by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
Perhaps by now Denis Bardashevskiy should have a nickname. The Russian Rocket maybe?
Launched time and again by the rugged Elk River line, Bardashevskiy propelled the Elks to a wild 53-42 playoff victory over the Rogers Royals on Saturday, scoring five touchdowns on straight-ahead, open-field runs while totaling a school-record 370 yards.
In a dizzying display of football that often looked more like pinball, with no less than seven lead changes, the Elks also had a pick six by Terry Hadden and touchdown runs from Nick Johnson and third-sting quarterback Clay Elrod as they overcame stellar performances by the Rogers offense and special teams.
“All glory to God,” said Bardashevskiy, who also credited his beefy friends up front. “The blocks were excellent. My linemen are doing a fantastic job.”
Breaking the yellowing Elk record of 340 yards set by Jeff Hawkins in 1973, Bardashevshkiy darted through the line into an open field five times and hit the afterburners for touchdowns of 81, 22, 25, 69, and 90 yards. The Russian-born teen (he arrived in the U.S. at 12 months) also broke Hawkin’s single-season record of 1,655, raising his total to 1,693 yards on 201 carries (and counting)
Many backs go their whole career without a wide-open field in front of them. He had that lovely view repeatedly in one day as the Royals flooded the line, confused by the Elks uncanny ability to hide the ball in the backfield. Then a hole would get cleared and he’d be gone.
“It’s a great feeling,” said Bardashevskiy. “The only thing I’m scared of is that I will get tripped up from the back, so I just run harder and harder, fast as I can.”
His last three sprints came on three consecutive touches of the ball to vault the Elks from a 35-33 deficit to a 53-35 lead.
The fleet junior halfback and his teammates cared far less about stats and school records than the fact that they had just beaten the Rogers Royals, the section’s top seed, for the second straight year, and that they earned a shot at the Class 5A, Section 6 championship.
The No. 5 seeded Elks (5-5) face No. 3 St. Michael-Albertville (7-3) on Friday on the Knights’ field. The Knights beat No. 2 seed Monticello 10-0.
“We have not won a section title since 1992,” said coach Steve Hamilton, “so we’ve got to go and get that done.”
Two years ago, during an 0-9 season, the Elks lost 55-0 to Rogers on the same field. Last year they upset Rogers 17-16 in a conference game at home, then lost their final two games while the Royals won conference and section titles.
“After losing here two years ago 55-0, it was nice to put fifty on them,” said Jordan Meyer, the Elks standout lineman. “So the emotion right now is pretty high. I feel bad for the seniors on their team, and I give thanks to them, and say ‘good game,’ but this feeling is, like we’re on top of the world right now.”
For Rogers (7-2), Connor Henderson passed for 177 yards and a 38-yard touchdown to Levi Simpson, plus a 53-yard strike to Parker Veith that set up a QB sneak for the opening TD. Jake Owens rushed for 105 yards and a 20-yard touchdown. Nick Weber had a 7-yard TD and a kick return TD.
Special teams helped kept them in the game as Weber broke the 85-yard kick return, Issac Aanerud drilled long kickoffs and made field goals from 30 and 42 yards, Mitch Grupa added a 22-yard field goal, Parker Veith recovered an onside kick from Aanerud, and the extra-points defense crew stopped four of six two-pointers. The Royals led 32-27 at the half.
But the Royals, who had allowed only 28 points in four straight wins, gave up a staggering 516 yards rushing, the bulk of it to Bardashevskiy.
“I thought we had an answer for him, and just when you think you’ve got things figured out, you don’t,” said Royals coach Marc Franz. “Obviously, you look at the score — I don’t have an answer. It’s a tough one (to stop) and they’ve got it going right now …. It’s hard to decipher where it (the ball) is.”
Hamilton did a slight re-design on his rocket two weeks ago when he switched Bardashevskiy’s jersey from No. 32 to No. 15.
“I was sick of people being able to reach out and grab him (by the shirt) because he had a large jersey on,” said the coach. “Now he is wearing a small one like he should.”
In the snug jersey, Bardashevskiy rushed for 213 against Willmar in a 51-28 win, and then 370 at Rogers. Actually he had 283 in No. 32 the game before that, against a weak Park Center team, for a three-week total of 864.
Hadden, senior delivering a stellar season at defensive back, gave the Elks a 14-10 lead when he picked off a Henderson pass at the sideline and raced 45 yards untouched. His fellow DB Nick Johnson saw some rare running back action and came through with a tackle-busting 27-yard run for a 27-22 lead.
Also notable in the Elks victory is the fact that they were down to their third quarterback and “didn’t miss a beat,” in Hamilton’s words.
Austin Larson, who rushed of 196 yards at Willmar in a 51-28 win, suffered a twisted ankle early in the first period when he was hit on the play where Bardashevskiy ran 81 yards. Jordan Johnson, who started the first five games and missed the next four with knee and ankle injuries, played on an unsteady ankle until early in the third quarter when he re-injured it.
Elrod, the starting tight end, who saw some QB action in two conference games, took over, and kept the ground game humming while delivering a 26-yard touchdown run, plus a conversion run.
“I was in the flow of the game already, and they put me in there and I was ready to go,” said Elrod, a 6-5 junior who led the basketball team with 18 ppg as a sophomore. “I liked it (the challenge).”
“It made a huge difference,” said John Pink, quarterbacks coach, “having Clay Elrod in that situation. He is a clutch player under pressure. He has played in a lot of big games.”
After Elrod’s TD around left end (on a busted play that was supposed to go to a halfback), Rogers made its lone special teams miscue, a high snap to the punter that perched the Elks on the Royals’ 25.
Bardashevskiy scored on the next play for the seventh lead change of the day, 39-35, and his next two carries made sure that lead would stick. Finally.
Elk River 53, Rogers 42
Elk River …………. 14 13 14 12 — 53
Rogers …………… 10 22 3 7 — 42
Rog— Connor Henderson 1 run (Mitch Grupa kick)
Rog—Isaac Aanerud 30 field goal
ER—Denis Bardashevskiy 81 run (kick failed)
ER—Terry Hadden 45 interception return (Maclean Berglove pass from Jordan Johnson)
Rog—Jake Owens 20 run (kick failed)
ER—Bardashevskiy 22 run (Nate Storby kick)
Rog—Nick Weber 7 run (kick failed)
ER—Nick Johnson 27 run (run failed)
Rog—Weber 85 kickoff return (Grupa kick)
Rog—Aanerud 42 field goal
ER—Clay Elrod 26 run (run failed)
ER—Bardashevskiy 25 run (Elrod run)
ER—Bardasehvskiy 69 run (run failed)
ER—Bardashevskiy 90 run (pass failed)
Rog—Levi Simpson 38 pass from Henderson (Grupa kick)
Rushing — Elk River 52-516, Rogers 41-188
Passing — Elk River 0-0-0-0, Rogers 10-20-199-1
Turnovers — Elk River 1 (fumble), Rogers 1 (interception)
Penalties — Elk River 3-40, Rogers 3-2
Elk River statistics
Rushing — Bardashevskiy 25-370, N. Johnson 5-42, Nate Storby 6-39, Elrod 6-36, J. Johnson 7-15, Austin Larson 1-0, Maclean Berglove 2-14
Passing — no attempts
Sack — Jordan Meyer
Rushing —Owens 17-105, Weber 7-21, Gunnar Bloom 4-26, Grupa 4-19, Adam Heyer 2-19, Reid Sagehorn 2-4, Henderson 3-(-4), Kent Hoover 2-9
Passing —Henderson 9-17-177-1, Veith 1-1-22-0
Receiving — Veith 3-82, Weber 2-57, Simpson 2-48, Grupa 1-4, Reid Sagehorn 2-8
Sacks — Weber, Austin Wood
Fumble recovery — Wood