Blake midfielder Keegan James (8), who scored the winning goal, celebrated with the Class 1A trophy. Photo: LEILA NAVIDI ¥ firstname.lastname@example.org
The ball sat on the white horn of the Vikings’ logo at midfield of U.S. Bank Stadium, waiting for the start of the last 10 minutes of sudden-death overtime between top-seeded Blake and underdog Bemidji.
Blake sophomore Keegan James, waiting to make the free kick, had an idea put in his ear by senior midfielder Jake Lundberg, who had checked with the referee first to make sure his notion would fly.
Did it ever.
James ran up to the ball and swung his right foot into it. The ball sailed up and carried, flying through the air for 55 yards until it rippled into the net behind the outstretch arms of the Bemidji goalkeeper.
“Honestly,’’ James said of his booming kick, “it was a feeling like no other.”
With the goal, his teammates raced around the field, celebrating Blake’s 1-0 victory and its first Class 1A boys’ soccer championship since 2008.
Three of the last four elimination matches Blake had played this fall have been decided by one goal.
So the top-seeded Bears (19-1-2) didn’t blink when they took their Class 1A title game opponent Bemidji to overtime Friday at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Sophomore midfielder Keegan James struck the game-winner from 55 yards out to kick off the last 10 minutes of the overtime, lifting Blake a 1-0 victory over the unseeded Lumberjacks. It was the Bears’ first boys’ soccer championship since 2008.
Entering its first state title game, Bemidji (19-3-1) was looking to become first unseeded soccer team to win a title since Mahtomedi boys’ did it in 2009. In the process the Lumberjacks defeated No. 3 seed Mahtomedi quarterfinals and No. 2 seed Holy Angels in the semifinals before coming up short against Blake.
The Bears dominated ball possession for most of the title match, amassing an 11-to-1 advantage in shots on goal. But a combination of Bemidji goalkeepers Jedidiah Bitter and Joe Fletcher staved off many attacks and close calls through 90 minutes.
Bitter had started the game for the Lumberjacks, and made nine saves before leaving the game during the 70th minute after an injury in front of the net. Fletcher held the Bears at bay for Bemidji during the first extra time.
Blake’s only loss of the season came early in the year to Breck, which the Bears later defeated in their section championship run. They also eliminated defending state champion Totino-Grace in the section championship. In the state quarterfinals they hung for a 1-0 victory against Duluth Denfield.
Check back later for more on the game.