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 in the Clas 1A soccer final.
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 outstretched 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 onto the field, celebrating Blake's 1-0 victory and its first boys' soccer championship since 2008.
Blake (19-1-2) had landed 11 shots on goal to Bemidji's one through 80 minutes of regulation and 10 minutes of overtime. "Nothing was really dropping for us, and [Lundberg] had confidence in me," James said.
Lundberg said he checked with the referee first before planting the idea in his teammate's ear that, yes, he could score on a kickoff.
"I knew Keegan has a really good shot and knew he would be able to get it up and over,'' Lundberg said, "so I looked over him and said, 'You're going to [score] on the kickoff.' "
Bears coach Tamba Johnson admitted it was not the way he pictured winning the hard-fought contest over defensively sound Bemidji.
"We knew if we just kept plugging away — we've had other games like this this season where were we're just knocking on the door — these guys would find a way to put it away," Johnson said. "But [watching the long kickoff travel toward the goal] was definitely nerve-racking."
During a run to their first title game appearance, Bemidji defeated No. 3 seed Mahtomedi in the quarterfinals and No. 2 seed Holy Angels in the semifinals. In the championship game, the combined efforts of Bemidji goalkeepers Jedidiah Bitter and Joe Fletcher staved off many attacks and close calls.
Bitter, who started the game, made nine saves before leaving in the 70th minute after suffering an injury during a collision. Fletcher hung tough during the first 10 minutes of overtime.
"Blake is a terrific team and we recognized very early on what type of attack they were going to run," Lumberjacks coach Rick Toward said. "We knew if would force our back line to play pretty flawless."