by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
With a championship in their grasp, the Elk River Elks needed to get “up” one more time, and couldn’t do it.
The Elks were throttled by St. Michael-Albertville 42-20 at home Wednesday evening, five days after their stirring 17-14 upset of Rogers that brought them to the brink of the school’s first conference title in 21 years.
“It hurts a little, to have it in your hand, and then have it taken away,” said Elk quarterback Corey Collins, who kept the Elks in the game for three quarters with a series of big runs and one touchdown pass.
The Elks tied STMA for second place with a 5-2 record, while Rogers finished 5-1 (the Royals had one less conference game) for the outright championship.
“In practice this week, we did not look good,” said Collins. “We’ve been on such a high from beating Rogers, and we thought we could walk over these guys, but, that was not the case. We just didn’t have any fire.”
The Knights, a mediocre offensive team in their first seven games, erupted for 330 rushing yards against the Elks, led by Ryan Lyzhoft with 174 in 16 carries. Lyzhoft finished off the Elks with three fourth-quarter touchdowns from 47, one, and 41 yards as the Knights turned a 21-20 game into a rout.
Elk coach Steve Hamilton couldn’t say he was surprised.
“We all knew,” said Hamilton, “that coming off the emotional game we had last week, the way we played then and the game being sold out and all that, and then to have a short week, and to be playing a very good St. Michael team as well, that this was going to be very tough for us. We were flat all week and they’re too good a team for that.”
Noting that the Elks fumbled four times, and lost two, each leading to a Knight touchdown, he added. “If you put the ball on the ground four times, that doesn’t help either.”
The Elks this year have risen to the occasion several times – to snap a 16-game losing streak in the opener against Big Lake, to win close, high-scoring melee’s against Cambridge, Moorhead and Monticello, to bounce back from a 49-48 loss to Becker and fight off Buffalo 35-22, and again to snap Rogers’ 15-game conference win streak before over 4,00 fans.
“How many times,” reflected Hamilton, “can you keep getting up?”
But, all’s not lost. Another season is coming up, and the Elks have good prospects entering Section 8 of Class 5A. In fact they’ve earned the No. 1 seed among six teams and will have a first-round bye Tuesday. The next-best record is Brainerd’s 5-3.
The storybook season following several years of futility will resume after a week off to get refreshed.
“We’re six and two, and we’ll get the number one seed. We’ll take that,” said Hamilton. “We’ve come so far since last year.”
STMA was averaging 18 points a game, with a high of 28, and had been stuck on 14 for three straight weeks (all wins), before erupting against the Elks. The Knights scored on six of seven drives, and were stopped at the one-yard-line on the other drive, and scored anyway after recovering an Elk fumble three plays later, just before the half.
Along with Lyzhoft, another guy giving the Elks fits was quarterback Cole Krutzig, who scampered for six- and eight-yards TD’s in the first half and passed to Michael Wiese for a three-yarder in the third quarter.
“We’ve been struggling offensively and hanging our hat on our defense all year,” said Knight coach Jared Essler. “It all came together tonight. We’ve had issues with turnovers and penalties and we haven’t run nearly as well as we did tonight. We were able to be multi-dimensional tonight, running the ball really well and passing when we needed to.”
The Knights lost to Rogers 35-21 and to Big Lake 21-14 (the latter on the same day of a funeral for a youth who committed suicide) but have won four straight now.
The Elks, averaging more than 300 yards rushing per game, had another big ground game with 254 yards. Collins had his best game, carrying the ball 11 times for 105 yards, scoring on a 13-yard run, and firing an 11-yard touchdown pass to Dylan Chambers. Moses Saygbe rushed 19 times for 81 yards. Chambers scored twice, the other a five-yard run.
Collins’ two biggest plays both came on 4-and-3 gambles in the Elks’ own territory, as he rambled for 24- and 34-yard gains around left end, each time keeping alive a touchdown drive.
“That’s a play where we fake Moses up the middle and suck them in,” said Collins, “and then I’ve got two running backs leading interference and I cut outside.”
Collins’ TD run in the third quarter, and a two-pointer by Dylan Chambers, pulled the Elks within 21-20, and they got the ball back when Byran Edwards intercepted a Krutzig pass.
But the Elks fumbled the ball back four plays later, and looked deflated after that. They never got another first down. The Knights dominated the last quarter 21-0 with the three TD’s by Lyzhoft.
“Despite the final score, this was a dogfight,” said Essler. “But it got away from them toward the end.”
There is one glaring similarity between the Elks’ two losses. Both opponents had zero penalties and the Elks incurred several. Against STMA the Elks got seven flags for 65 yards. But penalties weren’t as much of a factor with a 22-point margin rather than one point.
Collins and the Elks will dust themselves off and look ahead.
“We got the top seed, and I’m pretty happy about that,” he said. “We’re already in the semifinals. Two wins, and we’re in state. That’s what’s most important.”
STMA 42, Elk River 20
STMA ……….. 7 7 7 21 — 42
Elk River ……. 6 6 8 0 – 20
ER–Dylan Chambers 11 pass from Corey Collins (run failed)
STMA–Cole Krutzig 6 run (Justin McLain kick)
ER–Chambers 5 run (run failed)
STMA–Krutzig 8 run (McLain kick)
STMA–Michael Wiese 3 pass from Krutzig (McLain kick)
ER–Corey Collins 13 run (Collins run)
STMA–Ryan Lyzhoft 47 run (McLain kick)
STMA–Lyzhoft 1 run (McLain kick)
STMA–Lyzhoft 41 run (McLain kick)
Rushing – Elk River 54-253, STMA 42-330
Passing – Elk River 1-3-11-0, STMA 3-10-21-1
Penalties – Elk River 7-65, STMA 0-0
Turnovers – Elk River 2 (fumbles), STMA 1 (interception)
Punts – Elk River 3-31.3, STMA 0
Rushing – Ryan Lyzhoft 16-174, Tyler Tucker 10-66, Cole Krutzig 7-51, Chris Kartes 4-27, Antoine Akundu 3-11
Passing – Krutzig 3-10-21-1
Receiving – Wiese 2-12, Lyzhoft 1-9
Fumble recoveries – Tyler Berhow, another one N/A
Elk River statistics
Rushing – Collins 11-105, Moses Saygbe 19-81, Chambers 13-45, Michael Larkins 8-26, Austin Larson 1-2
Passing – Collins 1-3-11-0
Receiving – Chambers 1-11
Interceptions – Bryan Edwards 1
Rogers ………………….. 5-1 7-1
STMA ……………………. 5-2 6-2
Elk River ……………….. 5-2 6-2
Monticello …………….. 4-3 5-3
Becker ………………….. 3-3 5-3
Buffalo ………………….. 2-5 2-6
Big Lake ……………….. 1-5 3-5
Cambridge-Isanti …. 1-5 1-7
STMA 42, Elk River 20
Rogers 20, Cambridge-Isanti 0
Monticello 21, Buffalo 14
Becker 26, Big Lake 21