by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
Elk River’s storybook football season had a harsh final chapter Saturday.
The Moorhead Spuds, one of six teams the Elks beat in the regular season, pummeled the No. 1 seed 40-11 in the Section 8AAAAA semifinals at Schempf Field.
With a final 6-3 record, the Elks matched their win total of the previous six autumns, but they finished with two losses that weren’t close.
The Elks were crestfallen after the game, stunned that their thrilling, breakout season was over.
“That’s one way you can gauge your season: are they happy it’s over, or are they upset?” reflected coach Steve Hamilton. “We are so proud of those guys for as far as they have come from last year.”
The Elks won at Moorhead 31-29 on Sept. 16 and the Spuds were 0-3 after that game but are 5-2 since then, including a 17-7 win over Brainerd (7-3), the team they’ll now play in the section finals.
Chase Morlock, who missed the September game with a foot injury, led the Spuds’ payback victory. The 6-foot, 200-pound junior rushed for 140 yards and three touchdowns, including a 70-yard dash that gave them a 20-0 lead.
Spuds quarterback Aaron Lien also dissected the Elks, hitting seven of 11 passes for 129 yards and one touchdown, while running for two short touchdowns.
Despite being held to 11 points, the Elks had another robust ground game, on paper at least, with 276 net yards, and two guys over 100 — Dylan Chambers with 121 on 16 carries, and Moses Saygbe with 109 in 17 carries. Saybe’s 46-yard run set up Chambers’ four-yard touchdown, and Chambers’ 59-yard burst set up Austin Larson’s 31-yard field goal.
The Elks’ problems were three first-half turnovers (two fumbles, one by the punter, and an interception), lousy field position all game, inability to keeps drives going, zero yards passing, and Moorhead’s big-play capability against the Elk defense.
“Elk River has such an unconventional offense that we had a hard time preparing for the first game,” said coach Kevin Sweeney. “Our scout team did a phenomenal job emulating it this week, and our defense really understood what they (the Elks) were trying to do.
“And our offense, we feel it’s been getting better and better, and our offensive line played really well today.”
Elk River has thrived on traps and misdirection plays, excelling at faking defenses out. Moorhead wasn’t fooled much in its second chance.
“The biggest thing we learned is that Elk River is not an ‘option’ (offense) but you have to play against it like it is an ‘option,” Sweeney said, meaning everyone had to be disciplined and staying in their gap. He added: “Their No. 21 (Saygbe), he’s had an outstanding season, and we felt like he was the key to the game. On first and second downs we tried to get him off balance and make them do things they had not done all season.”
You could say the Elks had a great season until the last five quarters, in which they were outscored 61-11. They were 6-1 and in contention for the conference championship heading into week eight, and trailed St. Michael-Albertville by just 21-20 after three. But the Knights ruled the fourth quarter 21-0. The Elks were seeded first in section and had a first-round bye, but got drubbed by Moorhead, leaving the ERHS program with out a playoff win since 2004.
Still, the Elks churned out six wins with a small roster (just 45 players), modest size and speed, and poor recent tradition.
“We’ve said from day one, we are not blessed with a bunch of great athleticism, just some hard-nosed kids who work hard,” said Hamilton. “I’m so proud of the seniors especially. They’re the ones who turned this program around.”
Moorhead 40, Elk River 11
Moorhead ……….. 6 14 7 13 – 40
Elk River ………….. 0 8 3 0 – 11
Mhd – Chase Morlock 4 run (kick failed)
Mhd – Mason Ness 10 pass from Aaron Lien (Cody Rahman kick)
Mhd – Morlock 70 run (Rahman kick)
ER – Dylan Chambers 4 run (Austin Larson kick)
Mhd – Lien 5 run (Rahman kick)
ER – Larson 31 field goal
Mhd – Morlock 1 run (Rahman kick)
Mhd – Lien 1 run (kick failed)
Rushing – Elk River 55-276, Moorhead 38-200
Passing – Elk River 0-3-0-1, Moorhead 7-11-129-0
Total yard – Elk River 276, Moorhead 329
Penalties – Elk River 2-10, Moorhead 3-20
Rushing – Morlock 16-140, Ryan Schock 4-26, Lien 6-8
Passing – Lien 7-11-129-0
Receiving – Ness 3-53, Schock 1-26, Morlock 2-37, Erik Bye 1-13
Interception – Brandon Porter
Fumble recovery – Porter
Punts – Lien 3-29.3
Elk River statistics
Rushing – Chambers 16-121, Moses Saygbe 17-109, Michael Larkins 10-37, Corey Collins 5-23, Larson 3-8
Passing – Collins 0-3-0-1
Sacks – Jory Lubinski 2
Punts – Clay Elrod 1-25