Three goals in the final 10 minutes of regulation helped Willmar come back to shock Bemidji girls soccer for an improbable 3-3 draw Thursday evening at Chet Anderson Stadium.
Two goals in four minutes from Samantha Christoffer and an equalizer with less than two minutes to play courtesy of Ellary Lange completed a remarkable fightback from the visiting Cardinals on a night where Bemidji dominated much of the play on its Senior Night.
Despite dominating possession, Bemidji did not start creating a steady stream of chances until the latter stages of the first half. Peyton Oelrich went closest with an drive from the edge of the 18-yard box that missed wide of Ella Swanson’s post in the Willmar net.
With less than 30 seconds remaining in the half, Bemidji had an opportunity to put the pressure on the Cardinals’ backline again. Oelrich let fly from distance, forcing Swanson into a batted save, before a hurried corner from Oelrich found Sophia Morin for the game’s opening goal with a mere six seconds to play in the half.
The Lumberjacks picked up where they left off immediately in the second half with a goal accompanied by confusion in the 42nd minute. Morin tiptoed down the touchline on the left flank and was judged to have kept the ball in play, despite the linesman partially raising his flag before allowing play to continue. The Bemidji winger took advantage of a momentary pause due to the confusion to cross for Oelrich, who found Lauren Berg crashing on the doorstep to double the lead.
Bemidji’s lead became 3-0 just nine minutes later. Berg rounded off a flowing counterattack launched by Liberty Dickerson and Morin, with the latter splitting a through ball for the junior to race on to and finish off.
Such was Bemidji’s dominance that neither Jody Pemberton in the first half nor Kiera Nelson in the second faced a shot on goal until around halfway through the second half of play. Nelson made a diving hold on a free kick from Lange on the edge of the penalty area to preserve a clean sheet.
Oelrich had a quality chance to add another goal to Bemidji’s lead halfway through the second half, but her twisting lob from the top of the 18 was batted away on a good save from Swenson.
But in the final 10 minutes, the match turned rapidly. Christoffer started the comeback with what seemed to be a mere consolation goal in the 70th minute, opening up room to fire back across Nelson on the edge of the penalty area after a setup from Fernanda Ossa Letelier.
Four minutes latter, Christoffer bagged her second off a long clearance from Jaida Reiman out of the defense. After beating the Lumberjack backline with her speed, Christoffer’s initial effort was saved by an onrushing Nelson, but the save ricocheted back off the Cardinal forward before rolling across the line.
Lange completed the comeback in the 79th minute, skimming a long ball past the defense before clipping the equalizer over Nelson. Overtime was not played due to gameplay restrictions put in place for the coronavirus pandemic.
Shots finished 25-8 in favor of Bemidji, with a 12-5 edge in efforts on target. Pemberton did not make a save in the first half, while Nelson made two stops in the second. Swenson finished with nine saves for Willmar.
Bemidji remains unbeaten after three matches with a 2-0-1 mark, and will next head to Sauk Rapids-Rice for a rematch of last season’s Section 8A championship–a match the Lumberjacks won 1-0. Pregame will be at 12:45pm with kickoff at 1 on KBUN-FM 104.5 and kbunsportsradio.com.
Postgame interview with Bemidji head coach Logan Larsen: