by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
Fifty points looked certain. Sixty was within reach.
Moses Saygbe and Elk River Elks looked like they could name their score in a lopsided victory Friday night.
Instead, Tommy Benson and the Becker Bulldogs roared back with four touchdowns in the last 13 minutes and shocked the previously-unbeaten Elks 49-48.
“Right near the top,” said Bulldog coach Dwight Lundeen, asked how this one ranks among the 297 wins in his 41-year career.
A huge crowd on both sides of the field watched Becker’s improbable homecoming comeback after the Elks led 48-20 late in the third quarter, with Saygbe running wild. His final totals were 249 yards on 25 carries, and four touchdowns.
In the fourth quarter, the Elks gave up a safety and a fumble, and failed to cover on onside kick, while Benson cut them to ribbons, finishing 28-for-52 for 423 yards and five touchdowns.
Benson’s final TD pass, a three-yard toss to tailback Eric Dudek on a rollout, with 22 seconds left, tied the score and Shane Busch kicked the game-winner for the Bulldogs (4-1).
What could new Elk coach Steve Hamilton say to his devastated players after experiencing their first loss together in such a meltdown?
“I told the kids, we’ve probably snuck some out this year that we shouldn’t have won, and tonight we probably gave one away.”
Up by 28 points, the Elks (4-1) thought they had it won, which would be the case about 99 percent of the time with a lead that big that late in a game.
“The kids acted like it was over, and it wasn’t,” lamented Hamilton. “And you can’t just turn it back on.”
The Elks led 28-12 at the half on touchdown scampers of 14 yards by Corey Collins, one by Dylan Chambers, and 14 by Saygbe, and Bryan Edwards’ 35-yard interception return with 18 seconds left when Benson threw an ill-advised screen.
That was a mistake for which Benson would atone mightily in the second half.
Saygbe, who has 864 yards and 11 TD’s in five games, heated up in the third quarter with scoring runs of 21, three and 76 yards. The first of those came after the Elks recovered Austin Larson’s onside kick to open the second half.
The romp was on, so it seemed.
Becker scored on the last play of the quarter as Benson hit Joel Hopkins for a six-yard score. Early in the fourth, a Becker receiver fumbled at the Elk three and Terry Hadden recovered. But Becker turned that into a plus as linebacker Busch dropped Elk backup QB Jordan Johnson in the end zone for a safety that made it 48-30.
“When we got that safety, we thought, hey, we still have a chance,” said Lundeen, “because that gave us good field position, too. Two points were huge in this game.”
Benson, a junior in his second year starting (after his brother Johnny had the job four years), took the Bulldogs in for a seven-yard TD pass to Lee and it was 48-36.
The Elks, who rushed for 388 yards, with Chambers adding 89 on 14 totes, did most of that in the first three quarters, as they were stymied in the fourth quarter by the fired-up Bulldogs.
The Elks picked up just one first down in the last quarter, and fumbled the ball away one play later as Becker shook the ball loose from Saygbe at the Bulldog 40.
Again Benson drove the Bulldogs for a score, helped by a pass interference penalty, with Lee barging over the goal line from the two with 1:37 left. The score stayed 48-42 as Busch botched the conversion kick.
But Busch made another kind of kick perfectly on the next play, a nice little squib on the kickoff that somebody from Becker found on the bottom of a pile at midfield.
Benson hit four passes to perch Becker on the three with 40 seconds left. His next two were caught in the end zone but out-of-bounds on the left side.Then he rolled right and hit Dudek for the game-winner.
Along with Becker’s 423 yards passing and Elk River’s 388 yards rushing, the third crucial stat in the game was penalties. Becker had not a one. Elk River had around 10 (sorry, we couldn’t get the exact count by press time.)
When this was mentioned to Lundeen, he angrily cut short the post-game interview.
“We never COMMITTED any penalties. I don’t know what you’re insinuating, but we played really well. Don’t ask that question,” he snapped, while walking away.
OK, what was Hamilton’s take on the Elk River getting all the penalties?
“Yes, it seemed like that, didn’t it?” he grinned, shaking his head. “Well, it is what it is. But we didn’t finish the game. We’ve got to learn how to finish.”
Another big boost for Becker was holding the Elks to 3-for-7 in two-point conversions. The Bulldogs foiled two conversion runs and two pass plays. In the Elks’ first four games they were 12-for-19 on two-pointers, including 5-for-5 in last week’s 42-34 win over Monticello.
The Elks, who dropped out of a first-place tie in the Mississippi 8, leaving Rogers alone at the top, will try get back in the W column next Friday at Buffalo.
Becker 49, Elk River 48
Elk River ………… 8 20 20 0 – 48
Becker …………… 6 6 16 23 – 49
ER – Corey Collins 14 run (Collins run)
Bec – Bobby Lee 5 run (pass failed)
Bec – Eric Dudek 21 pass from Tommy Benson (run failed)
ER – Dylan Chambers 1 run (fun failed)
ER – Moses Saygbe 14 run (pass failed)
ER – Bryan Edwards 35 interception return (Chambers run)
ER –Saygbe 21 run (pass failed)
Bec – Joel Hopkins 48 pass from Benson (Damien Reinke pass from Benson)
ER – Saygbe 3 run (Chambers run)
ER – Saygbe 76 run (run failed)
Bec – Hopkins 6 pass from Benson (Reinke pass from Benson)
Bec – Shane Busch safety
Bec: Lee 7 pass from Benson (pass failed)
Bec – Bell 2 run (kick failed)
Bec – Dudek 3 pass from Benson (Busch kick)
Rogers ………………………. 3-0 5-0
Elk River ……………………. 3-1 4-1
Becker ……………………….. 2-1 4-1
Monticello …………………… 2-1 3-2
St. Michael-Albertville ……. 2-2 3-2
Buffalo ………………………… 2-3 2-3
Big Lake …………………….. 1-3 2-3
Cambridge-Isanti …………. 0-3 0-5
Rogers 36, Sartell-St. Stephen 18
Becker 49, Elk River 48
Monticello 20, Cambridge-Isanti 17
Big Lake 38, Princeton 22
St. Michael-Albertville 14, Buffalo 6
Games next Friday
Elk River at Buffalo
Big Lake at Rogers
St. Michael-Albertville at Cambridge-Isanti
Monticello at Becker