Emma Wright scored three times in her first varsity start to help Bemidji girls soccer turn a wealth of chances into a 3-1 win against 10-player Fergus Falls in a game filled with talking points Thursday evening at Chet Anderson Stadium.
After scoring off the bench against Brainerd on Tuesday, Wright turned her first start into an immediate impact in the 13th minute. Peyton Oelrich fed the sophomore on the edge of the penalty area, where she worked past a defender before poking a finish through the legs of the Otters’ Svea Smestad to put Bemidji in front.
Chances were created in bunches early on by the Lumberjacks, including immediately after the goal. Lauren Berg broke through the Fergus backline on the left flank, but was denied twice by Smestad as she tried to double the lead.
The game hit a major flashpoint in the 21st minute when Fergus Falls was reduced to 10 players. After turning past Talia Nelson on a pass beyond the Otters’ high defensive line, Oelrich’s jersey was pulled by the Fergus Falls defender. The referee awarded a free kick and also sent off Nelson with a straight red card for denial of a clear goalscoring opportunity. Protests by the Fergus Falls bench that Nelson was not the final defender were to no avail, and head coach Ben Jurgens was shown a yellow card just a minute later after a prior warning for dissent.
Despite the numerical disadvantage and a first half creating just a small handful of chances, the Otters pulled level thanks to a set piece. After a foul in the middle of the field on the Lumberjacks, Ellie Anderson blasted a free kick over Kiera Nelson from 30 yards away to suddenly put the game on level terms again.
The common refrains for Bemidji’s attack in the first half were chances either missed wide or put right to the Otters’ goalkeeper. Oelrich had a slew of looks from various distances, but failed to beat Smestad when presented with a golden opportunity one-on-one late in the half.
Despite a sluggish opening to the second half, Bemidji eventually started to turn up the pressure again after a few minutes. Sophia Morin’s near-post strike tested Smestad, but the goalkeeper was able to turn it against the post to keep the score level.
The game’s winning goal brought with it another batch of controversy. Liberty Dickerson swung in a cross that evaded both Berg and Oelrich before finding Wright, whose effort spilled out of Smestad’s hands right along the goal line. The goalkeeper managed to claw the ball away, but the center official judged from a distance that the whole ball had crossed the line, confirming with both the linesman and a few line runners behind the goal.
Wave after wave of further Bemidji attacks failed to produce breathing space as the second half progressed. Dickerson went close from long range, hitting a dipping shot from 30 yards that beat Smestad but smacked away off the crossbar.
A collision between Morin and Smestad on a loose ball in the 67th minute brought a stoppage for both injured players to collect themselves before continuing. During the stoppage, another dissenting comment from Jurgens to the official after tending to his goalkeeper prompted the referee to issue a second yellow and subsequent red card dismissal to the Fergus Falls head coach.
Moments later, Bemidji had its chance to seal the game from the penalty spot after Berg was brought down by Smestad on another break past the Otters’ defense. After some discussion on who would take the penalty, Dickerson stepped forward and missed low to the left to give Fergus Falls another lifeline still only down a goal.
With the Otters’ three-player backline tiring after playing almost an hour down a player, Berg broke through again just a few minutes later, only to clip a finish over Smestad and against the base of the post.
The Lumberjacks finally pulled out of reach with just two minutes remaining, and it was again Wright who was on hand to convert and wrap up her hat trick. Berg squared a pass from the flank for Wright in the penalty area, and her shot to the near post trickled in off Smestad before lodging in the side netting.
Bemidji’s overall dominance of play reflected in the shots, outshooting Fergus Falls by an astounding 38-3 margin with a 22-3 advantage in shots on target. Kiera Nelson stopped two first half shots before Jody Pemberton had no saves to make in the second half for Bemidji, while Smestad tallied a remarkable 19 saves for the Otters.
The win takes Bemidji to 4-2-2 overall this season heading into another matchup with Section 8A opposition in the Central Lakes Conference on Tuesday at Sartell-St. Stephen. Gametime is scheduled for 5pm.
Postgame interview with Bemidji head coach Logan Larsen: