by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
Elk River could easily have opened a big lead by halftime of their football opener against Blaine on Thursday evening. But the Elks missed numerous opportunities and it cost them the game.
The Bengals, pounded in the first half, ruled the last two quarters and beat the Elks 28-14 at Schempf Field despite the Elks out gaining them 416 yards to 222.
“We did not finish a couple of drives, and that’s on us,” said Elk coach Steve Hamilton. “The game should have been over at halftime. Give credit to Blaine, they kept fighting and came after us in the second half.”
With the main storyline being the Elks’ return to playing a Northwest Suburban Conference schedule after going 6-3 last year as a Mississippi 8 team, the Elks came out galloping just like it was 2011, taking a 14-0 lead in the first nine minutes. But they never scored again.
“My fear coming in was their (roster of) 102 players,” said Hamilton, whose roster has 56 players. “We had some guys who had to go both ways, and you could see that in the second half. When we were fresh, we were handling them. When we got tired, they could pin their ears back and roll fresh guys in there, and they wore us out in the second half.”
Elk junior halfback Denis Bardashevskiy, one of the two-way players, rushed for 160 yards on 24 carries. He 136 on 13 in the first half.
Senior quarterback Jordan Johnson added 113 yards in 13 carries with several big gainers around the end. Devin Donelson slashed for 67 yards in 10 attempts.
Blaine was triggered by junior quarterback Alex Copa, rambling for 118 yards on 20 carries out of the shotgun while passing for 84 yards and two touchdowns.
“In the first half we made a lot of mental mistakes on defense and our offense didn’t play well either,” said Blaine coach Tom Develice. “They (the Elks) have three backs who can go the distance any time they get the ball, so every guy has to know his responsibility, has got to look at their gap, and take care of their job. In the first half, our guys weren’t doing their jobs, and in the second half, they fixed that.”
In the giddy opening moments for the Elks, Donelson sped 35 yards for a touchdown that capped a 4-play, 72-yard opening drive. The Elks muffed the PAT as Johnson bobbled the snap, but moments later, Bardashevskiy broke away for a 58-yard run to the Bengal two. He wound up scoring from the two on fourth down, and Johnson passed to Brandon Meyer for two.
Then the frustration started as the Elks outgained the Bengals by a staggering margin in the first half, 289 yards to 95, but led only 14-7.
They had first-and-goal at the seven and got penalized 15 yards — in the first quarter for unsportsmanlike conduct after which Austin Larson missed a 32-yard field goal attempt (it hit the upright) and in the second quarter for holding, after which the Johnson was intercepted by Matt Genlin.
Another drive was stalled at the 12 when Blaine stuffed a couple running plays.
And although Blaine sputtered offensively the whole half, they got a 63-yard kick return from Joe Robel leading to Copa’s 17-yard touchdown run that got them on the board at 14-7.
“After the first half, and how we played as a group, we were really happy to be down only by seven,” smiled Develice, adding that the early touchdown in the third quarter “made our confidence turn right around.”
Adekunle Ayinde, bottled up most of the game, popped loose for a 69-yard run before being tripped by Terry Hadden at the two, then snagged a four-yard TD pass from Copa three plays later. The Bengals missed the kick, leaving the Elks ahead 14-13 until the fourth quarter.
After the Elks gambled and lost on a fake punt at midfield, Copa lofted a pass to Riley Hedstrom down the right sideline for a 37-yard scoring play and hit Connor Sputbeck for two more points. The Elks trailed 21-14, and their pep seemed gone in the second half as they were held to 128 yards.
With the ground game stymied, Johnson hit Maclean Berglove over the top for 28 yards, but the drive fizzled after Johnson was called for intentional grounding on a play where he was about to be sacked.
The Elks had one more chance when a pass interference penalty put them across midfield, but a Donelson fumble on a short pass gave Blaine the ball at midfield with 3:30 left. The Bengals scored with 33 seconds left on Copa’s five-yard scamper.
The Elks play at Centennial next week. In the newly-aligned NWSC that the Elks rejoined this year, the first three games, against bigger NWSC schools, are actually non-conference, and the final five, against smaller NWSC schools, are the conference games.
Blaine 28, Elk River 14
Blaine ……… 7 0 6 15 — 28
Elk River ….. 14 0 0 0 — 14
ER—Devin Donelson 35 run (run failed)
ER—Denis Bardashevskiy (Jordan Meyer pass from Jordan Johnson)
Bln — Alex Copa 17 run (Glenn Meyers kick)
Bln —Adekuie Ayinde 4 pass from Copa (kick failed)
Bln — Riley Hedstrom 37 pass from Copa (Connor Sputbeck pass from Copa)
Bln — Copa 5 run (Kyle Hanby kick)
Rushes-yards — Blaine 31-138, Elks 61-376
Passes (att-cmp-yrds-int) — Blaine 11-20-84-1, Elks 2-8-40-1
Total plays-yards — Blaine 42-222, Elks 64-416
Penalties-yards — Blaine 4-50, Elks 6-55
Fumbles-lost — Blaine 1-1, Elks 1-1
Blaine individual statistics
Rushing — Copa 20-118, Ayinde 10-98
Passing — Copa 11-20-84-1
Receiving — Zach Wylie 1-2, Peter Michels 1-13, Cody Deluce 4-21, Ayinda 3-(-3), Hedstrom 2-38
Interception — Matt Genin
Fumble recovery — Caleb Butler
Elk River individual statistics
Rushing — Bardashevskiy 24-160, Johnson 14-122, Donelson 10-67, Riley Filopovich 5-16, Austin Larson 7-7, Bryan Edwards 1-0, Maclean Berglove 1-4
Passing — Johnson 2-8-40-1
Receiving— Berglove 1-28, Donelson 1-13
Interception — Terry Hadden