Two years ago, it was a double-overtime golden goal in the state title game. Last year, a free kick in the 71st minute of the section championship. And now, a backbreaker in the 71st minute in the Section 8A semifinals.
No matter the stage, lately the Bemidji High School boys soccer team has faced season-ending heartbreak.
“If you look at this team’s history, it’s been overtime or goals very close to the end of the game that have wound up leading to the end of our season. Year after year after year,” BHS head coach Rick Toward said. “They’re super hard to come back from, especially for us this year trying to find goals.”
The Lumberjacks had their chances Wednesday night in Alexandria, but third-seeded Bemidji never found the goal it needed in a 1-0 loss to top-seeded Pelican Rapids in the subsection final.
“Section playoff games are always tight, right?” Toward said. “(We had) 1-0 games the first two games that went to our benefit, and tonight we’re on the short end of it.”
With under 10 minutes to play, Khadar Ibrahim attacked the heart of the BHS defense, and he set up Jesus Moreno for glory. Moreno came in and chipped the Ibrahim pass over Lumberjack keeper John McNallan for the ultimate game-winner.
“(McNallan) challenged on the ball that came out, it was just out of his reach and it fell to the foot of the guy who buried it,” Toward said.
Bemidji (5-7-1) sure had opportunities for the go-ahead strike itself. The best chances came after halftime, still in a scoreless game, but season-long struggles continued as their efforts went by the wayside.
“This team struggled much of the year to find goals, except in a couple contests,” Toward said. “This night was no different. We created the opportunities. We had opportunities into the final third, in the box, and we just could not find the net.”
The game opened up as a tight, feel-things-out kind of start. However, after plenty of action in the midfield and through balls that didn’t connect, play started to open up in the final stretch of the first half.
McNallan made a pair of spectacular plays before halftime. The first was when Moreno met a through ball inside the 18-yard box with just McNallan to beat. But he whiffed on the kick, and by the time he regrouped for the retry, McNallan charged and dove on the ball to snuff the threat.
Six minutes later, the Vikings (10-2) had a chance on a corner kick, but McNallan defended the post on a crafty flick on net to keep things scoreless going into halftime.
“He was aggressive when he needed to be,” Toward said. “His hands were solid tonight. It’s cold out, and he kept his hands on every ball that came to him.”
BHS almost opened the scoring off the foot of Casey Hiller, who crashed on a bouncing ball inside the box. Sebastian Rosiles stopped the 47th-minute try, though, and watched Michael Dickinson’s point-blank shot slice wide 10 minutes later off a misclear.
In the end, every threat that the Lumberjacks generated died out before finding a championship strike. Pelican Rapids, meanwhile, clinched its first-ever win over Bemidji.
“We played a really solid team. Pelican is a good team,” Toward said. “We knew it was going to be a tough test, they’re the No. 1 seed for a reason, and a couple mistakes here and there could have been the difference between us being on the 1-0 up instead of the 1-0 down.”
BHS graduates nine seniors in Marlondo Smith, Noah Ricci, Josh Wright, Silas Bitter, Justin White, Josh Nyberg, Aidan Spaeth, Ryan Rautio and Dickinson.
No. 1 Pelican Rapids 1, No. 3 Bemidji 0
BHS 0 0 -- 0
PR 0 1 -- 1
First half -- No scoring.
Second half -- 1, PR GOAL, Moreno (Ibrahim), 71’.
Saves -- McNallan (BHS) 6; Rosiles (PR) 4.