by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
The Elk River football team and new head coach made sure they didn’t have to wait long in 2011 to end a long losing streak.
Rumbling for 314 yards on the ground against Big Lake in their opener at home Thursday evening, the Elks presented Steve Hamilton with a 26-14 victory in his Minnesota debut.
“I’m just speechless right now,” said quarterback Corey Collins. “There was so many people out here tonight. It was amazing.”
Dylan Chambers, who scored on a 28-yard run and set up another TD with a 48-yard run, said, “It’s such a big step up from last year.”
Elk River had lost 16 straight games, including all nine last year and the last seven in 2009.
Hamilton, previously a head coach in Michigan and Georgia, pledged to install a Wing-T offense accenting the ground game. The first outing certainly lived up to that billing despite a spate of mistakes.
Moses Saygbe had a 58-yard scoring run and Riley Filipovich added a 36-yard TD run in addition to the two long jaunts by Chambers. The Elks averaged 7.3 yards in 43 ground plays behind linemen Zach Brown, Mitch Beaudry, Kevin Boser, Zach Jenson, Pierce Heston and Kyle Wiemann.
Chambers gained 147 yards in 17 carries, Saygbe 84 in 10 carries and Filopfich 39 in 3 carries. Defensive back Terry Hadden made an interception and fumble recovery, and led with nine tackles.
“It was a typical first game, doing this offense for real for the first time, so it was messy, missing blocks, and putting the ball on the ground too much,” said Hamilton. “And we had a touchdown called back.
“But I was so proud of those kids because they responded to adversity and they fought. The defense played their tails off and the coaches did a great job.”
He added that the old-fashioned, three-yards-and-a-cloud of dust mindset doesn’t apply here.
“No, this is really a big-play offense,” he said. “We tell the kids, if it doesn’t hit on this play, it’s just like an incomplete pass, so keep plugging.”
With senior Corey Collins at quarterback, more for his running than passing, the Elks had just 17 air yards on 3-for-4, including a fake punt that worked for a first down.
The Elks scored on their first drive, an 80-yard march, all on the ground, capped by Chambers’ 28-yard burst through the middle.
“I’ve gotta thank the line. It’s their touchdown, too,” said Chambers, adding that he hit a hole opened by Weimann and Jenson, then followed another block by Kevin Boser and cut back to an open field.
Chambers tried to add the two-pointer but was stopped.
The Elks got a big break early in that drive as Collins was sacked by Anthony Moss and fumbled at the Elks’ 15, with the Hornets recovering, but a defensive holding penalty nullified the play.
Shortly after their TD, the Elks made Big Lake punt out of their end zone and got the ball back at the Hornet 31, and then at the 26 after a penalty. But they could not parlay the great field position into points.
Big Lake’s offense came alive in the second quarter with Brandon Holthaus connecting on a few passes, including a flip to Adam Hayes for a four-yard touchdown. A low snap foiled the PAT kick and the score stayed 6-6.
The Elks drove for an apparent go-ahead score, a two-yard plunge by Chambers, late in the half, but a holding penalty erased the play.
Big Lake took over on downs with 3:01 left. The Elks made the Hornets go three-and-out and got the ball back with 1:20 left – and capitalized mightily.
Saygbe, a swift, 6-foot, 195-pound senior, burst through a nice hole and kept his knees pumping until he had a 58-yard touchdown. Chambers added a two-pointer for a 14-6 halftime lead.
“The blockers did their job pretty good, ” said Saygbe, adding that Pierce Heston and Mitch Beaudry opened the hole on a trap. “My job is hit the hole hard and find daylight and once you do that, wrap up the ball and keep running.”
Big Lake knotted the score again early in the third quarter, 14-14, with a drive capped by Alec Green’s touchdown on a pass from Holthaus from eight yards out, and a PAT pass to Austin Poe.
Both teams lost a fumble in the fourth quarter but neither could capitalize. The clock was winding down with overtime looming.
Then the Elks struck suddenly, getting another big run from Chambers.
On a third-and-one play at midfield, the 5-foot-8, 195-pound senior saw another nice opening and crashed 48 yards, breaking a couple tackles along the way. He was caught at the two yard line, but Austin Larson scored standing up on the next play for a 20-14 lead. Larson was smothered on a two-point run attempt.
Big Lake’s Holthaus gamely drove the Hornets to the Elks’ 41 but they missed on third- and fourth-down passes with three minutes left. Elks ball.
The Elks now had backup QB Jordan Johnson in the game with Collins suffering cramps. Johnson rambled 14 yards for a first down to the Hornet 36, and Riley Filipovich took it home from there, dashing to the end zone for a 26-14 lead with 1:28 left.
Hadden put the punctuation mark on the victory with an interception and 40-yard return.
The Elks used to open against big schools like Coon Rapids, Anoka and Maple Grove in the Northwest Suburban, which they left last year to join the Mississippi 8 for football only. Big Lake is slightly more than half Elk River’s size.Then again, the Elks lost to Big Lake 46-13 last year. At Homecoming.
“This was a real step up, from last year,” said Chambers.
The Elks will play at Cambridge-Isanti next Friday.
Elk River 26, Big Lake 14
Big Lake ….. 0 6 8 0 — 14
Elk River ….. 6 8 0 12 — 26
ER–Dylan Chambers 28 run (run failed)
BL–Adam Hayes 4 pass from Brandon Holthaus (kick failed)
ER–Moses Saygbe 58 run (Chambers run)
BL–Alec Green 8 pass from Holthaus (Austin Poe pass from Holthaus)