by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
Elk River stampeded its way past old rival Willmar, and into an intriguing matchup with new rival Rogers, on Tuesday evening.
Led by Austin Larson and Denis Bardashevskiy, the Elks pounded a soggy turf at Willmar for 485 rushing yards and beat the Elks 51-28 in the Class 5A, Section 6 quarterfinal.
The No. 5 seeded Elks (4-5) earned a shot at No. 1 Rogers (7-1) in the semifinals at Rogers on Saturday, 1 p.m. The Elks are eager for an upset bid, and the Royals anxious for a payback of last year’s 17-16 loss in conference to the Elks.
“It’s a rivalry, obviously,” said Elk coach Steve Hamilton. “I wish we were still in the same conference so we could play them every year. But we get to go there Saturday, so it’ll be fun.”
Larson, 6-foot, 185-pound junior filling in at quarterback with Jordan Johnson injured, rambled for three touchdown and 196 yards in 15 carries, while kicking a 27-yard field goal and four conversions, for a tidy 25-point night.
“It’s going to be a fun game (at Rogers), and we’re hoping we can pull out another W,” said Larson.
Bardashevskiy, 5-11, 160-pound junior with over 1,300 yards rushing, slashed for 211 yards and one TD in his 20 carries, and punctuated a stellar performance with an 88-yard kickoff return that made the score 51-14. (He did so wearing a more snug jersey No. 15 rather than the No. 32 he’s work all year).
“Our line was really blocking well and I was just following my blocks,” said Bardashevskiy.
Larson scored from 14, seven, and 44 yards out,. He booted a 27-yard field goal as time ran out in the half, after leading a six-play, 50-yard drive in the final 44 seconds, to expand the halftime lead to 30-7.
Bardashevskiy had a three-yard TD (his 11th rushing touchdown) and MacLean Berglove plunged for a pair of one-yard scores for the Elks, who never punted or threw a pass. (Larson was technically 0-for-2 but those were spiking the ball on that late drive.)
Elk River played Willmar (located 106 miles away) 12 times in conference or sectionals between 1977 and 1993, winning nine. Friday’s game marked the Elks’ first trip to Kandiyohi County since just before the current players were born.
Alex Grove hit Brandon Christenson long for a 71-yard scoring pass, and ran six yards for another score, for Willmar (4-5), which was the No. 4 seed with the Elks No. 5. Cardinal reserves added a scoring pass in the finals seconds.
Powering the Elks relentless ground game was the offensive line consisting of (from end to end) Clay Elrod, Jordan Meyer, Brady Franz, George Chomilo, Christian Tobin, Zach Jenson, and Derek Cross.
“We made some changes up from after Totino,” said Hamilton, referring to a 35-0 loss to unbeaten Totino-Grace. “We knew we had to do some things differently. This is the second game playing together for this group, and they are starting to jell, and getting off the ball real well, obviously.”
One key move was 6-1, 230-pound Franz from defensive end to pulling guard.
“Brady is a very good athlete and he’s really helping us out on the line, getting out on the edge to block,” said Larson, whose frequent swoops around the end produced gainers of 31 and 33 yards in the first half.
Hamilton added that Franz’s redeployment also allowed them to move Jenson out to tackle next to Cross where they’ve been very effective.
The Elks defense put good pressure on Grove, a talented passer, who, other than his one long strike, was 3-for-8 for two net yards. Terry Hadden of the Elks intercepted one pass. The Elks gave up 205 yards rushing and 110 passing, much of that after opening a 51-14 lead.
In the other section game, St. Michael-Albertville (6-3) beat Buffalo 34-23 and will play at No. 2 Monticello (7-1) on Saturday. The finals will be held Friday, Nov. 2, at the high seed.
Elk River 51, Willmar 28
Elk River …… 14 16 14 7 — 51
Willmar …….. 0 7 0 21 — 28
ER—Maclean Berglove 1 run (Austin Larson kick)
ER—Larson 14 run (Larson kick)
ER—Larson 7 run (Larson kick)
Wil—Brandon Christenson 71 pass from Alex Grove (Patrick Courtney kick)
ER—Berglove 1 run (kick blocked)
ER—Larson 27 field goal
ER—Larson 44 run (Larson kick)
ER—Bardashevskiy 3 run (Nate Storby kick)
Wil—Grove 6 run (Courtney kick)
ER—Bardashevskiy 88 kickoff return (Storby kick)
Wil—Braydon Johnson 19 run (Courtney kick)
Wil—Adam Nibaur 18 pass from Augustine Hahn (Courtney kick)
Elk River statistics
Rushing — Bardashevskiy 20-211, Larson 15-196, Berglove 6-15, Devin Donalson 6-12, Storby 3-32, William Hoff 2-3, Clay Elrod 1-6, Logan Lenertz 1-1, (name not available) 1-9
Passing — Larson 0-2-0-0
Interception — Hadden
Rushing — Grove 12-56, Michael Heitzman 13-48, Zach Streed 6-44, Hahn 3-30, Johnson 6-27
Passing — Grove 4-9-73-1, Hahn 3-3-37-0
Receiving — Johnson 2-20, Nibaur 1-18, Christenson 1-71, Courtney 1-5, Ben Muller 1-(-4), Jordan Geurtz 1-5