by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
Elk River will take on a close neighbor it’s never beaten in football, St. Michael-Albertville, on Friday night for the Class 5A, Section 6 crown, in St. Michael.
Actually their history goes back only two years but the Elks lost to the Knights both during their 0-9 season in 2010 and their 6-3 season in 2011 while briefly a member of the Mississippi 8.
This would be a good time for the Elks (5-5) to earn their first win over the Knights (7-3). The winner is a section champ and will play again the following Friday against St. Thomas Academy or East Ridge, at Osseo, in the state quarterfinals.
The Elks are seeded No. 5 among six teams after posting a 3-5 record against a stronger conference schedule than the other section teams. They have beaten Willmar 51-28 and top-seeded, No. 7 ranked Rogers 53-42 in the playoffs, mainly with a relentless ground attack, 940 yards in the two games.
Those were the Elks’ first two playoff wins since 2004, and they are now seeking their first section crown since 1992.
STMA has earned two payback wins in the playoffs, knocking off Buffalo 34-23 and No. 2 seed Monticello 10-0. The No. 3 seeded Knights lost to the Bison 15-13 and to the Magic 24-10 in conference play.
“You wouldn’t expect to play anyone in the finals who wasn’t pretty good,” said Elk coach Steve Hamilton. “It’s tough to beat a good team twice and the team that lost the first one seems to have an edge in the playoffs.”
Knights quarterback Cole Krutzig has passed for 816 yards and seven touchdowns. They are led in rushing by Chris Kartes with 717 yards and seven touchdowns. Dallas Freeman, junior defensive back, has six interceptions. Tops in tackles are linebackers Erik Johnson with 62 and Tyler Berg with 60.
Kurtig reportedly had a concussion against Monticello, leaving the possibility he won’t play.
“Number sixteen (Kurtzig) is awfully tough, certainly their best offensive player,” said Hamilton. About the Knights in general, he observed, “They do a lot of different things, a lot of formations, and do a good job.”
The Elks had two quarterbacks leave the game with ankle injuries during the win over Rogers, with tight end Clay Elrod finishing and doing a effective job, including a touchdown run. Hamilton said he expects both Austin Larson and Jordan Johnson to be ready.
If the Elks made “state” they’ll be one of the few (if any) who’ve ever done so without winning a single home game all season. All three of the regular-season wins were on the road (Centennial, Armstrong, and Park Center) and their low seed has kept them on the road through playoffs.