Football: Elks renew long-ago rivalry with Willmar in playoff opener

by Bruce Strand, Sports editor

Nobody born in the last 30 years remembers it, but Elk River and Willmar have a football history.

Between 1977 to 1993, these two schools 106 miles apart played in the same conference and then the same section. The Elks had a 5-1 edge in Central Lakes Conference games (1978-83) and 4-2 in section games.

The Elks and Cardinals will meet Tuesday night in Willmar for the first time since 1993, when the Elks won a playoff duel 35-28.

Willmar was the site of one of the most stirring wins in Elk football history, in 1982, a 28-14 conquest of the previously-unbeaten Cardinals in the conference finale, which gave the Elks the conference’s lone playoff slot. (Only conference champs advanced then).

The winner of No. 5 seeded Elk River (3-5) and No. 4 seeded Willmar (4-4) will take on No. 1 Rogers (7-1) on Saturday, 1 p.m., in Rogers.

On the other side, No. 3 St. Michael-Albertville (5-3) will  host No. 6 Buffalo (3-5) on Tuesday with the winner traveling to No. 2 Monticello (7-1).

Elk River is averaging 310 yards rushing per game, led by junior Denis Bardashevskiy with 1,100 yards and 10 touchdowns. Quarterback Jordan Johnson has about 400 yards rushing, while QB/running back Austin Larson, and Maclean Berglove, each have close to 300 yards.

Johnson has missed two full games and most of a third game with a banged up knee and ankle. The Elks have had as many as 18 players dinged up lately. Coach Steve Hamilton said he expects to have the bulk of them back for playoffs.

Willmar has a sharp passer in Alex Grove and a pair of tall wideouts. Grove hit 25 of 39 passes the last two games while rushing for 155 yards.