by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
Most of this year’s Elk River football team had never even seen an Elk homecoming victory, let alone play in one.
But the unbeaten Elks ended an eight-year homecoming drought with a dramatic 42-34 victory over the Monticello Magic on Friday night, rushing for 421 yards before springing the game-winner on a surprise pass play.
The victory thrilled a crowd that overflowed the grandstands, eager to see the Elks, rejuvenated after an 0-9 finish in 2010, go for their fourth straight win after two weeks on the road. This much homecoming excitement had not been seen in years.
“That’s the most people I’ve seen at a game in my life,” said senior back Dylan Chambers. “It was a thrill to do that. Now we want to be five and oh.”
Elk River’s last homecoming win was in 2003, when the Elks beat Osseo 37-27. The current players were in third or fourth grade so a few of them might have been there.
Steve Hamilton, the Elks new head coach who just met these kids this summer, likes what they’ve grown up to be.
“Somebody might beat us at some point,” said Hamilton, “but they are going to have to take it from us, because these kids never quit.”
Monticello (2-2) was the first team the Elks have played that has a win. The Elks and Magic both reeled off long run after long run — in fact, there were 80-yard touchdowns on back-to-back plays — and both teams scored in every quarter, a rarity in football at any level.
But the game-winner was a 27 yard pass play from Corey Collins to tight end Jordan Meyer, on fourth-and-five with two minutes left, breaking a 34-34 tie. The toss to the 6-foot-4, 221-pound sophomore caught the Magic flat-footed, as the Elks otherwise rumbled for four touchdowns and five two-point conversions on the ground.
“We had run that play about five times. Usually I keep it up the middle, so they bit on it,” said Collins. “Big Jay, I can hit him. He’s a big boy.”
Moses Saygbe carried 15 times for 193 yards, including touchdowns of 80 and 16 yards. Chambers bucked for 115 yards in 21 totes, including a 27-yarder, and scored a pair of two-pointers.
Collins, the 5-foot-7, 175-pound senior quarterback, had his best game, rolling up 96 yards in 17 carries and crossing the goal line five times, on TD’s of five and 13 yards, and three conversions.
“All the credit goes to our line,” said Collins. “They work their butts off. For us to finish the game with a drive like that and win the game on a pass, that’s amazing.”
Bulldozing the way to those 461 yards including 40 on two passes were offensive linemen (listed from end to end) Jordan Meyer, Kyle Wiemann, Mitch Beaudry, Pierce Heston, Kyle Boser, Zach Jenson and Derek Cross.
The Elks went for it several times on fourth down and usually made it.
“When neither team is stopping the other, why not go for it?” said Hamilton.
Despite all those runs, the Elks had no fumbles for the third straight game.
“We keep two hands on the ball. That’s what we do,” said Hamilton. “We preach, don’t turn the ball over and don’t make penalties.”
The Elks did have three pass interference penalties, two of them dubious calls near the goal line. One of them came on fourth down — on a ball three yards out of bounds, with negligible contact –and led to Monticello’s game-tying touchdown with nine minutes left, a three-yard run by Ben Schaht.
“I’m not gonna say anything. I don’t want to get fined,” chuckled Hamilton. “Nobody is perfect out there.”
The Elks responded with a 70-yard drive capped by the touchdown pass, similar to last week’s march to a game-winning field goal in the final minute at Moorhead.
They still had to shut down an explosive Monticello offense, not to mention its dangerous kick returner Sam Johnson, who had returned two to midfield. Elk special teams came through big as Austin Larson’s squib-kicked deep, and Johnson missed the ball and had to retreat and retrieve it. An unsportsmanlike call on the Magic put them on their own four.
They got one first down — on another fourth-down pass interference — but no farther. Matt Bonk was sacked on fourth down by Jory Lubinski and Andrew Larson with a half-minute left, sparking off the Elks’ first homecoming victory celebration since 2003.
How sweet that is, reflected assistant coach Aaron Osterman, a 1990 ERHS graduate who played for the Gophers.
