by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
The score was 14-14 late in the game when a blast of chilling weather came in and gave the Andover and Elk River football teams one more thing to worry about in an already tense situation Friday evening.
When the squall suddenly descended upon Andover’s stadium, with 2:50 remaining, swirling winds hammering the players and fans, blowing programs over the field, with light but icy raindrops pelting everyone, it was like some unforeseen twist introduced in an Edgar Allan Poe yarn, and you just knew these new elements would somehow decide the outcome.
And they did. The wicked winds goaded the Elk coach into a decision he regretted, and Andover capitalized with their third touchdown pass of the game, with 33 seconds left, to beat the Elks 21-14 in the conference opener for both.
“I told the kids, this one is on me,” said Steve Hamilton. “I should have played the percentages and kicked it. I apologized to the kids. This was my fault.”
In truth, his decision to go for the first down, on a fourth down play with just over a yard to go at the Elks’ own 29, with 1:09 left, was a sensible gamble, as the wind certainly could have thwarted the center snap to punter Clay Elrod, which would have given the Huskies the ball within range of a short kick.
“And we always figure the kids can get a yard and a half when we need it,” said Hamilton. “But we should have kicked.”
The Elks rushed for 373 yards in the game, but could not muster that yard and a half. Austin Larson got the call. The middle of Andover’s line wouldn’t budge. Linebacker Wesley Walstad made the initial hit on Larson.
Elated at the opportunity they suddenly had, Andover went to work as Derek McLaughlin dashed 10 for a first down at the 20. Then came another little plot twist. Elk defensive back Connor Hanson was shaken up on the play, prompting the refs to stop the clock.
“We were out of time-outs, so that injury time-out was a break for us,” said Andover coach Rick Wilke. “We were able to call two plays in the huddle, the run and then the pass.”
Both worked, as McLaughlin got five more yards before quarterback Connor Wilke, the coach’s son, fired a pass to Justin Freyholtz over the middle for a 15-yard touchdown. It helped Andover that the wind died down a bit by that time.
Had the game gone overtime as anticipated, the inclement weather likely would have favored the rushing team over the passing team. The Elks had all 373 of their yards on the ground, while Andover passed for 213 and ran for 93.
The Elks dropped to 1-3 with three close losses and Andover improved to 2-2.
“Our line had a battle on both sides of the ball. Elk River is a very tough, physical team, very well-coached,” said Andover coach Wilke. “They made it tough on us. They had us on our heels.”
Asked what the main concern is, in facing the Elks, he said: “”That running game is hard to stop. They carry out the fakes so well, and their linemen do great job. They have great running backs, and their quarterback is tough, too. They are a lot better than their record. They will win some games.”
The Elks moved the ball all night, mostly hard-earned yards with Andover gang-tacklingon almost every down. But the Elks always seemed to have a long ways to go. They drove 93 and 75 yards for their touchdowns, with two other droves petering out, forcing long field goal attempts (38 and 39 yards) by Austin Larson that fell short.
“We had a lot of yards, but it would have helped if we weren’t starting so deep in our territory all the time,” said Hamilton.
Elk quarterback Jordan Johnson carried 11 times for 111 yards while going 0-for-4 on passes. Denis Bardashevskiy gained 84 in 19 carries, Larson 14 in 83, and Maclean Berglove 81 in 15.
Andover’s Wilke started and finished the game strong, hitting 13 of 22 for 213 yards, with Tyler Evans hauling in seven for 128 yards. McLaughlin carried 17 times for 85 yards.
“They have a good quarterback, and they are huge, very physical,” said Hamilton about the Huskies. “They are the biggest team we have faced, for sure.”
Wilke fired a 25-yard scoring pass to Evans on the Huskies first drive, capping an easy march down the field.
The Elk River defense regrouped nicely, and stymied the Huskies the rest of the first quarter, and the second and third quarters.
The Elks generated their 93-yard march — after a prodigious 71-yard punt by Freyholtz — in the second quarter, capped by Larson’s two-yard run and conversion kick. It was the most methodical of drives, with runs of 11 and 12 yards the longest plays.
The 7-6 halftime lead stood until Wilke heated up again in the fourth quarter with two long completions, the latter a 24-yard scoring strike to Freyholtz, and his two-pointer to the same man for a 14-7 lead.
The Elks, too, snapped back into their best form at that point, chugging 75 yards tie knot the game on Bardasehvskiy’s 10-yard burst. Johnson provided the biggest play, a 29-yard jaunt on a third-down play.
The Elks then forced a punt, at which point the squall made its rude appearance, leaving both teams just trying to survive, and Andover being the one that succeeded.
Daunting homecoming foe
Next week is homecoming and the Elks won’t exactly have an easy opponent. Totino-Grace, conference newcomer, a six-time state champion, all since 2003, currently 4-0 and No. 1 in Class 5A, will make its first appearance against the Elks.
Homecoming events will also include the introduction of 10 new ERHS Hall of Fame inductees.
Andover 21, Elk River 14
Andover …… 6 0 0 15 — 21
Elk River ……0 7 0 7 — 14
And—Tyler Evans 25 pass from Connor Wilke (kick failed)
ER — Austin Larson 2 run (Larson kick)
And—Justin Freyholtz 34 pass from Wilke (Freyholtz pass from Wilke)
ER— Denis Bardashevskiy 10 run (Larson kick)
And — Freyholtz 14 pass from Wilke (Freyholtz kick)
Rushing —Elks 62-373, Andover 23-93
Passing (cmp-att-yrd-int) — Elks 0-4-0-0, Andover 13-22-213-0
Penalties — Elks 2-15, Andover 4-20
Turnovers — Elks 1, Andover 0
Elk River statistics
Rushing — Jordan Johnson 11-111, Bardashevskiy 19-84, Maclean Berglove 15-81, Larson 14-83, Devin Donelson 3-14
Passing — Johnson 0-4-0-0
Sack — Jake Knopick
Rushing — Derek McLaughlin 17-85, Wilke 4-5, Dom Zeece 2-4
Passing — Wilke 13-22-213-0
Receiving — McLaughlin 1-13, Evans 7-128, Freyholtz 2-49, Alec Daniel 1-20, Ryan Johnson 1-6, Tanner Amderson 1-(-2)
Fumble recovery — Cody Butala