For the first time since 2005 and third time since 1985, Blaine is at the top of the Northwest Suburban Conference boys’ soccer standings.
One year after reaching the Class AA state boys’ soccer championship game, now top-ranked Blaine can add conference champions after a 0-0 draw against Champlin Park Oct. 3.
The Bengals improved to 7-0-2 (23 points, Anoka and Maple Grove had 22 points) after the game, but finished the regular season with a thud, losing at rival Andover 4-2 in Saturday’s regular season finale to enter sections 12-2-2 overall.
Blaine goalkeeper Alex Beck posted five saves for his sixth shutout of the season against Champlin Park and the defense entered the finale surrendering a conference low six goals. Offensively, the Bengals were second in the conference with 19 goals, trailing only Anoka’s 22.
The Oct. 3 draw snapped a seven-match winning streak in which the Bengals out scored the opposition 17-4 with four shutouts.
Among Beck’s saves, two came on breakaways despite the Bengals controlling the ball for the majority of the game.
According to Coach Berry Arrowsmith, Beck has remained a stabilizing force all season. “He does his job,” Arrowsmith said. “He’s steady and dependable.”
Blaine’s defensive unit includes Nathaniel Jacobson, Jordy Hagen, Jacob Siow, Keith Huver, Zach Brunko and Tony Podolyanchuk.
Senior forward Jason Scheeler leads the team with 32 points (12 goals) and scored twice for the second time this season in a 4-2 win at Chaska Sept. 28. He has a seven-game point streak coming into sections (12 points).
Senior Jeremiah Strand’s 11 assists is also a team-high and 19 points ranks third on the squad, while senior forward Asher Bates has 24 points (eight assists).
Having secured not only a conference title but the top seed in the Section 7AA tournament, Blaine visited Andover with less to play on paper, but just as much pride in reaching 13 wins as Andover had in reaching its eighth win.
Andover (11-4-1) received the No. 2 seed behind Blaine in the section bracket after scoring four goals or more for the third time.
The Huskies shocked Blaine with a 3-1 lead at the half with two goals from senior forward Andrew Bird.
“Beating the No. 1 team in the state by two goals, you can’t get much better than that going into sections,” Bird said.
The message at halftime was not to have a repeat of 4-3 loss to Anoka Sept. 12 when Andover led 3-1 at the half but lost the game.
“Know who you are playing and if you want to beat them play 80 [minutes] strong,” Andover coach John Schlitchmann said. “We have some talented kids up front with Bird and [Emmanuel Ekunseitan] and we finished our chances well.
“It’s a great win. Can’t hurt going into sections.”
Bird and Ekunseitan constantly challenged Blaine’s defense, pressuring clearances or forcing quick decisions across the back line.
Bird, who leads the Huskies with 13 goals and seven assists, said the pair have played together on North Metro Soccer Club teams since they were eight years old.
Ekunseitan finished with one assist and another goal to give him nine goals and five assists on the season. The goal came on a nearly half-field breakaway, 63 seconds from full time. A Blaine corner kick set up the situation as the Bengals pushed more players into the penalty box looking to tie the game with a late goal.
Instead, the corner kick was cleared toward the sideline in front of the Bengals bench. Bird was first to the ball and hit a long pass over the Bengals defense to Ekunseitan, who raced past the defense. With only Beck to beat, Ekunseitan flicked the ball left and was tripped by the goalie’s extended leg, but he regained his footing and finished with a sweeping right-legged kick for the goal.
“They did a nice job of countering with some pace,” Schlichtmann said.
Bird’s first goal came on a toe-poke on a through-ball past a defender and goalie to even the score 1-1. For the second goal, Bird finished off a crossing pass from Ekunseitan at the top of the 18-yard box. “Just had to finish that one,” Bird said. “Not much that I had to do with that one. It was a great ball.”
Scheeler and Bates scored for the Bengals.
Scheeler scored five minutes into the game and Andover pulled even at the 16:30 mark of the half with Bird’s first goal. Center midfielder Armin Bobaric scored the second goal for Andover after moving into a midfielder position when senior midfielder Josh Munoz was lost to injury against Armstrong Oct. 3.
Bates’ goal came on one-timer redirection off a corner kick with 16:32 left in the contest to cut the lead to 3-2. The corner kick was set up after Andover keeper Colton Syler dived to his right to push the ball around the post, away from danger.
Bates continued a late-season scoring barrage after not starting against Osseo and Armstrong. He finished with 12 points over the last six games leading up to sections.
“He asked me if he wasn’t giving it 100 percent, if that was why he didn’t start against Osseo and Armstrong,” Arrowsmith said. “Since then he’s done everything at 100 percent and is working really hard.”
If Andover and Blaine meet again this season, it would be in the section final. The two teams squared off for the section crown in 2011 with Blaine winning 2-0.
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