A golden goal winner from Noah Johnson in the 94th minute snatched a 1-0, double-overtime victory for North #3 seed Bemidji boys soccer against #2N East Grand Forks in a tightly-matched Section 8A quarterfinal Thursday evening at East Grand Forks High School.
In a game short on chances for both teams, Johnson and Michael Dickinson combined for the winner early in the second period of extra time on a sweeping attack down the left flank, with Dickinson’s cross meeting the junior for a first-time strike to the far corner.
The dramatic conclusion stood in marked contrast to what had been a tense, defensive quarterfinal between two longtime Lakes to Prairie Conferences foes who had not met during the regular season due to Bemidji’s temporary move to the Central Lakes Conference during the coronavirus-impacted season. A frigid evening was accompanied by difficulty in possession for both teams, though Bemidji made the most threats as the first half progressed.
The Lumberjacks piled up corner kicks during the night, coming close to breaking through with a series of looks off one such set piece in the first half.
Bemidji’s first major chance fell to Noah Ricci later in the half, as Johnson clipped a ball on to the feet of the senior forward as he beat the Green Wave defense. Harassed just enough from behind, Ricci’s finish could only go down the middle right at East Grand Forks goalkeeper Jonah Tollefson, who had rushed to meet him.
In a similar vein, the Green Wave fashioned their own major opportunity in the second half after Kole Chupka found a gap in Bemidji’s adjusted defense. Despite beating the backline on a through ball, Chupka still had to deal with holding off a recovering Ryan Rautio as he fired right at an onrushing Josh Nyberg in the Lumberjack goal.
Though they did not test Tollefson on net during the entirety of the second half en route to extra time, the Lumberjacks mounted more pressure early in the first period of extra time as the game remained at a stalemate.
Another corner produced another flash of a chance, with Rautio racing to the near post and clipping an effort against the outside of the post and side netting.
The pressure finally paid on the match winner, with Johnson initiating the attack on a ball to the left for Dickinson before his eventual cross returned to Johnson to score.
Bemidji ended the night with a 7-3 advantage in shots on goal, with Nyberg’s 3-save shutout the third in a row for a Bemidji backline that had not kept a clean sheet in any of its nine prior games this season.
The Lumberjacks improve to 5-6-1 and continue their run through the Section 8A playoffs with a visit to North #1 seed Pelican Rapids on Tuesday afternoon. The Vikings defeated #5N Alexandria 2-1 in overtime on Thursday, and will host Tuesday’s semifinal at 3pm at Pelican Rapids High School.
Postgame interview with Bemidji head coach Rick Toward:
Section 8A Boys Soccer Bracket
Quarterfinals (high seed hosting)
#1N Pelican Rapids 2-1 (OT) #5N Alexandria
#2N East Grand Forks 0-1 (2OT) #3N Bemidji
#1S St. Cloud Cathedral 1-2 #5N Sartell-St. Stephen
#2S St. Cloud Tech 2-0 #3S St. Cloud Apollo
Semifinals (high seed hosting–both games Tuesday, Oct. 20)
#1N Pelican Rapids v. #3N Bemidji (tentative time of 3pm)
#2S St. Cloud Tech v. #5S Sartell-St. Stephen (7pm)