by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
When Elk River hosts Rogers in football tonight, it will be the kind of dream matchup between similar-sized, neighboring schools that draws several thousand fans and incites turbulent emotions.
And they better enjoy it because it won’t happen again, at least in the near future.
The Elks, in the second year of what turns out to be a two-year hitch in the Mississippi 8, are 4-1 in conference and 5-1 overall, while two-time defending champion Rogers is 5-0 and 6-0. Each will have one more conference game next Wednesday.
Last year, when Rogers was 12-1 and Elk River 0-9, the Royals shredded the Elks 55-0 in the first-ever meeting of the two schools on the gridiron.
But this year the Elks are one of the feel-good stories of the metro area, rumbling for 347 yards per game on the ground, under new coach Steve Hamilton, and already matching the win total of the last five years combined (5-40). If not for a bizarre 49-48 loss to Becker after leading 48-20 with 13 minutes left, they’d be unbeaten.
ERHS recently decided to return to a modified version of the Northwest Suburban Conference, which they had fled after the 2009 season for a two-year trial in the M-8, which has smaller enrollments.
But that’s then, this is now.
As Hamilton stated last week, after the Elks beat Buffalo 35-22, this will be “the kind of game the kids will remember the rest of their lives,” considering what’s at stake and the rejuvenated status of Elk football.
Rogers coach Marc Franz seconded that.
“The kids are very excited to be playing Elk River, and we know it will be a tough game,” Franz said. “I am very impressed that Coach Hamilton was able to put together that running game so quickly.”
The Royals will especially be on the lookout for Moses Saygbe, the Elk fullback who’s rolled up 1,011 yard and 14 touchdowns. Dylan Chambers (502 yards) and quarterback Corey Collins (258 yards) can also tear off a big gainer.
Rogers, the first ranked team the Elks have faced, is listed at No. 3 in Class 4A.
“They are best team we have played this year,” said Hamilton, “and we are going to have to play our best to have a chance to beat possibly the best team in 4A.
“They have experience in big games, a very good running game, with a physical QB. They have the best defense in the conference, and we will have to fight for every yard we get.”
Rogers is triggered by 6-foot-4 quarterback Matt Weber, already renowned as a nasty linebacker and hockey defenseman before taking over at quarterback as well this year. He’s passed for 515 yards and is tough to bring down, scoring seven TDs himself.
Jack McGuire has rushed for 882 yards and six touchdowns, and Kyle Williams adds 413 yards and five TD’s.
“In order to beat them we will have to play our best game, control the ball, no turnovers, and limit their big plays,” said Hamilton.
Defensively, Clay LeVasseur is their top tackler with 48 while Austin Derouin, Cyrus Biah and Weber are notorious for tackling behind the line of scrimmage. Andrew Smith, also their top receiver, has five interceptions, although he’s no likely to add to that total against an Elk team that hardly ever throws.
Junior linebacker Bryan Edwards leads the Elks with 68 tackles. Garrett Ott has 39 and Terry Hadden 36
Rogers has the edge against their only two common opponents. The Royals beat Buffalo 30-3 and Big Lake 35-8, while the Elks beat Buffalo 35-22 and Big Lake 26-14.
“Our kids are excited, and they have earned the right to play in such a big game,” said Hamilton, “but we have to remember it is just another football game,. We have to go out and execute like any other game, and hopefully it will be enough.”
MISSISSIPPI 8 CONFERENCE
Rogers ……………………….. 4-0 6-0
Elk River …………………….. 4-1 5-1
Monticello …………………… 3-2 4-2
St. Michael-Albertville …. 3-2 4-2
Becker ………………………… 2-2 4-2
Buffalo ………………………… 2-4 2-4
Big Lake ……………………… 1-4 2-4
Cambridge-Isanti ………….0-4 0-6
Rogers at Elk River
Monticello at St. Michael-Albertville
Alexandria at Buffalo
Becker at Cambridge-Isanti
Milaca at Big Lake