“Back when I played, this is the way it was,” Osterman said. “And now it’s such a drastic turnaround for us. The culture is starting to change in the school.”
Homecoming king, and defensive end, Matt Madsen agreed: “This was awesome. We had the best turnout I’ve ever seen. Elk pride is restored.”
Monticello’s big plays included an 80-yard TD by Birk Olson, a 46-yard TD by Mike Hoberg, the long kick returns by Johnson, a 48-yard run by Chase Holum, and a 34-yard pass from Matt Bonk to Riley Wern. Meanwhile Schaht barged for two short TD’s.
Birk’s long TD run in the first quarter was countered immediately as Saygbe blasted through a hole cleared by Weston and Wiemann and raced 80 yards to score, with Sam Taufen tackling him just as he crossed the goal line.
That’s the play Monticello coach Jaosn Telecky lamented most.
“We only had 10 men on the field. One guy got out there late, and everybody tried to adjust, and of course they ran to the other side. But that’s the coaching. That’s on me.”
Telecky thought the Elks got away with lots of holding — “I wish they would have called one or two of the 34 holds they had” — but cheerfully conceded that his team may have gotten a break or two on pass interference calls. “That seemed to be the only thing the refs called them on, and they called it quite often.”
The Elks first touchdown, by Collins, was set up by Monticello’s fumble on the game’s first punt, recovered by the Elks’ Bryan Edwards. The Elks had one turnover, a nice interception at the nine by Schaht, but the Elks defense, pushed around much of the game, hold fast that time and forced the Magic to punt out of the end zone — and wound up with a safety on a high center snap.
Such a rock-em, sock-em game, and another win, should keep the fans coming back, a prospect that delights Elk alum Osterman.
“It’s great turn around and see the stands full, and in the second half, too! The last few years we’d do well to get some fans in here but a lot of them left at halftime.”
Next for the Elks is a road game at Becker next Friday.
Elks 42, Monticello 34
Monticello ……. 13 7 7 7 – 34
Elk River ……… 16 10 8 8 – 42
ER–Corey Collins 5 run (Dylan Chambers run)
Mon–Birk Olson 80 run (run failed)
ER–Moses Saygbe 80 run (Collins run)
Mon–Mike Hoberg 46 run (Jacob Kounkel kick)
Mon–Ben Schaht 7 run (Kounkel kick)
ER–Safety, snap through end zone on punt
ER–Collins 13 run (Collins run)
Mon–Chase Holum 1 run (Kounkel kick)
ER–Saygbe 16 run (Chambers run)
Mon–Schaht 3 run (Kounkel kick)
ER–Jordan Meyer 27 pass from Collins (Collins run)
Elk River leaders
Rushing — Saygbe 15-193, Chambers 21-115, Collins 17-96, Austin Larson 2-10
Passing (cmp-att-yrd-int) – Collins 2-6-40-1
Receiving – Saygbe 1-13, Meyer 1-27
Tackles (solo-assist) – Bryan Edwards 7-3, Garrett Ott 10-2, Nick Johnson 5-2
Sacks – Jory Lubinski, Ott
MISSISSIPPI 8 CONFERENCE
Rogers ………………. 3-0 4-0
Elk River …………… 3-0 4-0
Buffalo ………………. 2-2 2-2
Becker ………………. 1-1 3-1
Monticello …………..1-2 2-2
St. Mich.-Alb. …….. 1-2 2-2
Big Lake ……………. 1-3 1-3
Cambridge-Isanti …. 0-2 0-4
Rogers 30, Buffalo 3
Elk River 42, Monticello 34
Becker 31, Little Falls 7
St. Cloud Tech 27, Cambridge-Isanti 14
Big Lake 21, St. Michael-Albertville 14
Games next Friday
Sartell-St. Stephen at Rogers
Elk River at Becker
Cambridge-Isanti at Monticello
Buffalo at St. Michael-Albertville
Big Lake at Princeton