by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
If you’re going to get beat in the state tournament, it’s probably best to go down with a clear-cut verdict.
No question, St. Thomas Academy was the better team as they ended Elk River’s exhilarating, long-awaited playoff run with a 30-7 conquest on Friday night in Osseo.
“We had to play an almost perfect game, and get a little help from them, too, to beat them,” said Elk coach Steve Hamitlon. “They have running backs who are awfully scary and they got after us up front, too, on both sides of the ball.”
The Elks and their fans at least had their hopes high until halftime as an electrifying Bryan Edwards interception and 63-yard return set up a touchdown that made the halftime score 9-7 when it could easily have been 16-0.
But the No. 4 ranked Cadets (10-1) shook off any effects of that turn of events and dominated the third quarter with two long touchdown drives, then added an 83-yard run in the final quarter.
“Our kids did a great job of keeping settled at halftime,” said Cadets coach Dave Ziebarth. “They were thinking, we’ve got the lead, so let’s just do what we are supposed to do. They (Elk River) had taken the momentum and we had to take it back.”
Elk River, 2-6 at one point, finished with a hard-earned 6-6 record and the school’s first football trophy, for the Class 5A, Section 6 title, since 1992.
“We had a great season,” said Terry Hadden, who had the Elks’ other interception. “We kept our heads up, even though we didn’t do very well in the regular season, and we were able to step it up in the sections.”
About the Cadets, he said, “They came out to play in the second half. We didn’t and they did.”
The Elks, who live and die by the ground game, got out-rushed 392 yards to 245. Pat McFadden rolled up 145 yards and two touchdowns for the Cadets. Denis Bardashevskiy plowed for 103 in 20 carries for the Elks and quarterback Austin Larson added 72 in 17 carries.
The Elks also lost three fumbles.
“We are not good enough,” said Hamilton, “to put the ball on the ground against a team like that.”
St. Thomas Academy was the first opponent in the playoffs to keep the lid on Bardashevskiy, who had run for 723 yards (11.1 per carry) and eight TD’s in three section games including two from 90 yards and one from 81.
The Cadets limited the 160-pound junior fullback to a longest gain of 20 yards, with one 43-yarder called back for a hold.
The misdirections for which the Elks have become renowned didn’t work against the Cadets, whose coaches devised what you’d call a zone defense in basketball.
“When they (Elks) came to a certain area, we had people assigned to that area,” said Ziebarth. “When they come your way, you tackle them.”
Ziebarth expressed admiration for the way the Elks execute their offense, adding that be was “lost most of the time” watching the plays and just hoping his kids were tackling the right guy.
“We kept No. 15 in control. He is really good. It doesn’t take long for him to be gone. He came close a couple of times.”
Elk center George Chomillo said the main culprit was Cadet middle linebacker Jeremiah Kraker.
“We could handle their defensive line, but we couldn’t get to that backer who was making all the plays,” said Chomilo. “If we had gotten to that No. 25, this would have been a totally different game.”
Bardashevskiy, in his first varsity season, finished with 1,938 yards, shattering Jeff Hawkins’ 1973 record of 1,655 yards, while falling one short of Hawkins’ record of 19 touchdowns.
McFadden gave the Cadets a quick 6-0 lead with a 44-yard run on their second play from scrimmage. The Elks had just three first downs in the first half but their defense kept making stops after that initial dagger. Late in the half they made the Cadets settle for a 23-yard field goal after driving 84 yards.
That made it 9-0 and the Cadets had a couple chances to go up 16-0 before halftime. After an Elk fumble at midfield, the Cadets went for broke with Keegan Zimprich firing a long pass. But Hadden intercepted at the five, soaring above the receiver.
The Cadets forced a punt, and Clay Elroy, on the goal line, shanked it out of bounds at the 26. Again Zimprich took to the air, and this time cornerback Connor Hanson tipped the ball.
It floated to middle linebacker Edwards at the 21— with a clear field in front of him. Edwards chugged 63 yards before he was caught at the 16
“I got good position and the ball was behind me but I got a hand on it,” said Hanson, “and luckily, Bryan was in the right spot, and he made a heckuva play.”
Said Edwards: “It went over my head so I turned and the ball was right there. Then I started running. I got tired toward the end, and they caught me. I should have scored.”
The Elks were perched at the 16 with 40 seconds left. Obviously the offense had to turn that gift into seven points, and they did, with Larson barging six yards on a 3rd-and-four, and Nick Johnson bolting into the end zone off left tackle from there with 25 seconds left. Nate Stroby’s kick made it 9-7.
The team and their large contingent of fans were energized to go into halftime down by just two, but St. Thomas Academy came out in the third quarter and showed who was boss.
McFadden picked his way through the Elks for 25- and 20-yard gains and scored from the one. STA forced an Elk punt and drove for another score, this one a five-yard end sweep by Mario Boganno.
In the fourth quarter, the Cadets stopped the Elks’ lone sustained drive of the second half at the 17-yard line. Two plays later, Nick Waldvogel got loose for the same kind of run Elk fans have been enjoying from Badashevskiy, an 83-yard scamper that made it 30-7.
Hamilton tipped his hat to the victors, and started looking ahead.
“We will go back to work and get bigger and stronger and we will see them again next year.”
The Elks, after making a run at conference last year and falling one win short, then losing in the first round of playoffs, made a nice playoff run this year, with their first post-season wins since 2004 and first state appearance since 1992. Two dozen seniors shared in that experience.
“It has been a fun two years. The sad part now is the seniors,” said the coach. “They are really good kids and they brought us to where we are at now.”
St. Thomas Academy 30, Elk River 7
Elk River ………………. 0 7 0 0 — 7
St. Thomas Acad. …….. 6 3 14 7 — 30
STA—Pat McFadden 44 run (pass failed)
STA—Wyatt Schmidt 23 field goal
ER—Nick Johnson 4 run (Nate Storby kick)
STA—McFadden 1 run (Schmidt kick)
STA—Mario Bognanno 5 run (Schmidt kick)
STA—Nick Waldvogel 83 run (Schmidt kick)
Rushing — Denis Bardashevskiy 20-103, Austin Larson 17-72, Devin Donelson 4-27, Nick Johnson 7-15, Nate Storby 2-8, Maclean Berglove 1-10
Passing— Larson 0-4-0-0, Jordan Johnson 0-1-0-0
Tackles — Bryan Edwards 9, Alex Plaisted 6, Riley Filipovich 5, Kevin Boser 4, Jake Knopick 4, Connor Hanson 4, Zach Jenson 3, Nick Johnson 3, Storby 2 (Note, these are unofficial Star News stats on tackles. The coaches do official stats off film later).
Interceptions — Hadden, Edwards
Penalties — STA 6-40, Elks 5-50