by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
For two schools 206 miles apart, Elk River and Moorhead have a spirited rivalry going.
Moorhead, smarting from two straight section championship losses to Elk River, got a bit of revenge Thursday evening, edging the Elks 2-1 in the season opener at Jerry Schempf Field.
“Elk River has had more success against us in the past, especially the last two section finals,” said Spuds coach Lance Hansen, “and it means a lot for us to get the win tonight. Elk River’s midfield play is incredible.”
The Elks are actually Elk River-Zimmerman this year with the addition of six Thunder athletes after their school dropped boys soccer due to low numbers. One of the Zimmerman players, Storm Heyer, got the lone goal for the Elks.
Moorhead scored twice 35 seconds apart early in the first half. The Elks pulled within 2-1 on the goal by Heyer in the first half. Moorhead and quick junior goalie Tyler Guertin withstood furious Elk attacks in the last 12 minutes to pull out the win.
“We were lucky to strike early,” said Hansen. “We have some good speed on top in our attack. Elk River came back relentless against us. Our goalie did a great job.”
Elk coach Tom Olson lamented giving up “a couple of garbage goals” but added, “Our defense played solid after that, and (goalie) Cody Christ had clear views of every shot. And he made one real nice stop at the end.”
Elk River has beaten the Spuds 1-0 and 2-0 in the last two section finals. There could be a rematch, Hansen said.
“Our section got a lot tougher, though. Not only do we potentially have to go through Elk River again but we’ve also got to go through Rogers and Anoka,” said Hansen, referring to two teams placed in Section 8AA this year.
Moorhead scored in the 12th and 13th minutes. Isaac Borgan got the first one, a hard shot from the side that bounced off Josh Chuba’s leg and into the net as the Elk defender tried to boot it away. Ali Alomar then got a header goal in a scramble in front of the net with Elks caught a bit flatfooted and out of position.
Heyer notched the first Elk goal of the season in the 21st minute, a cannon shot from 18 yards that hooked around the goalie and into the corner, off a feed from Ryan Stefano.
“I got the ball from Ryan and cut it to my right foot and shot straight to the far post,” he recounted.
“Great play,” said Olson. “Ryan Stepano set it up nice, and Storm made a nice cut in, and buried it right in the corner — that’s just like we practice it.”
Heyer enjoys playing for the Elks.
“This is a lot better. It’s the best team I’ve ever been on,” he said.
The score remained 2-1 the rest of the game. The Elks did not get much going the first 25 minutes of the second half but generated several scoring opportunities late in the game.
In those furious closing minutes, all-state midfielder Ryan Ness got off three scorching shots at the net. He was robbed by Guertin twice — a leaping deflection with his hand in the 68th minute and a diving save in the 76th minute, both on shots from the side — and was high on a missive from out front. Ness also had a free kick after teammate Joey Benz was tripped; on that attempt, a Spud got his thigh on the ball and deflected it.
Kaleb Orrock, the Elks other standout midfield veteran, had a header opportunity on a corner kick from Ness but the shot was high.
Elk goalie Christ also made a great save, in the 72nd minute, when Moorhead made a nifty corner kick and had a point-blank shot from 10 feet.
The Elks, incidentally, go the home game with Moorhead because the Spuds were originally slated to play at Zimmerman.
The Spuds will stay over to play Anoka on Friday. Elk River will host Buffalo at 11 a.m. with a girls game to follow.