MINNEAPOLIS -- After a defensive stalemate throughout the entire first half of Tuesday’s Class A state semifinal game between unseeded Bemidji and No. 2 Academy of Holy Angels, the final 40 minutes were anything but that.
Junior Silas Hess opened the scoring in the 44th minute, and Aidan Helwig added a pair of goals from there on the way to a 3-1 Lumberjacks win at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis to advance to the Class A state championship.
Hess’ goal came off a sharp cross from Helwig straight into the six-yard box for Hess to poke through Holy Angels keeper Peter Forseth to open the floodgates, and in terms of pace of play, they stayed open.
“I definitely didn’t think we played our best in the first half, but we locked down defensively, kept our shape and we knew one was coming,” Hess said. “It was just a matter of time, and we ended up getting it.
“It really lightened it up a little bit for us and we could relax and realize that we were in this game and we were here to win it.”
In the 50th minute, Bemidji took a 2-0 lead when Hess fired a hard, low shot on net, and Helwig was there for the garbage goal.
From that point on, the Holy Angels attack was relentless, and the effort finally came to fruition in the 65th minute when Conor O’Rourke headed in a Porter Ball corner kick.
The Stars, who hadn’t allowed two goals in a match all season going into the game, out-possessed and outchanced Bemidji the rest of the way, but it was the Jacks who were able to bury an insurance goal with 7:53 left in the second half to give them some breathing room.
Holy Angels earned several corner kicks and a few free kicks from favorable spots on the field, but JD Bitter and the Bemidji defense were able to keep them all out of the net.
Getting used to playing at U.S. Bank Stadium didn’t take much of an adjustment, according to BHS head coach Rick Toward and Hess, as the Lumberjacks had to wait an extra hour and a half for kickoff due to overtimes and shootouts in the day’s early games.
“I think the wait helped us,” Toward said. “It took the excitement level. We walked in the doors at 4 o’clock and we’re not going to play until 7:30, so we got a chance to get into the facility, check a look around, take in the sound, watch an entire game, listen to the crowd, and I don’t know about these guys, but by the time I got on the field, I felt comfortable.”
“Obviously it’s an amazing facility, amazing field and everything is great, but when it comes down to it, it’s the same game,” Hess added. “It doesn’t change, and I think we realized that, especially in the second half, and it helped us a lot.”
In the state title game, the Lumberjacks will take on the team considered to be the best in the state, No. 1 Blake. Kickoff is set for 12:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 2.
Unseeded in each of the last three years in the state tournament, they’re used to being considered the underdogs.
“The first year we played the No. 1 seed, Mankato West, and lost in double overtime penalties, nine kicks,” said Toward. “Last year we played Austin in the quarters unseeded, and we went to overtime after losing my starting keeper, my No. 1 goal scorer and my center back before the game started. We understand why coaches rank us where they rank us. We live four hours away from here. We don’t get to play the level of competition that Holy Angels gets to every day or Blake gets to every day, so we just have to show it.”
Heading into the last game of the season, win or lose, Hess has just one thing in mind.
“This has always been our goal,” he said. “You’re never satisfied with any win. Once we get here, you’re not satisfied yet. You come to the state tournament to win state titles. You don’t come to the state tournament to lose, so that’s what we’re to do and hopefully we get it done on Friday.”
Bemidji 3, No. 2 Academy of Holy Angels 1
BEM 0 3 -- 3
AHA 0 1 -- 1
First Half -- No Scoring.
Second Half -- 1, BEM GOAL, S. Hess (Helwig) 44’; 2, BEM GOAL, Helwig (S. Hess) 50’; 3, AHA GOAL, O’Rourke (Ball) 65’; 4, BEM GOAL, Helwig (S. Hess) 73’.